City Intersection, Chapter Thirteen – N/A

Whoo boy, it’s a long one. Might even be the longest chapter yet in City Intersection, I dunno.

I’ve felt so fucking awful recently. Hope it stops soon. It’s getting intolerable.

Music this time is this vinyl I found and uploaded a while ago of these two amazing choral pieces by Vaughan Williams. I’ll post the first side, the second side should just be in the recommended or autoplay sidebar. They’re both on the 108.3 channel, anyway.

~

The engine of the Jaguar SS I slowed in its rumbling as Frederick’s driver pulled it up to a halt in front of the entrance to the City Library. Frederick left the driver, without any thanks or even recognition of his existence, behind in the car as he walked up the perfectly-cut marble steps to the library and went in.
The library was the oldest building in Desmond. It was the first thing that Frederick had designed and constructed with the original people he welcomed into the city. Well, back then, it was really more a town. Pretty rural. But the library was the anchor on which the rest of the city was built and, accordingly, it was very central to Frederick’s plans. And perhaps it wouldn’t remain a library forever. Perhaps its offical use would change in time.
Everyone knew who he was, of course, he was the mayor. And he came into the library – that is, into his private area in the basement – regularly enough that they felt comfortable enough to try being friendly to him.
“Good to see you today, mayor,” the auburn-headed receptionist, Amelia Kent, said to him as he passed by, again wordlessly. He didn’t have time to talk to people, not today, not with all this going on. It was a crucial part of his experiment, the deciding moment that would let him know if it was possible.
He had spent so many years working on the compound. But it was all guesswork, really. Attempting an experiment with it took around fifty years from start to finish, so he didn’t have much opportunity to fine-tune it. Try one compound, wait fifty years, try another compound, wait fifty years, and so on. He had only had two complete rounds with it before, with no success, and this was the third. It was the penultimate moment, if it failed to work again, he would have wasted another fifty years.
He missed those formative years where each of his goals could be completed in a couple years. Even the most complex, the Jesus killing, had only taken maybe five years. It all took so much longer, now.
But it almost didn’t seem that much longer. Perhaps sense of time was more percentage-based; five years to a ten-year-old would feel about the same as fifty years to a hundred-year-old. Or, more to the point, fifty years to a two-thousand and five-hundred-year-old.
Had it really been that long? Jesus (hah, using the “Lord’s name” was such a joke to him), that was a long time. Frederick didn’t realy remember exactly when he was born any more. Had he ever really been born? He remembered his rebirth, as one could call it, via Orobouros, which now felt far more real than a physical birth.
In the basement the the library, Frederick walked down a long hallway and through a reinforced metal door on his right. Inside, a semicircle with intricate inner details was engraved on the floor and five people stood around it, holding rough necklaces made of strips of leather with a stone affixed in the center.
Frederick undid his bowtie and the first button of his starched white shirt, then reached inside it and pulled out a necklace of his own, took it off around his head, and held it in the palm of his hand.
“It is time for the Milking of the Beast,” Frederick said, and stood in front of them on the other side of the semicircle. He tightnened his fist around the stone and the others followed suit. Then, with his other hand, he reached into his breastcoat pocket and retrieved a small vial which he uncorked with his thumb and emptied onto the center of the circle.
A dull scream without source began to fill the room. It was as though the earth itself were letting out a torturous cry. Then, above the semicircle, a shape began to flicker into existence, a writhing, twisting, jerking shape. A circle, a snake eating its own tail.
Even when it had fully come into “existence”, it still was not truly there, it was translucent and without a real physical form, yet still certainly there. It was like the myths about ghosts, a incoporeal entity that can still exhibit some physical attributes, such as creating a chill in the air around it. But for Ouroboros, it was a heat, the heat of a body trying viciously to hold onto life against everything, a body straining to its limits.
Frederick loosened his hold on the stone and her screams of pain subsided.
“‘The Milking of the Beast’,” she said directly into their minds, silently, “You imbecile. Trying again, Frederick? Or is that not the name you still go by?”
Frederick remained silent, but the other five people were staring at her formless form with a mixture of interest and horror, and visibly shaken by her telepathic communication.
“They’ll come for me,” she said. “My elders.”
Frederick was going to remain silent, but he was curious. “You have mentioned your ‘elders’ before, what do you mean by that?”
“My elders are my elders, there is no other way to say it. Just because you do not comprehend does not mean I’m stating it poorly. Mark you, they will come, and make you repent.”
“They haven’t come in a hundred or so years already,” Frederick said, his curiousity fading and malignance taking its place. “So I don’t think I have much to worry about.”
Without another look at her, Frederick turned back to the other people and nodded. “Let us begin.”
Each of them crushed the stones in their hand. The stones didn’t break, but intense pressure was exerted on all of them and, in response, the form of Ouroboros began twisting and screaming again. Her circle untwined, she was no longer a snake eating her own tail, infinity, but just a snake in pain, burning from the inside. A snake doused in kerosene and lit by a cruel child. Muscles spasming randomly and mutating her shape.
Frederick watched on emotionlessly. It was always the same. He had seen it all before.
Streams of a phosphorent white substance seeped out of her and tracked its way through the air. Like her, the streams didn’t quite exist in the physical world, they were held somewhere between. Thousands of the streams crept out of her, staying still despite her writhing. Frederick and the others kept their tight grasp of the stones for several minutes, ignoring her screams, then Frederick sensed that the streams had met their marks and he signaled for the others to stop.
Instantly Ouroboros recovered herself and resumed her circular shape and motion, chasing her tail like a puppy. “They will come,” she said, as she began fading away from sight again. “They will come.”
When she was gone, everyone returned the stones around their necks and slipped beneath their shirts. Frederick re-buttoned his shirt and re-tied his bowtie.
“Stay here,” he said. “I’ll see if it was successful.”
He made his way out of the basement of the library. The main, upper section of the library was deserted. Even the receptionist, Amelia Kent, was gone. Completely vanished. He made a quick sweep of the rest of the library but didn’t find anyone.
As he approached the front door, an dulled unearthly screaming reached his ears. Before he opened it, he looked at the floor below and found a thick trail of coagulated blood, with little chunks of something else tossed around randomly.
He steeled himself. Perhaps the experiment had failed. It certainly seemed like it. He opened the door.
In the street outside was a massive congregation, a large portion of the population of the town. At least, what had once been the population of the town.
Blood covered the cobblestones in a thick layer. There were far too many arms for the number of people there. Legs too, in fact, and the air was thick with screams of pain and rage.
Every person was completely mutated, beyond all reconciliation. There was no way he would ever be able to return them to their original forms. There was no way he could even recognize who was who.
Everyone had been brought down to their animal instincts. There was no comprehending what had happened to them, their humanity had been taken away in a flash and now they were simply something between animals and humans, but only in form. Even animals had more sentience than what these things were. Pain was the only thing they could feel, that and a dull anger connected to the pain; without target, but the kind of anger you get when you stub your toe. An instinctual hatred of the pain.
Someone who still had their eyes saw him and began approaching him. They, whoever they were, had small patches of hair still attached to what Frederick assumed was their head, but that was nearly the only recognizable feature. Their “face” looked like it had been cut in half and reconnected after being inverted, one eye was located where their mouth should have been and there were far too many orifices in their face. Like their skull was Swiss cheese.
It reached out for Frederick with what used to be an arm. It had been split in two, the two bones of the forearm separating and forming their own hands and flesh, albeit incompletely. Eyes dotted the arm randomly, and the hands had teeth instead of fingernails.
Its pants were still on, at least bits of them, but its shirt had been torn of, exposing a baby’s head connected to its chest. Oddly enough, the baby’s head looked fairly normal, aside from its neck which was yanking the head around viciously, trying to see Frederick. When it found him, it locked eyes with him and let out a scream from its smouth already filled with sharp teeth.
“Mayor, help,” the baby’s head said.
The body continued coming toward him, but Frederick backed up to avoid its touch. And this one was, at a glance, one of the least mutated of the group. So the experiment had failed. Great, time to start over again.
It was good he always kept a control group.
Frederick went back inside the library and bolted the door. He scoured the library, searching for anyone – or anything, now – that might be in there, but found no one. He returned to the basement, this time shutting and locking the thick metal trapdoor that separated it from the rest of the building.
It was good he kept everything important below ground, too.
He went to the area he had set aside for the control group to stay during this final stage of the experimetn and made sure they all remained. Once he had made note of all of them and locked them in the room, he went to a small room otherwise used as a sort of rarely used storage closet and cleared out some boxes of things, exposing a large metal switch. The handle was flipped to face down, keeping the circuit broken.
Frederick sighed, thinking of the wasted years, then took hold of the handle and flipped it up. A spark was released as the metal contacts touched, then there was a moment of silence.
Then dozens upon dozens of explosions came from above, muffled by the solid ground and metal between. Frederick heard the crumbling of buildings, the screams of those who hadn’t died in the initial blasts, and then a whoosh of flame overtaking everything.
Destroying everything by explosion wasn’t enough, he needed to make sure everything was fully dead. He had mixed a flammable powder in the explosives – only flammable under certain conditions, so it wouldn’t burn up with the rest of the explosive right away – that would cover everything else and burn any remaining organic substance.
He waited in the room next to the switch for a half of an hour. Occasional stray explosions went off, explosions the fuses to which had been damaged and comprimised in some way. They would have to stay underground for a while, the flames would still be going strong the following day and possibly the day after that.
There were no screams, any more. Just occasional exhausted moans of pain from those still unlucky enough to be alive.
Frederick and the control group stayed the rest of the day and that night locked away in the basement, and in the morning Frederick went to the metal trapdoor and opened it a fraction, looking out. Most of the fire had gone, but there were still small smoldering patches. He’d check again that evening.
By the evening, the scorched ground held no fire but was still warm to the touch. Frederick went back down, told the control group to stay where they were, and grabbed a revolver before heading back up.
The ground was still warm, very warm. Warm enough that Frederick was glad he was wearing shoes, it would’ve otherwise been like walking barefoot on hot pavement. The entire area was quiet, desolate. Buildings were now rubble, trees had had their leaves burnt off and much of their bark scorched, and the ground was littered with bodies.
Not that they could’ve even really been called “bodies”, per se, as they were so horribly mutated and now half-burnt that they were completely unrecognizable. They may have well been the charred corpses of dogs.
Frederick kicked one of the corpses over to look at its face. At least, he assumed the side that had been facing up was the back of its head, it very well could have been the front.
The other side was puffy, pressurized, looking almost to burst. The skin was stretched tight and in one area had bulged out in a mottled, thin mass. At the very front of the bulge, an eyeball was connected, rolled up into the back of its head. The mass quivered as Frederick tapped the body with his foot.
Frederick walked through the town, revolver loaded, cocked, and in his hand. He was looking for anything, anyone, who had somehow managed to survive the explosions and fire. He walked over the scattered piles of brick and mortar that had once been the town hall, the small market, the drugstore, searching for anything.
On his way back from his search, returning to the hatch to the basement, he found one. Legs mangled – more mangled then they had been by mutation alone, Frederick thought – it was pulling itself along by its arms. Frederick neared it to get a better look, gun pointed at it the entire time.
A thick slime covered its head, small clumps of long hair still clinging onto the skull in a few places. Its fingers were nearly nonexistent, just little wriggling stumps coming out of its grossly enlarged hands, and a number of thin, tentacle-like protusions, whipping around wildly, had grown out of its face.
As he approached, it stopped in its crawling and turned to him, tentacles still spasming. One eye was nowhere to be found, possibly absorbed by its own head, but one eye stared at him.
That strangely light-blue eye color, the reddish-brown hair, and the fact that it – she – appeared to recognize me… It must have been Amelia Kent.
Frederick pulled the trigger, its head smashed to the ground with a spray of blood, bone, and brain, and the tentacles stopped their writhing, aside from some minor postmortem twitches.
Well, the area was clear as far as Frederick could see. It was time to let out the control group, clean up, rebuild, and begin on the next round of experimentation.

City Intersection, Chapter Twelve

So, this chapter is really short. But I’m making it really short for a reason; the next section of the story should be one long scene (separate from the one that’s taking place in this chapter), and if I continued this chapter with that scene, I would end up cutting the scene in half and finish it in the next chapter.

So instead, chapter twelve will be short, and then chapter thirteen will include that entire next scene, to avoid chopping things up unnecessarily.

I used to listen to this piece quite frequently, but had somehow forgotten about it until rediscovering it today and listening to it again.

~

I had made my way back. But the problem was, I had no idea where to go. If I had listened earlier, I would at least know where the band members were, but now I has just alone. Hannah far away, if not dead, Rennet god-knows-where, my own stupidity and inattentiveness leaving me clueless about the location of Nathan and the others…
And Frederick was probably here with me. Maybe he just didn’t care enough to hunt me down, or perhaps he was waiting to strike at another time.
Or, perhaps, he was already hunting me.
I knew that thought should be frightening to me, I even tried to feign some fear, maybe trick myself, but couldn’t even force it. I was just too far gone.
There had to be some gathering or something. It sounded like Frederick had plans that, even for someone as unnatural as he, wouldn’t be possible to handle alone. Maybe I could find them and learn something. And maybe I’d be able to recover my briefcase.
City Hall. I hadn’t had much time to explore around there last time, especially with Hannah holding me back, so maybe I’d be able to find something there. It was a place to start, at the very least.
Furthermore, I thought I had seen a vending machine in there. Maybe they’d have Chex Mix or something. My appetite, so reclusive earlier, had returned and I wanted something to eat.
I made my way in, gave the receptionist, the same one as before, a curt little nod, and went to get a cup of coffee. Once I had that in hand, I found the vending machine and pulled out my two torn dollar bills.
“Fuck.”
I tried squishing one half of one of the bills into the slot, and was excited when it actually sucked it up. Then spat it out a moment later.
“Fuck.”
I kicked the bottom of the machine and tried again. Then tried reaching up through the opening at the bottom. While I was distracted with the machine, someone came up from behind me.
“Hello, sir, I’d like you to come with me.”
He stood, neck and back straight, hands clasped behind himself, wearing some sort of police-like uniform. “U.C.F.” was emblazoned on his vest.
“What? The fuckin’ machine isn’t working? How’s that my fault?”
“I’m not here about the machine, sir. Please, come with me.”
He gestured the direction he wanted me to go and I began walking with him behind me, guarding me from getting away. Was this Frederick’s plan? Just arrest me and kill me when I was hopeless? Pathetic.
He led – or rather, followed – me down a flight of stairs into a poorly lit hall in the basement. Wooden doors flanked us on both sides, but as we proceeded further down, the wood was replaced with reinforced metal, with no windows.
“Hey, aren’t you going to read me my rights or something? Isn’t that the law?”
“You aren’t under arrest, sir.”
Well great. Now I was even more confused, and became more worried once I heard the sounds down here. It was like the sound that fluorescent lights make, that irritating high-pitched buzz, but was in a sort of twisted harmony with a much deeper note. And I felt that it was coming from an organic source.
The man stopped me and opened up a door in front of us.
I stepped through the doorway, the four halves of dollar bills crumped into the palm of my clenched left hand. The U.C.F. member – which I would later learn stood for Unofficial City Force – stood behind me and pushed me inside, and beyond the doorway stood five people in a semicircle. Each held a necklace with a stone dangling from the bottom in their right hands. I couldn’t see it, but I felt that UCF member wore the same necklace under his clothing.
After that, I…
Uh.
Wait, no, we’ve actually gotten to that point in the story now. And I remember what happened next. I think I do. The ketamine was still going strong, so everything had that detached, surreal, fake feeling, but I’ll go with what exists in my memory, trusting that my senses at the time were still in some functioning order, and proceed.
The semicircle the people were standing in was set above a shape etched into the floor, semicircular itself. I felt like I recognized the shape, somehow, but when I tried to look at it directly, to focus on it, I couldn’t. My vision blurred, my attention switched to something – or nothing – else, it was impossible to focus on what the symbol itself was. I could get a general sense of the shape if I looked away from it, if I just saw it in my peripherals, but that was it.
“Hello, eh, Lawrence Cantor, was it?” Frederick’s voice said from within the shadows beyond. “You’re just in time to witness the Milking of the Beast.”

City Intersection, Chapter Eleven – Eight Dollars

See, look at that. Finished that Modern Grammar course, and now I just blasted through writing a chapter in one evening.

Music this time is at least one of my favorite compositions, by my all-time favorite composer. I’m a big fan of John Williams, and it’s clear he took a lot of inspiration from Dvorak.

~

“Go, now. Forget what you’ve seen, forget what you’ve done, forget everything about this city, forget it even fucking exists,” I heard a voice behind me say.
I didn’t recognize the voice, but I recognized the speaker. Frederick Simmons stood behind me, looking at the crash and at Hannah’s body. His body was scraped, cut, and a gash on his cheek was bleeding. His voice, earlier so suave, light, and invitingly professional, had turned into a deep, threatening growl.
“If you leave now and say nothing, I will let you live.”
“I… Uh… I…”
“Your time for choosing your fate is running out.”
“I need my briefcase.”
“Oh,” he said with a mocking laugh, “That. Well, I’m afraid you will have to count it as the price for your stupidity. You aren’t getting it back.”
As he spoke, I was staring, transfixed, at his cheek. The blood, which had once been flowing freely, clotted and scabbed over, and fresh skin grew in place. The scuffs vanished, all trace of his being in a car crash fell away.
“But I…”
“Choose, now.”
“Let me at least take her body…”
“I said forget everything about this city. That would serve as proof. One last chance…”
“I…”
As threatening as the man before me was, the internal, guttural fear of my employer was more direct. If I died to this guy, then at least I wouldn’t need to face whatever my employer would do. I stood up, legs visibly shaking.
“Give me my briefcase and I will go,” I said in my best impression of what I thought sounded intimidating and forceful.
His face, placid other than the slightly furrowed eyebrows, melted into a smile.
“Well then, I guess I won’t need to worry about you giving anything away then, either.”
He darted forward at a speed that took me off guard. I stepped back and braced myself for the impact, holding my arms out in front of me as a sort of shield, but the impact never came. The crying tea guy was there between Frederick and I.
“Rennet Bennet!” I yelled. He was facing away from me, but I saw him bring up the back of his hand and wipe across his eyes with it.
“Yeah,” he said, his voice choked, “Get out of here.”
Frederick had broken out of his combatory stance and was standing at ease, an amused look on his face at Rennet Bennet. “Well, this is even more convenient,” he said. His eyes were locked with those of Rennet so I took the opportunity, grabbed hold of Hannah’s arms and began dragging her away to the other side of the car.
On the other side of the wreckage, I began hearing sounds. Sounds I couldn’t entirely explain, combined with the sound of the two of them fighting. I decided to ignore them for now if I could, and looked down at Hannah’s body. Was there anything I could do? I felt for her pulse, but it was nonexistent, her skin already becoming cold and clammy.
I saw the lump in her jacket pocket and pulled out my bag of ketamine, feeling slightly guilty. I put it in my own pocket and felt a syringe. It turns out I had picked up a pack of two syringes in the hospital. Had its own little vial of sterile water and everything. Well, that was nice and convenient for me, I wouldn’t even need to wait the couple minutes it took to get from my nasal cavity to my brain.
I dropped a bit of ketamine into the syringe and filled it with the sterile water, shook it, and squeezed out the bit of air at the top. I rolled up my sleeve, and.
Hesitated. I looked down at Hannah. Was it worth a try? Who knew if it was just a fluke for me. Maybe it was too late, even. She had been dead for a couple minutes already.
Then I remembered the guilt I had felt in taking the bag off her corpse and made up my mind. I rolled up her sleeve, found a vein, and injected the ketamine into her arm.
Nothing happened.
Then again, it had been a couple hours before I was revived. I picked up her arm, already beginning to stiffen from rigor mortis, and began moving it around, hoping the blood would begin to circulate. I pressed and rubbed the skin around the injection point, hoping to force the blood around. And then I stopped. Who knew if I had even moved it around at all. Maybe blood thickens when you die or something. There wasn’t anything I could really do, now, except wait. And I wasn’t fucking waiting around here any longer. Frederick and Rennet had moved away a little through the forest, and I tried to ignore what was continuing to go on over there.
No, there was one thing I could do now. I pulled out my wallet, dropped a bit of the powder onto the debit card that I was, for all intents and purposes, not legally allowed to use, and formed a couple rough lines on it.
One up one nostril, the second up the other, and it was time to get the fuck out of there. I began running, then slowed and looked back at Hannah’s body. I really should bring her with me, but I doubted that they’d be fighting for much longer and I’d be dead if Frederick came back for me. And she was dead, he probably wouldn’t move her body somewhere else, right?
I didn’t have much choice in the manner. I turned around again and ran.
I had no idea where I was going, but I made it to the dirt road and started running up one direction of it without knowing if it was the way we had come or the way we had been going.
My legs began to get tired, tingly, itchy. I was breathing heavy and a drip of sweat rolled down my forehead and into my eye. My running slowed, I put my hands on my knees and took a short break, then it all suddenly faded. No tiredness. No tingling or itchiness. My breathing was calm. I didn’t feel the pain that had been going through my entire body. I didn’t even really feel my body.
Oh yeah, the ketamine. I guess that kicked in.
It still wasn’t exactly easy, I wanted to just lay down by the side of the road and wait for the end of the world, but at least running wasn’t as painful any more. I couldn’t tell if I was even exerting myself or not.
The dirt road became a worn concrete, which eventually led onto a concrete road that had been laid sometime this century. I was getting close, to something at least.
I noticed my shirt was entirely soaked with sweat and sticking to my skin, but it didn’t make a difference to me. I wiped my forehead and my hand came back with about half a cup of sweat on it.
And there, a little gas station. That was what I wanted. I wouldn’t have cared if it was a portal to heaven, a gas station was what I wanted right now. Get some iced tea, some snacks, some cigarettes. That was my own little heaven in this instant.
I burst inside, still breathing heavy and dripping with sweat, then calmly recovered and walked over to the refrigerator case. I opened it and stood for a moment in the cool, refreshing blast that issued from it, then grabbed a bottle of Arizona and began scanning over the snacks. I grabbed a little bag of Combos, then went to the cashier and dumped it all on the counter. I looked up at the cigarette options. She eyed me warily, clearly put out by my appearance and, no doubt, smell.
“Uh, a pack of Camel Crushes, I guess. The… blue-green ones? Menthol.”
She didn’t say anything, still eyeing me, but grabbed the pack and set it on the counter, then began ringing up my purchases.
“Eight dollars,” she said. I fished the ten-dollar bill I somehow had managed to keep in my pocket through everything out and handed it to her. The register popped open, she slid in the bill, and handed me two one-dollar bills back.
I took them from her, then looked at them in my hand and looked back up at her. “Fuckin’ seriously?”
Both dollar bills were almost entirely torn in half. The crease in the middle had been worn down so much that they had split. And they were the old style of dollar bills, too.
She shrugged and went back to chewing gum and looking at her magazine.
I stuffed the pieces of paper, which I weren’t even sure remained legal tender, into my pocket, and headed out the door. Mid-way through, I returned to the counter.
“Matches?”
She gave me a lackadasical glare, reached under the counter, and tossed a small matchbook to me. “Thanks,” I said, then left.
I packed the cigarettes, pulled off the plastic wrapper, opened the seal, and took out two cigarettes. I flipped one of them around and put it back in the pack – the lucky cigarette – and stuck the other in my mouth. Struck a match to no success, but the second one sparked to life and I lit the cigarette with it. I took a nice, long drag, then pulled it out and popped that weird little sphere in the filter, filled with menthol goodness.
I found my way over to the side of the shop and leaned against it. Once I had burnt through about half of the cig, I cracked open the Arizona, took a long drink off it, and sighed.
Maybe it was just the drugs. Maybe. But at that moment, I felt that everything was… okay. I had pretty much experienced the worst that could happen in this town, right, and I had survived. Even Hannah had survived, maybe. And we had some weird omnipotent protector on our side, and… Some people in a band. They seemed nice enough, but I still didn’t really get what they were doing here.
But everything was good, as good as could be expected. And here I was, smoking and drinking iced tea. Who knew what they had laced the cigarettes and drinks and food with, but I couldn’t really bring myself to care about that. I had been inundated with it enough to meet a god of life or something and come back from the dead, so a little more couldn’t hurt, right? And who was saying it was a bad thing, anyway? The townspeople all seemed fine enough, albeit a bit odd at points. Murderous at other points, too.
What the fuck was this place? They still had the briefcase, I needed to get that back before I left anyway – the urge to get it back was more than life-or-death, it was just instinctual and hardwired into my brain – but I wanted to learn more about this place before then.
Yeah, it definitely was the drugs. This was an awful situation, honestly. There was really just nothing good about this situation. But, even if it was the drugs, the momentary feeling of peace and…
And holy fuck, I had my third eye back. I realized I must have had it for a while, but it had just crept back into my consciousness so gradually that I hadn’t noticed until that moment. That moment when I saw someone appear in the distance, over a hill that I had no true way of seeing through, and start running roughly in my direction.
Third eye or no, my vision was fairly awful, so I couldn’t make out who it was. Was it Frederick? Had he killed Rennet Bennet and was coming back for me?
A red-eyed Rennet Bennet came over the mini “horizon” created by the hill and dashed at an unearthly speed over to where I was, once he saw me. He stopped, with no inertia, right in front of me and his face crinkled up in sorrow.
“He got away,” he said through sobs.
“How? You seem to be, uh, well, kind of…”
“Omnipotent?”
“Yeah.”
“I am. Sort of. But Frederick Simmons is one of the few people who can kill or even injure me. He wounded me enough to keep me down for a few minutes and ran off. I failed. I can’t…”
A fresh wave of tears flowed down his face.
My cigarette was running low, so I stuck another in my mouth, lit it, and handed it to him. He took it hesitantly, took a small drag from it, and coughed. I smiled, though discreetly enough to hopefully not hurt his feelings, but he took another drag without coughing. And another. And another. He just fucking tore through that cigarette.
“It has a little…” I started.
“Yeah?”
“It has a little thing in the filter that you can pop. Makes it more minty.”
The cigarette was almost finished, but he popped the sphere and burnt it to the filter with three more powerful drags. His eyes were still red, but the tears had dried into little salty streaks and he seemed partially recovered.
“Thanks. I forgot about tobacco.”
“No problem. You want some tea?” I said, handing him the can.
He took a sip and looked at me in surprise. “It’s so sweet!”
“Yeah, it’s… Iced tea.”
“Not salty at all!”
“Uh.”
I had already drank about half of the can, but he finished it off. I hadn’t really intended to give the rest to him, but, well, it seemed to cheer him up at least. With one effortless motion he compacted the can into a small aluminum ball and tossed it toward a nearby trash can. It wasn’t going to make it, but at the last moment it defied gravity and found its way into the opening.
“Thanks. And I’m sorry. Again.” The corners of his mouth drooped and it seemed like he was about to cry again. I patted his back.
“No problem, man. That guy seems like no joke.”
“You have no idea.”
There was a moment of silence, broken by Rennet sighing and saying, “Well, there’s a lot of stuff I need to do. I shouldn’t have even taken this much of a break. But… Thanks. What’s your name? I don’t think I asked last time.”
“Lawrence Cantor. Hope it goes well. Whatever it is you need to be doing.”
“I doubt it will.”
Before he had even quite finished the sentence, he vanished, the final words only coming in a sort of phantasmal, ghostly whisper.
I blinked.
Maybe it was just the drugs. But no, my can was gone and there was a cigarette missing. What the fuck.
I went back in the gas station and grabbed another can of Arizona, plopped it on the counter, and pulled out one of the dollar bills. In my pocket, it had torn in half. Both of them had, in fact. I handed two halves to her with an attempt at a friendly smile, but she continued with her glare and said that she couldn’t take damaged currency.
I returned the can, went back over to her and asked how to get to Main Street. She gave me a few brusque instructions that lacked any detail or congruity, and I headed outside and tried to follow them, after taking another cigarette and couple bumps of ketamine.

Frederick smiled. Years upon years of work, manipulation, twisting people’s minds and actions. And it had succeeded.
Of course the coming of the “Son of God” would ruffle a few people’s feathers, but that wasn’t enough for Frederick. He needed the majority to hate him. Despise him, want him dead.
It wasn’t a simple as it often was. Most of them were just normal people, relatively at least. Easy to kill without bringing much suspicion onto himself. But this, no, this was much to big for a simple slash-and-stab. He’d have to crucify him, literally or not.
As it happened, it did happen literally. Sure, planning and working ahead for years, decades, was a bit more expensive time-wise, but Frederick had plenty of that. More than enough. And this kind of thing was right up his alley. He had killed enough of them simply enough for now, he wanted some intrigue, a puzzle for him to create and then put together.
Become an advisor to Pontius Pilate and make him tired of the squabbles of the Jewish people. Make him complacent. That was simple enough. Pontius Pilate had already been growing to feel that way, and it was easy to just push him over completely into that state. Make him not care if the Jews freed a mass murderer while sentencing a man, whom he himself knew to be innocent, to death.
Then, become a Pharisee. And a Sadducee as well, that couldn’t hurt. They were already likely to dislike anyone who branded himself to be the Son of God anyway, but he had to make them want to take action. It wouldn’t be enough to ignore him, to dismiss him as a madman. He needed them to want him dead.
Then, a bit of a more difficult task. He needed to change the minds of the people. In these desperate, trying times, he knew they would latch onto anyone they could view as a savior. Those who listened to and respected the Pharisees and Sadducees would be swayed easier, but how to change the minds of the people at large?
He would spread a feeling of inequality. Why would their savior only help some cripples, some blind men, some lepers? Why wasn’t he helping them all? Even if they still believed and followed him, that seed of resentment would grow into a plant of hatred, later.
Then, the easiest task. Becoming a disciple.
Frederick knew that this “Jesus” knew. But perhaps he had grown so entrenched in the character he played, the delusions and pseudo-mystical things he said, that he had begun to believe them. Maybe he truly believed that he would come back to life.
But there was no coming back to life for him, not when Frederick – that is, Judas – was going to be there.
A supposed “betrayal”, sell his whereabouts to the Romans, get a little cash that might come in handy later on, and become a Roman soldier. Frederick was there at the crucifixion. Frederick hammered in the nails in his hands and feet. Frederick stared into his eyes as Jesus realized the truth.
And then Jesus chickened out. He played dead. Nice fucking try. Frederick shoved a spear into his side. A fountain of blood, mixed with water oddly enough, and then he was truly dead. One more off Frederick’s list.
But before he moved onto the next one… Perhaps a bit of fun? One nice last little jest that he’d have that would, no doubt, fool millions upon millions of people for millenia.
He got into that tomb. He looked similar enough to Jesus to be passable. He had won Jesus’s robes during the crucifixion in a little gambling group he had started among the soldiers, and put those on. A bit longer hair, a beard, make himself look decently holy, and he would arise again on the third day.
People were so happy to see him that they didn’t look too closely. Except that one motherfucker, Thomas. The cynic. But Frederick could make holes in his hands that would last a little while, at least, and that seemed to decide it for Thomas. He apologized, and they lived their happy few days together before Frederick vanished into “heaven”. That is, he blended back into the crowd, transformed, created a new character and life for himself, and began the hunt for the next on his list.

City Intersection, Chapter Ten – Zero Dollars

My, it’s been a while. One reason I think I haven’t been writing as much recently is that I’m working through a rather grueling grammar class. Good textbook, horrible design of the class. And lots of not-fun writing.

Glad to be getting back to this story though. It’s been forever. This chapter is “dedicated” to my friend Connor, by the way. To the point where he got a little insert in the story. He’s getting better, but still not in great shape.

Obviously, music for this post is the new album Humanz by Gorillaz. Been awaiting this one for a long time. It’s had a pretty mixed reception, but I’ve loved it.\

~

The van had a distinct smell. The kind of smell I knew Nathan, Alexis, and Jason no longer had any sense of, a smell that permeated them and anywhere they stayed.
It wasn’t a bad smell, it was just… distinct.
The morphine had mostly faded by then, although it hadn’t really been long enough to truly be gone. I think all that had happened since then, overdosing, running for my life, having an emotional realization that came out of nowhere… It had just kind of jolted me out of the effects.
I was just left with this slightly surreal, depersonalized feeling, although I couldn’t really say if that was from the morphine itself or just… God, so many things had happened since I came here. I felt like I was trapped in this physical psychosis that had taken over the world.
And I really needed that goddamn ketamine. I had asked Hannah for it on the way to the van, I had tried getting Nathan to get it from her, I had even tried sneaking it out of her pocket, but to no avail. Even though we hadn’t known each other for long, and not even closely at that, she seemed to have developed a rather parental, protective role over me. And honestly, I wasn’t sure that I disliked it.
Aside from the ketamine deprivation, of course. I knew I hated that.
I had a can of Dr. Pepper and some Pringles in the van. I hadn’t had either in years, as far as I could tell, and it seemed like it had been a while before I had eaten anything whatsoever. I felt hungry initially, but after a couple chips my appetite was completely gone. Goddamn drugs. Those Pringles were so good, too.
I kinda spaced out in the van. The others were talking about a plan or something, but I just sat there and listened without comprehending.
My phone rang, and took me by surprise. Things like phones didn’t seem to fit here, they were a relic from the outside world, and I was honestly surprised that I was able to get reception here.
I answered it.
“How much have you unloaded so far?”
That voice. That heavy, menacing voice. I still didn’t know who he was, but I knew who was on the other side. I felt my throat constrict and my heartbeat increase. The others in the van stopped their conversation and looked at me.
“A lot.”
“How much?”
“About… two kilos?”
“That’s not a lot.”
“It’s a lot for this little piece-of-shit town.”
“Listen, don’t give me that shit. Unload it all, get all the cash, and come back. Those are your orders and, as you know, you have no choice in obeying them.”
I didn’t say anything.
“Also, you might get a call from Jerry. Keep your goddamn phone on, I’ve tried calling you several times.”
So the reception was bad, then. He hung up and the others continued looking at me, clearly waiting for an explanation.
“My boss,” I said. They understood but didn’t respond and simply went back to their conversation.
Jerry. I couldn’t place a name to the face, as always, but I felt like I knew who it was. A coworker, but we were on relatively good terms. Why the hell would Jerry be calling me?
I returned to my pseudo-conscious state, listening to everyone else’s conversation without comprehending it, my mind an empty slate aside from occasional thoughts rolling across it like spare tumbleweeds. Was this what it was like to be sober? Eternally cold, unfeeling,
Actually, no. No, this was… This was almost like being on ketamine, actually. Perhaps my continual use had just locked me into a dissociated, depersonalized, unthinking state? Or maybe, since ketamine had become the norm, the levels of this in sobreity were just elevated and accentuated for me now? Would it ever leave? How long had it been since the call?
My phone rang again. A different voice, I wouldn’t have had a clue who it was if I hadn’t been primed for it.
“Jerry?”
“Yeah. Lawrence. Connor is in the hospital.”
A name I recognized, actually. A good friend of mine, we had known each other for a long time. Maybe he predated the drugs and that’s why I remembered him.
“What happened?”
“Gun exploded. Shrapnel went through his skull and embedded in his brain.”
“Fuck.”
“They got it out, but had to remove some of his brain in the process and, unsurprisingly, his brain was dangerously swollen.”
“How is he now?”
“Not good. He hasn’t regained consciousness, and at this point they’re keeping him under to hopefully let him heal a bit before he comes back. If he does.”
“Shit.”
“He’s not doing well, Lawrence. Sounds like they’re going to have to decide soon.”
“To pull the plug?”
“Yeah. I’ll let you know what happens.”
“All right.”
“And Lawrence.”
“Yeah?”
“I’m sorry, man.”
He hung up.
I knew I should feel something. I strove to feel something. Maybe it was just the drugs – or lack thereof – or maybe it was something else. Maybe I could just excuse it with my apparent amnesia. But I still felt guilty for it.
“You okay?” Nathan asked, looking at me. Hannah stared as well, and seemed more concerned than he.
“Yeah. Just… Someone I know.”
They took the hint that I didn’t want to get into it and dropped the topic. They resumed their conversation but it was soon over.
“Alright, let’s go,” Hannah said to me, pulling open the van’s sliding door.
“What?”
“Let’s go.”
Apparently they had assumed that I was listening to the conversation and knew what was going on. Instead of giving away my position, I just played along, got out of the van and followed Hannah to her car.
She drove through a section of the city I hadn’t been in before and parked in front of City Hall. We got out and headed toward the building, Hannah carrying a notebook. As we walked inside, she looked around and wrote a couple notes.
“You’re still working on the article?” I asked her.
“Yeah. I still have my job to do.”
“I guess.”
“And just imagine how incredible this story will be once it’s finished. It was just gonna be a little piece about a little-known town, but now what it’s become…”
“You work for a newspaper, right?”
“Yeah.”
“You think they’ll actually publish it?”
“Huh?”
“You don’t think it’s a bit… outlandish? I mean, fuck, I died.”
“Oh. Huh.”
“I mean, I think it should be, it’d definitely be an interesting story, but I don’t really know if they’d really do it or not.”
“Yeah, maybe. We’ll see.”
We approached the receptionist’s desk. “You ready?” Hannah asked me.
“I guess,” I said, still not sure what we were doing.
“Could we speak to the mayor?” Hannah asked the receptionist. He looked at us strangely, then checked a calendar.
“He doesn’t have anything scheduled today,” he said. “What are you here for?”
“I’m a journalist, and came to write a piece about this little-known city. I was hoping to be able to interview him for part of it.”
At the word “journalist” the receptionist had turned to stare at Hannah, wide-eyed. A few other people milling about in the area stopped their movement and joined in the staring. Whether she didn’t notice it or was just ignoring it, I couldn’t tell, but Hannah didn’t respond.
“I think we’ll be able to arrange that,” the receptionist said after he had recovered. He pressed a button on his phone base and spoke into the microphone. “There’s someone here who would like to speak with you, sir.
“What are your names?” he asked.
“Hannah Lane.”
“Hannah Lane. And…”
“Lawrence Cantor.”
“Lawrence Cantor. Should I just have them wait out here until you’re ready, sir? Alright.”
He hung up and gestured toward a small refreshment area with chairs. “You can wait there until I let you in. Help yourself to the coffee and cookies.”
We walked over to the area and Hannah immediately began pouring a cup of coffee. “God, this is what I needed,” she said.
I looked warily at the coffee machine, but decided it was probably just as risky as drinking the water in this place. And at least I’d get a bit of caffeine to hopefully bring myself back into reality a bit.
We waited for about ten minutes, chatting occasionally about trivial subjects, before the receptionist told us we could head to the mayor’s office, telling us how to get there.
We followed his directions and knocked at the door he indicated. A “enter” returned from inside and Hannah opened the door.
“Frederick Simmons,” he said, standing up and extending his hand to shake both of ours, then waving to the seats in front of his desk. “What is it you wanted to talk about? I’m afraid I don’t have much time.”
Frederick looked like the epitome of a powerful leader. Strong jawline, expressive eyebrows, slightly dark circles under eyes that looked almost distant, listless, yet still very active.
“I’m a journalist from Boston,” Hannah said. “It seems no one has really heard of this town, er, city, before, and I was sent here to write a little piece about it.”
Frederick’s eyebrows raised. “I see,” he said, checking his watch. “I’m afraid I really must go, now, though.” He got up and began stacking some papers inside a briefcase.
“Will there be another time I can schedule to meet with you?” Hannah asked, slightly desperate. “Sometime in the next couple of days?”
“I’m afraid not. I am mayor, after all, I have a busy schedule. In fact, you just caught me at the tail end of one of the few short times of relatively quiet I’ve had this month. If you want, though… I have a meeting to drive to, might take half an hour or so. You two can come with me and interview me on the ride.”
Hannah looked at me, turned back to Frederick, and nodded. “That’s fine.”
“Well, follow along then,” he said, shutting the clasps on his briefcase and heading out the door. We followed suit, out of the building, and into a relatively high-end four-door car.
As he drove, I sat in the back seat and stared out the window, only vaguely aware of the questions Hannah was asking him, but oddly fixated on the sound of her pen on paper. A couple minutes later, he pulled off onto a dirt road, cutting through a heavily wooded area.
“It’s beautiful, here,” he said. “One reason I’ve never been able to leave. I like to ride down these side roads sometimes when I get the chance. Makes me able to forget my duties for a little while.”
I noticed that the trees were passing by my window in increasing speed. My body was being pushed into the seat from acceleration. I looked up to Frederick in concern.
Faster and faster he drove. Hannah and I looked at each other; neither of us really wanted to tell the mayor to slow down, but it was getting dangerous.
“Uh, sir, could you slow down a bit? I get… er, carsick.”
“What, this speed? No, this is how we go down these dirt roads. Adds to the joy of life,” he said lightly.
“Please slow down, man,” I said. “It’s getting to be a bit much.”
“Yes, please,” Hannah said.
Frederick remained silent. Hannah and I were white-knuckled, grasping onto anything we could reach, and we were approaching a turn. A turn, a turn… and he wasn’t turning. He held the steering wheel straight forward.
“Please!” Hannah yelled out one last time, as he raced off the edge and smashed into a large oak in front of us. Airbags went off, my head smashed against the back of Hannah’s seat, and Hannah was thrown through the windshield.
It was a few minutes before I came to. Frederick was gone, no evidence of him being there left behind. Even his briefcase was gone. I struggled my way out of the busted door and found Hannah lying in front of the car, her body mangled, covered in blood, and lifeless.

City Intersection, Chapter Nine – Zero Dollars

Here it is, finally. Sorry about the delay. Working on the next part of Elizabeth Smith, so that will hopefully be up sooner or later.

I listened to this album earlier this week while studying Abnormal Psychology. It’s a pretty interesting album, check it out.

~

My feet shuffled, my brain and nervous system still a frayed and numbed clumsy mess. Nathan looked behind us and my head rolled around as well, though I’m unsure if that was fully under my control. The skeletons were gaining on us.
Hannah and the two other band members were quite a bit further ahead than we were. I could tell Nathan was conflicted, he didn’t want to leave me to myself but certainly wanted to get away a lot faster.
“Can you,” he paused, breath coming heavy, “can you, uh, could you run on your own somewhat?”
“I dunno man, I’ll try, but…”
“Yeah.”
“I did almost just die for a second time, as inconvenient of a time as it was.”
“Yeah.”
“So I might need some support.”
“Yeah.”
My eyelids fluttered down, I could feel myself floating down again, but tried to force myself up again. I opened my other eye wide, wider than I’d opened it before. The black lines shimmered and flickered stark against the white backdrop, contrasted with the colors of my true vision. I strained, trying to pull myself up and run with less support, and almost succeeded, but not enough to get us further from our pursuers.
We were, slowly but surely, losing ground to them. I saw beads of sweat forming and falling from Nathan’s forehead from exertion, his head locked forward and running and pulling me forward with all of his available strength. But we were still losing ground to them.
They were getting close now, too close. A moment more and I’d be able to reach out and grab them – which meant they could do just the same to us. I tried to feed more effort into my running, but my muscles were still too shaky and weak to be of much use.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!” Nathan started quietly then gained in volume until it was a yell when he looked back. “I’m sorry man, but I’m gonna need to…”
I was glad he wasn’t able to finish his thought. A man appeared, the oddly sad figure of the tea-drinker. He just appeared there, inbetween the pursuers and us, the pursued. The three men that had been chasing us froze when he came into existence. He put out his hands towards them, tensed, and they vanished instantly.
“Sorry I’m so late,” he said, his voice choked-up, “I made that far too close for you all.”
“That’s… fine,” said Nathan, utterly confused. A look of realization came over him and he said “Hey, are you the guy who stopped our van?”
“Uh,” he paused, thinking, “Yes, yes, I suppose so.”
“Thanks,” I said. “So, who are you?”
“My name is… my name is Rennet…” He said, struggling to get out the words, “My name is Rennet Bennet.”
Nathan winced. “Sorry.”
“I need to be going,” Rennet said, “I have things to… do.”
“Wait,” I said louder than I was expecting to. “What are you?”
“A very unlucky man,” he said, and disappeared.
Nathan and I froze for a moment then looked at each other. “Yeah but, what is he?” Nathan asked. I shrugged.
There was a door at the end of the hall, and the others had presumably already left through it. Nathan and I gathered ourselves then made our way down the rest of the hallway and through the door. It led to a stairwell where the others were sitting, out of breath.
“Where are they?” Alexis asked.
“Uh, not really sure,” Nathan said.
“You’re not sure?” Hannah asked.
“Yeah, they kinda… Vanished,” I responded.
“…Vanished?” Hannah said.
“Yeah.”
She looked from one to one at the others with her mouth open. “And?” she finally said.
“You know the guy who stopped the van? His name is Rennet Bennet.”
Hannah cringed.
“He just… appeared. And he made the guys chasing us disappear. And then he disappeared.”
“What is it with this guy?” Hannah asked. “Why does he just keep appearing and helping us then disappearing again? And how? And why is he always crying?”
“Yeah,” Nathan said. “But even more than that, Lawrence,” he said, turning to me, “how the fuck are you alive?”
I told them the story much as I had told it to Hannah, with her interrupting to fill in some gaps I had forgotten about from time to time. Nathan was the only one I really had much experience with – experience I remembered, at least – most of which was just from the past few minutes, and I didn’t imagine the others knew much about me. Probably about as much as I knew about myself, come to think about it. But once I had finished my story, they were all open-mouthed, staring at me without word.
“Do you think Ouroboros would bring me back to life as well?” Jason asked.
“I…” My eyes darted over to Hannah. “I don’t really think so. Not worth the risk of her not, anyway.”
Jason shrugged and looked away.
“Oh, yeah,” Nathan said with a look of realization. “I think this is yours, right?”
He dug through his pockets and tossed a small bag of white powder from with one of them over to me. I grinned. “Thanks,” I said, and began opening it.
Hannah snatched it out of my hands. “Fuck no. Not right now. You just fucking OD’d.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said plaintively, “I need something to take the edge off from my brush with mortality.”
“No. I’m keeping this for now. Until we can, I dunno, just figure out what the fuck is going on here.”
“We should just get out of here!” Alexis screamed. She had been silent on the steps the entire time, but now she stood up, shouting. “This city is fucked! We’ll play a show in another town, we just need to leave!”
Jason nodded. “I mean, yeah, what reason do we have to stay?”
Hannah threw her hands in front of her, shaking. “The story! Don’t you want to know what’s going on? We can’t just leave now before we’ve found out! There are immortal people! And a guy with super powers! And a fucking god of immortality or something! We’ve got to…”
She sat down, exhausted, and pulled a pen and notebook out of her pockets and began writing something down
“Just because you’re obsessed with writing your article doesn’t mean the rest of us need to stay,” Jason said. “That’s your issue.”
“I’m not talking about my article! That’s besides the point. I mean, don’t you want to know? Won’t it haunt you the rest of your life if you don’t find out?”
I stood up, and my head spun a bit so I grasped for the wall and leaned against it. “I need to stay, too. At least to get my briefcase back.”
“Oh, fuck your drugs,” Alexis said, “Just cut your losses and let’s go.”
“I… I can’t.”
All four of them turned to look at me. “Why, exactly, is that?” Hannah asked.
I took a deep breath. “There’s about a hundred thousand dollars of ketamine in there. Even if I could afford to ‘cut my losses’, my employer wouldn’t be happy about it. You don’t know him. He’ll have no trouble making sure I stay dead for real.”
“Just run, then,” Jason said.
I wasn’t listening to him. I just kept talking. “This guy has been in control of me for years. He’s who got me hooked in the first place, and made me deal just to get enough to sustain my habit. I’m… I’m terrified of this guy. I can’t leave, I need the supply and the money I get from it. I’m just… stuck.”
I hadn’t realized what I was saying but it all hit me suddenly. Who was this guy? This whole time I knew I was working for “my employer”, but I had no idea who he was. But what I had just said, without even realizing it, meant I knew him much more than that. When was the cutoff point? At what point in my memory did it all just turn blank, at least for my conscious mind? I didn’t know. I didn’t know who he was or what he really could do to me, but I knew it enough that I had to get back that briefcase. Even if I couldn’t sell it here, I had to at least retrieve it. It was life or death for me, as trivial that ultimatum seemed to me now.
“Let’s just… How about we go to the van to talk things out, all right? We have snacks and soda. I don’t think we’ll be safe in this hospital for much longer,” Nathan said. “I think we’re all a bit high-strung, not that that isn’t completely understandable,” he added suddenly after seeing Hannah’s look at him, “so let’s just… relax. Get a beer or two.”
“Uh,” I said.
“Maybe not a beer, actually,” Nathan corrected himself. “Although the possibility of reincarnation might come in handy… But we’ll make a plan, all right? We’ll work this out.”
Everyone, some hesitantly, agreed with him, and we went up through the staircase and found a side door out of the hospital, discreetly making our way towards their van. I kept my eyes locked on the small lump my bag made in Hannah’s jacket.

City Intersection, Chapter Eight – Zero Dollars

Here we go, finally. I’ve really got to go to bed (I should’ve gone to bed a while ago), but got immersed in the final scene and didn’t want to stop until it was finished.

As for music, I just listened to this quite good (long) drone track. You can find it on Bandcamp here, you can either listen to it in-browser or actually download it for free.

The other thing… this weekend I worked on making a drone track of my own, the first I’ve ever made. I think it came out pretty well, you can check it out here:

Anyway, time for the story.

~

My vision. Hmm. It wasn’t quite the same. Not quite the same as either thing. That nasty place called “sobriety” and the dissociated haze of ketamine. It was somewhere inbetween. I could still see a minor black and white line overlay over reality, but it blended in more; there was less definition between the two, they blended and merged.
I was standing, I was walking – no, I was moving. My legs flailed back and forth in a pseudo-walking motion, but I definitely wasn’t the one who was making me move.
Ah, Hannah. She was dragging me along, supporting me with her shoulder. I was a good bit taller than her, but she seemed to be managing it quite well nonetheless.
“Thanks,” I said, though I wasn’t quite sure if it was audible. It was plenty loud in my own head, but once I heard it through my ears it seemed diminished.
“No problem,” she grunted, hiking me up higher onto her shoulder. She clearly wasn’t that happy about the situation.
We were approaching at what seemed a snail’s-crawl pace towards two double-doors to the right. I could see something sketched out in my line-vision beyond them. I lifted my arm – who the fuck put all these weights on my arm? – and pointed toward it. “We should… go through there.”
We were nearing the doors and I saw whatever thing or things that were beyond were approaching. I reached for the handle.
The doors flung open and tossed Hannah and I apart on opposite sides. She let out a small noise of pain, but I seemed to have landed on a very luxurious carpet. A deep carpet. Inches deep. I swam deeper. Feet deep, now. I was floating and drifting in this sea of fabric and yarn. They were so warm, so soft, so relaxing. I let my body go, I lifted out, swam in the fibers, the microscopic tower-seaweed of this heavenly ocean.
“This shit is good,” I heard someone in another world say, and I realized it was me. I hadn’t thought the words, but I had said them. How had I said them? I was here in my carpet-world, how was that me?
How had I gotten here? No, no, that was far too temporally cause-and-effect for me. I had always been here. This was my world. Was I God? No, no God. But this was my world.
The towers of yarn-seaweed parted, forming a sort of tunnel through the fibers. Down one end, a light. Down the other, another light. They were equal in brightness and tone, equal in ever aspect, yet they were not the same. I knew they were opposites. One was good, one was… Good. They were both good? Equal in every aspect.
I started being sucked towards one of them. I reached out to either side to grab the yarn for support, but couldn’t reach them. They were within my grasp, but slipped away from my hands whenever I clutched at them.
The other light, the one I was being pulled away from, suddenly got brighter. More painful, actually, but not in my eyes. On my cheek.
“Get the fuck up, Lawrence,” someone screamed from that side. Who was Lawrence? Was that me? Was that my title? I was the “Lawrence” of this world?
The light brightened to pain again, my other cheek now.
But no. This world, this world was an illusion. And as an illusion, I had control. Some control, at least. I willed the fibers to come to me and I grabbed them, pulling myself up handful after handful toward the other light. The light brightened again, I knew the pain would come, I pulled up and up and up, striving against the suction, until I reached the light, reached forward and touched it, and…
My fucking face. Nathan had just punched it.
“He’s up,” he yelled, pulling me to standing by my arm. “Let’s go!” he said, still gripping my arm and now pulling me forward with them.
Where had Nathan come from? Where was I? I could barely fucking see, the world was dim, now dominated by the line-vision. My head swung back – I’d say that I had turned to face behind me, but I know that’s a lie – and I saw that we were being pursued by skeletons. Or x-rays. Not actual x-rays, but x-rays of skeletons. People, I mean.
What?
I didn’t have much time to think about it, even if I had been able to, as we were still moving forward. I tried to get my legs and muscles organized in a way that I could manage to at least partially walk on my own, and only succeeded in part. It was a sort of stumbling, swaying walk, but Nathan helped steady me and pull me along faster than I could go myself.
“Sorry about your face,” Nathan said. “Hannah tried slapping you to wake you up but it didn’t work, so she asked me to try. What happened?”
“An overdose, I think,” I said.
“On what?”
In reply I simply held up the bag of morphine I had stuffed into my jacket pocket. He frowned for a moment, thinking, then said “Hey, did you lose a bag of some powder? And a briefcase?”
“Yeah. That’s what I’m looking for.”
“Same here, actually. We saw them take the bag off you when… they…” His eyes widened in horror and he looked back at me again as if to check that I was really there. “You died!”
“Yeah,” I said. He looked at me intensely, waiting for me to continue, but I kept silent.
“So?”
“Well, I’m not dead any more.”
He still looked at me, agape, waiting for more, still running ahead and pulling me with him. “That’s it?”
“There’s a bit more, but I don’t think right now is the, uh, best time,” I said, motioning with my head to the things – people, I guess – chasing us. He nodded and lunged ahead faster than before, pulling me and my semi-functioning legs with him.
I was coming out of the haze a bit now. I was still heavily affected, of course, but my vision was less impaired. I noticed that I was shaking internally, like after you’ve been in the cold for a long time. Why was I still here, exactly? I knew now that I had had far too much morphine for my nonexistent tolerance. What I had measured out had presumably been the normal dose for me when I was using it regularly, and tolerance builds fast.
When had I been using it regularly? Was it when I was training as a nurse? When was that? God, what had happened to my life? Where had it gone? Where had my memories of it gone? Was I only just now waking out of some sort of Rip Van Winkle sleep that had obscured several years of my past to me?
Where did I even live? I remembered getting in the car with Hannah to come here, but had she come to my house? I couldn’t remember where it had been, but I was certain it wasn’t. Where was it, then?
I couldn’t remember. I couldn’t remember anything. Was this the price I had paid for my drug use? Was there a reason I paid that price?
Was it worth it?

Jiang Xue sat on the bed in her chamber. She held a bronze weapon, roughly a cylinder in shape yet with a recessed part at one end to hold easier. It was hollowed out one the other end, and into this she dropped a small bundle of gunpowder, followed by a small lead ball.
She had attended a Yi Jing ceremony with her family including her father, the governor of the province. Each member had their fortunes told separately, and hers had been less than comforting. Alarming, even.
And she knew what it meant. She had heard faint rumors of the man she now feared. And she knew why he would come after her. Well, she knew the reason. She still didn’t exactly know why.
She tamped down the lead ball to make sure the gunpowder was packed beneath it.
Under ordinary circumstances, she would’ve told her father, and he would’ve set up guards to keep her safe. But not now. Not under these circumstances. He didn’t know – no one did – and she didn’t want that to change. It would just be taken as an assassination of the governor’s daughter, nothing more. They would search for the killer, but wouldn’t find him. Even if they somehow did… They wouldn’t be able to take him in.
Not that she had much more chance. But this, she figured, looking at the hand cannon sitting on her silk dress, was probably her best chance. Not much of one, but still her best.
She sat on her bed the rest of the day into the night. He would come tonight. She knew. The Yi Jing had told her.
She closed her eyes and focused on only two of her senses; hearing and touch. If she felt the slightest movement of air, the tiniest scuff of feet on the floor, she would sense them and be ready.
She stayed in this state for quite some time, taking sips of ginseng oolong tea, now cold from sitting out for hours, every once in a while to help her stay awake.
Then it happened. The faintest whistle of air over a blade, the slightest motion of air, and she rolled over to her right, coming down to kneel by the side of her bed. The throwing knife clattered harmlessly against the wall behind her. She lit the match, held it out to get a better view, then brought it back near the hand cannon. The moon let in just a glimmer of light, and now she shifted her senses to include vision as well, searching for movement of any kind. Someone darted across the wall, she tracked them with her cannon, felt a slight shift in the air behind her, turned to face it, and was caught in a headlock from behind.
“Well done, Jiang Xue,” Frederick Simmons – though not known by that name at that time – said from behind her. “You’re the first who has predicted my coming. And with a weapon, as well! What is this?” He gripped her wrist and pulled the hand cannon up to look at it. She threw her other hand up to light the gunpowder from the breach, the powder sizzled and exploded near enough to his face that it might just…
She felt an impact in her chest. It wasn’t a knife, it was a lead ball. She saw that Frederick had twisted her wrist around at the last moment to face her instead.
He let go of her and she fell to the floor, clutching her chest. “A terrible wound, no doubt,” he said above her, looking down, “but unfortunately, for me, as it happens, people like us aren’t able to commit suicide. I’m sure Newlyn Brynmor began wishing that weren’t the case before he finally died. But that means that I must provide the finishing blow. Good try, Jiang. I’m sure your father would be proud. That is, if he knew what you are and who I am. But I doubt he does. How, exactly, did you expect to keep that a secret? You’re the daughter of a well-known governor. Poorly thought out on your part to stay here. Anyway, enough talk.”
He grabbed her by the hair and slit both sides of her neck just under the jaw. Blood immediately began pouring forth, and in a moment she had gone limp. He let go of her and she fell into the still-growing pool of blood.
Frederick bent down and picked up the bronze hand cannon, wiping off a small splatter of blood. He tucked it into his pocket and left the way he had come.

City Intersection, Chapter Seven – Zero Dollars

Here we go, finally. I’m taking this morning off, I suppose, since I’m too filled with loathing toward my country right now. Good time to listen to Nine Inch Nails and write, right?

Right.

(I was going to loathe my country no matter who won, but now that someone has, I think I’m permitted to loathe it in full force.)

Ah, music.

This is a relatively old ambient drone album that I listened to the other day. Most of the ambient/drone music I listen to has been made in the past five or ten years, so finding something from almost twenty years ago was pretty interesting.

~

Getting in the hospital was easy enough. Mostly. They had seen me the… day before? Two days before? Time was slipping away from me. I was losing it in this town. This town was making me lose it, and from what I now knew about it, I thought that was probably the point. I didn’t belong here, none of us who had come here did.
Physically speaking, it was easy enough getting in there. Easily explained. What was less easily explained, though, was why I was alive, and I had no idea how many people knew I wasn’t supposed to be so.
Another layer of difficulty was in how we could get to the lower levels. I thought, for a moment, of claiming that I was interested in working there, showing them my ID and certification, and trying to get them to let us down there. I decided against that due to the increased risk of them realizing who I was.
Eventually we decided the easiest way about it would be to simply sneak down there. I say “simply” comparatively, for it could only qualify as that for such. Turns out, unsurprisingly, it’s rather difficult to get to the employee-only areas of a hospital. At one point I realized there would have to be an easy fire exit to get out from the basement, and therefore, presumably, an easy way to get in there.
Hannah found it soon after. She seemed to be magnetized toward it, finding it far sooner than I would’ve expected. I didn’t notice that much, though, given that I was struggling coming to grips with sobriety. It was a horrible thing, I can’t imagine how people live like that. Having a strong connection between your consciousness and body… It wasn’t natural. I wasn’t made to be like that. I needed to sever that connection, let loose and just see how things played out.
This way, it was all… Rigid and nervous. Was this how normal people always felt? Sober people living in this horrible tense world? I could understand why I would want to avoid that life, in that case. That must have been why I started with it.
I couldn’t tell why it was that I was so puzzled about why I had started with drugs in the first place, and concerned that I was curious about it at all. Don’t mess with things like that, memories, experiences, life, they’ll fuck you up a lot more than drugs. Just move along and try to forget it.
Amnesia being a side effect of  ketamine, I really needed that briefcase. This sensation of being in full control of my faculties was unnatural. I need to get the hell out of here – “here” being my own mind.
Let’s get wasted. For a moment, I thought I said that out loud by accident and looked with horror over at Hannah. She didn’t respond or even look toward me, so I assumed I hadn’t said it out loud.
We were in one of the lower levels, walking past what looked like supply rooms and stuff. I kept an eye on the signs for the rooms as we walked past. If I was lucky, I might be able to find…
A room full of drugs. I darted toward it behind Hannah and slipped into the room. She kept walking for a moment, then noticed I wasn’t with her and walked back to the door and looked through the window.
I was in there, scanning for anything good. Anything. I’d have preferred ketamine, obviously, but it isn’t as widely used for anesthesia as it once was. Just anything.
Come to think of it, I realized there definitely wouldn’t be any ketamine there if this town operated under the rules Ouroboros laid out. Well, that option wasn’t an option any more, so I just had to look for something else.
Something like a 5% morphine solution, in those clear plastic bags. They were behind lock and key so I hesitated for a moment, then just bashed the glass open with my elbow and took out a bag. Or two. I didn’t want to run out.
I returned to the hallway, where Hannah was still waiting. “What the fuck did you just do?” she demanded.
“I, uh… My finger still hurts. A lot. Ibuprofen doesn’t cut it. I need something stronger.”
“You can’t just steal it, though!”
“Look, all right, I wouldn’t have done it if they hadn’t stolen mine. They started it. They stole… They stole a briefcase full of ketamine from me, all right? I need that shit, dude, not just for myself, but to sell. It’s my job. So I’m considering this just the start of payback for that. And hey, they fucking killed me, okay? I don’t think it’s that unfair to steal some morphine from them.”
She raised her hands and backed away. “All right, all right. So that’s why you’re here? To sell drugs?”
“To sell them and do them, pretty much. Although from what Ouroboros told me, it looks like I’ll have some trouble doing the former anywhere around here. But I’d still like to get my briefcase back. And my personal bag. The briefcase holds, uh, let’s see… five kilograms, twenty dollars a gram… About a hundred-thousand dollars. My employer would probably be a bit, er, disappointed if I came back without the briefcase and without money. But that’s besides the point. The point is, I need this morphine.”
We had been walking the entire time I was saying that, and now I noticed a sign on a door we were passing and went inside. A minute later I emerged with a handful of still-sealed syringes. I unwrapped one, stuck it into the plastic seal on the top of the morphine bag, and pulled out a few cc’s, doing some quick math in my head that I hoped was correct concerning the dose.
I rolled up my sleeve, flexed my bicep and clenched my fist, tapped the inside of my elbow a few times, then found a good vein and thrust the needle in and pushed down the plunger.
And, relief. I hadn’t used morphine in a few… years? Wait, when had I been taking morphine? I didn’t remember that portion of my life, apparently, but I knew that it had been a good while ago.
Obliteration of the soul, disconnection between mind and body, complete inebriation of the spirit. Holy shit, this stuff was good. Hospitals are the best drug dealers. The soul doesn’t matter while on morphine, your mind floats away in a cotton candy cloud of cuddly completeness, your spirit fades away to reveal the true consciousness.
Holy shit, this stuff was good. Hospitals are the best drug dealers. How long had I been here, thinking this? I noticed then that I was still pressing down the plunger.
This was going to be fun.
As long as I didn’t misjudge my dose. Last time I had morphine my tolerance had been quite substantial, and I had just gone on autopilot guided by my blacked-out memories as soon as I had a needle in hand.
Ah, what was the worry? I was in a hospital.

Nathan’s lungs burnt. His limbs burnt. Everything burnt. But he couldn’t stop running. No fucking way would he stop running.
He glanced behind him to check on the others. Jason was right in back of him and Alexis was a few yards back. A few yards behind her were three Unofficial City Force members. They shouted at the band members to stop, but there was no way they were stopping. They had a feeling they wouldn’t live very long if they stopped.
This was a weird town, Nathan thought. A dangerous town. He wished he and the others hadn’t come here. Their initial plans to gain some popularity paled in comparison to the sense of disease and apprehension that had been slowly growing over them all the longer they spent here. Everyone they talked to just seemed off, somehow, like they weren’t really there.
And that was before they saw Lawrence get murdered, his body dragged into a dumpster, and a bag he had in his pocket taken away by the three UCF members that followed them now.
The band members were horrified and curious. They followed the UCF members here to see what they were doing. Imagine, they had only come here to play a show, but what if they discovered some huge conspiracy? What if they exposed an entire city?
That would get their names out there far more efficiently than starting from the ground and working their way up. Sure, maybe that was the “right” way to do it, but this just seemed so much more… fun.
Well, it had seemed that way about ten minutes ago. But once they stumbled upon some sort of ceremony and had accidentally garnered far too much attention to themselves and were chased through the building by the UCF members, each of which was tall, muscular, and armed with at least two guns, well, it didn’t seem quite worth it any more.
“Why the fuck didn’t we just do it the way we were supposed to?” screamed Alexis from the back. “Play a show, have people spread the word? Fuck you, Nathan!”
It had been Nathan’s plan, as much as he regretted it now. It seemed like a good plan at the start. And if he had guessed correctly at the contents of the small bag, he had thought they might get something else good out of the deal.
Turned out, it hadn’t been worth it.
“I’m sorry, all right? I’m fucking sorry,” Nathan yelled over his shoulder. “It was a stupid plan, I just wanted us to be heroes or something.”
“No, you just wanted to get famous. Get rich quick. Stupid fucking plan,” Jason said.
They were running towards two frosted-glass doors at the end of the hallway, but they saw two shadows pass in front of them. They were trapped, they were being closed in on from both sides. But there were three of them behind them, and only two ahead, and the three behind them were far too armed for their – or Nathan’s, at least – liking. He wasn’t sure why the two others were still following him. He had gotten them into this in the first place.
“Get ready,” he yelled behind him as they neared the doors. He looked behind him and saw Jason and Alexis straining to catch up with him. Just as they reached the doors they were side by side. They ran full force into the doors, Nathan hoping they could catch the two people behind the door by surprise.
They did.