All things in this world have a mystery of their own.
— Zohar 2:16a
Morning glittered across the dewy turf brilliant as Mozart. The white building on the manicured lawn looked like music, too. Its melodious, horizontal geometry of stucco walls curved to green tinted glass and created a feeling of movement.
Landscape screens of Italian cypress hid adjacent houses in the exclusive neighborhood overlooking the Hudson. Manhattan, spangled with sunlight, dominated the eastern prospect and cast bold shadows on the river.
Snaking across the broad lawn, a brick path led to an airy entryway. Jade glass sidelights framed a monolithic eight-by-nine-foot sliding door of brushed steel that glided open silently.
In the sunstruck foyer, under high skylights, a highly-polished bronze torso of a nude female stood. It gigantically occupied a space of sinuate walls, empty and white, and no furniture.
The visitors, two elegantly dressed men, stood baffled before the colossal bronze until a young, strawberry blonde in a white silk shirt and gray slacks approached. Smiling earnestly, she greeted them, “Bevan Powers – Motassem Razori – please, come in. E. Randolph will see you shortly.”
E. Randolph Rayne, gallery owner and executive art dealer, knew more about the secret world of vampires than anyone on the planet. For that reason, Bevan Powers had sought him out here at Psycho Macchina, Rayne’s exclusive art salon. Reserved months in advance, the gallery offered corporate clients monumental, contemporary chef-d’oeuvres.
Bevan had not expected to wait. An aggressive arbitrageur with a majestic net worth, he moved through circles where people usually waited for him. Today, however, he would wait, because four nights ago he had met his first vampire.
“I’m Jenne Prosper.” The strawberry blonde led the men around the mirroring torso to a placid, vacant space. Curly-heart pine floorboards gleamed. A single desk of smoked glass fronted a stainless-steel chair. The desk shared a flat screen monitor with a wireless keyboard and nothing else, no telephone, no pad, not a pencil.
“Please, sit.” Jenne motioned to a low bench of laminated birch and took her own seat. “Something to drink perhaps?”
Both men declined and sat. With a flagrant murmur of silence in the air and nothing on the white, undulant walls but slants of sunlight, they stared at their bespoke shoes. Motassem Razori reached inside his jacket pocket, removed a small pad and began to scribble. Bevan Powers flexed his hands and, in the singing silence, remembered why he was here.
Four nights ago, when the trill alarm in his mattress had gently awakened him, he had groggily noted the time on the nightstand’s digital display: 2:49 AM.
Razori’s voice quietly informed him on the intercom, “Sir, I find your daughter at the gate.”
A week earlier, sixteen-year-old Ivy Powers had disappeared from the hospital where her doctors had admitted her for treatment of lymphoma. The disease had manifested suddenly and aggressively, resistant to therapy. She would be dead in six months, and he hadn’t blamed her for running away to die somewhere else on her own terms. “Let her in, Razori.”
“She will not, sir. She would speak with you at the gate.”
“She knows I’m here.” Olivia Fairleigh-Powers sat up in bed beside Bevan. “That’s why she won’t come in.” Olivia, his third wife, a tall, striking woman of honeyed skin, frost hair and razor blue eyes possessed a face of stern beauty. “She despises me.”
Bevan did not refute her. He put on a kaftan and hurried out of the bedchamber. As he passed through the dressing room, he glanced at himself in a cheval mirror. Blue-black hair stood out stiffly. His very pale face and dramatic hazel eyes hovered like an apparition in the focal light, and he startled himself. Sleep creases marred his boyish, heartbroken features. Quickly, he swept fingers across his scalp and rushed to the stairwell.
Razori met him in the security office on the first floor. The front gate monitors showed a midsize car, empty except for Ivy in the driver’s seat. He asked her to come in and opened the gates, but she refused. In exasperation, he agreed to come out.
Razori gave him a disquieted look. Perhaps Ivy had not run away from the hospital. Perhaps she was a lure. In Bevan’s business, underworld figures sometimes made trouble. And that’s why he had hired Razori, a former Iraqi intelligence officer and Sunni thug with a falcon’s furious face.
Razori drove Bevan out to the gate in the Peugeot, and when they arrived, sure enough, there was a big man with a shaved head sitting next to Ivy. “Stay, sir.” The trained killer got out of the Peugeot and approached the midsize, hand in his jacket gripping an M11 compact pistol. “Miss Ivy, please, come from the car.”
Ivy got out. She didn’t appear as emaciated as she had in the hospital, where she had shrunk to her skeleton. In the metal halide floodlights, she looked implausibly beautiful: spiky midnight hair in perfect disorder, surly teen features pallid as if a cutout of moonlight.
She spieled some long speech about how she was all right now and had decided to live on her own and didn’t want her father worrying about or searching for her.
While she rattled on, Bevan exited the Peugeot and gradually approached, intending to grab her and haul her inside, away from that big stranger in the passenger seat wearing ski sunglasses in the dark.
The stranger stepped out, and Razori drew his M11. What happened next…
What happened next? Bevan dizzied at the memory and stood up. “May I look around?”
Jenne Prosper peered over the flat screen with a rabbity pout. “The installations are in the east wing. Some are mechanical, others electrical. For your safety, Mister Powers, be sure not to touch them.”
Razori moved to rise, and Bevan motioned for him to stay. “Finish your poem, Razori. I’ll be fine.”
Effervescent as champagne, sunlight bounded off the Peroba Rosa floorboards in the hall. The morning light instilled Bevan with sufficient well-being to remember the horrid details of what had happened four nights ago when Razori aimed his pistol at the stranger with Ivy.
The big, bald man – or the thing that looked like a big, bald man – seemed to flow through space. He or it moved swiftly across the drive. It had features that must have been broken in hell and then fused to silence, for surely that was more mask than face.
Razori never got off a shot. It collided with him violently, slamming the bodyguard against the wrought iron gate. Its mask burrowed against his neck.
Razori cast up his eyes, which filled with radiant pain, and he cried a lustrous song of agony reveling in every twisted syllable.
Bevan wanted to delve that desperate scream out of his memory.
“He’s a vampire,” Ivy had explained, stepping closer, speaking with a sweet chill in her voice. “And I’m going with him. Do you understand?”
He didn’t. He couldn’t.
Morning inhabited the east wing. The installations there loomed large as house frames. He approached one that struck him as a revolving door set on a platform of blue lace agate.
When he bent toward the small identifying tag on the stone base, he expected it to announce: Door to Nowhere. Instead, he read, Evolving Door. A cage of white mice stood at one corner of the agate platform.
Despite the front desk’s admonition – or perhaps out of spite for making him wait – he worked the aluminum lever that opened the cage like a shutter, releasing one mouse into a chamber of the Evolving Door. He pushed a glass pane of the door to let the mouse out, so he could catch it and return it to the cage, and stood back with surprise at how easily the door swung around.
The door swept the wee creature through an entire rotation counterclockwise. For a moment, the brass panel at the bottom of the door hid the animal from sight. When it came back around and reached the open threshold, not a mouse emerged but a sizable amber insect – a water bug!
He inhaled a small, reverse laugh, a sucked-in gasp of amusement.
Intrigued, he repeated the action, this time pushing the door clockwise – and, instead of a mouse, a red squirrel rushed out.
The bushy tail flurried around the exhibit hall and disappeared through a small swinging door beneath one of the tall windows.
Bevan stood at the window and watched the spry creature bound across the lawn and swirl up a tree trunk. Delight propelled him backward several paces, and he almost began to laugh before he recalled why he was here.
The vampire had dropped Razori like a bag of sawdust. The Iraqi’s eyes inked up, clouding like squid smoke.
The jackhammer jolts of Bevan’s heart had used all his blood, and he couldn’t move. He stood transfixed, gaze jittering between Razori and Ivy, afraid to see but needing to see if she, too, was a vampire.
“Bernie’s not like other vampires, Dad. He’s a twice dead thing. He kills vampires. You’ll see.”
Bevan raised his eyebrows. What kind of name was that for a vampire? Or a … what was that? A twice dead thing?
He waded through a wash of sunshine toward the other installations in the east wing of Psycho Macchina. The gallery lived up to its name. Each art piece dominated space like a stupendous machine.
A gargantuan robotic armature attached to a vaguely anthropoid figure with prismatic visor looked about to rape him. Another work consisted of a series of LCD monitors displaying a severed head bouncing twice in an endless tape loop.
Was that his face on the bounding head?
He glanced around for the camera capturing his likeness and imposing it on the projected head.
Monumental titanium gantries enclosed contraptions he couldn’t decipher at all:
- a kinetic Mobius ribbon churning madly inside the hole of a glass torus crisscrossed with laser rays;
- tetrahedron gadgets of hypnotic strobes and flickering keypads slowly gyrating atop mirror-faceted fulcrums;
- cantilevered, compound pendulums of steel beams rhythmically floating among each other with massive weightlessness.
The labels identifying these works displayed binary code, making no sense to him.
Nothing had made sense since the vampire. That hideous night after it had dropped Razori, Ivy had informed him she was leaving with Bernie for good.
He had looked on horrified as his personal guard convulsed upright with a blurred face and outer space eyes.
“Your tough guy’s a vampire now, Dad. He’s the undead. You see?”
He didn’t want to see. He reached desperately for Ivy, and she backed away.
“Watch. Watch this now.” Bernie gripped the undead Razori by the back of the neck and mashed something into his gaping mouth, something like dirt. “It’s the ash of a twice dead thing. It completes the fractal blood soul and gets rid of the vampire virus. It happened to me, Dad. It cured me. I’m whole now. You understand?”
Understand? Not at all! That’s why he was here.
He decided to return to the front alcove and see if E. Randolph Rayne was ready to receive him. But first he had to find out how the Evolving Door switched animals. So, he entered and pushed through it clockwise, looking for the exchanging mechanism.
He was still searching when he came around and stepped out. His brain outburst orchestrated chaos. Instantly, he perceived that everything fit together meaningfully, every detail of awareness large as his heart was keen, everything succinctly fusing into his pleonastic mind of mind.
Two Bounces of a Severed Head
Now, he understood. This whole hominid world was an attitudinal problem. Anthropocentrism embedded in biocentrism nested in chronocentrism distorted reality. Who could blame the humanimal for believing consciousness required a brain? In the experience of sapiens, everything living was a slippery complexity of chemicals. And chemistry floated adrift on a one-way current of temporal flow, the thermodynamic river bound for the vast Entropic Ocean. Everything decipherable had to fit inside the neural net of the brain – or it didn’t exist for the humanimal.
Bevan pivoted, astonished at the charmed light of fusion radiation wobbling off the edges of things. Valence electrons spitting photons from reflective surfaces entertained him a moment.
The anonymous One observed from beyond the resonance cells of spacetime, impulsing him.
Without thought, he eased mind toward the beyond-me. And the anonymous One undulated awareness from off the chromosomal ribbons whose protein kinesis generated his consciousness, an epiphenomenon linked to existence and all its biophysical illusions.
He sensed the archons. These sentient entities intersected the worldsheet from 5-space the way physical objects met two dimensions with their shadows. Their beauty touched him as a raw dreamy feeling.
They noticed him while egressing across the worldsheet.
He noticed himself. His anti-self moved as a shiver in the radiant room. Death closed in.
The beyond-me collapsed at this perception to the egocentric awareness that he didn’t have any idea what was going on here – but he knew he didn’t have much time.
Joy in the flesh moved him around the east wing. These so-called sculptural installations he immediately recognized as devices. He wasn’t sure yet what function each machine served.
He did recognize the Evolving Door as a transdimensional machine, a hypervectorization contraption that had rotated him into this world from a parallel universe where evolution had more expansively convoluted the hominid neocortex.
Clever quantum gate appliance! He admired its elegance. Who constructed this?
At a colossal mechanical rotor coil affixed to a giant cataphract with prism eyeshade – the humanlike armorial figure that he had originally thought looked about to violate him – he read the label in binary code: Backhoe in the String Theory Landscape.
He knew about the Landscape, the mathematical space whose values were the ‘fields’ that made up the physical laws and constants of any particular vacuum or what the humanimal commonly called a ‘universe.’ The many possible sets of physical laws and constants generated stupendous numbers of vacua or universes, with less than 1% capable of evolving observers with consciousness and imagination.
In most universes, there could be no observers, because the fundamental conditions for observation – spatial dimensions that differentiated things and permitted subject-object relationships – didn’t exist. This device could tunnel between vacua. It had excavated the passage to a compatible parallel universe that the Evolving Door had used to deliver him here.
Earth had many replicas in the Landscape. In this one, he had a daughter – Ivy.
Morphogenetic field memories fit snugly in the similar yet more convoluted crannies of his brain. He ‘remembered’ the nightmare of four nights previous.
The experience did not frighten or baffle him. He knew about the fractal aspect virus with its recursive self-similarity to the genome. Its incompleteness required that those infected feed on self-similar blood.
Bernie, the big stranger with the shaved head accompanying Ivy, was not a typical vampire. Bernie had obviously discovered that a slain vampire was a ‘twice dead thing,’ and its remains canceled the fractal aspect virus of the undead. Bernie had infected Razori with the vampire virus by biting him – and then, right in front of Bevan’s eyes, had cured the bodyguard with the cremated ash of a twice dead thing.
Ivy had wanted him to see that, to know that she was herself cured and on a crusade to exterminate vampires.
Bevan’s anti-self shivered closer, a tremor in the air like thermal wrinkles from a radiator. The archons circulated closer, faithless to the gallery’s geometry or his biology, just pastels of mood coloring him with transparencies of anxiety.
He – or actually his self in this world – had come to Psycho Macchina because his best investigators informed him that E. Randolph Rayne knew a great deal about vampires. Looking around the east wing, at the ominous machines disguised as artwork, Bevan realized that E. Randolph knew a tremendous amount more than simply the history of the undead.
Perhaps, as the gallery owner’s acronym E.R.R. suggested, coming here was a mistake.
Too late now, the anti-self insisted. Too bad, the archons imposed with their glare of foreboding as they portaged upstream into a past of their choosing from some future roaring off a cliff-edge into vaporspace.
He thought of calling out to his bodyguard. No.
The vampire bite and the cure had transformed Razori from a stonehearted killer to a Sufi poet. He sat now in the front office composing a love song to his soul. This mystery would have to disclose itself without him.
Bevan studied the powerful and mysterious devices on display in the sunny gallery. He stood before the array of LCD monitors showing his lopped head spinning blood as it rolled.
When he bent over to read the binary code tag – Two Bounces of a Severed Head – he glimpsed the colorless chromatics of his anti-self closing on him and knew in that instant the injured truth that his arrival in this more primitive parallax of his origins fulfilled his destinal limit.
A scything fin of volcanic glass large as a propeller vane dropped from the ceiling, guillotining him. The glass fin slid through a floor notch, tripped a mechanism that sprung open a trapdoor and plummeted the beheaded body down a chute that quickly clicked shut behind.
The severed head bounced twice as it had in many symmetric vacua of the Landscape.
Bevan’s rotating perspective whirled across the enamel platform, a birling, blurring arc that jolted abruptly when a hand seized his hair and hoisted his dizzy head.
“’Sup, Mister P. Gettin’ ahead of yaself?”
An African face assessed the severed head That chiseled Oromo face with cavernous eyes, broad nose, and proud lips bent forward with an ineffable smile. “The mind takes us far away. Don’t it? Even across universes. But the heart, man – the heart, it always brings us back.”
“ReShawn, why must you talk to the heads?”
A short, narrow man of gaunt, unshaven countenance with a sinister scar across his thick nose pulled himself from a hatch in the String Landscape Backhoe. His dense mane of coarse, shoulder-length hair shone dully as steel wool. A smoldering Drina cigarette dangled from reptilian lips, smoke leaking from that harsh mouth like an escaping soul. “They hear, you know.”
“I know that, E.” ReShawn dropped the head into a plastic bag and zipped it shut, careful to keep the streaming blood on the enamel pedestal. “Straight up. They listen. That’s why I speak.”
“Install him, will you?” E. Randolph spoke impatiently, shutting the hatch with thick hands bulging with veins. Tattoos in Serbian on four square knuckles declared: k-u-g-a – plague, pest, infection, death. “Hurry – before he’s meat.”
While ReShawn carried the plastic wrapped head to the vitreous torus of latticed laser rays, E. Randolph lowered a hideaway desk built into the curved wall. He knelt in the fold-out transformer chair, wrists propped on the slender white laminate desktop and began typing across the surface touchboard.
His input slowed the Mobius ribbon rotating in the torus. When it stopped, a box drawer slid out from the installation’s blue epoxy platform, and ReShawn unbagged the head. He seated it in the drawer’s cradle of open-cell black foam.
Immediately, the drawer slid closed, and the Mobius ribbon spun again with a deep ascending whistle that abruptly resolved to silence. A moment later, the laser rays in the torus realigned, and a holoform eidolon of Bevan Powers stood upon the epoxy platform.
“E. Randolph Rayne gone see you now, Mister P.” ReShawn offered a hand to the eidolon. “Thanks for waitin’.”
Bevan hopped down from the dais. He eyed the splattered blood on the enamel pedestal and snorted with derision. Modern art.
He assessed ReShawn in denim jumpsuit, scuffed work boots, black bandana wrapped over his long skull, and he turned his attention to the seated man with the scarred nose and two day beard. “You? You’re E. Randolph Rayne?”
Above his flat Tartar cheekbones, E. Randolph’s thin, red-rimmed eyes studied Bevan’s 3-D image. Those narrow eyes, with their muddy irises and capillaries tangled like hot filaments, smiled. “Емил Радован Радмило – Emil Radovan Radmilo.”
His speech, fully modulated, carried no hint of accent. He dragged on his cigarette, blue-whiskered chin upraised, the dimple at its center deep as a nail hole. “E. Randolph Rayne better suits an art gallery owner, don’t you agree?”
“But you’re not a gallery owner, are you?” Bevan stepped closer. Despite his rough, unshaven countenance, Emil Radmilo wore Gucci jeans, scarlet Berluti loafers and a black V-neck silk t-shirt. “This is a front, isn’t it?”
Bevan tracked his gaze around the sunlit gallery while ReShawn unlocked a transformer chair from the wall and unfolded it for the financier to sit. Bevan touched the unusual chair with his fingertips, testing its stability, and sat. “You’re a vampire expert. That’s right?”
“Oh, yes. And gallery owner as well.” E. Randolph waved his cigarette through curlicues of smoke. “These installations sell to corporations worldwide and finance my research.”
ReShawn’s deep eyes widened, noticing that the back of Bevan’s head and neck blurred to smoky plasma wisps. In moments, his entire skull would vanish. Behind Bevan’s back, he gesticulated frantic concern to E. Randolph.
“You research vampires?” Bevan asked. At the edge of sight, he caught a glimpse of scintillant fumes, sparkling confetti of his vaporizing eidolon form.
“Fractal freaks.” E. Randolph typed furiously at the touchboard. The Mobius ribbon yawed slightly, and Bevan’s head reconstituted itself. “You know about fractals, Mister Powers?”
“I know about vampires,” Bevan responded, his voice hollow and stiff. “I saw one four nights ago. It attacked my bodyguard and ran off with my daughter.”
ReShawn hissed in disgust. “Yo, that is cruel!”
“ReShawn, the installation in the south wing, CryptoCyborgCipher?” E. Randolph exhaled smoke-jets through his nostrils. “The movers are picking it up today.”
“On it, E.” ReShawn gave Bevan a comradely slap on the back while surreptitiously nodding satisfaction to E. Randolph. “Easy, Mister P. This the right place. E. will do for you.”
E. Randolph dragged on the Drina while ReShawn ambled off. “He’s an Oromo chief’s son, from Ethiopia. Vampires claimed his family. I brought him here when he was a child.”
“Okay.” Bevan bobbed his head impatiently. “You rescued him – can you rescue my daughter?”
E. Randolph gave a gravelly laugh. “She doesn’t need rescuing, Mister Powers. You do.”
Bevan hunched over. “Excuse me?”
“Your wife – the girl’s stepmother – she is a mighty pythoness.” He stubbed out the fuming butt in a shagreen cigarette case and drew another Drina to his lips. “The pythoness is the most dangerous of fractal freaks.”
Bevan stared at him as he lit up with a Caran d’Ache gold lighter. “How do you know I even have a wife?”
E. Randolph returned the stare, leisurely exhaling tobacco fumes through his mouth while inhaling them through his nostrils.
“All right, you did some homework.” Bevan remained flat-faced. “So, tell me then. What’s a fractal freak?”
“Your wife, the pythoness.” He pointed his whiskery, nail-hole chin to the windows of creamy sunlight. “Your daughter Ivy’s boyfriend, Bernie, the twice dead thing.”
“Enough! Listen -” Bevan paused, weighted with anger. The vein down the middle of his brow darkened. “I don’t care about your strange ideas. I want straight answers. I want the truth.”
“Ah, Mister Powers.” E. Randolph shook his shaggy head morosely. “Do Gödel, Heisenberg and Wittgenstein mean nothing to you? Hmm?” An accusatory squint tightened his smoke-raddled eyes. “You are a 21st century man. You should know. There are no straight answers about the truth – only many, many wonderful questions.”
The Afterlife Machine
Bevan focused on the thin windows that framed wind-wafted trees. From a low bough, the red squirrel that had escaped the gallery gnawed an acorn.
“Okay, look. Something … horrible happened at my home four nights ago. I need you to explain it to me.”
“There is a secret and sublime world of profoundly broken people. They carry on their aberrant lives outside the society of ordinary human beings. They are fractal freaks.” E. Randolph spoke to his cigarette. “A fractal is a geometric pattern that repeats at endlessly smaller scales. Bear in mind, fractals were first known as monster curves.”
“So?” Bevan groaned.
“This original intuition proves uncannily accurate, because fractal humans are monsters.” Wafting the lit end of the Drina under his nose, the art dealer faced his new client through a swirling veil of blue smoke, his haggard, damaged visage a caricature of the monstrosities he described. “They are not whole. Their DNA is broken, as the name fractal implies. Its Latin cognate, frangere, means to break. When the fractal aspect virus inserts itself into the human genome, people become inhuman – vampires, werewolves, demonic creatures like your wife. Fractal freaks.”
“What makes you think my wife is … one of these monsters?”
“As you say, I did some homework.” After a brusque puff, he confided, “A cosmic battle rages, Mister Powers. Angels and demons. They have been fighting since the origin of the cosmos. Angels built life from the elements. They are Fire Lords, and for them life is a complex machine and the human brain a quantum computer that will eventually figure a way out of this cold, dark void into which angels and demons alike have fallen. The human brain will find a way back home, to hyperspace, whence the cosmos originated and where all opposites are reconciled beyond good and evil, life and death, Fire Lords and Dark Lords.” He squinted through another puff. “Dark Lords believe that’s nonsense. They are convinced there’s no way back. They want only to attain to the void and the serenity of formlessness. For the Dark Lords, life is an execration. They are the ones who inserted the fractal aspect virus in the genome – a monkey-wrench in life’s creepy, slimy works.”
“And you’re on the side of the angels.”
“No, Mister Powers.” E. Randolph continued in a low-keyed yet serious voice. “I take no sides. I am a scientist. Observation and data – that is my methodology. I experiment with the world as I find it.”
Bevan’s jaw pulsed. “That sounds unlikely, Mister Radmilo.” His voice hung from the edge of his nerves, and he seethed with indignation, watching this Euro-trash art monger coolly smoking, calling himself a scientist while Ivy romped somewhere with an abomination. “I can’t imagine any reputable scientific journal publishing your findings about fractal freaks.”
“The research I conduct is strictly for my own purposes.” E. Randolph spoke off the back end of a long drag, his tone soft and neutral. “Knowledge is power. And I have accrued extraordinary knowledge.”
“Do you know how to get my daughter back?”
“Yes. But you would not live to see her return.” He inflected his words with an ominous timbre. “The pythoness tried to eat your daughter, and the pythoness knows now she has failed. Worse for you, she knows you know. She will devour you.”
“Hold up. The pythoness – you mean, my wife – Olivia?”
“Yes.” One word crammed with horrifying certainty. “You married her eighteen months ago. Your daughter’s lymphoma began shortly thereafter.”
“What you witnessed four nights past, was that not crazy?” He lifted bold eyebrows. “Perhaps you are crazy.”
“Maybe I am.” Bevan pushed to his feet. “I made a mistake coming here.”
“Before you go, there is a strange device you will find edifying.” E. Randolph stubbed out his cigarette in his shagreen case, snapped it shut and stood. “Come.”
Briskly, the small man crossed through optimistic swathes of sunlight to a gargantuan titanium scaffold housing a slew of pyramidal metallic gizmos. Some small as thimbles flickered with dichroic pinpoint crystals. Others bulky as compact cars flashed mesmeric strobes from chromatic pendant keypads and electroluminescent rotary cams. Each tetrahedron reeled slowly on a pivot of faceted mirrors.
“This is the Afterlife Machine.” The gallery owner reached into the array and manipulated a backlit spherical input device. “This will reveal your destiny when you die.”
He’s crazy mad! Bevan fully realized and muscled down the impulse to flee immediately.
“So … my destiny – when I die? You’re referring to heaven and hell?”
“Those who serve Fire Lords are recycled. Reincarnated.” E. Randolph let his words hang in the softly tremulous air while he took Bevan’s hand and placed it on a palm sensor set in the gantry frame. “Waveforms of individuals useful to the angels are reinstalled in quantum computers – in human brains – repeatedly, with the promise of ascending to hyperspace once humanity designs a way out.”
“And the Dark Ones?” Bevan dragged the words out, reluctant to encourage the madman. “What do they do with souls?”
“This.” As E. Randolph stepped back, the mirror planes of the fulcrums darkened, and a ghostly reflection of Bevan, naked and terrified, pirouetted in each of them. His wraith spun in empty space, hot fragments spitting off him. Incandescent bits congealed in the void to fiery peels as though his phantom twirled on an invisible lathe.
Though the apparition whirled in dark silence, his contorted expression of flapping g-force cheeks and piggy eyes translated shrieks of hideous suffering. “Dark Lords deconstruct human waveforms to ores of silence and slag of stillness. The hellish process occupies a dilated time span of eons. And that is your fate when the pythoness you married devours you.”
Bevan snatched his hand from the palm sensor and staggered backward. “You are insane,” he uttered in stricken monotone.
E. Randolph shrugged – it is what it is – and Bevan saw the truth of it in his face.
The Garden of Evil
“Bevan may be a while.” Jenne Prosper spoke to the scribbling bodyguard while speed typing. When he didn’t reply, she pushed back from her glass desk and spoke louder, “Motassem? Would you like to view our garden?”
Razori, beating a paradiddle on his pad with a pencil, lifted a look of murderous despair that was actually fathomless poetic reverie. “Your pardon?”
“The garden is beautiful in morning light.” Jenne swiveled out of her chair. “Would you like to see?”
“Perhaps sir will need me.”
“He can find us in the garden.” She extended a pale hand of trim, unpainted nails. “Come.”
“This is poetry.” Razori moved to her side gracile as a panther, displaying a page filigreed with Arabic script. “A song of silence.”
Jenne took the pad and read aloud as she led him to sliding glass doors fronting a garden of coppiced hedges studded with roses, “‘Unfurl your heart and expose the wound that blossoms at the center. Then, your dreams are pollen for ecstatic bees, your nightmares attar for the Friend’s honey.’” She returned the pad with a sadly illuminated smile. “This is poetry of tragic beauty.”
Razori stood transfixed. “You read Arabic.”
“Several languages.” Jenne slid aside the glass door and stepped out among spasming butterflies. “I’m a linguist. That’s partly why E. Randolph hired me for the front desk.” She closed the door behind Razori, a movement that brought her close enough to ask in a dazzling whisper, “لماذا تكتب الشّعر ؟”
His face of irreversible fury broke to a grin of flawless teeth, instantly depleting the threat of his dangerous features. “Why do I write poetry?” His transient smile tightened, then vanished, leaving no discernable trace. He strolled onto a path of cinnamon flagstones, eyes dark as drill holes, head slung forward, swiping glances sideways, a prowling predator searching among thorny hedges for an answer. “It is a must.”
“You are in a dark world seeking light.” Four stone benches violently green with moss convened around a sundial footed in larkspur. Jenne sat. “Poetry illuminates your darkness.”
Razori stopped stalking his shadow and turned around. “Yes. I think this is so.”
“That is the strength of poetry.” She motioned casually for him to sit. “Made with intensity from nothing, poetry is pitiless and gentle.”
Razori stood staring at the white modular building with its transgressive swerves of green glass through which he glimpsed giant kinetic sculptures menacing as rebel angels. “My English is bad. I cannot say what is poetry.” He sat opposite her, and from across the sundial fixed her with an expression devoid of all consolation, a visage like a hatchet. “What I say to you is this. I am not gentle. And I am pitiless. Many have I slain with these hands. Slowly. With much suffering. Now, these very hands – all these very hard fingers – make poetry. And poetry makes the soul’s propaganda. Yes? You understand?”
“متى بدأت في كتابة الشّعر ؟”
“Speak English.” Razori flung a brutal stare at thorn hedges splashed with crimson roses. “This is dreaming. We speak English while dreaming with the beautiful American. Okay? So, you want to know this. When do I begin writing poetry?” He upheld a dark hand, thumb tucked against a beige palm. “Four days now.”
“Since the vampire attacked you.”
“You know this?”
“E. Randolph informed me.” Jenne’s voice floated light as air, as if this were a dream indeed. “You understand what happened to you?”
“You are to tell me?”
“You are transformed, Motassem. Forever changed.”
His cubical head nodded. “I am not the same man.”
“You have come forth from darkness into light.” Her eyes, green as imperial jade, insisted. “You must flee from this place. Immediately. Go far away.”
“Why?” His voice got small, meant to fit only her ears. “Why do you say these things?”
“A vampire killed you, Motassem. Do you remember?”
“Yes.” Terror banged from inside his eyes before he yanked it back. “That is why we find your boss.”
“You died once already.” She spoke with vigorous precision. “When next you die, you will become a twice dead thing – and your dead body will be useful to those who hunt and kill vampires. You are far more valuable to them dead than alive.”
“Such as your boss.”
“E. Randolph would never do that. He lost everyone dear to him in ’92, during the Bosnian conflict. Those four letters on the knuckles of his right hand spell death, because he fights it with all his strength.” Her voice got so quiet it could have been telepathic. “But there are others who will kill you for your flesh.”
“I cannot leave.” He stressed certitude far beyond his will. “My boss requires me.”
“Your boss is doomed. His wife is a demon. She will kill him. And you, as well.”
“Mrs. Olivia?” His cheeks puffed. “No. You have a mistake. Mrs. Olivia cares only for shoes and parties.”
“Mrs. Powers is a pythoness – a priestess of the demons. She discards time and people’s lives the way a snake sheds its skin.”
“I do not understand.” He addressed her, stare into stare. “Why do you tell me these things?”
“You are not a killer anymore, Motassem. Something terrible – something truly horrible is going to happen. It should not happen to you.”
“In Iraq, I had my family. All are dead. I have nowhere to go. Now my life is here.”
“Then, take this.” In her ivory palm, she proffered a large ring, mirror smooth and reflecting the world around them in a distorted, nether dimension, a garden of evil. “It will lead you to the vampire that killed you. Find him and you find Ivy Powers. Bring them here, and we can protect them. And you.”
“And my boss?”
She shook her head once. “Your boss came here to save his daughter. Here is your chance to do that. But do not go home with your boss. You will die – and then Ivy will die.”
Lair of the Scream
Driving back into Manhattan with Razori at the wheel of the Maybach 62, Bevan noticed the thick, platinum band on his personal guard’s right thumb. “Where did you get the ring?”
“Beautiful American.” Razori’s mind had been hurrying since they left Psycho Macchina, rushing through every possible way of warning Bevan without offending him. “She liked poetry.”
Bevan threw him a wry smile. “You’re going to find that a lot of beautiful Americans like your poetry.”
“This one says we are not to go home.” Razori looked to his passenger, wanting to search into his eyes. But Bevan gazed out at dirty sunlight filling the cross streets. “I am unhappy to say, she insists Mrs. Olivia is … dangerous.”
“Sure, right. Radmilo told me the same thing. Called her a pythoness.”
“What is this – pythoness?”
“She calls her a demon.”
“That’s all nonsense,” Bevan declared with disenchanted ire. “We were misinformed. I wasted a whole morning there. We’re going to have to look elsewhere to find out what happened to Ivy – and to you.” He returned his attention to the filthy morning squeezed between the buildings. “Let’s not talk about it anymore.”
During the following hours at the Manhattan office, the wide platinum band trilled silently on Razori’s thumb. He ignored it and applied himself diligently to his poetry. I am weaving ghosts into a rope of memories, a lariat to throw about the tossing head of the wild stallion, the black stallion death rides.
When they returned to Bevan’s Connecticut estate, sunset identified the western sky with flaming arrowheads among shaggy conifers.
Olivia Farleigh-Powers awaited them in the porte-cochere where Razori dropped off Bevan. She seemed congealed of twilight, all amber hues and gold highlights. The chandelier lanterns reflected fiery facets from her diamond accessories, enveloping her in an opalescent aura. As Bevan ascended the cut stone steps, he berated himself for letting that Bosnian hoodlum play him.
“What’s the occasion?” he asked, meeting the metallic stare under the auburn horizon of her eyebrows.
“Where were you today?”
“Office.” He kissed her, like embracing a manikin, and quickly went in the front door, speaking over his shoulder. “We restructured that debt obligation I told you about.”
“Before that. This morning.” She closed the door and leaned back against it. In her crushed velvet blue pantsuit with gold brocade at the ankles, she looked like a tall belle esprit, which is why he had married her. Aggressively elegant and serious in the most sensual way, she was good for business at the many high society functions his work entailed. But, for the same reasons, she was difficult to handle when she got mad. “You met with him.”
He tugged loose the knot of his tie, making room for the lie generator his larynx had become. “What are you talking about?”
“The Scar. You saw him about Ivy, didn’t you?” Her damaged expression said she knew it all. “I told you it was drugs. There are no vampires, Bevan. That man Ivy was with. He drugged Razori. You should have your poet tested. You’ll see.”
“Let’s not go on about this.” He moved quickly through the double stair foyer, past the elevator, toward the living room bar and the promise of a bracing drink. “Have you eaten yet?”
“What did the Scar tell you?”
“Radmilo?” He tossed his jacket onto the antique fruitwood lounge chair and went directly to the liquor cabinet. “How do you know about him?”
Her stiletto sandals clicked across the lustrous oak floor. “I know what my husband does when he’s not with me.”
“Olivia, I don’t like the way you’re talking.” He turned around slowly, hiding his discomfort in a snifter of cognac.
“How should I talk when you’re sneaking around behind my back?”
“I’m not sneaking around. I went for a consult. About Ivy.” He sunk into an English club chair as she closed in. “And why do you call him the Scar?”
“That’s how he’s known in our circle.”
“And what circle is that?”
“You know. He told you.” She approached somberly. “He said I gave Ivy cancer.”
“I don’t believe a word of it. He’s a con man. My researchers misled me. It was a mistake meeting him.” He was talking too fast he realized and sucked cognac through his teeth.
“What did he say about me?” She gazed down at him with scorching anger. “Bevan. What did he say?”
A sigh fluttered out. “He called you a witch.”
“A snake lady.” The cognac swirled. “A pythoness. He spoke nonsense. That’s why I walked out.” His heart felt like an untethered balloon as he stared up into her umbrageous features. He’d never seen her so outraged and reflexively went on the offensive. “How did you find out I went there? Only two people at the office know. They wouldn’t have told you.” They wouldn’t have told her what he had eaten for lunch – and he immediately regretted pressing her.
She placed her hands on the arms of the chair. Scarlet and ebony manicured nails indented the maroon leather, and her severely lovely face pressed close, crooked with rage. “I am a pythoness.”
A deep silence came over the room. Bevan’s inner voice rose up full of omen – This is it!
And it was.
Olivia’s carnelian painted mouth stretched to a Mesozoic grin, a slime-maw of serried teeth.
Cognac scattered like a cloudburst. Bevan emitted a molten cry before dagger teeth chewed his face. His body convulsed in elastic throes of agony, then vanished as monstrous jaws of stretched saliva slammed shut on nothing.
Olivia leaped back from her fatal bite, acetylene eyes taut in their sockets. For a wrenched instant, she stood disoriented, forked tongue running against the back of her fangs hard as a striking match. Then, she understood. The Scar had tricked her with an eidolon.
In the lair of the scream, her wrath awoke.
The Maiden and the Vampire
Razori dropped his pencil. The panes of the security bungalow twanged like gelatin, and a bellow akin to low-flying fighter jets occupied the burly pine walls.
The array of flat screens monitoring the grounds blinked out, and for a pitch black nethermoment, susurrous, erotic breathing tickled his brain.
His heart slid across his ribs like a spider dancing on silk struts. The beautiful American had warned him. Bevan Powers was dead.
Old instincts flexed, and Razori dropped to the polished floorboards and slithered out the door, M11 compact pistol in hand.
What was he doing running through the moonless night under shuddering stars, M11 held down against his leg, when moments before he had been scrawling his soul’s secrets? The soul’s boat is the heart, bobbing across horizons of tempest on a sea of blood…
Something sinuous slinked toward him across the great lawn. Why hadn’t the emergency generator kicked on? Where was the groundskeeper? The household staff? The patrol dogs?
Gripful darkness throttled his senses with palpable threat. He aimed the M11 at the slippery silhouette closing on him, and the platinum band on his right thumb jerked his gun hand aside and pulled him toward the garage.
His former self, the intelligence officer, would have reconnoitered the house. The aberration in his blood, the vampire’s blessing that had made him a poet and brimmed his soul into the chalice of his heart, said no. And he obeyed.
He dashed for the garage.
When the garage door rose and the Peugeot’s headlights flared, what he saw in the driveway heaped shrieks through him so rapidly he couldn’t breathe. The groundskeeper, the cook, the housemaid and the dogs weirdly ripped together made a gory collage of jammed limbs, tangled entrails and gibbering masks helplessly alive and vomiting yells. The gruesome abomination of whorled meat sauce sploshed toward him!
He floored the accelerator, and the crazy screaming carnal mess of knotted bodies splatted across hood and windshield. For a sick second, a smashed face thrived flat against the glass crying imbecile sounds.
He swerved, weaved and tore down the drive and through the barely opened gate. In the rearview, out of the spongy mess of torn carcasses, something abhorrent rose, lithe as an arachnid with a pair of eyes.
Squinting past blood weldings the wipers couldn’t remove, he drove wildly. His right hand steered, guided by the thick thumb ring, abruptly cutting corners. A morse of fear pulsed loudly in his ears, and he sped through the night.
At dawn, blood hummed like the remnant buzz from the Big Bang, and he rolled to a stop muffled in wool of fog, deep in the Pine Barrens.
A girl with blurred stars for eyes stood in the road.
He gouged clarity into his sockets with his knuckles and recognized Ivy. She looked as though she expected him.
Against the chill, she wore an oversize brown leather jacket torn and shredded as if by claws. But she seemed whole in her red halter top that exposed her midriff, tight tapered jeans, and those big hiking boots her stepmother abhorred.
He scanned the hazy woods for the large vampire.
“Mister R.” Ivy greeted Razori with a desultory nod as he unfolded from the Peugeot. “Bernie said you would find us.”
Razori held onto the car door, his knees gelatinous. “Bernie – he is here?”
Ivy looked into the dismal woods. Then, she redirected her gaze to the grille of the car. “You hit something.”
Razori stepped around and gazed with a mortified scowl at the placenta of bloody orts gumming the front fender. The snout of a dog and several fingers had wedged under the bumper.
A magnetic pull from the thumb ring turned him to face Ivy and her mile deep stare.
“Your father sends me to take you to safety.” He heard his voice going flutey and took a deep breath. “Bernie comes too.”
“Okay.” She led the way through violet fog and writhen pines where sunrise glowed like rubies in the branches. They moved among milkweeds and burdock growing in rectangular frames imprinted in the earth, foundation shadows of a ghost town.
Ahead appeared four bleak stone walls roofed with mats of honeysuckle. The walls pitched steeply off saplings risen from a foundered interior. “Don’t let the sun in,” Ivy warned sliding through draperies of woodbine.
Razori entered the ruined house crabwise. In the umber dark, odors of loam and wood rot packed the small enclosure. Moonlight burned in a corner – no! – a shaved head shining, and, staring from under a thick bone brow, crater eyes of final darkness.
The vampire rose, tall, heavy-shouldered, and with a scurrilous visage carved in florid, luminescent cicatrices.
Fright pierced Razori. He stepped back, tripped on his own feet and sat with a grunt.
▬▬I’m sorry I took your blood. The vampire stared down into Razori’s eyes, and the skin on the bodyguard’s soul shivered at the night color of that voice. ▬▬You were going to shoot me.
“I am changed.” Razori nodded vigorously. “I would not now shoot you.”
▬▬I know. The vampire exuded a supple fragrance like a balmy breeze escaping fruit trees. ▬▬Now you are a twice dead thing. You know death is not simply emptiness.
Amazement lifted Razori to his feet. “Who are you?”
▬▬I’m not sure anymore. The vampire turned his shining head and looked off. After an engrossed silence, his voice returned from its sorrowful excursion into memory. ▬▬I was human a few days ago.
“Vampires attacked Bernie and his lover.” Ivy gazed at Bernie with jazzed eyes. “They both died.”
▬▬We both died. My lover lost his soul. And I lost my body. Because I went back into it and burned it.
Razori leaned forward. “Such a thing is possible?”
“He’s here, right?” Ivy sounded sad. “He used the ashes of his own burned body to cancel the vampire in his lover’s flesh.”
▬▬And now I occupy my lover’s body.
“I do not understand.”
Indulging the Gorgon
Razori moved next to Ivy, the bitumen eyes of the vampire watching him closely. “How have you come together?”
“Bernie showed up at my hospital looking for transfusion bags.” Ivy combined a grin and a frown, woefully amused by the hulking vampire. “He needed blood, but he didn’t want to kill anybody. So, he asked me to help him sneak into the hospital and steal…”
With a drastic shriek, steel winds shredded the honeysuckle canopy, and sunlight cauterized the stone walls. Bernie collapsed howling, caustic fumes raying off him in sooty jets right through his clothes.
Ivy threw herself atop him, shouting, “Get us out of here!”
Razori swooped over the fallen vampire, lugged him half upright and, tugged by hysterical Ivy, lumbered through a skewed backdoor. He dared a glance over his shoulder and saw a barbed silhouette of a gruesome, flame-pinioned thing against the sun.
The midsize car that had conveyed Ivy to the gates of the estate five days earlier waited in the flaring grass, trunk lid open. He uphove the fuming body, face inches from the vampire’s raving muzzle.
The whirling fumes stank of hostile death and opened a dungeon of coma in him. Gasping, he fell back on his haunches, and Ivy slammed the lid shut.
On all fours, he scrambled for the driver’s door, a stark shadow fallen over him. Clutching at the door handle, he looked for Ivy, needing the ignition key, and her tormented gasp hitched his gaze upward.
Big boots kicking, tattered jacket flapping, Ivy’s narrow body vanished into the bedazzling eastern sun above the treetops, where a jagged goblin-shadow of lizard jaw and tissue paper wings frenzied.
Thunder fury exploded, and the fierce apparition burst to blusters of glittering diatoms, emerald volts that jigged briefly in the solar wind before festering to blue nothing.
Ivy woke cradled in the buttery leather passenger seat of the Maybach 62.
Olivia drove north on the Garden State Parkway with breezy, detached ease, paisleys of Mozart’s Rondo in A minor shivering in the frosty climate control.
The disheveled sixteen-year-old ran a shaky hand through her patchy, chemo-thinned hair, eyeing with churlish incredulity her stepmother’s perfect maquillage, aureate coiffure, and black plissé turtleneck. For a disjunct instant, she thought she had dreamed not only her raptor-claw abduction but the whole vampire escapade that had cured her lymphoma – all of it a nugget of annulment coagulated from taxol and pain in her cryogenic soul.
“Don’t even try fooling yourself, you little bitch.” Olivia glowered, eyes all pupil like the punched windows of an old forsaken house. “You’re alive now only because I need you to get Bevan.”
The space between them quivered, tense as thermal emptiness, their intermixed destinies clashing with nightmare strength that rent the worldsheet to a sickening sideglance of the Dark Ones and their grinning parabolas of deadfall void.
Ivy jolted. Through the incense of warped time, she faced her stepmother’s true visage: a crazed tremor of iridescent bluefly-flesh musclepacked over an agitated maw and iguanid eye-sockets. Lizard eyes swiveled in opposite directions. Crystal ball lenses eerily populated with protozoic entities of oozing light, each with its own unblinking fetal eyes, peered into the mystery of things, searching out horizons of her future and the coming night of death.
Olivia’s human countenance jarred back into place, and Mozart restored order to spacetime.
Ivy gagged. “What are you?”
“Why, dear, I’m a pythoness.” Olivia fought off a sour grin, checking her makeup in the rearview. “I am visited upon this world by the Dark Ones. We are come to end this disgusting odium of incessant hunger and lust. It’s a mercy killing, you understand.” She grimaced as if swallowing a razor. “Life! That monstrous shape I showed you – doesn’t it mock organic horror very well indeed? I designed it myself.”
Ivy stared impassively at the thing beside her. “What do you want with my father?”
“Is that a question – or a challenge?” An acid laugh sizzled between her painted lips. “I indulge myself with you, Ivy. I feel a need to declare my purpose. I must remember why I’m enduring such misery. This is so horrid being here, wearing this atrocious shape. How else to carry on? You know, actually I am nothing. Really, I am. Oh, well, as close to nothing as something can be. A mist mote. A diaphanous condensation in the nowhere. And the less I become, the more serenely annihilation curls on me. It is the Way, Ivy. The Dark Ones are the Way. All else is atrocity. But can I really expect understanding from you, a bag of hormones and feces, a nematode with limbs, voracity incarnate?”
Ivy chewed her thumb with a vexed look. “Why don’t you go back to nothing?”
“That’s what I’m doing,” Olivia answered brightly. “I’m on a mission. And not my first. Each time I succeed, the Dark Ones carry me closer to the start of void, the incubation of unbeing, the only joy.” Her head bobbled with reminiscent happiness. “To complete this mission, I need a lot of money, enough to help fund the deconstruction of civilization. But a pre-nup protects Bevan’s money. Unless you both die, I get nothing. And I need it all.”
“Where is he?” She spoke faintly to the window. “Where are we going?”
“To find an old nemesis.” Anxiety cadenced a trip of the heart and tightened her stomach. Olivia regretted again taking this assignment. The Scar had frustrated her before. What was he up to this time? She forced herself to focus and spoke aloud, delivering her attention to the traffic flow and the pulsing signal of the device the Scar had given Bevan’s bodyguard. “Razori will lead us there. But you needn’t trouble your befuddled head about it. I’ve indulged myself enough. Little monster, go to sleep.”
When Ivy woke next, she stood in peachy sunlight before a monolithic sliding door of brushed steel. The door glided open silently.
The Door in the Wound
“Ivy!” A rangy strawberry blonde with startling green eyes cheerfully took the young woman’s arm and drew her into the sunny interior. “We’ve been expecting you.”
Casting an anxious look behind, Ivy noticed the Maybach 62 parked at the curb, menacingly empty.
The steel door slowly closed, and in the narrowing aperture she spied her car nearby with Bernie in the trunk. The skyline of Manhattan slid away, a treasure trove hoarding the afternoon in a million coins of window glare.
Armpits dewing, she let the slim blonde lead her past a shiny bronze torso of an athletic goddess. “Where am I?”
“Psycho Macchina – a private art gallery.” They entered a capacious space of sweeping blank walls and luminous skylights. “I’m Jenne Prosper. Something to drink?”
Before she could reply, before she could utter a syllable of warning about the pythoness and the terrifying mayhem that had delivered her here, an indigo shadow swathed her. Her joints unlocked with a snickety noise, and she plopped onto the polished floorboards with a deep groan that bulged through the giant room like an iceberg suffering a loss.
The violet shadow condensed to a purple polyp pulsing in midair.
Am I dreaming? She watched Jenne spin on her heels.
The polyp burst with a nuclear glare that inked the fleeing blonde’s shadow onto the white wall.
When vision knocked back into her skull, Ivy slid backward across the glossy floor, a hockey puck slammed with terror.
An arachnoid lizard-bride occupied the room veiled in fiendish wings furling black and unfurling gossamer gray shot with rainbows. Sprawling wingbeats made the air cringe like heat. The muscular maw with many teeth, each a sharp yellow flame with a blue root, gnawed Jenne’s head and dropped her body under a plume of blood.
A talon hand swung out swift and lissome and snagged Ivy by the collar of her ripped leather jacket.
Swinging like clumsy luggage, Ivy accompanied the striding hobgoblin queen. The terror’s meathook claws clacked on the wood floor quickly and loudly, chitinous, backward bending legs scurrying down the corridor into the east wing.
Swivel eyes scanned the gallery of syrupy sunlight, raking the chamber in spectral and thermal wavelengths for everything living among the titan machines disguised as art installations.
She sighted Razori crouching in a shivering ball behind the gantry frame of the Afterlife Machine, M11 pistol trembling in his hand.
Two other neon bodies glowed through the wall that curved into the south wing. In an apocalyptic voice, the pythoness commanded, “Come forth! Or I spill the child’s bowels.” A red-tipped wing-hook poised its threatful promise before Ivy’s pale, ossified face.
Razori emerged at once and gently placed his pistol on the floor, staring up with a lachrymose expression at the jawbone slaver of razor teeth laid bare.
A blurred swipe of a satanic wing sent him on a horizontal flight to thudding impact with the far wall.
“Enough!” The Scar strode into view followed meekly by a lanky African in denim overalls. “ReShawn, attend to Mr. Razori.”
Scampering to the fallen bodyguard, ReShawn appraised with frazzled eyes the saurian mutation on its crableg pylons.
“Bevan – where is he?”
The Scar’s harsh voice rippled with exasperation, “First, put down the girl – gently.”
“First, die!” A black-tar leg long as a lance impaled the Scar, and he slumped with a gargled cry and skittering eyeballs.
“ReShawn – where is Bevan Powers?”
ReShawn, flustering over a dazed Razori, gestured without hesitation to the Eidolon Agglomerator.
A barb-tipped wing pulled at a drawer in the Agglomerator’s blue epoxy platform, and it slued open, revealing Bevan’s severed head encased in green aspic. The pythoness dropped Ivy, who scuttled away mewling. Knife-curved claws and prehensile wing-hooks reached for the cockeyed prize.
Abrupt mechanical whirring danced the spiderlegged creature full about.
The String Landscape Backhoe wailed to life, prismatic visor lighting up, revealing the cataphract’s interior, where Bernie, with a face like scorched diamond, worked controls. The prodigious robotic armature aimed its accelerator tube at the dragonish monstrosity. In one sliver of a second, the pythoness rocked back with the migraine realization she had scanned for the living but not the undead.
The colossal rotor coil bansheed a whitehot strobe, and the Dark Ones’ half ton phantasmagoria splintered to a cubist mirage that shimmered on the skin of the void before a hyperdimensional undertow whisked it into some unimaginable reality.
“Whoo-ee!” ReShawn drew a utility knife from the pocket of his denims. “That is so whack it rapes my head!” He squatted over E. Randolph, who was writhing in puddled blood, and swiped the knife across his throat.
Razori and Ivy shouted with horror. Before their cries dimmed, E. Randolph’s corpse blinked to nothing, every corpuscle of blood gone.
“Hey, E. ain’t dead.” ReShawn skipped to the Eidolon Agglomerator, clenched Bevan’s head by the hair and tossed it into the Evolving Door. “They just hidin’ out in some weird dimension I don’t wanna know nuthin’ about.” He punched a code into a chromatic pendant keypad, and two other drawers sighed open. ReShawn extracted the heads of E. Randolph and Jenne Prosper and tossed both into the Evolving Door. “But after seein’ that thing, I wish I was on Pluto!” He strolled to the glass door and shoved it counterclockwise, rolling the decapitated heads out of sight.
Bevan staggered out the Evolving Door with wide, sober eyes, features soaked in sorrow. “God! What happened?”
ReShawn shook his head. “Wrong question.”
Ivy collided with her father, breathing too hard to speak.
Razori gazed at them from his depths, then retrieved his gun and limped over to the Backhoe. He opened the cataphract and spoke into the darkness, “Thank you for us all.”
E. Randolph and Jenne bounded through the Evolving Door, exhilarated, mussed hair in their flushed faces.
“Was that for real?” Jenne laughed from a chest hollowed by wonder.
With a diffuse smile and a sigh, E. Randolph shrugged, “Fractal freaks.”
[“Fractal Freaks” originally published in Twice Dead Things,
Elder Signs Press, 2006]