The sand and rocks beneath Rusty’s feet were red and a black velvet atrium pricked with a million pinpoints of light rose overhead and eventually slid down behind a distant set of red hills.
Were he up on his astronomy, Rusty would’ve discovered right away there wasn’t one identifiable constellation overhead. He did, however, instantly recognize the woman walking toward him. She wasn’t hard to miss, being that she was the only other human being on the red plain, and the fact that she was naked. Again.
She was the owl woman. Somehow that connection finally gelled in his muddled mind. Sure. He found a wet and broken owl in the back yard. He dried it and put in the closet and the next he knew it was a she and very lovely and very naked. Same thing happened in the bedroom after he’d struggled to dress her. He went for the phone and she didn’t like that idea and, in turn, went for him in the guise of an owl.
It all made sense–as much sense as he standing here on this plain of red rocks under alien stars, waiting on her very bare approach.
As she came to him she smiled that same little girl smile and reached out her hand just as she did when he found her perched at the end of his bed. But this time was different. This time there was more purpose in those golden eyes and this time when she touched her palm to his forehead, he didn’t travel to the red place like before because he was already there. But her hand felt just as sweet and natural against his skin, and he felt that same warming calm flow up from his belly and through his arms and legs.
And this time, the woman spoke. “I’ve been waiting for you for a long time, Rusty Baimbridge.” There was a near-giddy relief in her voice that scared the ever-living crap out of Rusty and he started to shake.
“You’re not going to eat my soul out are you?”
“No, Rusty,” she smiled and tilted her head while combing her eyes over the whole of his face.
“How about my brain, you’re not going to eat my brain are you?”
And she laughed. It was a laugh so clear and crisp and so full of pure joy as to be unnatural.
“No, no, you silly man. I’ve been looking for you because I need your help…”
“What are you? Are you some kind of angel or…a demon?”
“No. I’m older than those notions…but I may be a little of both.”
It was an ambiguous response though he didn’t feel she was deflecting his question. In fact, he felt certain she was answering as honestly as she could. He relaxed. Nodded and glanced down to see his naked penis silhouetted against the red sand.
“Holy crap! Why’d you bring me here all naked?”
“I didn’t bring you anywhere, Rusty. This place has always been within you.”
Rusty felt a wave of dizziness wash over him while band of prickly-cold sweat beaded over his forehead and he started to swoon. The woman took him by the shoulders, gripping him so tight he could feel her nails dig deep into his skin. “Stay with me Rusty. I need you here with me.”
Rusty’s eyelids fluttered, his eyes coming back into focus and directly aligned with hers, so large and so golden. She stood so close to him now he could feel her nipples brushing his. His mouth went dry and his heart began to pound and lurch. The woman loosened her grip and he shuffled back a hair.
Looking down, he discovered his normally mellow member had started to stiffen. He blushed and formed his hands into a fig leaf over his loins. Looking away to the barren hills along the horizon, he wished to be anywhere but here. Anywhere but naked and vulnerable before this stark naked and beautiful woman — the most beautiful woman he’d ever known in his short and anxious life.
He swallowed and looked back to the owl woman.
“What do you need from me?” he croaked.
“My daughter is trapped in your house and I need you to sing her back to me,” said the owl woman.
Dawn, the little ghost girl rounded the couch and peered down at the two silent forms on the floor. The singing man was flat on his back, his head tilted up, mouth open, eyes rolled back so all you saw were the whites. He was very still. She couldn’t see the rest of his body because her mother’s motionless form was all but draped over the top of him.
“You guys, get up,” said the ghost girl. The only response was the steady rise and fall of breathing issuing from either body.
“You guys, get up!” she said once more. “I’m not joking. I want to talk to mommy, she’s been gone a long time and I’m lonely. NOW GET UP!” and with that, the little ghost girl kicked a transparent foot clean through the thigh of the prostrate non-singing, singing man and a gasp escaped his throat.
Rusty sat bolt upright, rolling the naked owl woman to the side. Propping himself up on his hands, he blinked and took in one, two, three gulps of air.
The owl woman slowly uncoiled herself from where she lay and stood up. Reaching down with a smile, she took Rusty’s hands and lifted the lean young man to his feet.
She then turned, chose a space in the open air just below and beyond her nose, and said, “No kicking.”
Rusty blinked once more and looked to the empty air. “Is she here?”
The owl woman looked back into Rusty’s face and with a hallow smile, gave the trace of a nod.
“She’s dead, isn’t she?”
Again, the owl woman gave a brief nod. As Rusty looked the air up and down for traces of something little girl-like, the owl woman turned to the couch and took hold of the lime green afghan draped across its back. Slinging it about her shoulders, she enfolded each half of the afghan about herself like a pair of wings and then took up a seat at the couch’s far corner.
“We died here a long time ago,” the owl woman said drawing her legs into her chest. “Dawnie was trapped here…and I went somewhere else.”
Now terribly self-conscious that his home was made of pitchers with great and everlasting ears, Rusty found himself testing each word before speaking.
“We?” said, Rusty. “You mean ‘she’?'”
“No, Rusty.” The owl man said solemnly, digging her chin in the yarn folds covering her knees. “We both died here. The bodies we used are long turned to clay. Her essence stayed here…mine fled.”
“How,” said Rusty. “I—I don’t understand any of this…”
The owl woman looked up. Her golden eyes were deep and wet. “Neither do I, dear man, neither do I.”
Gods and Monsters
Paulus nearly laughed himself into a system-wide hemorrhage watching Castro screw his own severed head back into the bloody neck socket. Castro’s hands swiveled the head back and forth, eventually twisting it into place like a massive light bulb. The effort brought even greater peals of laughter from the recent amputee.
Former Coroner Ron heard air whistle through Castro’s open mouth. The whistling was followed hard upon by the sounds of moist retching and garbled heaving struggling to imitate human speech. “Brother, when you’ve laughed yourself out, I could use your help?”
“Oh fine, fine,” chuckled the one-armed man. Righting himself, Paulus turned about and retrieved his own mislaid arm from the grass.
Standing alone in the damp gloom, Former Coroner Ron felt as though he were viewing an improvisational piece of absurdist theatre performed solely for his benefit. He watched in dumb silence as Paulus, his severed limb clutched in his fist like a meaty baton, strode past him out of the proscenium and into the garage. The gory counterpart to this Beckett-esque duo rose to his knees and placed both hands firmly atop his head to hold his bobbling noggin in place. Castro then swiveled himself about to face Former Coroner Ron.
The pale and blood splattered face split into something akin to an apologetic smile and Castro again struggled to speak.
“I must apologize to you, Dr. Goltry. We’d hoped to run the Thelema Child to ground once we’d picked out its track,” said the wobbling head. “But it’s a sly little bastard and old, older even than my brother and myself.”
Former Coroner Ron’s response to the gory soliloquy was mute silence.
“We regret this constant loss of human life,” came Paulus’ response and he shuffled up behind his kneeling brother. “We must seem terribly cavalier. Believe me when I say we weren’t always so inefficient. My brother and I were once considered the greatest hunters of our clan.”
“But in this new World of Hurt, Dr. Goltry, the rules have all changed,” came the gore-garbled counter.
Former Coroner Ron flinched at the all-to-familiar phrase, growing more deeply befuddled if that were possible.
Paulus shuffled around and stood before the kneeling Castro. Dropping his severed arm to the grass once more, he reached into the pocket of his suit coat and retrieved a gleaming silver roll of duct tape. Raising the roll to his lips, he nimbly grabbed the leading end of the tape with his teeth and stretched a length of it free. The dull screech of the duct tape un-spooling from the roll was an oddly comforting sound to Former Coroner Ron’s ears.
“Yes, Doctor, we know about your notions on the world unseen by man’s dull eyes and you’re right. You’ve been right all along,” Paulus gritted around the wedge of tape.
Steadying his liberated head with his right hand, Castro took his brother’s proffered hunk of tape and awkwardly stuck it against his gore-slathered neck. Within seconds the one-armed man began a macabre little May Pole dance about the other, winding yard after yard of duct tape about the severed neck, occasionally breaking the circular pattern by looping the tape up and over the crown of the other’s head and down under the chin until he resembled the silver-clad subject of a Victorian advertisement for headache powder.
“Gods are cruel,” mumbled Paulus, biting down on the tail end of his tape and tearing it free from the roll. “They’ve always been cruel. Cruel and selfish.”
“You’re telling me you are Gods?” Former Coroner Ron murmured.
Castro opened his mouth to speak and was halted by an intense glottal stop formed by the great quantities of gore and saliva massing in his windpipe. Instead of speech, Former Coroner Ron’s ears met the sound of a turkey struggling to gobble a sea shanty underwater.
“The children of Gods,” echoed the one-armed man.
“Gobble—gabble-gobble…gaaah gawp…” uttered the gory maw.
“Correct, Brother. The Scion of Gods,” Paulus confirmed. “The begetting always makes for interesting dinner conversation, let me tell you.”
“Gaaa—gobble gobble…” burbled Castro. “Baaaa…gluck, gluck, gobble gobble…”
“Notoriety by proxy and only a smidge of the super powers,” Paulus clucked.
“If you’re the scion of Gods, then why haven’t you stopped this thing?” blurted Former Coroner Ron, his earlier awe now replaced by acidic ire.
“Gobble robble…wabble…” drooled the words over Castro’s lips. The final slurry of syllables sounding more and more like genuine words.
“We are anything but Angels, Doctor…” said Paulus and Castro punctuated the moment by hawking a great gobbet of gore onto the grass.
“Do you see gossamer wings strapped to our backs? We’re lucky the Thelema Child’s talons cleaved nothing vital!” barked Paulus.
Goltry’s eyes dropped to Castro’s leaking neck above which hung a shy smile twisting through the drooling ichor.
Paulus turned back to admire his duct tape field dressing. Pooching out his lip a millimeter he tilted his head from left to right and then nodded to his brother in satisfaction. Leaning down, Paulus retrieved his liberated arm from the grass and passed it to his brother’s open hands.
“Paulus and Castro…” Former Coroner Ron mumbled to himself.
“Pollux and Castor, to be precise,” Paulus beamed. “Incognito.”
“At your service,” said Castro, his speech sifting back to intelligibility.
His head now wound tightly in place, Castro spoke as though through a spasm of lockjaw, “You see Doctor, though the world of man has moved on time and again, mystics and magicians are born into every generation,” he said intent on winding the tape about his brother’s severed elbow.
“You’re gifted, Doctor,” said Paulus never removing his eyes from the tape unreeling about his arm.
“In our day, you’d be one of those fellows in long robes burning bushels of incense and fitting one of the pretty local girls for your altar slab—you’d be the one your people came to for advice, hope and answers — not living out of your car with a backseat full of Arby’s wrappers and a trunk full of moldy accordion files and blurry photographs….”
“You would have been a conduit to the gods,” said Paulus.
“You would have been our spokesperson,” said Castro.
“And not a thwart to God’s carrion crow,” sighed Paulus.
Former Coroner Ron could only blink and swallow and blink again. Shifting his eyes from the gory tableau of brotherly love, he stared down at the lonely and twisted form of Detective Reasoner.
“And what about him?” Former Coroner Ron gestured with a nod. “What did Reasoner do to deserve having his life cut out of him?”
“Gods are cruel, doctor,” said Paulus again, glancing over the body. “That’s why man invented them—to distract from the harm they so easily do one another.”
“To distract themselves from this World of Hurt,” said the other.
On a rooftop two lots and a pair of sidewalks away, the Razor Baby’s form drifted into being like silk sifting to a pond bottom. It fixed its black eyes on the distant bloody tableau and noted the twinkling red and blue lights off in the distance.
The fat one — he couldn’t kill the fat one. The godlings he knew he’d have no hope of slaughtering and the thinner human went down with a satisfying spray but the fat one — the fat one held an aura about him that resisted like the forward wall of a flood.
Humans: the spittle left by God’s kiss upon the face of the Earth, thought the Razor Baby.