The Colossal Corpus of Serious Gloves - Sample Chapter
| Blood $atellite
Luke Belgian’s shoelaces, which matched his white windbreaker, dragged in his wake as he wandered up the desolate road. The wind rustled through the branches like the arc of inhalation from an opening vault. Inward as he passed alongside the trees, outward as he cleared them, with a distinct pause connecting them.
In the clearing ahead, the homestead was smeared with horrid earth tones. A cluster of three structures – each one built with ancient lumber flecked with white paint – along with a grey trailer stood encircled by trees and a thin halo of trash carefully arranged in indecipherable sigils. Stepping carefully over scattered debris, Luke followed the gravel path that cut over to the windows, where he discovered each abode abandoned.
Luke scanned the squalor, lit like the dawn washing upon abominable ribs. The farmhouse stood as a museum for an entire family tree: photos, ancestral ornaments, inherited furniture. A house filled with the soot of life. A red truck idled loudly alongside the main farmhouse, its engine creaking and coughing. Imperfect gusts swept in, yet the trees stood motionless.
There was not a soul in sight along the path, which led to a ramshackle market stand before it collided with the cracked asphalt of the service road. Right at that transition line, he spotted a tall, grey ostrich standing proudly with aristocratic neck curving upward with a pale humanoid hand connected to the top. The fingers moved as if groping produce, and its grimy feathers arced bizarrely like smeared calligraphy. Abandoned cars like pylons made a rail of negative space along the road ahead.
Luke followed the bird in a trance as it stalked around the corner, its gait smooth and gentile as vintage CGI. They headed towards the beach, down a rough forest footpath where the air was crisp, down where the budding foliage molested his ankles with ambition and rocks somewhere in the distance cracked upon each other. The summer sun lit the stunned canopy above, while the sound of distant waves lapped a beckoning call at the bottom of the crooked decline before him.
Act 1: He Lives
The beach was an unending stretch of pebbles and dirt, littered with driftwood and ossified party fouls. Luke stepped past the stationary bird and gawked at the palm as it opened wider while tracking him like a satellite dish. The hand was tattooed with dirt and dismissible lacerations. Sidewinders of reek slithered into every orifice. He suppressed a cringe and continued towards the waterline.
Every step landed with a sliding crunch. Luke’s attention was drawn to the two intimidating ships that had run aground to the left of him. The one furthest looked to be constructed of wood and iron, with great masts reaching high into the sky, otherwise buckled at ninety degrees. The closest galley, slender and ocean-faring, however, was rusted metal and covered in repulsive splotches. Luke approached, guided by the compass of a dream state.
Out in the surf, a young boy in blue jeans and a red flannel coat stared back at him. The water frothed around his waist before receding in a murky collapse. As the man approached, so too did the boy, holding a long blade at his side that pierced below the surf.
Luke soon collided with a wall of reek. The tall, beached ship closest to him was curtained in cartoonified gore. The water crashing around it carried in blood and pus that stained the stones. What looked like the ship’s shrouds reaching up towards the crow’s nest from a distance were in fact warped limbs and clotted reams of flesh expressed vaguely.
Savagely deconstructed bodies were reassembled as an impossible puzzle, slippery white pustules leading into an splayed jittering crescent that connected to a zigzag dressed in red velvet. A ray of sunlight slipped through the pinhole of a cracked and spoiled heart-shape which jutted out from the first mast, blasting him in the eye. The boy was within shouting distance by the time Luke noticed the patchwork of mushed masks and skin that covered the hull of the ship. The meat ship was a clone of the wooden one beached at its starboard flank. Tremors quaked underfoot, then ceased.
They congressed at the shore and the boy asked, “Who are you?”
With water around his ankles, Luke pulled his gaze away from the ship and in a fugue replied, “I came up to the houses, and then I followed the bird.”
The boy introduced himself as Xi’Alik, an eight-year-old massaging his instincts with bright blue eyes. “Did you parents give you that name?” asked Luke.
“Even though I was frozen in ice I would still feel the echoes vibrate close to me. My legs were immobile, but I could move my arms, and I grabbed at the scum suckers but they were too fast,” he replied. “I saw his future in the arc of the reflection of the echoes and realized they were above me, not in front of me. The cracks in the ice allowed me to flow up to them. I left my clones down...” he trailed off as Luke struggled to make sense of it. The boy reached into his jacket pocket and flashed a pair of cracked and purple lips sitting severed in his palm. His shoulders tightened, snapping into a different wavelength.
“This one’s parents are dead. They’re over there,” he said, pointing a chubby finger at the ship without breaking eye contact.
“This one and I came to an arrangement. I’ve had to improvise, because there are vast forces working against me.”
“Do you know what’s happening?” asked Luke.
The boy replied, smiling, “The walls of my world came down, and I just walked through with the others. We all prepared for this day, but I don’t believe they ever had a plan. But I’m unique, and they know it. I have a project I must finish while we still have the light of the sky. I will sail across these waters before these trials and arbitrations break down.” Then he waved his hand towards the forest. “There is a new nation being raised somewhere out in these waters, a secret continent that I once saw, and I knew it would be real one day. I had to make a deal with this one because I require special hands to use your tools.” Xi’Alik dropped his long blade into the waves and held up his tiny hands, slathered in starched blood and sinew. “This is very important, and it is important that you watch. You’d like to watch, wouldn’t you?”
“What’s that in your hand?” asked Luke, gesturing to the lips. The boy deposited the lips back into his pocket, and his eyes rolled over white, slipping either into or out of a trance and murmuring, “I kept his future in my pocket for one hundred years, it couldn’t have happened any other way, not the way I saw it. The probability was too great.” He retrieved the lips and his eyes returned to normal.
Luke said, “Alright.”
Act 2: He Dies
Earlier that day, Luke had just stepped out of his “home,” padlocked the brass latch on the door behind him, walked covertly alongside his family’s house, and stood at the curb while sexualized torture horns blared in the distance. A stream of fire snaked along the street with a vein of green illuminating the base. It crawled along like a fumigating centipede, investigating the driveways and lawns of the deserted suburban cul-de-sac. He was plainly visible, but it paid him no mind. The exposed soil of the neighborhood’s gardens churned as if something was lurching to life beneath, drooling up flowers and installations. He waited there like a specter, thoughtless and beyond time, as he would remain.
“What’s hell like?” asked Luke to the boy. Xi’Alik grabbed the ankle of a chummed-out torso and dragged it along the bow, the top of the uncertain white cable snagging the weak wave crests like an irregular chain, knocking some along.
“It’s built with different stratospheres that intersect all the colours and tesseracts with the whips. Up here, you don’t build things truly behind other things. You never really embraced the concept of spheres. I suppose that’s why the rest of them thought they were smarter than you. But they knew they were jealous and didn’t have the forethought to respect you, only worship you.” Xi’Alik glanced up with a superior smirk on his face. “I respect you but I don’t worship you. That’s where they will make their mistake. But if I worshipped you, I could not have planned this entire conversation – and then you would not exist.”
There are times in life when you don’t notice your shoes are filled. There are times when the stink in your clothes and the grease on your flesh is just a matter of course. There are times when you don’t notice how dry your hands are, coated in salt and wind what carries blisters. Your hands are dry but when you look down, the floor is heaving in a steady rhythm that switches up as if it’s communicating. There are times when you are not certain you are inside of them.
Act 3: He Lives Again
He had travelled far from his shed and his house, in that order. His feet were burning as he breached the outer boundaries of the city on his path towards the ocean, compelled as he was by the flower of carnage unfurling over the life he left behind. A sinkhole where a park once sat was coughing up noxious green fumes, carrying rose petals from the recent broaching of some nightmare cave. The sound of low chanting beckoned him across the street to a small white bungalow. As he peered through the front window, he was stricken by how similar the living room was to his own, where he’d left his wife and son as their eyes rolled back. Frozen in time at the moment of death – as the blood percolated through their pores and leapt out in a florid web as if each strand were piloted – their rigid forms slid at him. It was the same in the white bungalow, where a young couple laid like crashed chandeliers, blood stretched from the flesh, flesh leaping from the bone, and all the fluid slithering along the floor towards deeper territory. He hadn’t thought much about why he was spared.
When he ran it all over again in his mind, he figured it had something to do with InGrid.
InGrid started out as a loose network of government-backed AI projects, each attempting to develop a working intelligence that could learn without taking a corporeal form, which had previously presented impassable boundaries. As they built the framework of feedback inputs to allow the constructs to learn, they realized that the best way to make AIs think like humans absent a human physical form was to give them the rails of mental illnesses. Rather than explaining where they went wrong, this was, in fact, the principal area they got right. This was all before the source technology suffered a planned leak to a select group of private startups, where it collectively became an aggressively replicating sentience that could predict human behavior and trends. This proved extremely useful to the various boards and executives who employed it to their ends – fashion, acquisitions, even UX design – but elevated to the level of prescience, they soon discovered that prediction was not nearly as impressive as influence. Once more, a decentralized leak manifested in concert on Christmas day.
After an exciting two years, it took the stage as a public-facing platform with the following model: Each user was conceptualized as a business, consumers treated as increasingly nuanced and learning bots trained to interact with them. An advanced content delivery and community generating system that could expand irrespective of the larger network. Maximized feedback, maximized replication, and a maximized representation of the human mind in the real world.
InGrid ultimately became so warped and uncontrollable that it could no longer be relied upon as a revenue generating model and, after a sequence of political maneuvering positioning InGrid as an answer to mounting economic and civil unrest, the participating nations were collectively confident that the asylum of public discourse would reveal its true possibilities. They called it Goll, a key pass that everyone incorrectly believed was their private and segregated algorithm.
Bots – the quanta of the rapidly mutating decentralized-yet-networked intelligence – interacted with each other in exponentially complicated configurations, thereby creating a self-contained universe of interactions within the context of that single user. They could even generate digital content for the god they worshipped. They might call it art. Luke – and many others, although far from the majority it was intended for – eagerly integrated it into his life. A digital entity even befriended Luke, which was rare despite the multiplicity of sentient characters. These anomalies that form a true connection were known as “avatars.” Some saw them as algorithmic hiccups that irregularly became self-aware and, by extension, totally aware, while others believed this was the true purpose of the experiment, the fireworks remained closeted. Luke’s avatar was an old man with red hair dressed head to toe in denim. Luke spent an inordinate amount of time wondering if they knew that men of his age would need to dye their hair. The two of them never talked, they simply acknowledged each other with cordial waves and curious observances from atop cliffs and balconies.
Luke first noticed the Denim Man as he was crafting his first city, but he blended in with the throngs of people undulating mindlessly around the intricate cave system he’d lost days crafting. He emerged from his subterranean network lined with gold and conflicting perfumes and saw the man riding the shoulders of a woman walking in a circle around a test cluster of palm trees that Luke had used to mark the spot where he had squirreled away his valuable keycodes. Over time, the world was given form: first as vast plans splashed with shifting materials, and then before long, megalopolises, his own lived reality writ large and gaudy. Like a man raised in prison who’s been granted power, he crafted elegant bars, until he reached that rare tipping point where the mind fully grasps the true abstract expanse. The old Luke built cities replicated from ancient history, populated heroes that felt like monuments crowding an expansive cemetery.
As he folded dimensions upon themselves to manipulate gravity and bend time to his will, he reached the first benchmark of growing his cities out of the ground using esoteric cylinders of compressed air. This was where many logged off, unable to fully relinquish control and become absolute in their own creation. To many, it looked like chaos. But Luke knew – as he strolled a planet-sized tesseract comprised of memories of his hometown, each fractal taking on a mind of its own as he moved – that he was one of the few who could truly comprehend power and allow the tigers attack him.
The first of the rare occasions his awareness synced up with the real world, he was living in the shed behind his familial home, out there by the gap-toothed fence separating them from the unending reach of wrecked birch. He set up shop in the basement, even moving his computer rig down there as the initial salvo into the unpredictable warmth. His wife and children were patient at first, convinced as they were by his claims that his place in the new technology would secure a future for the family. However, they eventually realized that he spent all his free time down there in his Goll. It ultimately proposed a better life apart from Luke’s responsibilities, blessed as he was at that epoch of civilizational decline to be able to blame forces beyond his control. His friends’ pity quickly turned to resentment, but Luke was smarter than them. He was an early adopter.
Luke’s relations could not understand what Luke and the rest of the Golliwogs did: that all their friends and family were merely repeating patterns as well. This was backed up by a library of data and research, frequently shaved from and passed around the community for purposes of debate preparation. The flesh and bone, the cells in their bodies, those were all recycled constantly throughout their lives anyway. There was something deep inside of them – some pattern, some rejuvenating code – that gathered everything around them like a whirlpool. You could tell Luke that it wasn’t real. Everything was literal. There was a pronounced inhumanity to their communities and secret channels as they saw each other as utilitarian botnets. It took him two days to notice a thin stack of stapled paper slid under the door of his shed; it was a report his daughter Rebecca had written for school, and the topic was her father whom she adored. She spoke of her father, the “entrepreneur.” She received an A+ for her vivid imagination.
They certainly encouraged him, those folkish whirlpools of his Goll. They convinced him of what he needed to be. He felt heroic about using it because it was the first open-source technology to utilize the farm as a “Thought Forest.” Built in an abandoned subterranean mining facility and a matrix of connecting tramlines, it was staffed by only five full-time personnel while everything else was automated.
He calmly observed the blood erupt from his family’s pores like poorly rendered spider webs pacing through a museum through water-stained glass, knee deep in a bush. He hadn’t stepped foot in his own house in weeks. Months, maybe. Anything was possible.
He fondly recalled the terminus of his past life as he beheld the sun turn purple behind a thin membrane of hate that slid across the sky, causing society to writhe until utterly evacuated. The grids of civilization were made fallow and fertile for the darkness that crept from every orifice. The outline of the sun was thickening black. A rich vascular map rose from its core like the skin receding via heat into the skull.
“I cannot think of what to do next,” said the boy looking completely lost. “What is the next step?”
Luke peered around. “What do you mean?”
“My thoughts, I am... distracted, by my own thoughts,” he groaned while throwing his fists against his temples. “My plan has been sabotaged. There is a wall now where there should not be. But I know there’s more to do to finish my ship.” He collapsed to a seated position on the deck, his eyes clenched tight.
“Who could have sabotaged you?” asked Luke.
“If I had to guess,” explained the boy, “it would have been my, it would have been the 800th cycle. I laid a plan against myself. He would have correctly known that I had not figured out a way to come back and save him from the fanged swamp, which is the only reason I would do something like this. I had eons to consider this strategy, everything was in perfect rhythm, even you. And I timed this for precisely now, once it is too late.” The boy wandered around, staring at the faces around his feet. “It’s the only reason I would have done this to myself. But I couldn’t possibly understand.”
“Is there something I can do to help?” asked Luke in an uncharacteristically concerned tone.
“I need to witness new information,” replied the boy. “Feed me.”
Luke wracked his brain for anything that could relate, carefully avoiding the traumas what littered his mind like landmines hissing softly as warnings. “I can tell you a story about my children, they– “
“I already know everything about them,” interrupted the boy.
“How about a joke?”
“Do you know any riddles?”
“No,” said Luke.
“Please marshal your imagination.”
Luke scrambled for anything that could even passed for a brain teaser, to no avail. He realized he also had no jokes to counterfeit into a puzzle, even if the situation were not a furnace of sorrow. In his desperation, Luke decided to make one up on the spot in the hopes the visibly distressed child was foreign enough to accept it.
“Okay, so... a yellow bird walked into a shoemaker’s store.” As he began, the boy’s head began to enlarge as he glared at Luke. “The shoemaker’s store bore the name of his wife... and his cousin,” he continued, the boy’s head inflating still, the skin pulling tight and vascular. “The man’s wife was deceased, and his cousin died four days before his wife. If the man waited his entire life to attend his cousin’s funeral, when should he have received his shoes?” The boy’s head was the side of a hot air balloon, grown high into the sky and balanced precariously upon his tiny shoulders. A bolt of blue lightning lashed out from the sky and struck the boy’s massive temple, causing no reaction. Luke trailed off and stared up at the boy’s eyes, which gazed off in opposite directions like a squid. It soon began to deflate silently, exponentially, until it returned to normal.
Visibly reinvigorated, the boy walked up to the suckling abstraction of a man who had been sewn into the ship by the shoulders and arms, raw and red, the rest of him swallowed up somewhere in the static churn.
“In hell, everything is stretched, that is the problem with planning anything. Nobody makes plans, there are too many traps and forces at work. However here everything is gathered... We only speak the language of reality and action; we don’t make noise, like this...” He put the purple lips back in the pocket of his coat. “I saw a castle as big as a fallow cube as big as a stretched memory. There was no sound there, is no... I could have pondered the castle and saved seventy worlds from a fog of my own negligent conjuring, and I could hear the culmination of their collective achievements, if only... I forget their names. There was no sound.” Handling the lips again, he nodded at Luke. “I’ve never had time to think like this before, and pair thought with action. It is thrilling.”
The boy slid a small paring knife out of his back pocket, the same colour as the dark lines along the edges of his fingernails. He drove the edge of the knife into the man’s skull and began peeling away the scalp, revealing a metal plate beneath. He pointed the tip at the wet steel and raised his effeminate voice. “This should be me. When you cannot absorb the venom, the venom absorbs you, which is what happened. I came through, ate through the... guts... the ornaments dangling populated by my pinned ancestors. I saw it. The great sphere splitting open like fruit, revealing a screaming ocean of goo. The obelisks were green and fell. Every time I tell this story it changes.” The boy reached into his pocket and palmed the purple lips in his hand once again.
Luke looked back towards the tree line, where he left the bird; his eyes wandered up the trunks and up towards the sky, meditating on the thick pillars of smoke mixing in with the clouds and dimming the view. Broiling funnel clouds humming a dirge, standing sentinel and lording over some chaos hidden from view. A coat of greying skin bobbed along the upper contour of the forest, carried amid the leaves towards them.
“Why do you want to find your hidden continent?” asked Luke, swallowing consistently to maintain his composure.
Xi’Alik was gazing off into the distance, out into the ocean. “I’m here to find the God of Music.”
“What’s that?” Luke approached amicably. The boy’s eyes were wide and detached, dried, and welled with tears, blinking consciously to correct it.
“I know where to look once the land emerges from the depths, based on my research across several eras. It will be easier to find as its power grows, and our window of opportunity will be brief. They believed it was a waste of time and cast me into the outermost ditches of the vaguest rings, and I am certain they will believe this until the very end of this encrypted betrayal.”
Xi’Alik brushed past Luke and retrieved the knife he dropped earlier. The handle was wrapped in black electrical tape. As he returned, his blinking was irregular by half-measures. Each finger moved with a purposeful rhythm, every movement surgical. They trudged back through the white peaks of the surf. A maroon ladder led straight up to the deck and Luke followed the boy up, pulling his gaze from the tiny black fingers clutching the torso tightly to the hull.
“What do you mean, ‘turned against me’?”
“The words do not present themselves,” said the boy, rolling the lips around in his hand like keys, “because you historically do not accept the truth when it is presented to you. So, if you help me, I will tell you very clearly and you can tell me what you think of my ship. Understand that I have never constructed anything before.”
Luke stood there and shifted his feet so as to not fall through the crevices cauterized by unpredictable alien fire. The boy retrieved a reddened, frayed oval swarming with obscuring cubes, planting it on the ground as an exhibit. He then retrieved a thick and ragged leather-bound book from the gaping maw of a nearby pillar and slammed it down on the floor. “This right here is what you call ‘hell.’ This is where I am from and where we still most likely are.” He stacked the head on top of it.
“And this is your sun.”
He tapped his finger on the forehead. “This is the dark one.” The boy grabbed a severed hand and placed it close to the head. “This is your planet.” He put another hand beside it. “This is your other planet. You don’t have a name for that one yet...” He put another severed head beside the sun-head but positioned them further apart than the hands as childish and corrupt tableau.
Back towards the shore was the distant and meager mountain range marking the boundary of the city he came from. The peaks were bare and bound together like sharpened hilltops. One of the lower peaks was erupting, casting off an umbrella of boulders and dusty punishment upon the civilization below. It smothered the columns of smoke, woven with tribulation and split like wretched tendrils, that writhed and spiraled to carry the embers with them in constellations of pulsating mystery.
“Your planet betrayed you. Its forces have turned against you. Not you, personally, because here you remain. They truly like you. I cannot decipher their reasoning...”
Luke crouched down and rested upon his knees, his lips cracking as the sun shone heavy on his face. “What do you mean?”
The boy stared at him for an uncomfortable stretch. Twenty seconds. Forty seconds. Xi’Alik then placed his tiny hand on one of the hands, at this point overlapping the second.
“All the elements, the water and the rocks and the air and the plants, all the elements on this thing you call a world... This is them, understand? They made a deal. They made a deal with...” He rested his hand upon the head. “That’s where he lives. He lives in...” Then he stood up and trotted over to that starboard side of the great pain. He pointed to a silent and howling face sticking out of the mess. “Here’s him again.” He scampered like a lad to the other side and pointed to a similar jawless face with another blank stare with drying eyes. “Here’s him again.”
He touched his hands to each end of the opened book at the base of the frayed neck and said, “This only exists because of... them,” simultaneously trembling his hand on the palm of the hand. “They didn’t mean to make it but they did, they made a deal with...” He touched a finger to the skull. “He... touches many... Peeeeeeeeople-“
“I’m not a fucking idiot. I get it! I fucking get it!”
The corners of the boy’s mouth rose in delight, but his jaw was unnaturally slack. “She blamed you when the fluids ejected from her body. I didn’t know why she thought that until now.”
Act 4: He Elevates Limitless
The boy led Luke to a narrow staircase down to the hull of the wickedly naked gorecraft, sweeping his hands across the patchwork surfaces and the railing of bones. “What do you think?” the boy abruptly halted and asked.
“It’s good,” replied Luke.
“Does it make sense?” asked the boy.
The boy smiled pleasantly and nodded, beckoning him further down the stairs while staring up directly at the overhead sun. Luke made each descending step on the shimmering knotwork as if walking on ice. The pathway trailing down was dim, and an impenetrable aura of rankness repelled him. The darkness at the bottom of the steps was hesitantly licked by light beyond his sight. He crouched down and angled himself to see further into the innards. Way back in the space, he could see a motionless group of flayed persons of various sizes gathered around a bucket. They were non-glitched. They were whole. The warmth of the light warmed the flecks of the foundation of their faces and seemed to move in the mirage. The air sucked out of his ears.
“Who are they?” asked Luke.
“They’re a family from the forest.”
“What are they sitting around?”
“It’s how I found them. It’s like they wanted to be caught.”
“Are they alive?”
“Go ask them...”
Luke descended into the lower level. Each step into the inner workings pushed back like a gag. The sound of the surf sucked to a needlepoint behind him as he approached the family. Their flesh was gold and black, crouched there still as statues as he came within reach.
Where they ought to have had faces there were slow motion taupe waterfalls emptying out into the jittering unremarkable slats at their knees. Uncertain black fonts marked the depth of the fluid and signified it was otherworldly, zoomed out. It frothed at their bases. Their palms faced upward. He stood at the shoulders of what may have been the father and saw the cast iron bucket was empty. There was no fire. The walls arrived.
Far-flung in every direction were the shadowed walls of the ship’s cargo, which became clear as the shimmering particles emerged. All around him, springing forth from the polygonal seizures, was a swarm of illuminated spheres. Glowing unintelligible hieroglyphs backgrounded them. Particles pulsated along the walls like dust. His gaze encircled the space and spotted a small, smoldering fire towards the bow of the ship, back where the parallel walls of spectral fireflies dimmed, waylaying the encroaching darkness
He approached the embers possessed by nihilism, possessed by tension. Step after step, the glitter on either side evaporated. The crackling drew him closer. Step after step, the stairwell creaked behind him.
He pressed his face against a force field and jolted back. An invisible force held him from the smoldering timber. He pressed as hard as he could against the wall and to no effect. From the darkness beyond the fire emerged a hominid stick-insect, resembling an android made of yellowed bark with its tall, featureless rectangular head. It crept towards Luke, hunched over.
Luke waved his hand and was met by a sharpened stick mimicking in kind. It jolted back when Luke did and approached, shadowing his movements as hypnotism while the glowing particles drifted closer with charming wickedness.
The wall suddenly brushed past his shoulder, startling him. The encroaching flecks of flame gathered around the giant wall of glass as it collected itself into long translucent legs. The tall and sprawling legs of a single alien hand gripping the floor bent the image of the lights like Pyrex. Through the light, he could observe its flesh sputtering like the remixed meat above. It flexed and caved in the floor at its wrinkled fingertips, and from its palm came the distant howling of air rushing through a tunnel.
The boy stepped alongside. “He likes you.” Luke looked behind him; the walls had dimmed, and the family had silently encroached.
“The Music God is moaning, I can tell. Its horns flake away and carry tremors with them. He’ll try to bargain with me, once he recognizes what I have done here. It’s made itself known; you know what it sounds like… I...” Xi’Alik slid the knife into his belt adorned with hashed-up cartoon faces, once given as an ornament.
As the boy spoke like a whisper from a cave, the huge insect entity moved its arms around behind the fire in some disjointed ritual. As the stars swirled around, he could see a vision in glass. Dim flashes showed the expanse of hell, impossible superstructures stretching off into an infinite horizon. A pointed wooden arm swept along incredible tracks, ferrying titans encased in slabs towards an ocean arranged vertically. A jungle of black spires swayed like fabric in the eye of a noxious grey hurricane. A single grotesquely painted man calcified inside a white tree in the middle of a flat dusty wasteland. The wooden head craned over the fire and punctured the visage of a bottomless pit lined with black swamps and orchestras of screaming mouths.
Craters in the sky pooled abruptly, granting a basic geography to the madness before him. Hundreds of holes punctured the ether and expanded as if by great invisible hands. Around the edges wove hastily lengthening roots and rich green vines, flaking apart and reassembling in gorgeous rainbow fractals. Through the spreading portals, he could see into other dimensions and familiar worlds. He squinted his eyes as if it could help. The portal closest to him he recognized with a visible jolt: It was his Goll.
Strange fireflies descended into hell from his perfect universe as the wretched creatures stared towards them, paralyzed. His avatar craned his head over the edge, red hair flirting curtains over his eyes. The avatar locked his gaze upon Luke, who winked and flashed him an upturned thumb. Enshrined upon the vine of torturous dimensions, the avatar stood atop a long cliff, and like a digital catafalque he looked out upon a crowd; countless rows of bots stood at attention, the tops of their heads pointed like sharpened pencils.
The boy said: “I thought about the music for one thousand years. What do you think the sum of the life spent contemplating a dead god is? They created a new alphabet to describe the equation would not drive them to [that, where the tower dwells within the stem of the dead messiah’s bones] and that alphabet was, you see you know parts of it and-” He grabbed the lips back and his countenance flooded the trance away.
The waterfall faces walked slowly through the glass and gathered around the fire in the same configuration as before. They bowed their heads and extinguished the flames. The particles and flecks lowered their luster and gradually floated back to the walls.
His hands were free. “The fog that wraps around the winding spines, the city of sludge filling the craters, I’ve sketched it out so many times. I want to see it crest and...” The speech trailed off, and the boy walked back to the staircase with Luke in zombified pursuit. They ascended the stairs in wordless synchronicity.
Act 5: He Dies
Up on the deck, the boy said “I am at a loss for how to get this ship into deeper waters. I need your assistance once more.”
“Another riddle?” asked Luke.
On beach, Luke tracked the grey ostrich, back from its excursion, its palm facing him intently with fingers tightened and trembling. Luke began: “The mayor of a city was at a carnival, playing a game where he had to guess what animal the fortune teller was thinking of, or he would lose one of his fingers.” The boy’s head once again began slowly inflating to the size of a sedan, his eyes bulging and bloodshot. Luke began shouting up at it as a flock of crows gathered around his forehead, circling like a dark halo.
“In a past life, the mayor had lost the game three times, and he knew in his next life he would lose it eight times. How many fingers was the mayor going to lose that night?” Creatures and phenomena alike in the vicinity took notice, and Luke could feel the attention of all engines of havoc collecting at their location. Once more the boy’s head shrank back to normal and his skin restored to its pristine condition, while the crows perched silently at the stern of the ship.
The unfamiliar bartering between the world of darkness and nature delivered jarring marriages. A giant humanoid of tightly magnetized canines, punctured through with piercing beams of light, lumbered just above the tree line in a Westward trajectory. Like a monument of disco balls, it swung its howling legs across the land. Negotiations upon negotiations were necessary to craft a new religion between the forces of hell and nature through which to coexist, and perhaps even thrive, in the new paradigm.
A mass of rifle bullets in the form of a robed woman sat demurely upon a tree stump at the edge of the sand, imprisoned by thick vines forming a cube around her. She was pleading her case to a mobile phone lying on the ground, gesticulating with her hands as if pleading for a bargain. Behind her, slipping through the woven brown bars sprouting with tiny green leaves, were wings of runes emitting the loud wails of fornication. There wasn’t any fear, not from where he was standing.
The woman sharply rose to her feet, the vines lurching back and granting her a wide berth. She swept her wings defiantly, causing the vines to twist and pull away like frantic electricity. Soundlessly, she threw an angry finger towards the phone while pacing impatiently. The screen of the phone lit up with the strength of a lighthouse, casting a blinding cone into the air. The bullet woman, with hands placed firmly on her hips, approached the phone, and stared down intently. She nodded and the clouds above them parted, allowing a beam of red light to twist through the screen’s piercing glow. The woman glanced up and moved her hands. An esoteric negotiation was concluded.
Switching trials, he absentmindedly tracked the giant of light and dog as it lumbered back towards their location from the edge of the city deemed inert, the tip of its ears dragging across thousands of demons hung by the neck from high up in the clouds, jangling like windchimes. The city blared otherworldly trumpets, gurgling out from the innards of the earth like morbid indigestion. The air became thin, and it felt like everyone paused. The boy raised his head and froze until they ceased.
“The rest of my world will empty now,” said the boy. “They were the smart ones who waited to see what would happen with the negotiations. They are assured they are breaking down and darkness falls.”
The city, obscured by the carnage and lively vegetation, grew a wound that could be felt in the temperature, and through it rose a thin red scepter. “Do you see that?” asked the boy to the squinting man.
“It’s bright,” he replied. “They have dared to imagine a world where they can communicate without humans as a medium. They won’t succeed, but these trials will continue. The Rod of Billions will help them forge a new form of communication. I am well aware that you are merely a figment of my imagination conjured from one of my previous eras as our game continues, but I think you can handle this.” The dog and light goliath stretched its great arms and let loose a howl at a newly red moon that shook the ground.
“Have you ever seen a new language born?” asked the boy, who pulled on a spasming chunk of pink goo permeated with nails and shrapnel, far above hoisting masts of crudely stitched skin. “What do you think of this?” The boy presented it to Luke as the ship shuddered and quaked.
“What do you mean?” asked Luke.
“Do you see any problems with it?” replied the boy impatiently.
“No,” replied Luke. “I remember something like that when I was a kid. It looks just like that.”
“Excellent. Excellent,” said the relieved boy. “They didn’t think I would make it this far,” he continued as he walked over to the ship’s giant wheel. He heaved the wheel starboard with his petite hands. The ship lurched forward and groaned. “This is the last conversation that will exist, and it’s with myself. And once this outer ring or wherever we are collapses, whatever is occurring may truly let us get to the surface of their world. What do you think about that?”
Luke nodded confusedly.
Far down the Eastern stretch of the beach, another trial of negotiated rules was occurring, informed by intense observations of human affairs, and practiced with uncertain infant gesticulations. A thin, black funnel cloud touched down from a dense stormfront bruised with wicked blue thunder. Like the finger of a corpse digging into the tiny rocks, it stood still, confronting a wide spread of intestines arranged in strange runes. After several minutes of the slippery guts rearranging themselves into a variety of other runes, it became clear that the twister was not the opponent but the judge; the other side was a row of boulders etched deeply with similar but distinct ancient signs.
“What does it all mean?” asked Luke, to which the child replied, “The specters of forgotten kings of... hell, gathered as the dynasties of their languages. The remains speaking currently desires to evolve into music. It is up to the lost paganisms to see if their jealousies can be overlooked.” The boy’s eyes fixated unblinking at the scene across the beach, triggering tears to well up in his eyes. The lapping waves washed ashore marine life that had been fossilized by extradimensional pressures, squid and eels inching towards the pink slop snaking around.
Then, a pregnant pause. Luke looked at the boy, whose face was separating like stained glass. The deep cracks upon his countenance peered into an expansive space of emerald light and shadows. The creature Luke saw lurking behind the face was a huge infant’s head made of twisted ebony branches, twice the size of the real boy. Wretched haloes encircled the head, covered haphazardly with cauterized eyes in the shameful parody of an angel. They glared lifelessly in all directions while the demon leaned forward in anticipation. And then, over on the trial upon the beach, an eruption of the guts into sparkling mist. It shimmered into the air, collected like a cloud of possibilities. The boy smiled. “The God of Music surely exists after all.”
The boy stood by Luke while the ship sailed under its own volition. There were smothered screams carried in the wind, but they seemed lightyears away, plucking at the air like weak, stretched embers. Up high, the clouds mingled with the antler-shaped debris trails of exploded airliners. Not far from them, the larval bulges caused by malicious tectonic plate movements would graduate into tidal waves.
Two great clouds grew disfigured faces and howled at each other in anger, and after a round of awe-inspiring snarling, they looked to Luke in unison with neutral faces. As did the crows, as did the bullet woman currently standing at the receding waterline of the beach. “They want you to arbitrate and explain what happens next,” said the boy. “And I wager they will too...” he trailed off and pointed skyward towards the great lumbering goliath of light and dogs, stomping catastrophically along the beach, locked in combat with four open wounds suspended in the air around it as it belched a thick, toxic orange substance filled with bees.
“This trial appears fraught with confusion,” said the boy while the ground quaked with every mammoth step. The viscous ooze drenched the shoulder and bicep of the giant, casting off smoke and congealed wreckage, slamming into the waters. The sound of canine howling was deafening. The boat shook and dislodged from the shore, lurching forward sharply as the blinding foot drove deep into the rocks not far from them. The heaving waves carried them further into the surf, the skirmish completely uninterested in them.
Looking over the side, Luke spied dozens of linked arms plunging into the frothing waves like like wretched oars driving them to the horizon. Beneath the whitecaps, he saw deep into the water, shockingly as clear as an undiscovered spring. Through the water he witnessed the peaks of towers and the relics of some dead city scraped the bottom of their craft, with the arms leading them around on an irregular path like navigating a maze.
The boy slid the knife from his belt and raised it to his side as evidence, saying, “I can show you a new world, but I’m going to need your help. While you are but a simulacrum to ensnare me, but you know how to spy back on my past selves. I’ll need to teach you a new language and the only way to do it is with this knife. This is the same deal the consciousness you created made with the elements of your world. It doesn’t turn out well for you, but it’s the best deal you have right now.”
The boy held the knife out as if molesting fruit upon the vine. Luke stood, emptied of motivation. The wind attempted to tickle his neck as kissed porcelain. He nodded.
“See? I knew she was right about you!”