Pazuzu - Manifestation Matthew Sawyer Published by Matthew Sawyer at Smashwords Copyright 2009 Matthew Sawyer Discover other titles

by Matthew Sawyer at “Pazuzu – Manifestation” is a fictional story. All characters, names and locations are the creations of Matthew Sawyer. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is unintentional and coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing form from the copyright owner. Please contact the author for permission to make copies of any part of this work. Preface Outrage, because Captain Kanen became the victim of extortion, or the lack of amphetamine caused the priest's fat hands to quiver. The UnChosen caste called the drug “Ape;” the street name for the stuff that typically turned users into anxious, howling gorillas. But that can never happen to a priest, the upper echelon of the Chosen caste. All the pomp and dignity granted to Kanen’s position guarded against that base lunacy. The unquiet phases of the chemically grown monkey won't drive Josiah Kanen to madness. The Church promoted the middle-aged priest to the rank of captain because of his genetically endowed discipline. Captain Josiah Kanen is born a Chosen and granted authority over the Mortal God. The responsibility of the rank crushed Kanen under stones of responsibility. The pressure the Church applied to Captain Kanen drove him to use the damned drug in the first place. The problem with Ape is not the use of the drug, but the lack of using any once addicted. Sobrietysharpened nails pressed into his chest and head. Being clean took away the magic of knowing exactly what to do in any situation. Sobriety compromised Kanen's ability to control his god and the forsaken UnChosen living his in squalid quarter by the Wall. Reverend Arnett, who Kanen assigned as custodian of the Saint Erasmus parish, had just been murdered in its church, an unheard-of crime within the walled city-state of Capital, the Promised Land. The Wall protected the city-state from the ravages of heathen terrorists. No one passed through the Wall without approval of the Church or its military. The Chosen exercised exclusive entrance to Capital The UnChosen permitted to stay behind the Wall lived in forsaken parishes like Saint Erasmus, a suitable place for spineless degenerates. Still, the status of the murdered victim raised the severity of the crime to an act of terrorism. The Church and the military's censors debated if news of the crime should be made public, but never came to a decision. The presence of pagan tablets, on the altar at Saint Erasmus, will never be reported to the public. The Church immediately confiscated and destroyed the sacrilegious objects. Whatever the dead Reverend Arnett planned to do with them is better left unknown. The blasphemous controversy went to death with him. Reverend Arnett brought the awful fate upon himself. The phone rang in the midst of Kanen’s dealing his the lack of Ape, and the murder of a priest too curious with an archaic and forbidden religion. Reverend Benedict Ishkott called, a noncommissioned asshole from the city-state of Gomorrah - the Aper's second call to Kanen. Captain Kanen just hung up on the irreverent extortionist.

"Captain, Kanen," Reverend Ishkott addressed with the aggravated squall of an addict. "I know you don't know me from Adam, but you have something I want." "A demotion?" threatened Kanen. "Why, in the name of the Mortal God, do you dare speak to me with lack of respect?" The two priests shared their addiction to Ape, with a difference. Ape caused Reverend Ishkott to lose respect for superior officers, sending him out-of-the-way to Gomorrah. "Listen, I know you're related to Judah Bathierre, the crime-lord in this city-state," Ishkott said, uncovering his hand. Hopefully, Ishkott didn't know how complicated the relationship between Captain Kanen and Judah Bathierre became. The crime-lord used the captain as his connection to the Church, although Judah's patience had grown increasingly thin with Josiah, resulting in Ape becoming difficult to find and impossible to obtain. "That is a sad coincidence," Kanen claimed. "I know you keep the military away from Gomorrah," Ishkott stated. "And I know Bathierre is your Ape connection." "I know you are a dead man, Ishkott!" Kanen shouted over the phone. "How dare you call me with your crazy accusations!" "Listen!" Ishkott shouted back. "Military patrols will come to this city-state whether you like it or not! Ilu Drystani is in these parts of the Shur. Colonel Taclale himself is coming here!" Colonel Taclale's trip to Gomorrah presented a bigger problem. Captain Kanen reported to the colonel, as would Ishkott when the bishop arrived at Gomorrah. Ishkott, the tattling Aper, may tell their superior officer anything. "What do want?" Kanen capitulated. "An assignment away from Gomorrah and heathens," Ishkott bartered. "This city-state will be the next to fall to terrorists. Drystani is here!" "Let me think," Kanen replied. The solution came to him with a staggered breath. The situation seemed to work itself out. A custodian position had recently opened at Saint Erasmus and a priest materialized who would shut his mouth if invited into Capital. Josiah didn't think ahead when he offered the position to Ishkott, as the wretched blackmailer might one day twist Josiah's arm again. Yet the possibility failed to stop Josiah from asking if Reverend Ishkott would bring Ape into Capital. "No, of course not," declined Ishkott. Bringing drugs to his promotion sounded like a way for his supervisor to trap him. Captain Kanen could not be trusted with the truth. "That's unfortunate," answered Kanen before hanging up. Josiah looked forward to securing another batch of Ape. 1 The Wilderness This morning, the colors of the sky had weight. Near the faraway horizon, they are luminous gases - layers of yellow, orange and pink, pressed together by the nothingness of the previous night. A wide, blue bruise was caught between dark and light. The rising sun pushed warm colors upward, burning them away, and bled sore purple from the sky. Watching the sunrise was like looking down a well, until the sun rose overhead and the desert lit up. The shirtless, stumbling man fell into morning. He knew where he was, but didn't remember who he might be. His own shoulders bore down on him with a foreign weight he wanted to throw off. The extra fleshy padding around his waist only added to the burden. The gain stealthily crept upon the man over years of denial and moments of complacent acceptance. Growing fat seemed a natural process of age. The extra weight introduced itself like a hobo trespassing the rails, a sneaky hanger-on who refused to be shaken off. His tired posture and swollen, blistered gut made him a forlorn caricature. His arms swung like pendulums knocked from their paths. The broiled devil lumbered across a desolate, alien world — the only living thing exiled to Hell. Desperate thirst came without warning. The dirt that caked his chest and back, dried and flaked off with each heavy step. His torso resembled an antique table dusted by careless brush strokes. The man appeared overall red and covered with angry pustules. He felt his insides bake. His already bulging belly will bloat

until the skin burst and juices bubbled out. The very last of his fluids will evaporate even before dripping to the ground. That was not the image of death he desired. He would not die, sizzling in his own fluids. Instead, he preferred to dry up and blow away - become part of the dust, red dust. “You've certainly wandered enough.” The clear voice spoke into his left ear. It sounded like his own, but of better clarity, absent of the muffled hesitation he struggled to overcome in ordinary conversation. This voice sounded rehearsed and confident, far from his own verbal fumbling. His voice, like a recorded, nasally monologue on an answering machine, seemed an amputation, separate from the concept he believed of himself, whatever that could be now. The better voice resonated as if echoed in an empty room. Just as abrupt, the voice vanished and a second of stillness filled the void. Leaded footfalls on packed dirt and a muffled ring in his head dispelled the silence, much like listening to a radio station when the announcer missed the timing - until a burst of sound jolts the dead air. Yet the voice was not accompanied with the static heard on a radio. The voice, and his plod across the dry waste, remained exclusive and opposite each other. He did not bother to look around, because the sporadic company of the invisible voice was his only companion. It joined him earlier that day, or it maybe the day before. Time passed as fleeting as the voice. The sun traveled only a quarter of its path through the sky, yet the day already became unbearably hot and bright. The previous night was sweltering. He stumbled through the darkness, unsure when a day ended and another began. The endless expanse of dirt and suspended days disoriented him. He needed to walk, find his way or die. The desert never appeared so large from the road. He would have easily spotted scant landmarks if he drove rode in a car or truck. Regardless, he thought he could recover his bearings. His sense of direction had always been amazing, or so he believed. Although he could not recall why he found himself in the middle of nowhere, he suspected a he had a destination when the dangerous trek began. The “when” was now long ago, hidden beneath hours and unending dunes of sand. If he brought any water, it was now gone. He did not know what supplies he carried on the journey, as he now didn’t even have a pack or a shirt. All he apparently owned were a pair of scuffed laced boots and crusted khaki pants with empty pockets. “Hey, wouldn’t a tall glass of cool water be great?” The voice, barely noticeable beneath hot winds, teased like some subtle siren. Whirlpools transformed to sandstorms. The pleasant thought of a gulp of water lit in his mind, but he deliberately quashed it. None was to be found here, and he would not torture himself. Entertaining pleasant fantasies seemed more conducive to survival. He dreamed he found that siren and lay down with her. She took this poor, baked fiend to her dune, her bare skin as cool as the ocean where she was birthed. Eyes green as kelp flirtatiously competed for admiration against lips glistening with the sheen of pearls. Rescued and transformed, he tired of the colorless desert and traveled back to her sea. He would never be thirsty again, never care to recall how or why he discovered himself alone in the desert. Finding the bliss of love and the sea is the answer, and she was the reason for his journey. Dehydration set in a long time ago. Stumbling on his feet was just a pretense. He was already lost and dead. Heat exhaustion was near, but still the voice called. “Benedict,” it called him. This time the voice shut out every thought. “Ben.” Ben jerked leftward so violently, he twisted completely around, like a marionette thrown into a clumsy pirouette by an amateur puppeteer. The momentum pulled Ben off his feet. He fell forward as if his strings were cut. His shoulders remained hunched as he lay face down. With a huff and small cloud of dust, Ben flipped himself over. He saw the orange cauldron of the sun over his toes. He stopped sweating, which was not a good sign, but he lacked will to worry. His name would be forgotten, if ever really known. He recalled it now, because the voice reminded him. His name was Ben. He closed his eyes and pictured rippling waves drift up from his body. He felt stuck to the ground, as if a part of it. This land might also be called Ben; he was merely a piece of desert, like the dust stirred by his steps. The particles will eventually settle back down and rejoin the suffering man, misplaced specks relocated from one part of the desert to another, but still part of the whole. His breath became the hot breeze. He exhaled a gust that singed the inside of his gaped mouth. Ben opened his eyes. The sun now hung directly overhead, like a white whirlpool in a

seemed unfathomable. Ben considered standing. “Ben. Still. with hard breaths that rose in crescendo and then climaxed when he pushed himself to his knees. then retreating. If he had any gorge. Standing almost took the last of his strength. as that leg became heavier than the right. Now where is that road? Behind him lay a temporary path carved by his shuffle. With his ear pressed against the ground. His right foot crossed his left. he'd get there quickly. a compass point seemed impossible to find. Ben lay still and listened to the ringing in the back of his head. Ben spent a feeble hour pulling his knees to his chest. Ben leaned forward and let momentum carry him. with his feet spread wide. then laughed aloud. although the man already suspected. Ben agreed there will be no running today. All the exertion became harder. not unlike an ocean wave slowly rolling over the shore. He stumbled and nearly fell. as if waiting for a starting gun to fire. It dropped and dragged. The voice told him. He raised his other shaking leg and pushed himself backwards. The fossil of this creature would not be found here in the Shur desert. but at least he stood on his feet. Ben determined he would be the last living thing ever to cross this particular piece of desolation. Ben responded to the reproach in the voice and rolled onto his right. He grunted and stood up. unless he fell back to the ground or dried up alone. The sidestep-dance continued another twenty or thirty meters. The sound made him laugh harder. Each step caught him from falling on his face again. The temperature was much too hot to compete. Ben did not recall where or even when he became lost. but disguised itself to imitate an internal conversation. His misconception seemed a perfectly rational diagnosis. and felt as if choked. The chuckle began as a cough. you’re wasting the day daydreaming. Ben now became delirious. but he was disappointed. Where this reserve of energy came from. Apparently the starter and the other runners had gone home. He should put a little more effort into survival. to creep up on him unawares. The belief he possessed an acute internal sense of direction could have been merely delusional thinking. Ben planted a palm flatly in the dirt as he went into a runner’s three-point stance. He needed leverage to lift his leg from the ground. He lay in a fetal position a few more minutes. Ben dropped back to his hands and knees. The wind already began sandblasting it away. until Ben grew dimly aware a black line stretched in front of him. With the sun directly overhead. Chances are he confused his direction long ago. Ben dug shallow furrows with the toes of his boots as he attempted to stand. He heard his own thoughts and shallow breaths. not God’s hand. Fear of the voice scolding him for such fanciful ideas brought him back to the reality he lay in the desert. given he now heard voices. but the familiar sound of civilization again evaded him. “Rationalization and losing one’s mind shouldn’t go together. His head swam and he felt nauseous. When it decided to speak and demanded to be heard. not easy. Ben also heard far off rumbling. The Mortal God was gone. while flashes of the sea above taunted him. The ringing in his head receded after a few minutes. much like setting an egg on its end during the vernal equinox. Ben continued to listen. Ben panted slowly. but did not demand attention. He would rather have his bones found in a cool lake or an airconditioned car. Ben veered to his left. A mighty hand polished away the waves and ripples. Wherever he was going. Ben wobbled uncontrollably. and an invisible glass wall rose from it. The rumble seemed to come from a road. the race called due to extreme weather. as if stepping over the carcass of an animal that stewed in the sun beyond recognition. unlike the voice. The high-pitched sound was constant. He hoped the difficult part passed. After a few minutes of posing motionless. it would have bubbled up his throat. The voice was clearly not his own. even after he noted the sun always rose in the East. No matter how Ben tried to step unto the line. A fluke of gravity held him upright. he leaned to the . The ringing reminded him he was awake and painfully alive. Ben avoided focus on the noise entirely. He grunted with the exertion. beneath an afternoon sun.” Ben realized he was disoriented and hallucinating. but his feet still swung forward and faster now. The line reached from horizon to horizon.smooth blue ocean. and then cracked his harsh voice with a noise he had not made since the age of thirteen.” Ben thought. saw seas in the sky and possessed generally grandiose ideas about himself.

a popular car for Church fleets. such as hats. The mismatched boots and cuffed pant legs on one of the men dispelled the impression they wore wearing military uniforms.” Ben fell forward into the pair. he’s gonna die too?” This voice sounded shrill and scared. The smell of their musky sweat reached Ben before the two unrecognized men. Another man sat in a white Bourdon sedan. He walked parallel to a road. The one with cuffed pant legs sported a small bump in the middle of his forehead. His skin felt scalded where the men touched him. here we are.left. Two men cautiously shuffled toward him. Three words crackled like smoldering leaves. as he was badly burned by the sun. Ben staggered toward them as they approached. and now painfully tore away. The folds in the metal retained the color thickest and brightest. You’re not doing all right. and the bed of the truck crumpled toward the cab. Panting came from within.” Ben did not raise his face from his discovery. their hands raised before them. man” the thin-lipped man replied. The two men looked alike. shadowy shapes. Ben snorted.” the voice said. and all the worse for wear. Ben steered himself onto the asphalt. Up close. huh. maybe brothers. The mirrors and back window were missing. The thin black line magically stretched into a thick ribbon of cracked asphalt. The approach of the two men obscured whoever actually issued the warning. The car sat behind the truck on the shoulder of the road. “Help me! No. His head became a weight he could no longer bear. One man came from the rear of an old truck . Ben saw the other man had narrower eyes. then choked in amusement.” the other man ordered. thin. Their hands wrapped around his arms. as if tethered by a heavy invisible chain. “Oh man. already by pitted by sand. The engine ticked as it cooled. stay way from me! All of you! Away. The hoarse voice came from inside. The hoarse yelling started again as the . “Tall…glass…water. He ventured to say something. Still. A pink elbow rested on a rotund gut that made Ben feel less conscientious of his own. Another voice came from the direction of the distressed shouts. The men were accustomed to the heat and glare and took no precaution. His mouth was larger than that of the man with the bump. The sound of the wind had not deadened when the new voice ask his identity. Ben swore the quip was a thought hidden in his head. It lolled. Ben felt lighter. but his lips thinner. Scratches scarred the crude brushwork. he was a better man for the absence. if that were possible in the daytime heat. the one with the bump on his head. The trip to the sedan was short. “There can’t even be any blood left in him. It looked dirty. Crust nearly glued the lids shut. haphazardly painted yellow. This voice could not be more real than the first. The shrill voice sounded again.really just a moving assemblage of scrapped parts. They bared their necks with open collars. When they neared the driver’s side. Dil?” The shrill noise disappeared from the voice of the man with the bump. A road! The voice became more than a hallucination and hailed him from the direction he followed. “He’s heavy for being all dried up. He saw a lap clad in black slacks on the reclined seat. The truck stood parked in the middle of the road. heathens! Do you know who I am? Stay away. Their deeply tanned and unshaven faces revealed work and life outside carved undeserved age into them. but not wiry. damn you!” Ben raised his eyes. The man from the sedan. The man he called Dil did not reply. “Who are you?” demanded a nervous new voice. born by these strangers. its bald tires molded to the pavement. Labored yells barked from a hoarse throat. A couple years passed since that particular model appeared on the market. Wrinkles curved over his nose and below his eyes as he looked closer at Ben. as if freshly coated. Only the right eye opened enough to see more than white light and blocked. The yellow coat of paint looked like it was added after the apparent accident. Ben peered through the partially open door. The only reply came from the hoarse throat. spoke. He deliberately continued walking to his left. His lips curled back over short white nubs of teeth. “Sure.” “Sure. Ben hissed in pain.” “Get him to the car. “Now. jerked from side to side by the sadistic puppeteer. Sand drifted over the surface in sheets. Other noises also filled the air. but only a degree. but in good condition. Ben stopped walking. Yeah. They wore coarse denim work shirts and pants. When he realized the road lay flat instead of vertical. “You have certainly wandered around long enough.

” Dil said.” Dil directed. “You were going to peel the skin from my living skull. temporarily. Ben watched the panting man grow calm through the glass and semi-circles of grime. night seemed to fall early. The immediate threat dissipated. “Hey. Hen’s shirt felt like sandpaper dragged over Ben’s torso. Shelter from the direct glare of the sun was worth the pain. He won’t let us help him . Terrorist!” The priest emphasized the last point with another dry spat. “Give me back my keys. Hen reached over Ben to the middle console on the dashboard. you know. and consequently one of the Mortal God's Chosen. An unseen weight immediately pressed each breath back out. “Shut up. “Get away. The windshield was covered in sand. “Damn each of you! I mean it!” He had fallen against the driver’s side door and now hung from the open vehicle. huh?” the man with the rolled pant cuffs asked Ben. pulling it from his neck. “He’s having a heart attack. His other hand gripped the stunted collar of his white shirt. as well as the space just . The man had a herald of gray hair. The priest scowled. He did not respond to either as Dil reached for the door handle.” “I’d rather die out here by myself. Hen shut his mouth with a clack of teeth. “Don’t touch me when I’m dead. born of the elite caste. speaking about Ben. The air from the vents instantly cooled the interior of the car. as they walked around to the passenger side.” the man spat. “We’re UnChosen. He buried his right hand into his left armpit. not much older than Ben. before disappearing around the back of the sedan. More pain gripped him. and his presence in the desert. but he endured. pawing his neck. heathens! I will command the Mortal God down upon you all!” A pale man. He made a desperate lunge for the lock.three men approached. At the sound of the latch. than let you spiteful heathens cut my throat.” Hen stepped out of the car and straightened up.” the priest demanded. because no insignia appeared pinned to the short upright collar of his white shirt. The meager spittle fell across his chin in long clear threads.” the priest denied. but could not lift himself from his seat. Dil and the one with the bump carried Ben around the front of the Bourdon to the passenger side. “Give it to him. The sick man was a priest. back the way they came. The man with the bump emphatically squeezed Ben’s armed. “You know. we found him like this. were connected. Dil soon returned and handed Hen a clear plastic bottle of warm water. He grimaced and looked over at the truck. Hen held the bottle at the bottom and carelessly dumped the contents into Ben’s open mouth. That is what people believed in Capital and other city-states where the Chosen lived. people expected he would have some achievement in the Church.” Hen said. lay sprawled in the sedan. The two men eased Ben onto the passenger seat.” Dil warned sharply. The priest's hands returned to his chest. except where wiper fluid turned it to bluish mud. Both the question and command floated past Ben like a conversation drifting on the wind from far away. The man closed his eyes and rested his head against the window at his side. Dil already swung the door wide open. At his age. which rubber wiper blades pushed aside and left to cake. The thin-lipped man passed in front of the car. Dil rummaged through the crooks of the folded bed.won’t even let us touch him. shallow draws of air through his mouth. That accounted for his threats and recalcitrance. We believe in the Mortal God. The lack of rank. We were going to help. The brown leather upholstery burned like a griddle on Ben’s bare injured back. Dil let Hen lift Ben’s feet inside. Mercifully.. The attempt came was too late anyway. Hen. Only the seat belt saved the priest from spilling out entirely. The water streamed down his dirt-caked chin and bare chest.” Hen’s voice quivered. The priest obviously did not have a rank. He sucked in short. His voice stayed low and conspiratorial. the priest stirred crazily from his brief respite. “You’re him.” “Liar. “Take him around to the other side. The air conditioning burst forth with a roar. The glare made Hen squint as he put idle hands on his hips. The outburst caused him to gasp and wince in pain. Only heathens would wander the wastes of this desert. in the blessed shade of the sedan.

if any intelligible comment followed. just not so fast. gleaming as white as the sun above. The water was gone . Hen gave Ben another sip of the water. “You look about the same size as the priest. When she kissed his open mouth. He has a suitcase back here. She straddled Ben’s lap and pressed her cool. smiling through slightly parted. The siren drifted away. but Ben did not move. The object appeared a small key ring adorned with a charm shaped like an elongated “X. The thirst. . “You learned some truth today. only slightly quenched. You can have more. the voice added another word. He paused and automatically assumed the man was dead. Dil spotted the priest slumped in the driver’s seat. When the scorched stranger looked like he could handle the life-saving liquid. yellow pickup truck. as the voice returned and all other sounds vanished. Ben remained unaware of the dead man next to him. Dil carried a small gas canister in his right hand. Hen gave him several more gulps. “Just a little. It ran down the interior of the slanted windshield in little rivulets and evaporated before any pooled.the only important news he cared about. Ben closed his eyes. Her smile. became worse. We need to keep your revelation in mind. You’re going to remember that later. The red plastic had faded to pink. Even more so. rattling exhalation. The siren’s hands raised goose flesh as she stroked his face and shoulders. knowing Ben could not answer. They stopped to investigate. Within the pause. His voice quivered again. her touch was the only sensation that did not burn. “You were empty. Ben choked. “I condemn you . “We didn’t kill him.” it said. Light passed through the canister. making it appear to glow from within. lest she drowned him. Dil hoped the car was abandoned. especially at the seams. The siren finally arrived.” Hen guessed.” “What happened to your clothes?” Hen wondered out loud. The black spout looked gnawed. . The priest added a long and low “…oooooooo…” trailed by a longer. was the only thing Ben clearly saw beneath her hovering yellow tresses. before roaring back solidly.outside the open doors. The sound of the air conditioner covered whatever the priest said next. “Transformed. The priest looked away as he softly spoke. he hoped to find something to scavenge. especially fuel.” The shape was actually a cross. Right?” Ben did not hear him. The feel of her skin made him forget pain. The cool caress filled his lungs with unbearable frost. just the right place to store something for later use. When the Cortras brothers got out of their battered. Dil passed something to Hen. “You’re filling up again. The water Hen gave him sprayed against the dash. but he had no the strength or presence to do more than suck the tiny portions as they were offered. cold air flowed into Ben. Her hair drifted into his face as she leaned forward. so did Hen’s fear. He slowly surrendered to exhaustion and would soon follow her into secret fathoms. Exhaustion planted him in his seat. He sounded eager to scavenge the vehicle.” The sound of the air conditioner wavered and then quit abruptly. Her golden hair floated about her face as if underwater. Peeved impatience was his first display of real emotion since the Cortras brothers spotted the Bourdon at the road’s shoulder. Ben drank his siren a little at a time. Hen fumbled. Hen’s rationing of the water taunted Ben. Heathens lived in the waste.” Ben disregarded the cryptic statements.” Dil shouted. One silver key clearly belonged to the sedan. 2 Samaritans “Come on. as firmly as the priest had sunk into his. carefully this time. Just as the priest passed on. a shared emblem of the Chosen and UnChosen faiths. Nobody stopped in the Shur. A dreamless sleep claimed him completely. “Hey!” Hen exclaimed. The stream reached for Ben like a caress.” He grew rigid and his mouth fell open. Ben remained conscious long enough to watch Dil return. “I think he’s dead.” Hen stretched his neck as he peered into the back seat. Hen. Suddenly. bare breasts against him. .” The coughing and sputtering continued a few seconds more. shining lips.

and the landscape and everything in it slowly baked. They didn’t have enough gas or money to make the trip. The broken window occurred during the accident which ultimately drove the brothers into the desert. The Cortras brothers took their chances when they decided to cross the Shur desert into Capital. There were moments when Dil could relax. Driving as fast as they could with the windows down was the only way they were going to stay in some moderation of comfort. but they had to try.“Get it off the road. That was many years ago. and carried home unconscious and bleeding. so there was never a cool respite. as there was no place to fill the tank along the way through the flat. trying to protect Dil.they needed to leave. local crime lords assumed the governing. there wasn’t a choice . Besides. The back window of their truck was missing. Religion was a little too emotional for Dil’s taste. A quest to the city where the Mortal God made his dwelling must be a lucky decision. The lack of cash didn’t matter. They only had each other. only with his little brother. if the brothers got to the Cap. The Batheirre family won that mantle in Gomorrah and ran the trade in Ape. since the days stretched too long. As far as Dil was concerned. Hen was too excitable. and remained secreted away from the streets at night. The UnChosen were alone to administer to their spiritual needs and police themselves. as no real skill or resources were present for exploitation. a big city-state seemed the best place to earn some money. They were as close as any family either had ever known. So when his nephew rear-ended the Cortras brothers. They lost the glass on a rare occasion when Dil had allowed Hen to drive. and the effort was always half-cocked. Plenty of witnesses saw the young . Then they would be sent back to Gomorrah or escorted to the encampment outside the Cap and its Wall. Hen’s assumption of both older and younger siblings’ roles grew frustrating. just citizens eking out existence. The city-state disintegrated into a haven for amphetamine production and served as a heathen induction outpost. they could reach the encampment by sundown the next day. he might avoid being shanghaied into the heathen’s holy war. The head of the Batheirre family reveled in delusional righteousness of himself and the countless members of his family. Hen always remained more hopeful. Dil and Hen fled.” Dil ordered Hen. if only day labor. His younger brother. they had no means or purpose to get into the city-state. The Church of the Chosen did not have an interest in the area. and truthfully no great loss. although he would never let his little brother know it. empty waste of the Shur. The encampment outside the Cap was probably going to be their final destination. In the absence of the Church or its appointees. Hen. anyway. as he accomplished neither very well. They both loved the interaction. Summer was the wrong season to cross the Shur. “And don’t get it stuck or you’ll dig it outta the sand yourself!” **** Dil was the older of the two Cortras brothers. it was a miracle the place hadn’t already burned to the ground. Their mother and her rotation of substitute stepfathers never provided a childhood worth mentioning. by three years. The sad reality was that patrols would probably find them broken down far from their destination. He recited the dogma that claimed Capital was where the Mortal God once lived with the Chosen: The Promised Land. known as the Cap. Relaxation consisted of bossing Hen around and generally giving him a hard time. so Dil remained burdened to remain level headed and stoic. unbidden. If they started early and drove westward through the night. by outsiders. in labs hidden inside garages and crawlspace basements. Hen often overstepped his bounds. since being thrown out of their home as teenage delinquents. Honest work was still available. Dil and Hen had recently arrived in the city-state of Gomorrah. With frequent explosions. The sands oozed hoarded heat through its pores throughout the night. Getting past the Wall was an entirely different problem. Dil liked it when Hen talked like that. Dil wished fire consumed Gomorrah long before the brothers found themselves in the city-state. or they would be stopped and harassed. The trip from Gomorrah to Capital takes a whole day. both were born to the UnChosen caste. If a man or boy did not attract attention. Dil expected to drive until the fuel burned away or the old truck overheated and the engine permanently seized. but strangely enough. endlessly tried to impress Dil. and maybe even save a little. In the beginning.

no one in Gomorrah would hesitate to tell a story other than the truth they witnessed. Hen drew a curious audience. none of which he intended of ever repaying. the glass chunks sparkled like thick chunks of ice as they clinked to the ground. chasing the man away was often easier and safer than giving him anything that could be spared – which usually amounted to nothing anyway. if they were involved and not just convenient bystanders. but they both were restless. Once most of the glass was gone. The witnesses would have run too. Compared to the strung-out homeless. every window and doorway facing the lot had an open view. rendezvousing at a train yard where they once made a temporary home. When this desperate man came banging on doors after dark. He grew so tired that he had no choice but to let Hen drive. His older brother flew against the dash without injury. Hen recognized the driver and was very much aware of the vehicle’s owner. Dil dozed off after sufficiently scolding his younger brother for grinding gears. as the truck had always been barrel his uncle’s prized convertible into the stalled blue truck. The young Batheirre was plainly at fault. In the end. The faster this marked man vanished.handled broom he had brought with him. Dil wouldn’t have thought twice about lying either. yet that would not make any difference. by himself. they slept in their truck until they found work and money. The game was a matter of self-preservation. it was time to trade places. parting dead bushes and short trees along the way. Hen balanced on the crumpled folds of the truck bed. The truck was soon covered. The paint went on quickly with thick. He swept out the cubes of glass with a ragged. They needed to flee Gomorrah before word spread. After dropping Dil off at their squat. Hen opened the paint using the long stem of a broken screwdriver with a missing handle. All Hen had time to do at that moment was brace for the impact. scratching the wet paint and leaving a trail of pastel twigs and branches. camping beneath sheet metal overhangs. Hen drove the truck to an empty lot. Once the city-state was out of sight and the sun rose behind them. which was also self-preservation. were futile. In fact. He couldn’t wait to see his brother’s face. short. Dil turned the driving over to Hen. In the setting sun. broad and textured strokes. He backed the truck out of the lot along the path of squashed scrub when it arrived. True to the nature of the UnChosen caste. to escape and take his rattled brother with him. Meanwhile. This was just the kind of effort that made Dil angry. because most people had already heard the news. Dil had instructed Hen to quickly go over the smashed truck and fix anything that needed repair . people tried to chase him away. The brothers met again just after midnight. Hen saw Bathierre's convertible racing up behind them. too fast and unaware. Enough daylight remained to allow Hen an assessment his work. They weren’t going to stop if it could be helped. instinct was Hen’s counsel. Stealthy gawkers peeked through slightly parted drapes and cracked doors. So Dil gathered all he could by yelling threats in alleys and smashing back windows. Dil collected debts from strangers and made a few of his own. Their new plan entailed getting a little sleep before starting the trip. but he was too fatigued to figure out even the obvious. the accident got the engine started again because Hen popped the clutch as the truck rolled. Hen had also brought along a couple liters of yellow house paint he had found discarded on a corner along the way to the lot. In either case. The Cortras brothers left Gomorrah before dawn with the clothes on their backs and whatever had been left in the truck. An idea struck him when he spotted the paint. Hen decided. The victim’s uncle put a bounty on the Cortras brothers. Hen reasoned the truck was fine. The crash was followed by an aftermath filled with threat to life and limb. Hen added the empty paint cans and broom to the clutter of junk discarded in the dry grass. Now that they were safe.if he could. Hen dipped the broom into the paint and brushed it across the molded metal of the truck. whether Dil was caught or got away. the brothers lived in luxury. As always. the better. Hen laughed aloud anyway. Hen got out and ran around the back of the truck as Dil slid over. The brothers planned to leave before dawn and the vehicle had to be ready. Hen sighed in exasperation at his crude camouflage. The lenders knew it. Before his head had jerked forward in the collision and snapped off the rear view mirror. he would never be seen again. His attempts to stomp the buckles into their old shapes. because they were able to drive away from the accident. Dil was vaguely aware something was different with the color of the vehicle. Months ago. Despite the sparse cover of skeletal branches and chaparral. .

If he stood in one place long enough. maybe a car.” Dil opened the door further to discover the inside the automobile to be just as hot as standing under the sun outside. The leader has been tentatively identified as Ilu Drystani. soaked with sweat.” Dil ordered.” Hen offered merrily.” Hen sighed. It was a shame only a couple of stations were broadcasting. Both broadcasted twenty-four hours a day. He hooted the laugh he had saved for the occasion. Judging by the black clothes. The truck slowed. It is assumed he escaped into the desert outside Gomorrah. the head and the arm.” Dil quipped. as did the wind whipping through the cab. skipping around the side of the truck as if he were barefoot on the hot. That was blood money and only a loan. feed in a copy of censored propaganda and get a mechanical voice to match the message. “It wasn’t working anyway. Go ahead. A woman’s voice announced events from the other night. “There goes our air conditioning. “Slow down. But then. Dil had four fillings and a missing back tooth. Hen followed his brother. like every other female announcer. “What is it. “You see something?” “Yeah. Dil never tolerated anyone preaching to him. The desert made radio reception excellent. His brother’s jaw finally dropped. but undisclosed. Hen was right. They were the same entity. if he had anything useful to offer.” “We could really use that money. the heat would eventually work its way through the soles of his boots. The door was ajar. Patrols have been alerted and a search operation has been ordered. Dil did not answer. He half-expected the reward would actually be handed to him. “I’m fine. Hen creased his brow as he took a quick glance at his brother. huh?” Hen said wistfully. It would be paid back by the flesh of anyone stupid enough to succumb to the temptation. a flash appeared far up the road. reward for information leading to his arrest or proof of death. The missing scout was located. All of the radio announcers could have easily been replaced with a machine that rearranged audio clips. His brother smiled. A chemical smell wafted from the . He is wanted for heresy. It was definitely a car.” Dil stepped onto the road. You can sleep some more. Dil?” Hen whispered to no one but himself. those two stations were the only choices available: one was reserved for the Church and the other was military news and propaganda. Dil reached across and turned up the volume. The engine clanked and quit a few seconds after he pulled the keys from the ignition. Hen was familiar with the landscape. The brothers coasted past a white Bourdon sedan. murder. they spotted a bloated body slumped deep in the seat on the driver’s side. Dil stooped forward. From their vantage point. sticky pavement.” Dil replied. The day was going to be terribly hot. and off the road. usually recordings. so they drew closer with caution. There is a substantial. his face wrenched with disbelief. News was just as generic. have they?” “Not yet. the man was a priest. Military forces did not suffer casualties. “… Military patrols from four desert sectors joined to conduct the operation. hovering over the priest’s mouth. but could not be accounted for. it would be the third sighting in the area this month.” As the brothers neared the sedan. Hen listened to the radio as it softly played. Hen stopped the truck in the middle of the road. Fourteen heathen fighters were killed. Her voice sounded artificial. Before Dil crafted an appropriate put-down. the sedan looked abandoned. and crimes against the Chosen people. “Let’s take a look. He had been tortured and murdered. Hen handed them to Dil out of habit. “What in the name of the Mortal God have you done to the truck?” Hen waited all morning in anticipation of this moment. Dil did a double take. “No. although the rush of the wind through the cab and the thrum of the engine made the broadcast impossible to hear. Hen listened to the news. His back felt prickly and his shirt stuck to the vinyl seat. “They haven’t found us. because the other station would make his older brother mad. He instantly fixed his eyes on the spot where he had seen it. If Drystani was at the raid. The only music that ever played was carefully crafted non-rhythmic chants. It is suspected that a high-ranking leader in the heathen terrorist network was present. Let’s check it out.Dil woke suddenly. “You think he’s dead? I think he’s a priest.” Dil turned down the radio as he squinted into the distance.

which is what Dil had expected. A beaten plastic gas canister had rolled onto its side against the back seat. Dil leaned all the way into the trunk to retrieve the canister.” Dil pointed at the groaning priest. who are you?” Hen asked the dying man.” Hen timidly shuffled toward the dying priest. The Ape probably came straight from Gomorrah. He rushed over to Dil. Cooling him down became their top priority. Regardless. Dil deftly snatched the keys from the man’s lap. Hen raised his arms in surrender and dropped them to his sides with a thump. After a while. Dil searched through the junk in the crumpled bed of his truck. “You stay with him. The sound and motion brought Dil back to his senses. from side to side. but lost that too. The brothers then stalked the still figure. The older Cortras thought he had been careful to guarantee their privacy. He crawled out and slammed the trunk shut. The man collapsed into the arms of the brothers and they carried him to the sedan. tuning Hen’s gibberish out became as natural as farting. even to a dying priest and living mummy. Dil agreed that the request was reasonable. The horizon was far away and empty. There was little to claim. “Hey. The apparition tottered to its left as the priest yelled at Hen again. He did the majority of his thinking while Hen yammered. He thought he heard himself yell in surprise. “I’m still gonna take the gas. “How did he get up here?” He considered the thought further. The priest resurrected at that moment.” Dil thought about the suspicion for a moment. but Dil put an end to Hen’s questions before they could continue. A red apparition suddenly appearing on the opposite side of the road startled Dil. “Nothing. His heart was succumbing to the drugs. Still listening. “What?” Hen finally asked. as the emergency road kit was missing most of its essentials. tangling himself in the seat belt. Hen may have said something out loud. The figure looked like a scarecrow sewn together with the skin of some gruesome ripe fruit. while the priest continued his tirade. The priest continued screaming with his arms wrapped around his chest. If this was Drystani.” “What am I going to do?” Hen pleaded. Evidence suggested that speed. He tried to calm the priest. He lay nearly flat before he managed to right the can with his fingertips and grasp its handle. Dil yanked his head out of the car. but he quickly forgot the vain task. A hose or tube to siphon the gas tank could not be found. anyway. uncertain. even if there was anything you could do. As he called out to the stranger. Dil looked into the distance. “I don’t think so.” Hen confided to Dil. Dil headed back to the truck. The whole scenario required careful thought. He screamed and kicked himself upright. His brother repeated the of the unconscious man. They couldn’t let the poor man suffer. Dil left Hen to watch over the priest and stranger as Dil attended to his original plan. The flare and an empty aerosol can of flat tire repair remained. of the narcotic kind. had killed him. He had seen this before from previous experience with drug addicts and the clergy. Dil discovered the long stem of . preventing the door from latching shut. but Dil was deep in concentration. Both Dil and this new figure remained staked to their posts. “He won’t let you. Loud humming filled Dil’s ear. The priest cursed Hen and howled. Dil assumed his little brother vented stress with the constant noise. Tipping your hand was unwise. “I think that’s Drystani.” Dil replied. Dil used the priest’s keys to open the trunk and looked inside.” Dil stared at the apparition. Friendly introductions were obviously out-of-the-question. there may be some change of luck to be seized. Hen continued babbling. “Heathens! Get away from me!” The brothers stood paralyzed. Hen whipped around. but at least Hen had made an attempt. The priest would not live long. “Tall…glass…water…” The broken words crackled in the dry throat of the stranger. but that was Hen. The door swung against the girth of the priest. He felt he should extend some kind of help. confirming that the three men were completely alone. Dil instructed Hen to put the burned man in the car with the priest. He returned briefly to hand Hen a bottle of water from the truck and then purposefully approached the trunk of the sedan. Hen began to ask the stranger what both brothers suspected. “Who?” cried the priest. It was empty. Hen talked mostly to himself. “I think that’s him.

due to the car’s position on the shoulder of the road. The luxury of cold air wasn’t one he counted on. Hen turned the ignition. He took another breath and stretched forward. Hen freed his arm at the same time. as Hen's delay drove Dil mad. The buckle whipped back to its bracket with a sharp clank. The muscles in the neck of his older brother contracted. The front seat was a bench. it might escape bleary eyes. if and when he doesn’t show. Patrols will look for him. unless he had an assignment somewhere like Capital. Hen pulled the driver’s door open and hunched over the dead man. He’s probably got orders . The sight made Hen shiver and the stench replaced the chilled air inside the sedan. His small chin disappeared into the wrinkles at his neck. watching the splotches shrink now that air and light touched them. featureless desert. Hen’s fingers slipped into the moist tangle of the dead man's hair. Dil!” Hen protested and slammed the door.some place he’s gotta be. Hen now had to touch the priest again. but Hen still took a moment to roll down the door’s window before getting in. “Think about it. and inclined downward. Having a corpse to work with. but the priest had also soiled himself when he died. The interior of the sedan became considerably less appealing by the moment. against the opposite door. The frustration was evident in his voice. but there would be no protest from either of them. As the strap snapped back. dulled by hours of traveling. but a fact of life in this climate. this feel of still-warm flesh. The cross on the key chain flashed in the light. unpleasant. Hen realized how much he enjoyed it.” Hen capped the empty plastic bottle from which he rationed water to the stranger. “We’re not taking it? Come on. for good or ill. He looked like an over-sized. Hen backed out and exhaled. Dil calculated that if he and his brother took the car far enough off the road. The priest slid easily across the seat while the stranger remained oblivious to the dead man’s weight. As a concession. Hen felt better until he realized he completed only the first step. Shut that door and give me a hand. . The body of the priest crushed the unconscious stranger planted on the passenger’s side. “Hen. He relished being at the wheel of the chilled Bourdon with leather seats. Hen still paused. He untangled the priest’s head from the belt. Once he sat down. and he didn’t even smell the priest. toting the gas canister. The sedan wasn't theirs and was not going to be. Straight out. filled him with morbid relief. he adjusted the vents to point toward his face. “Take it into the desert. Hen frowned and squinted at the fishy texture. Fewer opinions made the situation less complicated. until you see me waving. it snagged Hen’s arm and trapped his hand against the priest’s slimy forehead. holding his face back. When Hen exhaled this time. This was the sensation he looked forward to. Dil yelled at his brother to get moving. Dil held the keys out to his brother. Getting out of the sun allowed escape from the desert for a few seconds. He went back to the passenger side of the sedan. The priest was dead.” Dil sounded logical. Hen shoved the priest’s head into the car. Less ginger action was required. Now that he shut the cool breeze from the air conditioner inside. an impossible scenario in a flat. in a dead man’s car. He pretended to sulk on his walk back to the driver’s side. he could enjoy the air conditioning a little longer. He repeated his deep breath. The smell of Aped people was bearable. Hen nodded. but Dil didn't worry. as every muscle slackened and he moaned with a pitch not dissimilar to his earlier shrill. the same new color as the truck. Dil couldn’t figure out what to do with the man anyway. Dil became impatient.” Dil instructed Hen. The seat and its back were streaked with a film of oily sweat. his chest swelled and remained inflated while he drove into the priest’s body. Hen fished the keys from his pocket but paused before taking the priest’s place behind the wheel. A priest alone out here in the middle of summer didn't make sense. not just to get Aped on speed. instead of a drug-addled priest. The dead man was snared in the belt as the clothe strap crawled across the body of the dead man. draped over a clothesline by its neck to dry. His fingers had become pleasantly numb. he did so with a contented exclamation. Hen held his breath while drawing closer to unbuckle the seat belt. If the car had not appeared directly in their path. Dil would not have necessarily noticed it. Hen! Us. but he now added it to his list of expectations. so the priest would stay with the car. Hen fretted over sitting in something embarrassing and disagreeable. He shook his head and reconsidered the situation. The upper body of the priest followed its head inside. overstuffed rag doll.a screwdriver covered in yellow paint. and this car. The sedan had to be removed from sight before taking the gas.

or pencils. stabbed in its belly. Twenty-four hours hadn’t passed since his brother started them on this exodus. uh…” Dil was lost. The walk took longer than what Dil wanted. The distance wasn’t really a problem. only rant. “What goes on in your head? Can you even tell me?” Dil continued with the chiding. The complaint was like the pain of a living machine. anyway. entirely due to where Hen took the sedan. Hen! And you’re illiterate. Neither had moved much with the jostling. Hen took his foot off the gas pedal entirely and let the vehicle roll. He wasn’t looking for an answer. It fit perfectly. Let’s not make any more problems than we have to. constant stream. Gas flowed into the can in a thin. He withdrew the shank slowly. He then reached over the seat and retrieved the suitcase lying in the back. “I’m looking for some paper. The twin latches of the suitcase popped open as Dil reached the back of the sedan. although further from the road would have been better. “I’m gonna write a suicide note. Hen made an effort not to look.” Dil was dumbfounded. Hen had to get accustomed to the way the sedan drove. Hen did hear the screech of the starter and whipped his hand off the key. but it wouldn’t be long before he reached the sedan. Hen slowed as his brother skipped off the road. while I put this in the truck. “Stop it up. pens. he felt a pang of fear for having dented the metal. waving his arms wildly over his head.” . Dil must stop his little brother before Hen went any further.” There wasn’t any paper. Hen started to whistle tunelessly. The car lurched forward and rocked over the uneven dirt. and no drugs either. “We need as much as we can get. The Bourdon was the best thing he had ever possessed. until the can filled and fuel spilled over the sides. “It’s best no one ever finds out about this. he wished they didn’t have to abandon it. He clawed at the dirt with his hands and didn’t stop until he had dug a hole beneath the tank large enough for the bottom of the gas canister. He kicked the door open and assessed his passengers. “At least we’ll make it to the Cap. He pulled the steering wheel hard to the left and tried the accelerator again. That’s not what Hen wanted though. as the Cortras brothers had enough everyday anxiety to keep them tossing at night. Hen left the air running after shutting off the engine. painted the truck without talent. Dil pulled out the painted screwdriver shank again.” “With what?” “Well. Hen winced at the noise. but he couldn’t hear the rumbling engine over the fast howl of the air conditioning. A great wall of dust rose as the car left the shoulder and headed into the emptiness. Dil performed a crazy dance in the rear-view mirror. You know. as he rummaged.” Dil glared at Hen. even for a few brief minutes.The instrument panel lit up. following Hen before the car stopped.” Dil went down on his knees at the back bumper. Hen did find a folded manila envelope and crammed that into his pocket as quickly as the wallet. then he shifted into drive and stepped heavily on the accelerator. The soiled backside of the priest was turned toward Hen. with the opening of the can just below the bottom of the tank. for the priest. There would be time later to sort through what he had poached. The idea couldn’t possibly be mistaken for a good one. but it didn’t go far. but the case contained only clothing. then remembered it won't make a difference.” Dil yanked the can out of its ditch and replaced the nozzle.” Dil drove the screwdriver into the tank with a blind and awkward thrust. “Put your finger in it. For a second. with a long groan of metal. Despite the rough ride. and neither seemed in any condition to be disturbed.” Hen answered. The luggage was heavier than it looked. The Ape might be on the priest or hidden in the car. The result was precise enough. “What are you doing?” Dil asked. if the dead man had not smoked the drugs already. Hen hauled the suitcase to the front of the car and slapped the suitcase on the hood. To make matters worse. The billfold disappeared without inspection into the same pocket from which Hen pulled the sedan's keys. “Forget that and come over here. and then come up with an idea of a suicide note for a dead priest. “Damn your brain. “Why?” Dil had to ask. as it wasn’t the first time he’d done this. perturbed by the broiling walk. but he couldn’t resist the wallet that had spilled out of the dead man's pants pocket.

Dil walked back to the road with the filled canister of gas and Hen did what he was told. believing he made an indisputable point.” “But if we’re not stopped. right? And we’re not going to hand him over. He was harder to carry this time. The brothers got the sun-scorched man back to the truck more quickly than they thought possible. Irritated. Let the stranger pass away so they could leave him behind. Both men were soaked in sweat and it was time to move on. the small hole filled with fuel. . other than corking a gas tank and huffing the fumes. the brothers might gain dissuasion against Batheirre's wrath. If a patrol stopped them before they reached the Cap.” Hen continued. Grisly fate worked in their favor so far. “You need to get rid of that suitcase. although about a third as much went squandered into the dirt.Hen wasn’t sure if his brother was joking. The Cortras brothers placed the stranger on the passenger side. even if we have a choice.” “Priest clothes? You have lost it. “We’re not putting our necks out for him. If this was Drystani. empty road didn’t demand much. as Dil was sure Hen hadn’t thought about . just clothes. The last time Dil returned. Meanwhile. but he started the truck and sped down the road before he asked what went through Hen’s head now. He reached into the sedan and grabbed the body of the priest with both hands. “How do you think this guy will pull off being a priest?” “Listen. Hen. In the back of Dil’s mind. he was empty handed. All the life in Hen’s grandest. That’s why I brought it along. Hen stopped and flung the stranger’s arm from his shoulders. there were larger matters to think about. The brothers went opposite directions around the truck. the truth would naturally come out. “He’s going to need clothes. He placed the can in the truck’s rumpled bed and came back to watch the last of the fuel drain into the ground. Dil. Curiosity compelled him to wish he had special vision to see through the leather case. he would have dragged the stranger much closer to the truck by now. after all. since all strength had left the man and he required the energy of the Cortras brothers.” Dil interjected.” Hen ran back to the driver’s side. If he could have done so on his own. Hen obviously experienced too much time with nothing to do. . as that would be a big debt to repay. and the Cortras brothers simply did the right thing when they picked him up.” “Then throw it out the window. “Nothing. forgotten. he yanked the priest over to the driver’s side and dropped him over the steering wheel. luxurious moment would soon die away. anyway?” Dil divided his attention between the suitcase and his driving. now that the source was plugged. “Go on! You’re wasting it!” Dil shouted in anger. What are you doing with it. “And a priest can get into the Cap. Hen straddled the stick shift on the floor and sat far back into the seat. They weren’t heathens. bent over. Propping himself with one foot against the seat. Hen watched on his knees. Just as they started back to the truck. immediately after directing Hen to lose the case. Hen grabbed the suitcase from the hood when his brother wasn’t paying attention. The unexpected weight nearly pulled Dil to the ground. The process of draining the tank and filling the truck took several trips before all possible fuel was transferred. This was a stranger in the desert who needed help.” Dil repeated. Hen assumed his position again at the right side of the stranger. he’s going to need clothes. but the straight. The ground sucked up the spilled gas.” “Unless we’re stopped. The blast of the air conditioning grew weaker. Hen smiled and nodded toward the stranger. However. Dil reached between his brother’s knees to change gears. The brothers would take him with them after all. “He needs clothes. The suitcase on Hen’s lap didn’t miss Dil’s notice. and the stranger was still alive. he hoped to deal with the stranger as he had with the priest. Dil watched in discouraged resignation before turning away. “Wait a second. “What’s in it?” Dil asked.” Dil diagnosed. and Hen entered the driver’s side before Dil.” Hen’s last statement intrigued his older brother. with his finger in his version of a dike as Dil walked back and forth between the vehicles.” Hen had spent some time thinking out an idea and insisted on being heard. The brothers pulled the stranger out of the car. Right? Cover.

He can go right up to the Wall and order the guards to let us pass. “There’s a parish he’s supposed to take over.their obstacle with getting past the Wall.” Hen added. It’s the command center of the Church and military headquarters. There was no reason he should. That would mean arrest and permanent detainment. Otherwise. “This guy can wear the clothes we got. This man could also be Drystani. His boot tangled with the scuffed boots of the unconscious man. as he may not go along with their idea. He had to say it aloud to convince himself of the possibility. Priests didn’t just order soldiers around. and probably would. and trying to talk him into the suicidal scheme may be a waste of time.” Hen raised his brow and spoke more quickly as he finished his thought. The status was more honorary. None of the dozens of stories she wrote made it to military . as Dil usually just remained stiff. Saint Erasmus. Dil leaned over to read them with Hen. Dil went pale. although that hadn’t been established yet. with a hooked thumb. We could give him the IDs. Hen shuffled the two items as he decided which to thumb through first. “Benedict Ishkott.” Dil finally said. They’ll fit him.” “Split it and give me half. “He could get us into the Cap. But the situation could change again. especially with priests that didn’t have rank. and carried little power. “And look at him. don’t even kid about things like that. you’ll see. I’m Hen and this is my brother Dil. “Everyone needs a pass or a good reason to get into the Cap. “That better not be what I think it is. back to Dil’s hope for cashing in on a favor owed them. happen in a detention camp. “Okay.” Dil gestured at the sleeping stranger. An uncomfortable silence formed like skin on milk until Hen poked a hole in it. Dil scanned ahead and glanced over his shoulder twice as he watched for patrols and more apparitions. The plan might not work. which also indicated something bad could.” Hen divvied the cash and let the wallet drop into his lap. Priests need orders. The plan may have been ill-conceived.” Dil almost gasped and he felt sick to his stomach. “About two hundred. He prompted Hen to continue. but it might be amusing.” Suddenly Hen stabbed his leg straight out to retrieve the wallet and manila envelope he had taken from the dead priest. as both brothers thought about the challenges Dil had listed. There were no other clues in his body language.” Dil felt compelled to paint the complete picture for his brother.” “Saint who? How can you rub out a name like that?” “Dil. Those guys at the Wall aren’t a local militia. “It says he’s going to the Cap.” 3 The Assailed Rock Margot Sebash needed to meet her deadline. you know…” The conversation ended. He verified that the name on the orders matched the IDs and he grinned triumphantly. money. We’re Dil and Hen Cortras. “He’s burned to a crisp. with its top seam split and frayed. The manila envelope remained unfolded. “How much money is in that?” Any hurt Hen felt at Dil’s judgment was quickly forgotten when Hen opened the wallet and discovered identification cards without photos. and more importantly. Cuz. Apparently they could implement Hen’s plan.” Hen stated. “He could have the orders. Ben. although his own guts fluttered with butterflies. It had already been opened properly with something like a letter opener. The dead man appeared non-commissioned. The Cap is the most secure city-state of them all. “What’s the name on the ID?” Hen plucked the wallet from his crotch. He looked at the stranger. “It’s that easy. How can you be so stupid?” The last part sounded more like a statement than a question. Put yours in your pocket. Hen drew out creased papers and found photocopied orders in triplicate. How do you explain that?” Dejection filled Hen as his older brother continued. she would be forever relegated to the status of an irresponsible hack. “It doesn’t work that way.” Hen relayed. despite being like officers in the chain of command. Then there was the stranger to consider. “Hello. The lack of verbal dissent from Dil implied affirmation.” But it was not going to be easy.

The clergy became the only authority on the Mortal God. Still.” Every Sunday afternoon. Magazines. but grew as more people came to find work. to date. most everything she submitted became tragically delayed by the process. but in reality there were aesthetics to consider. That could put an end to a fledging career. heathen terrorists escalated their attacks to suicide bombings and kidnapping highly ranked priests. Once the Wall was completed. Poverty and squalor cried in stark contrast to the wealth of the city-state. Consequently. alumni from the university in Capital. Long ago. and archived recordings of sermons and military news. she got by doing transcription work. the functional arm of the Church. the debt for higher education smothered Margot and there was no turning back. The expression “Misery loves company” suited them. The encampment became a way point for the destitute and UnChosen pilgrims seeking entrance to Capital. the Chosen's military pushed it from the Wall. Capital was different. the Chosen lived within the barricaded city. All printed material that had not been scrutinized was deemed potentially subversive and systematically collected through books-for-cash programs. Her grandmother told Margot about the existence of free print. Margot dreamed of the possibilities opened by the re-introduction of the written word. and even then. Margot would gather her friends. so the northern section of the encampment came down. had not survived. inspired Margot to write. and later.” The encampment was once a flat piece of ground covered with tents. only a couple years out of school. newspapers. and avoided criticism of the Church itself. Even bibles and hymnals printed before an exaggerated prehistoric date. As the encampment expanded. by outright confiscation. and all had a hard time earning a living in their chosen field. The Wall was under construction when Margot’s grandmother was still a little girl. they had better keep moving. During the gatherings. despite the end of construction years ago and avaricious reins on Church money. The space between Capital and the encampment became a restricted zone. few of her stories were selected at all. originally a temporary home for migrant construction workers during the “Renovation. The Church called the period the “Great Social Renovation” when Church-financed construction projects fed and clothed families of the Chosen and UnChosen castes alike. When the practical side of life conflicted with the naivety of youth. carefully worded textbooks. outside the gates of Capital. while most of the UnChosen found their families rooted in the despicable slum outside called the encampment. so a barrier between the Promised Land and the uncivilized world was the only solution. at least not yet. The stories of Margot's grandmother particularly interested Margot. Only travelers with reasonable business during daylight were allowed to approach the gates. but that part-time job did not have a future. so the encampment spread like a weed sending out radio without heavy editing. People still arrived today. The approach to Capital and its great white wall should convey reverence and awe. With the last generous coins from the Church. fulfilled the promise to keep the heathens out and became the pride of the military. straight out of Capital. The scrutiny of the military. Margot and her friends consoled themselves with the fact they were still young. The projects were mainly defensive measures. The freedom sounded ideal. At one time. In fact. They were certainly a miserable bunch. the fact that independent publications ever existed. Still. and the lowly commissions for those stories that were approved for broadcast. The terrorist attacks were impossible to stop because of their desperation and daring. and books were once found in people’s homes and for sale in legitimate shops. did not constrain writing. such as the Wall. two or three generations ago. Luckily. UnChosen workers bulldozed their own shacks and strung barbed wire fences between their home and the barren minefield before the Wall. libraries held more than technical manuals. Margot’s grandmother told Margot stories from the past. The Wall had. and they would empty their rations of liquor. The military justified concern over securing the perimeter. their focus remained solely on the climate and nature of reporting. Corrugated steel buildings and hastily erected networks of phone and power lines could not be allowed to creep up the Wall’s pristine face. Few were admitted in those past times and none were admitted today. she and her friends always rehashed complaints and whined about the lack of work for reporters. For . That freedom vanished before Margot learned to read. Margot certainly did not spend so much time and money in school just to “get-by.

She hoped to find an angle with recurrent activists that petitioned to open the Wall for transit. Confession vaccinated against civil disturbance. The issue always convoluted things. Free speech was never entirely revoked. All she had to do was flesh out the details. Censors lacked tact and were intimidating. but covertly. with new proposals by aspiring community leaders. Margot currently covered another story. probably a botched robbery. truth had never been the goal in reporting.her. Margot needed to break free of the mire. but the practice often backfired once the story reached the fact-checkers of the military censors. and she used quotes. The trick to writing today required an intuitive understanding of the balance between public perception and Church propaganda. Their comments were considered uninformed and unreliable. Anonymity reigned as a valued trait among Capital residents. The classes Margot took in journalism defined juggling fact and Church agenda as a hard line of discretion. If and when the military called to verify a source. Exceptions always existed among millions of people crammed together in any small place. The only things separating the two castes were a matter of birth and a parable about God playing favorites. A priest had been murdered in his parish. the censors automatically struck those quotes from stories. No one wanted his or her name finding its way onto a list. that meant opinion and commentary may even be possible. The story resurfaced every few months. If Unchosen were quoted. Margot was a Chosen. People could still express themselves and voice dissatisfaction. an old friend from school. The Church and military did not use the term propaganda. and the inner-city highways sorely needed relief. caused problems. tipped off Margot with a phone call. Margot never accepted the censors as prejudiced. or nothing at all about the incident would be reported. On a few occasions. of course. The parish encompassed the ghetto of Capital. She was too creative. where most fortunate UnChosen within the city-state lived. Urgent expediency excused the lack of foresight when the military built the Wall. When a particularly vocal leader gathered inordinate support. An age-old forum provided that. even in mundane matters. depending on how the facts were presented. People should not be afraid to have their names read over the air if they told the truth. Chosen and UnChosen shared the same beliefs. The undeniable truth was that the Chosen lived behind a wall because of terrible hatred and fear. Meeting the deadline for those stories guaranteed a steady stream of work. A four-lane road system rested on top and gated ramps rose up to the Wall from myriad points within Capital. The Church supported the military’s desire to maintain possession. Story investigation required clearance from military. because sensational stories paid a lot of bills. but the planners failed to anticipate growing families would swell the population. everyone else did. No more walking a tightrope for the grace of the Church. She felt repulsed. burying the new leader in controversy. who then languished in everlasting obscurity. Information control was paramount for public safety. Public use of the roads would alleviate traffic congestion dramatically. but they were few. They should be grateful for recognition. The Church called the communion a sacrament of penance. and her presence in Capital and her degree were testaments to the fact. Margot’s exposition in her stories. because she wrote for the military news. the Church used the issue to weed out potential threats to their complete sovereignty. For Margot and her friends. A newspaper meant that a level of restriction on information dissemination was lifted. just like everyone else. they were primarily additional opportunities to sell stories. A fellow reporter. frightened witnesses typically denied anything had ever been said. the Church revealed an embroiling scandal. Innocence and truth were subjective anyway. after all. The military wanted to use the event for a very specific broadcast. The Church or military assigned sensitive and high profile stories to experienced reporters directly. UnChosen with college educations lived in Capital. Her friend claimed he had grown sick of tales of murder and suicide and didn’t want the . She never solicited permission. Rookies and hacks handled ordinary current events. The military prepared an outline for Margot. beyond unimaginative bullet points. but the story was quick work. The Wall served as more than a barrier against heathen terrorists. and how the public got their blood. and fought over the stories like they were scraps thrown to scrawny dogs. The practice helped avoid unrest and uprising among fringe elements influenced by heathens and other malcontents.

Mrs. That had been her plan from the beginning. After the normal delay. Great metal jabs and feints only produced scratched and dented fenders. The name and address of the person who reported the crime to the military had also been included. If the real perpetrator were caught. Only the preliminary writing remained. and a modicum of integrity crept in with boredom. no matter what the circumstances. human behavior was less fluid and drivers sparred to inch in front of each other. which was rare.also typical. The morbid curiosity of the public would be satisfied and patriotism infused. but formality insisted that the UnChosen woman actually say them. however. Anonymous calls usually came from pay phones. instead of hours. Margot knew solicitation for other violent stories .” The name stamped in smeared black ink on the line below was presumably the clerk’s superior. The summary remained brief. at first. He needed to clear his head and Margot was grateful. Traffic came to a complete stop near the address of the parish because a delivery truck had overheated and died in the center lane. Stoughnt’s comments. Now horns blared as if to wake the truck from death’s slumber. compacted like bricks. presented credentials. She could write the draft and even peek at the crime photos.” Margot’s name appeared handwritten on the line following “Authorized. The incident occurred in the church sometime after sunset. Tamara Stoughnt. and solving the crime came secondary to the military’s intentions. Margot anticipated wasting the remainder of the morning getting to the parish. Rather than looking and dreaming today. which meant traffic would be gridlocked in the usual places and thick everywhere else. which again. likely the same dreams as other drivers inside wedged cars. Unfortunately. because Margot imagined herself a crafty reporter. Details were the realm of reporters and censors. She knew they would be. Margot followed her friend’s steps to navigate the typical bureaucratic maze. frustrating minutes passed before drivers managed to establish a flow to either side of the stricken vehicle. as the freeway was jammed. age forty-two. the clerk provided an additional cover sheet. Margot opened the folder with one eye squeezed shut. Daydreams played through her head. Margot was not disappointed in her expectation. Margot determined she should make use of her time trapped in traffic. The priest didn’t have a rank. like a large stone dropped into the middle of a stream. but Margot hoped to escape looking at them. but Margot preferred to delay reviewing the images. but knowing didn't desensitize her enough. Margot already scripted Mrs. flagging the case for censorship . Apart from the bullet points on the summary and the additional instructions. Stories of the sort provided his revenue for the past year and he would likely return to them. the story was skeletal. Long. stood in lines. stating the murder was to be linked to heathen sympathizers committing an opportunistic attack on an isolated member of the Church. She went to military headquarters.” “Authorized” and “Authorization granted. and provided a request form to retrieve the crime summary and photos. The photos slept in a pale green folder stamped with the heavy red words ”Evidence. The summer had been unusually hot. but habit took hold of her. Currently. That would not be a problem. another common tactic used to avoid becoming an addition to a list. People could speed away on those empty roads above the smog. Trips would last minutes. She planned to pay a visit to the caller. She completed her draft. How Margot wished the roads on the Wall were open. Strained engines often quit after idling in traffic and running air conditioners. Instructions were included. water parted and merged again behind the sudden obstacle. A death sentence would ensue and “justice” served. the folder with the crime scene photos waited. The summary stated that the victim was Reverend Jude Arnett. Saint Erasmus was on the other side of Capital. but for now he claimed to take a sabbatical. leaving a few blank lines to insert quotes. The priest had been killed the night before. In the meantime. she had nothing else to do. he or she would be pinned as a sympathizer in the story. The summary went on to describe the death as a result of fatal lacerations. Margot expected from the military. The photos were actually black and white photocopies. and given the location of the Saint Erasmus parish. and gather a few quotes. Even before looking. Gazing up at them while stuck in a car and going nowhere was painful. making the story a day old.story. Margot supposed she could sew it together with embellished and transparent stitches. that did not surprise Margot. She essentially completed the story and didn’t need to review them.

turning the announcement into a song. Two-story. The asymmetric construction looked like units were added as the old ones readied to burst. “Mama!” the boy cried. the black ink that represented blood flowed together with shadows of the altar and pews. they were dark and unfocused. but held the smile begun with her reaction to the boy. In the photo. She could also look for herself. He repeated himself. “You’re right. but the appearance was that of a tumorous mass. Oddly enough. Tamara Stoughnt’s skin glistened with an oily salve. Stucco covered the conjoined dwellings. Margot heard hushing from within the apartment and the singing stopped. The old woman sounded like she had worked her whole life behind a counter and took polite servitude to heart and practice. A crooked hallway and stairwell linked other apartments in the building to the old woman's barred entrance. The scattered shapes might be a tasteless inlaid design for the floor. which resembled the boy. The stone had been removed from the stream. “And the little boy who ran away is my son Davey. the latter were taken in for . for her and the victims. just a little shorter than average. She looks just like a mermaid. The quality of the copies made judging the severity of the attack impossible. There may be truth to the angle that the military hoped to portray. An old woman appeared and greeted her. The old woman stood at Margot’s height. The knock had probably startled a small dog. thin teenage boy bounced inside. Stoughnt turned around and sent a warm “shh” to her child. and secreted the bundle beneath the passenger’s seat. Margot traveled the surface streets into the Saint Erasmus parish. but the assumption still did not look quite right.” “I’m Tamara Stoughnt. She reserved coverage of them for tough times. in a misguided attempt at unity.” the old woman cheerfully volunteered. but so many cuts to made the crime just a typical third degree murder. Margot blushed. A blade must have ribboned the face. Oblong black shapes spilled out in a rough circle around the body. Margot knocked on the door to the apartment of Tamara Stoughnt well past noon.” Laughter rose again. but there was a lot of blood. Her gray hair had once been the same hue of blond as Margot’s. summary and draft. When the woman stepped into daylight. The lacerations likely resulted when the priest fought without proper defense. if she worked up the fortitude and personally investigated the crime scene. only the old woman’s hair color was natural. “Hello. He wore a rumpled blue t-shirt and yellow shorts. It is a pretty woman. and appeared slashed numerous times. can I help you?” the woman asked. This attack appeared a true hate crime. Margot was glad the photos were blurry in that regard. blurring the line where shadow ended and blood began. The shirt bore a decal of a fuzzy pink cartoon pig. The woman lived in a tenement house. Margot thought the boy was a grandson or even a foster child. His squinting eyes were set a little too far apart. . A short. She planned to ask Mrs. Margot was disappointed by the few photos included. arms and clothing of the unarmed priest. concrete block warehouses lined the streets. with the bars standing in place before the opening. Margot did not see the church where the priest had been murdered. “Mama. The boy had a flat nose and tiny ears. Something else in the photos puzzled Margot. . The door swung open inward. even then. She decided to park her car and find the woman who reported the crime. A minute passed while the boy and Margot stared at each other. Margot offered a tentative smile.” Margot answered. or the attacker was some crazed or Aped intruder. the nasty wheals that covered the woman's face and hands startled Margot. Margot replaced the photos. covered with face powder. yet the thundering toward the door was not from an animal that belonged in an apartment. The old woman lived across the street from Saint Erasmus. but the old woman didn’t appear to mind her appearance. a pretty lady’s here! It’s a pretty lady!” The boy disappeared into the impenetrable shade of the apartment.would be few and far between. A body at the dais of a nondescript sanctuary could be surmised. “I’m Margot Sebash . The door of her apartment faced the street. An excited yelp sounded from inside the woman’s apartment. Stoughnt about the shapes. or both. Traffic abruptly started moving again. The crime summary did not indicate the military found a weapon. like weeds from cracks in sidewalks.” Hawing laughter rose behind the old woman. and Mrs. Leaving the freeway immediately after traffic flowed again. “Hello. The boy’s mouth dropped open. Squat apartment houses sprouted sporadically between the warehouses. stacked the folder.

“I was coming back from work down the street. .” The bars swung out with a slow creak. “It’s warm out here. I want some details. “I’m Margot Sebash. Margot’s little red compact. stay inside and don’t lock your mother out. Questions had to be asked. He was an accident.extra money. “I can’t go far without someone looking after my baby. “Well. or the woman had grown accustomed to providing an explanation.” Margot intervened. I can’t work at the factory because I have to be home most of the time with Davey.” “And you heard about Reverend Arnett.” “Mrs. She may not have even heard it. The floral patterned cloth partially covered her eyes. it was after curfew and I had to sneak back home. She opened her mouth but got her answer before . is that right?” The old woman nodded and waved for Margot to step back. I’m going to talk to our friend. These were superfluous details. “Do you mind if I ask you what happened?” Margot asked. even though Margot wanted to get back to Mariposa. people stayed shut in their shadowed hovels. My neighbors will watch Davey sometimes if I fix us all dinner. There weren’t any steeples or buttresses as Margot was accustomed to seeing on the mediocre churches where she had lived and gone to school. which also had air conditioning. although the distorting thick. He can get into trouble if he’s not watched. On wilting days like these. The pair took a short walk to the curb. She enjoyed living in this neighborhood. therefore automatically struck from any submission. although she still used her hand to shield her face against blistering light. or “Church charity. outside the bounds of the censors. and now the bites. or more a tented building. though. Margot sighed. I’m an old woman. Before she prompted the old woman to continue. nicknamed ‘Mariposa’ after the Mariposa Lily. “Where is the church? I thought you lived close by.” the old woman interrupted again. “I’ll tell you. It happened when I found Reverend Arnett. Stoughnt. but the shelves do get dusty. But I love him with all my heart. for fear of her transportation being stolen. vertical blue and white stripes on the canvas made accuracy difficult to judge. sat between two large. “Baby. Tamara Stoughnt was going to try her patience. “I know. Stoughnt brought a scarf to drape over her head. They had to kill the flies. waited up the block. “They covered it when the fumigators started working. This time she did rudely interrupt the old woman with a question. The old woman graciously declined.” The old woman took the interruption in stride. You found the body of the priest. The building underneath the plastic covering appeared two stories tall.” The old woman “tsk’d” her hands as she held them out before her and rotated her wrists.” A smile spread across the old woman’s face. The street had emptied except for an occasional car coasting by with the windows up and air conditioner blowing. so if the old woman wanted privacy. .” Mrs. The story was already written anyway. Stoughnt went on with the story. the objects or marks on the floor. I dust a few of the shops for cash. The owners at the strip mall are nice. she would get it.” Margot’s curiosity twisted to confusion. A tent. The disbelief must have shown on Margot’s face. The hottest part of the afternoon crept upon them. The afternoon was too bright. The church is on my way to our place. low warehouses. Tamara blurted an explanation of her situation.” Mrs. as much as for the cool air.” Margot nodded and began again. Tamara used Margot’s prodding as a convenient spot to pause and inhale.a lot. Saint Erasmus was a flat rectangle.” “Oh. but Margot had grown curious. Mrs. Margot asked if the old woman would like to sit in Margot’s car. None of these miscellaneous facts would find their way into Margot’s story. “Yes. so Margot went straight to the point. Sometimes they can be so mean to an old woman. I thought I would stop there to catch my breath and wait for the patrol to pass before I came home to Davey. Tamara turned and looked into her dark apartment. interjecting the query amid Tamara's blathering about kind neighbors. They don’t really need me. it’s right there.” A second minor mystery pended.” The old woman pointed across the street. “It looks like you were bitten . Stoughnt looked too old to have a teenage son. I’m a reporter . looking for shortcuts around busy main routes. even though Margot wore her sunglasses. unable to restrain herself any longer. Afternoon commuters wandered lost.

They were nasty and biting. start at the beginning. for the sake of expedience. I won’t set foot into that church until the new priest arrives. Margot withheld judgment.” The old woman took a breath and moved her hand to cross herself shoulder to hip. I’ve never seen flies like them.” “Please. and it appeared she couldn’t get into the building to look. The second case likely applied to Tamara Stoughnt. I'm not as quick as I was when I was your age. Then they left. “They came for the blood. could be happily avoided. Reverend Arnett was a night owl.” “I’m sorry. The hot weather proved an adequate distraction. “Please. A tour of the crime scene wasn’t necessary. I’ll need to get back to military headquarters. and black and white like bees. honey. “I was coming home from my work when I stopped at the church.asking the question. the men from the ambulance put on their coats and wrapped up their faces. not so deep inside. That stomach-turning vision and resulting sleepless nights. Margot dabbed at perspiration on her face with a tissue from her purse. an ambulance came. They stripped Reverend Arnett to the bone!” Margot knew the last part wasn’t true. The doors stay open late into the night after curfew.” Margot insisted. but at the same time. They wanted living blood. She would omit the quotes and submit the story as written in the summary. she was glad to . I thought someone tortured him .” the old woman stated. The incident was already embellished on its way to becoming a ghost story for scaring children back into their homes at sunset. were pedestrian Church fables for children and the despondent.” The old woman’s face paled. She appeared very orthodox. but I used the phone in the church. Still. and the existence of a malevolent force envious of man’s authority over God. Stoughnt if she knew what they meant. He prayed to the Mortal God. Margot realized the blood would still be there with feathers.the way he screamed. Margot almost asked Mrs. educated and rational. She battled against conjuring the sound. “Thank you. She wanted to avoid bickering over details. That is why I was out after dark. I heard him scream. Out of jealousy. She was religious. Tamara volunteered her idea before Margot asked.” “Feathers?” These were the shapes in the photos. although he never welcomed company for long. please. “I wanted to run home.” the old woman gushed. since it already read exactly as the military wanted. right from the vein!” “Mrs. I swear.” “You do believe me. I told them I was coming home from work.” Margot had enough. Stoughnt motioned up and down with the hand she used to cross herself. the old woman's superstition separated the castes. Belief in a birthright seemed archaic. Margot told herself a matter of privilege and education made the difference. Before I reached the stoop. Besides. and big. like a whirlwind. after Father Arnett died. She felt a timeline needed to be established or the story would quickly become convoluted. “They were big. “And feathers. Mrs. Then I went outside and called for help. A little while after that. eating carrion. Margot was Chosen and Mrs. They must live in the desert with the heathens. Stoughnt was UnChosen.” Mrs. Well. “The little monsters bit me and the photographer. Reverend Arnett was a good man. Stoughnt’s comment dissuaded Margot from asking about the feathers. Stoughnt. go on. “It was horrible! When I opened the door. The belief that miracles were produced upon command.” Margot nodded. That's why the devil killed him. He commanded miracles to make Davey normal. Stoughnt. They pulled the remains of Reverend Arnett out and stuck him into a bag right outside. Although she noted.” Mrs. The report would be accepted. But that’s what happened. Margot would not contradict the old woman. but their stripes went the wrong way. “They came out of nowhere. Bless him. I told the patrol what I saw and they let me go home. making the angry blemishes stand out like neon in the shadow of her scarf. I heard them lap it up. Her imagination could disquiet her at times. as if the blood on the floor wasn’t fresh enough for them. blood was everywhere. Then the flies. as she saw the photos. “About the devil.” The description made Margot ill. The patrol was right there. “I think it was the devil. Still.

which were later read on the radio. As luck would have it. The censors would not twist facts into sugary nonsense if a manhunt ensued. No proclamation or threat associated with heathen sympathizers was evidently left at the scene. take care. This may be some crazy killer with an unconventional calling card. if he accepted the scheme the Cortras brothers hastily planned to get into the Cap. If Margot failed at the small task. The army boots Ben wore worked against his upcoming assumed identity. Margot flirted with the idea to follow up similar incidents. The drive through the desert passed without event. That would be counterproductive to finding the perpetrator. Nothing could be done about it now. relished the air. The summary reported nothing had been taken. Reporting for the military progressed much like transcription work. Time stretched long and thin in the emptiness. The old woman had been locked out. and flapped the collar of her blouse. and cranked the air. She had staked her claim for being there first. followed by an extensive audit of previously submitted work. Missing their deadline would cause trouble. They could win their escape from worry and the lasting heat through sleep. completely locking down entrance and exit to and from Capital. Hen fell asleep a few hours after the Cortras brothers rescued the barechested stranger from certain death. The Cortras brothers called him Ben. The oversight was not his first nor his last. or the submitted story would face rejection. The instant coolness felt wonderful. The Cap could not be entered before dawn. He stopped the truck before entering the squatter confrontation with suspicious patrols or more desert wanderers. The suitcase full of clothes lay on the floor. Stoughnt trying the handle and rapping on her apartment door. The owner didn’t have a choice. As she turned away from the curb.” Margot repeated. and couldn’t happen to Margot again. Summary and photos required return in the same condition they were presented. Margot was certain the retarded boy thought the trick was the funniest thing since the last time he locked his mother out. Dil found a liquor store at the outskirts of the encampment. She sat back. and then some. They tried the name on him for size and it fit.have all three. Enough time in the day remained to type the story and return to military headquarters for submission. The only task now was to stay under the radar. She grew so excited. Some serious thought needed to go into her hopeful plan. yet there were feathers. The trio reached the encampment past midnight. Their new friend Ben also needed briefing. Although the typed forms were due tomorrow morning.” “Yes. she looked back to see Mrs. That is. The brothers were exhausted. as if they were the only souls stranded on a blasted world. 4 Trespass Night arrived by the time the Cortras brothers crawled from the low desert. It snapped back at the first sign of civilization sunset. started the engine. she would be subjected to a prying investigation into her personal affairs. Margot only had to identify a trend and play by the rules. the culprit was still unknown. If a serial killer committed murder. Hen neglected to take the priest’s shoes. so he didn’t concern his brother with the error. The place looked like it never closed. she planned to skip her pile of transcription work. Goodbye. The process crippled reporters. “I have to go. Margot now became the ideal candidate for the assignment. Reporters translated the handwritten scribbles of summaries to typed pages. “Thank you. as three battered tin walls and a canvas flap were all that stood between the merchandise . the stranger looked like a Ben. underneath Ben’s knees. and not an opportunist stealing in through open doors looking for valuables. Goodbye. or at least.” Margot returned to her car. Putting aside the old woman’s assumption the devil murdered the priest. the Cortras brothers appropriated enough fuel to cover the stretch. the trip became substantially cooler. so they didn't need to fight over the stranger's boots until later. Now that the wilderness behind them fell under the cover of darkness. someone who hated priests. Hen mentally kicked himself enough for the both of them. the story could mean real opportunity. The military secured the gates through the Wall from sunset to sunrise. despite the instructions to Davey. Hen rebuked himself for overlooking the small detail. Dil got what he hoped for . Margot expected the meager donations and ornamentation inside typical churches were untouched.

rather than convenience. His nose was filled and pinched shut. printed on foreign IDs. They couldn't see much at night. especially Ben. They believe minding their own business kept them alive. awake or not. Hen told his brother he had heard from migrants about nursing badly dehydrated people who had crossed the desert on foot in the winter. Now that the moment arrived. and he’d get it. “I asked you first. “Hey. Because of the demanding thirst. Ben swallowed and spit reflexively. although the brothers must have rubbed shoulders with more heathens and their sympathizers than they cared to know. along with the envelope. “Ben. We need to talk about that. He tried his best to sound friendly and tough at the same time. placing his hands against the door and leaning forward. The relative peace was a welcome change from the whistling wind that the trio experienced as they sped through the desert. “Who?” he asked.” The statement sounded as empty as Hen's belly. Dil handed his brother a bottle of water. but the blockage didn’t clear. He handed the items to Ben. but neither looked familiar. but Ben. Dil held out the last bottle to the stranger. he remembered where he'd been. and quietly observed their surroundings. A suspicious gaze locked him and the young store clerk together. The travelers needed it. They watched each other out of familiarity with the kind of folks that met at the edge of towns in the middle of the night. “I’m Hen. The yelps of the wild canines and hum of an electrical generator from the liquor shack made the only sounds. Despite the heat still radiating from the stranger. The identical names were maybe an odd coincidence. The stranger appeared semi-conscious at the time. The container was heavy in his parched and weakened state. Ben pulled them out and tilted the cards into the dim light from the liquor shack. Ben needed a constant supply of water to bring him back to the world of the living. He snorted. We can wait until the sun comes up. but Hen couldn’t tell.” Dil said. Dil returned to the truck with the water. The shout reverberated into the distance. “Are you waking up?” Ben’s head hurt and his face was swollen. The Shur remained dry and inhospitable. The only taboo subject was the heathen. Ben forced himself to sip the water carefully before he finally spoke. The twenty-four hour service ran for its own security. “I’m hungry. in person. His voice didn’t crackle this time. The snap eventually echoed through the stillness. “Okay.” “Yeah!” Hen exclaimed. The complaint made the brothers jump. A purple lump on Hen’s forehead momentarily distracted Ben. but his throat still felt dry. He was…he couldn’t .” The younger Cortras brother wrangled the wallet from his front pocket. Dil broke the stare and turned to his focus the waking stranger. no malice. but stayed drowsy. drank. Coyotes yipped their questions in the near distance. “Hen. He pulled his dozing brother off Ben with his free hand. “Where are we?” Hen slurred.” Hen slid over and dangled his legs out the open door on the driver’s side. Hen woke after being righted. Hen smiled through his brother’s disapproving gaze. Hen twisted in his seat. “Yeah.” Ben accepted the wallet and the envelope. The brothers opened their bottles. while Dil slowly strolled around the truck to the passenger side window.and a world of unrepentant thieves. go ahead and give him the wallet. Hen shook off the haze of slumber. “The encampment. The brothers had plenty of opportunity to talk to migrants during their frequent rotation of day jobs. A young man in a loose t-shirt and cut-off jeans sold Dil three tall bottles of water.” Dil said. Ben strained to break the seal of the plastic cap. The empty wallet only contained ID cards. bouncing off unseen walls. but he needed water – a lot of water. Hen had passed part of the trip dripping the last of their water into Ben’s open mouth. “A priest?” Benedict Ishkott was his name and here it was. He hoped the stranger would take the initiative. Dil. wasn’t a priest. he wasn’t sure how to proceed. no matter the season.” Ben groaned.” Ben took the bottle. They got nothing at the store. only caution. My brother’s name is Dil. Hen had rolled on top of him during his sleep.

” Hen piped up.” Dil attempted to quiet his brother. “Why not? That’s where he’s supposed to be. delirium could have driven him to the road—or the voice pushed him. Hen assumed a neutral posture. A wall existed where once hung a door. “Okay. He couldn’t think of a reason he would want inside Capital. hands on hips.” Ben observed aloud. we’ll leave before sunset. They were bound to fall apart.” Dil said.” Dil countered. The IDs didn’t bear a picture or rank. That’s the way the younger Cortras brother’s schemes usually went. ain’t it? It’s not like that other guy is going to come knocking on the door and want his stuff back. “What would we do if we get in? Why do we want to?” These were genuine questions. he was curiously concerned by his disregard. as every rigid muscle ached. “We can go to the parish. but the bottle emptied too quickly. before events turned for the worse. Hen shrugged his shoulders again. “The encampment.” . Yet. Back then. Self-reliance may have led him into the desert in the first place. and purposely so.” Hen answered. although Ben still felt he was about to fall back into the dirt. Ben might. Scattered memories of the desert and a priest in a white sedan floated in a sparse sea. Dil caught the obtuse gesture and shot his brother a smoldering glance. and an occasional shower. before Hen twisted the idea with his lack of forethought. Dil and Hen. We go in and check it out.remember. The voice was gone now. Ben opened the folded envelope with more mystery stuffed inside. including Ben in the plan. he caught pneumonia that went untreated. he remembered mundane events. Getting through the Wall would be a big risk. The brother named Dil didn’t offer more. “Where are we?” Ben repeated Hen’s question. feeling privileged for being the very latest informed. Ben remembered always being alone. This Benedict Ishkott had been ordered to a parish in Capital. Ben recalled something about a heart attack.” “But his superiors might.” Dil said. Ben turned to see Dil disapprove. He wanted to tell it straight. or Ben owed them some equal service. such as shaving. He had played the same game with his brother since they were kids. where else are we going to go? We never went to the Cap before. Curfew also needed consideration. Still. Ben strung events together and deduced the IDs belonged to the priest in the white car. Now that Ben had them. “Well. The lack of memories was like walking through the home in which he grew up and looking through the rooms. “Here’s what we’ll do.” Dil contributed. a priest of no importance. but a room was missing. Dil crossed his arms as Hen shrugged his shoulders. This was as anonymous and hassle-free as someone could get with a false identity. Either way. They saved his life. His chime in was merely a matter of time. “So what do you think?” “Think about what?” “We thought you would take us into the Cap. How did that belief go? Various cultures mangled the saying but it went something like the Cortras brothers were now responsible for him. Ben looked at the brothers.” Hen made the obvious and valid point. If it looks bad and we can’t find a place to stay. and face cast downward. we would take you and you’d get us in. “Hen. an implied bound existed. But Ben couldn’t remember the years that led him to whatever role he played now. but he had no other place to go and felt a strange compulsion to try. because his parents lacked money for a doctor. he may have also wanted that. Ben wound up in intensive care after he stopped breathing and spent two weeks in a hospital on Church charity. as was the ringing. Before the desert. Yet he could still afford to trust them. with no evidence an entrance ever existed. “These will get me in. More like. even comfortable. Pilfering IDs and sneaking past checkpoints seemed ordinary. things must not have turned out well for the man. Ben moved slowly. shitting. “We thought you might have a reason. At the last moment. this time raising his open palms skyward. but still did not know. Ben needed more information before he agreed with the pending decision. Only thirst remained. The plan grew less viable with each step. due to myopic vision. We can stay in the encampment. He recalled a childhood memory from the time he was five years old. The idea sat with bony knees and elbows in his throat.

” “Aw. but shook his head and refused. The older Cortras went back to Ben. only a compulsion. Trouble must have caught up to most. He attempted a conversation with the young man in the t-shirt. “My clothes. or at least when Dil drank. He wasn’t pointing out a specific location. “Let me think about it. but we gotta make our money last. The inexpensive wine was their preferred juice.” Dil made a wide gesture with his arm.” Dil called. When Dil took a long drink in one swallow his face twisted into a pucker. The young man had seen enough of their likes of the Cortras brothers and their friend when he worked late. which was fine with Ben. not friends. Dil better stop while his comments were still broad and optionally unanswered. The alcohol did its work. Swallowing felt like drinking marbles. the older Cortras just turned mean. Dil. knowing he may have reached too much. Dil gave Ben another bottle of water instead. The arc of his limb seemed to indicate a path to nowhere. “What were you doing out there without a pack?” Dil asked.” Dil retained enough discretion to avoid asking what he really wanted to know. to celebrate. The smile grew wider each time he got to say something. Dil thought he understood the motion. But Ben nodded. and Dil. They were going into Capital. Usually. He would wait for morning to open the case. it had strange affects on the pair. The Cortras brothers finished the wine within the hour. there was a heathen camp outside Gomorrah that got hit by the military.Ben looked down at his bare and raw chest. “It wasn’t long after that when we found you out there. He passed the bottle to Hen. Trouble chased strangers to drink on the fringes of the shack’s pathetic fluorescent glow. never opening his eyes. The brothers finished their water. just listening. bearing the label “Yowling Cat. Give me some of yours. but couldn’t find the appropriate time or words. People never felt like talking when he did. Dil returned with a cheap bottle of wine. He offered the first swig to Ben. Hen learned to sit quietly when the drinking began and avoid Dil after a certain point of intoxication. There was no hope or expectation. holding the empty wine bottle. totally lacking any essential vitamins. He pushed his luck. so reaching for the case was out of the question. Hen exclaimed “Oh!” and pointed as if he noticed the liquor shack for the first time. Hen grew quiet. Dil recognized the thin disguise of spontaneity.” Ben closed his eyes. Interaction only entailed making sales.” Ben answered. more adventurous. Dil liked the arrangement that way. Ben gulped half his bottle of water immediately and then capped it. “You know. “Ben. The Cortras brothers quoted the proof made up for the taste. “You know. only from the inside out. but the clerk silently brushed aside Dil’s animated monologue about shoplifting. Dil was accustomed to the lack of banter.” Hen had not stopped smiling since giving Ben his name. The remainder of the night passed in short time. He was still exhausted and had a lot of missing pieces of his own to find. favors are expected. “How about we get something.” Hen said grudgingly and handed over a few bills. but Ben wouldn’t make up his mind yet. after some of the stiffness receded. He wanted more. straight from a feline with a yeast infection. “All right. He needed his organs to soak up the moisture like a sponge in a bucket. All his muscles were still too tired and sore. They slowed their drinking when their stomachs burned and the grape acid crept back up their throats. Check it out.” “At your feet. he had a tendency to go too far with his taunts and teasing. Dil screwed off the metal cap. when a man is generous. No talking back.” The wine tasted like grape-flavored cat piss. Ben shook his head. If this man was Drystani. The decision resulted from a nagging in the back of Ben’s mind. but he saved the remainder until he felt like relieving himself.” Dil realized his excess. His body screamed and pushed him back. The Cortras brothers put a lot of thought into the construction of their plan. Fluids and thought needed to flow again. Hen sat on the running board at the driver’s side. Ben leaned forward to see a suitcase that he also did not recognize. “You want something? More water?” “Yes. Hen used the tactic when he wanted to make a proposal. When Dil drank. since he never saw passing strangers again. None of the men slept for more than a .” Dil couldn’t argue with the desire. Many of the pieces went into the right places. like saving somebody.

The liquor shack stood closer to the encampment’s jumble of ramshackle huts and adobe walls than expected. The clothing didn’t offer variety. These were a priest’s everyday attire. Loose and wild dogs barked in random distractions.” Dil suggested to Ben. Still wet. his cooked mug would have disguised him well. Ben carried the empty bottle to the water pump with him. but he still sorted through the case. which lay unlatched on the seat beside him. making the adobe look furry. Ben felt better when he woke soon after the Cortras brothers.” “Speaking of which. he shook the droplets from his feet before hopping over the mud moat onto dry sand. away from his body.few hours. “I already looked through the suitcase. Dil. Hen apologized for the disturbance. Ben anticipated the younger Cortras brother already confiscated any valuables. now that the sun had risen. Ben made his selection. The only waking souls around were the Cortras brothers. The stones around the spigot were slippery hazards. but felt compelled to check anyway. like I said. and presumably the storekeeper. The water soon flowed and Ben drank until the stream slowed to a trickle and stopped. but could move. at first. “We’ll probably be searched at the Wall. Ben balanced on them with bare feet as he jerked the pump’s handle. Stepping out of the truck. When Ben finished. as he could have bathed naked. It didn’t matter. “We’re looking at what we brought with us. He placed them on the ground and dropped the loosely folded clothes on top. do you?” Ben patted his pockets. and the shirt hung loosely. Ben caught himself scrutinizing shadows. The interior of the shack was dark. just black slacks and white collarless shirts. knowing he smuggled nothing inside them. He would have to make due with what was available. At the pump. “And for contraband. The movement rocked him back and forth on his perch. The young man might hide just inside the blackness. For a moment. but drying fast due to the stark lack of humidity. lurking or snoozing. The polyester blend stung his damaged skin and made Ben suck in his breath through clenched teeth. he pulled on the white button-up shirt. “Nothing except clothes. They jostled him while rummaging through the cab of the truck. Ben dropped awkwardly to the ground and stretched. He debated with himself about pulling the clothes on while he sat in the truck.with the shirt and pants tucked under his arm. Car engines idled or sputtered to death. He imagined the impression his face would make. he liked the idea of lying on the stones and letting the water shower over him. Ben primed the pump half a dozen times before he was done drinking and bathing. Ben relieved himself absentmindedly. the redness and swelling made them look like thick. and the fluorescent light was off. Although. He felt sore. He splashed handful after handful of water over himself. Ben didn’t know what he watched for. which was simple. bright gloves. drugs. with no one around to object. A complement of motion and thinking played between the two.” Dil clarified. Ben assumed Dil meant weapons. If there had been pictures on the stolen IDs. A sense of urgency radiated from the brothers. Ben felt as if the joints in his legs would snap. He suspected Hen was the sort of fellow who wouldn’t.” Hen explained. Ben stretched out his hands. He began to think he would never satisfy the thirst. only the tail of his shirt left him unexposed. while scattered waking sounds punctured the quiet. considering the lack of choice. Uniformity had that going for it. The chill was glorious. The clothe felt like pushing through a patch of nettles. even though he shivered a little from the cold water. He pulled off his boots and banged them together to knock off the dirt. but then spied a water spigot set in a flat pile of stones. He bent them and his knees popped loudly. maybe you ought to put ’em on. The two looked and acted like brothers. Ben looked at the suitcase. A pink light bathed the slum. but he eventually would show the prize to Dil.” Hen reported. The taste was coppery. including the young storekeeper. like those in the shack. At least the long sleeves would protect his arms from further burning. You don’t have anything. but he had to prime the pump again to drink more. . or both. and do it quickly. Ben drained the remainder of the water from the plastic bottle given him last night and still craved more. Mud surrounded the mound like a newly drained moat. Much of the slum still slept. Ben peeled off his soaked pants. but whether he shared them with his brother or not was something Ben did not know. Ben could stand there to wash the dirt off. Bathing never felt as good as it did then.

The elderly man and woman stopped cooking and stared at Ben. A belt with strained notches had been packed in the suitcase. the truck came alive. “Yeah. but at least the inseam length fit. Dil tried turning the engine. He remembered frequenting many slums. but the fact that the Star of Lucifer shown so close to Capital struck him as ironic. There was no guarantee the route taken the day before would exist tomorrow. a mobile business. Where a building had been leveled. just worn paths weaving around makeshift dwellings and temporary walls. He gathered the excess waist in a bunch. but Ben knew the actual meaning. at Ben. Ben decided to find the belt. modesty demanded he quickly pull on the black slacks. The new Benedict Ishkott had lost a little weight and got an overcooked tan.” the man answered. just not priests. The city survived in this respect. although the extent of his travels was still unclear. That’s where we’re going. so Ben rolled the legs over the tops. Dil. Dil let the truck run while they all got out. “There.” the woman explained.” the man reiterated. sorry. A piece of graffiti on a tin wall of the liquor shack caught his eye. as he’d seen them hundreds of times in places just like these. “Never mind that. He was also afraid to the turn off the ignition. The smell of cooking meat and beans greeted them after a few turns into the city. “What?” Hen stated in disbelief. the three men were spared battles over right of way. get me something. Exploration included a lot of back tracking. I’ll stay with the truck. horizontal. “Hen. He stared back at the couple. At first nothing happened. Life in the encampment offered the experience of passive-aggressive dueling. He wasn’t. But then again. Ben and Hen approached the couple. The cart rested on hard. The flow of traffic became crippled when someone decided the best place to park was just where he or she happened to be at that moment. There were no roads. but didn’t like the idea of turning his back while the engine ran and the streets began to fill. Ben filled the plastic bottle. An older couple worked together preparing meat and eggs. Ben fastened his new belt and climbed inside. the waist still hung loose. The Chosen called it the Star of Lucifer. Few vehicles traversed the maze so early in the morning. Dil thrummed his fingers against the dash. He didn’t accept the excuse for the lack of prompt and friendly service. cracked rubber wheels. “It’s just that we have never seen a priest in the encampment. and when a denizen decided to erect a shanty in the middle of the street. Even with the shirt tucked in.” Hen pointed. At this early hour. but knew some food would do him good. but after a few more attempts accentuated by curses. “Sorry. and at the couple again. The mark defiled and rejected Church icons. They claimed the hieroglyphic was a heathen symbol.” “You’re hungry. Ben nodded. The lack of traffic signs created havoc. What better place? The Cortras brothers waited in the truck. but he wouldn’t recommend his spa. Two-way streets suddenly became one way. Hen forced a quizzical frown. expecting to see it here was perfectly natural. “What’s the matter?” “Oh. a red lopsided “X.” the woman instantly replied. one vertical and the other. Visitors and natives alike were forced to slowly peck their way through the sordidness to wherever they were going.” Two long additional lines ran through the vertex. right?” Hen asked Ben. A cross had been spray painted on the building. Pubescent vandals were more apt to scrawl the corrupted cross than heathens. The three entered the encampment proper. “I know. even though the cart presented an obstacle ahead. looking around.However. What have you got here?” Hen already peeled money from the tight .” Hen said in agreement. The brothers couldn’t risk becoming stranded if the truck didn’t want to start again. and filled it again before going back to the truck. The graffiti was not important. a new twist was added to the path or it simply came to a dead end. while he cooked. drunk its contents. The pant legs weren’t cut for them. Ben put on his ragged boots and laced them up. and left his old khaki pants where he dropped them. a road instantly continued. A mobile open grill stood in the middle of road. she did the cutting and breaking eggs. Ben didn’t understand why the cross caught his eye. “Plenty of patrols. Hunger fed his annoyance.” Dil could have shouted his order to the couple. but that would soon change.

“Admittance through verification only. He waited in silence. if it comes to that. and other shakers of colored dust. “What you see and tortillas. Turning back attracted attention and a patrol would be dispatched. noting Ben’s face and hands. The man had reached for the money Hen offered. “Thanks!” Hen smiled back. and a car. The barrier incorporated the hills that originally wrapped Capital though less completely. “They’re free. behind curled rolls of razor wire fences. Ben stepped into the truck and took his breakfast. It’s for the priest. The old couple prepared his order.” The man pointed at a metal rack hanging over the smoking grill. yet agreeable. Both he and Dil nibbled as the group hunted for the other side of the encampment and the Wall. that section of the barrier bowed out. Hen. No matter which gate was approached. “Are you alright?” the woman asked. “We’re taking him to the Cap.” Hen practiced their story. “We found him broke down in the Shur. “How about breakfast burritos?” Dil curled his thumb and forefinger into an “OK” sign. He’d be dead if we didn’t save him. his thumb tucked into the palm of his hand.” Hen answered. The hillsides facing from the Cap had been sheered away. was warped. The old man handed the burritos to Hen in nothing but their tortillas. The Wall itself looked more like a dam in appearance and performed the same function. Dil actually directed the question to the stranger. Part of his brain must have fried in the desert during his transitory bout of insanity. stood a sign. preparing to order. This was it. The idea of a wish-fulfilling god in the flesh. holding up splayed fingers.” the notice read. No salsa. “Yeah.” the woman said.” Dil interrupted. The empty plain sloped gently downward and away from the shining white emblem for three hundred meters. “We’re all doing this. how many do you want?” Hen asked Ben. “Just put some beans and eggs into tortillas. The assortment included ground peppers.” Ben felt loathing stir in his heart. The man poured broken eggs into a skillet and scrambled them. killed by people in a show of preeminence. will you command the Mortal God for us?” the woman asked Ben. “One. so he only nodded. Past the northern edge of the encampment. Hen already finished eating his first burrito and started chewing his second.” Travelers were subject to the posting with its smaller print the second they passed the wire fence. The thick base tapered to a two-lane road at the top. smiling close-lipped.” Hen instructed. All radial roads to Capital were clearly visible from the Wall. Then he called over to Dil. “Right?” “Yeah. salt. bouncing as he turned to his brother. and the Church of the Chosen encouraged such selfish requests.” “You’ll vouch for us.” “Five. The woman spoke to Ben as the man tended the frying. “Are we ready to go?” Dil asserted. but let his hand drop.” Hen commented. five of ‘em. The Wall literally looked down upon the encampment. Identification must be presented at gate.wad of bills he pulled from his pocket. Ben remembered that his new disguise promoted this horrid theology. We get into the Cap and you can even go your own way. “Wait. “Alright. Hen couldn’t tell what was in the containers. Oh. but we have spices. “You are now approaching Capital. right?” Dil garnered agreement.” Ben’s way was their way until more memory of the recent past returned to him. The Wall was circular.” “All right.” Hen said. An ocean in the West . “Have him send us money and health. The other three formed a stack in his free hand. “Reverend. Something felt fundamentally wrong and Ben couldn’t justify his revulsion. then turned to Ben. These were common prayers of the UnChosen. The construction used the mined limestone.

“What if they know what the priest or Drystani looks like?” Dil suppressed his nervousness reasonably well.” Dil proclaimed. the near future was set. He would have fared just as well stranded in the desert. He wasn’t alone with his folding stock H830 automatic rifle. The nests at either side pointed barrels of monstrous guns in their direction. The Cortras brothers moved into the perimeter. The straight road in the featureless terrain echoed the trip through the desert. Dil stopped the truck before the double yellow lines on the road. A quarter way up the Wall. As much as Dil wanted otherwise. The Cortras brothers couldn’t possibly think taking someone they thought was Drystani straight to the gates of Capital could work. we can’t go back. Dil was correct on the one account. Ben held the brothers at their word. They had to know that was suicide. He looked at Ben.” the soldier instructed. observation windows and machine gun nests cut evenly spaced. Hen still looked. from which the soldier sprang. “Stop the vehicle and get out. An uneasy feeling the identities of the passengers were being scrutinized replaced the comfortable sense of anonymity. A soldier undoubtedly trained a pair of binoculars on the lone. He had never been out of the desert. Ben had never seen a body of water larger than a pond in an oasis. People said the ocean was as large as the Shur and deeper than the sky. He didn’t feel like eating any more. A strange agoraphobia frightened Ben from being curious. If the military didn’t shoot them all outright. Shocks creaked as the truck rocked. A solitary stop sign loomed a few steps from a lowered gate. Within the tunnel. The rifle snapped to Dil’s . “Danger. “Hen. “Is that yours?” he pointed at the suitcase with his rifle.” Hen gazed across the plain. The truck bumped over the transition. “No turning back now. narrow slats in the smooth surface. The fear seemed recently formed.prevented the Wall from completely encircling Capital. “We were taking . The design of the weapons made it impossible to see if the nests were manned until the target was in sight of the gun's operator. Mines. the heathens would mark the brothers in vengeance for their martyr. Did these two think he was a heathen terrorist? Ben knew he was Ben Ishkott. The packed dirt road rolled up to pavement. he was not going to slow down and attract undue attention. Still. The brothers were truly in a desperate spot if they played games with someone they believed was Ilu Drystani. Dil took the keys from the ignition and swung open his door. the soldiers hiding in the tunnel will cut the truck to shrapnel at any sign of trouble. taking Ben with them. except in one respect.” “Do you have anything else?” “We weren’t planning on staying. The drive lasted shorter than Dil liked. Waist-high signs stood like sentinels just off the road. Obvious gun nests were carved into the Wall near the gate. Put your hands on your heads. The desert provided ground to stand on. shoddy yellow truck rumbling at the fence.” Dil answered the soldier. . even in hope of collecting a handsome reward. Seeing only leveled dirt. Stick to the plan and shut your mouth. Arrival at the gate couldn't be postponed. . at about three or four stories. Without choice.” Ben recognized the name Drystani. The soldier scanned the inside of the cab. “Hey. Ben would have a horrible turn of luck if he were passed off as a terrorist in exchange for a reward. Waiting for it was like a falling man holding out hope against death the moment before meeting the ground. a large metal arm locked between two concrete columns. just not the one ordered to Saint Erasmus in Capital.” Hen said halfway to the gate. a number of similarly equipped shadows shifted. The direction the vehicle distinguished the truck from the motley tangle of the encampment. and the vastness desert still felt safe. Get out. He tilted unconsciously toward Hen when he heard it spoken. Ben hoped the Cortras brothers did not entertain hidden agendas. Leave it to his little brother to find a way to rattle him. Dil tossed his second burrito out the window. Wearing the clothes of a priest certainly would not help.” “Shut up. The Shur is where he lived all his life. He trained his rifle on Dil. The time to turn back had passed. “What’s in it?” “Clothes.” All three men slid out of the truck and followed the soldier’s instructions. A single armed soldier came out of the Wall to meet them.

disappeared back into the tunnel with the orders and Ids. and Ben confirmed that they were. He did not wait for Ben to return the salute before dropping his hand. the soldiers snapped up their rifles again.” The sergeant considered the explanation and spit. A stylized 'X' appeared burned on the shoulders of each uniforms.” Dil answered. waved off the others. We found your automobile.” The sergeant went back to Hen. If the military found the sedan. executed on the spot. Eventually the truth would come out and they may even be sent back to Gomorrah. He didn’t want to disappoint the military when it tried so gallantly to create an impression of uniformity. Hen chewed his bottom lip. trying to assume control. “Where are you coming from?” the sergeant asked Hen. He prayed Hen would stick to the story and stay as brief as possible. We figured he’d be in bad shape after that raid we heard about on the radio. The soldier who asked. the solider did not ask Dil. Ben never tried to assign soldiers personal identities anyway. The soldier twirled his hand in the air. We were going to collect the reward. one asked if the papers were orders.” “Please wait here. Large chevrons on the sleeves of the sergeant's uniform and a small gray mustache distinguished the man from the others. They certainly would not be allowed to hide in the Cap. holding it in his hand. The coffin’s lid was almost nailed shut. many times over. Ben suspected the blood also rushed from his own face. The sergeant saluted Ben. We found him in the desert when we came from Gomorrah. sir. The Cortras brothers could not say they ran away because running people caused trouble. Whatever happened. unless there was more to the story about the military finding the car that belonged to . “We are surprised to see you. “Where are you taking the Reverend?” Dil held his breath. Obviously. I’m Sergeant Meshonne. Three more soldiers marched forward. Duty at the Wall must call for a strict physique. “We were looking for Drystani. The boots of the soldiers were polished and in much better condition than Ben’s. Ben could see bits of black beans stuck between the man's small teeth.” Hen visibly paled. “Reverend Benedict Ishkott. then carefully reached for the wallet in his back pocket and produced the IDs. He carried Ben’s ill-gotten orders and IDs. “May I see them and ID?” Ben handed over the envelope. “Why did you leave Gomorrah?” Hen was alone with the question. The brothers continued to hold their hands to their heads as Ben stood with his arms dropped. The eyes of both Cortras brother opened so wide they formed perfect white orbs dotted by small black circles. Ben and the Cortras brothers should have been face down and dead in the dirt by now. but the burns would not betray him. “Reverend Benedict Ishkott?” “Yes. sir. The military respected the lie despite the unchecked growth of the encampment that flew in the face of such claims. but tougher. Dil redoubled his prayers. “The encampment. A look of disdain for the pair hovered on the sergeant’s face. Conjuring a back-story had been an oversight. “If you would pardon me. our suspicions were not far off.” Now Dil went pale. by the looks of you. one by one. Ben brought the envelope with him. Two soldiers stepped forward and patted down the travelers. Dil mentally prepared for detainment. When the soldiers moved. “To his parish. Prompted by the sudden excitement. Another soldier followed him. The other soldiers lowered their rifles. Like the first. and specific hair and eye color. When the soldiers got to him. The soldier asking questions returned. Ben played along. they wore brown field uniforms with the requisite black and white name and rank patches. “I didn’t ask you. The soldier was shorter than the younger Cortras brother. Patrols would also flush refugees from the encampment if Hen communicated that as their destination.” “We found him!” Hen exclaimed.face. telling them apart became difficult. they would have found the priest. Newcomers were tolerated if they reasonably convinced the military they had actually lived in the shifting squalor since the day they were born.” He handed the documents back to Ben.” The soldier’s demeanor immediately changed. led by a sergeant. The soldier who asked Ben questions. He didn’t expect Hen to concoct such a far-fetched cover.

” Dil said. “You are either stupid or crazy. Still. close to where the city-state must met the sea. although traffic moved slowly. Ben was a lottery ticket that they just cashed. sir.” The sergeant saluted Ben again and signaled the three travelers through the gate.the dead priest. He wanted to get away as fast as possible. the car is back on the road outside Gomorrah. What happened. and Hen even smiled. Hen wanted a part in the action. Bathierre would never suspect the Cortras brothers have stolen a way inside. and packed with vehicles. factoryfabricated dwellings in Gomorrah were only a grade above the handmade assemblages teetering in the encampment. Maybe the man wasn’t dead and only left stranded. Looks like someone stripped it. Shards from an exploded bomb smuggled inside would have negligible impact between the twists. I hope the Church insured it for you. We will know when you go. Law governed this place. The design was simple yet effective. The Cap was a real city. The brothers were excited that gained entrance. on both. 5 Promised Land The world changed upon leaving the tunnel through the Wall. The brothers welcomed Bathierre to look all he might. if at all. The brothers were safe from Batheirre. The likes of them might retreat no further than the encampment. sensing opportunity and possibilities hidden in the Promised Land. “Yes. “What do the orders say?” Hen wiggled his fingers at Ben. The Cortras brothers now hid in the province of the Chosen. “Crazy” and “bastard” were terms of endearment to him. or perhaps he wandered off and met the fate Ben escaped.” The sergeant turned to Ben. car trouble?” “Ran out of gas. “I guess we have to find the parish. they never saw a city-state larger than Gomorrah. Ben hadn’t returned the orders to the envelope. Dil laughed out loud. Dil felt even better when the truck started right up. The UnChosen huddled outside the Wall. You crazy bastards belong on the outside. The streets were wide and paved. but that was so much propaganda and urban legend. The promise of opportunity beamed like the sun. but even he had no entrance to the Cap. The two Bens literally traded places.” Ben answered truthfully. Hen joined him with a whoop. I’m sure they’ll be happy to see him. The single-storied.” “Well. “We thought the heathens kidnapped you. “I’ll tell you what. the Cortras brothers and Ben emerged from the Wall and found themselves inside Capital. Freeways provided alternatives to paved surface streets. “Take the Reverend to his parish. In the glare of sudden daylight.” The brothers were relieved. The sergeant howled in laughter. The narrow tunnel and sharp corners made quick navigation impossible. My men will take your names from your IDs and put them in the logs. Gomorrah amounted to nothing more than a collection of kit shacks enforced by building codes. The soldiers copied the names from the IDs before returning them. This piece of crap is too easy to miss. As Ben . “And these two rescued you?” The sergeant tossed his thumb at the brothers. The buildings appeared nothing like the brothers had ever seen before. The trio drove down a passage through the Wall shaped like a tilted “Z”. no matter how harmless you seem.” Whoever took the car parts also took the priest. after a fact. who held their rifles steady. The baying spooked the two soldiers. The arm of the gate tilted up from the West. But be out of Capital before sundown. Dil made the same nervous connection as Ben. the body of the dead priest appeared to be missing. There were tales of cannibalism and obscene rituals among heathens and migrants. but never behind the Wall. The Cortras brothers were lucky. Skyscrapers loomed in the distance. His family may be the top of the food chain in Gomorrah. “You have a good day.” The sergeant paced between the Cortras brothers. Until the Cortras brothers came to Capital. The pretender-priest absently held the paper and IDs in his lap. And we’ll look for this shitty vehicle if you’re not gone. Ben still waited for what came next. Gutters spilled through grates into functioning sewers. Admittance was perhaps the grandest scheme of their lives.

except for additional stories and a lack of name placards.” Hen observed. “I think this it.” Dil observed.” A crew of men in white overalls pulled striped canvas off a two-story. Even the windows on parked cars were left rolled down. “We’ll have to see how it goes.passed the orders to Hen. now Ben. The trip accelerated.” The presumed church sported ornate ironwork over the windows. red brick building. He spared the workers plenty of room to roll and fold the canvas before packing it on the bed. Hen spotted the address once enough canvas had been pulled away. A couple hours wasted away while the Cortras brothers and Ben crept closer to their destination. Most waited in automobiles on busy streets. The military oversaw planning and development at the deference of the Church. Hen felt glad Dil didn’t want to practice driving on the freeway today. Dil scanned numbers on buildings. “These folks don’t know what bad is. the buildings looked the same. He turned east and then west to gain insight as to where they were and a bearing on where they needed to go. they noticed more. at least they maintained some momentum. “That’s a real job with a regular paycheck.” The trio drove in a circle for almost a half hour before Dil found the way. had been plotted on a grid. The freeways intimidated him. because they passed double digit letters like “UU. like most other city-states. the younger brother plucked them out of Ben’s moving hand. Along the drive. The distant skyscrapers never got closer. The Cap. the brothers noted the absence of bars on doors and windows. Few people walk outside. residential buildings became indistinguishable from neighboring shops. The letters and expired arachnid were blue. we got nothing to worry about. The three men drove beneath an overpass that resembled a parking lot.” The Cortras brothers and Ben traveled northward on L99 and came very close to the Saint Erasmus parish. had been appointed to. but nothing like the heat of the recent week in the desert. The general feeling of security was completely foreign to them. Fewer vehicles crowded the road in this part of the city-state. flat bed truck indicated that they were exterminators – actually fumigators. The complaint went unheeded. if not for the diminishing numbers and the fact Dil didn't turn the driving wheel. Addresses were actually coordinates. The Cortras brothers soon saw some of the doors and garages bore gates. The brick and lattice set the place apart from other buildings on the street. The logo on the back of the overalls of the crew and on the doors of their long.” Hen happily conveyed. The neighborhood looked like Gomorrah. On the other side.” Dil answered. He insisted to drive surface streets. As they continued into the Cap. “You think we can get those jobs?” Anticipation filled Hen. decorated Capital. The military apparently didn't see a need for their presence in Capital past the Wall. but he would never admit it. “I think we’re in the bad part of town. Ben and the two brothers got out of the truck and loitered as the exterminators finished. The three trespassers arrived at the church to which the priest. “L99 and F66. like the moon on a long evening drive. Paved with sidewalks and decorated with colorful storefront awnings. “You guys hiring?” Hen asked a pair of workers flattening the canvas. The Cap appeared to have its share of vermin. He never drove on any within a city-state before. Hen protested that someone didn’t need to learn to kill bugs. One of the workers walked over to Ben. “If this is the bad part. Ramps rolled up from dark caves from which an occasional large. The number must have started at the sea. The men could have sworn they continued going in circles. Today was going to be another warm day. metal groundhog poked out its nose and moved on to the day’s toil. Dil parked behind the exterminator’s truck. until all openings featured metal bars.” Dil repeated. This was Saint Erasmus. Soldiers always patrolled city-states to both prevent and cause trouble. Tracking the addresses as they went past progressed like a count down. . Dil slowed down. After a dozen or so blocks. The only military presence they observed remained posted at the Wall. “Do you have your apprenticeship?” “What?” “Real jobs. The towers appeared to move with the trio. mostly green. assuming the role before the Renovation. Many buildings had underground parking. The words “Gas-M” floated over a silhouette of an overturned spider.

Newspapers weren't printed anymore. where the only appliances were a stove and refrigerator. Once the brothers vanished through the doorway. remembering he saw cartoons printed on a newspaper when he was a kid. he hammered the shank into the jamb near the lock. Hen pulled the collar of his shirt over his nose and held it there as he explored the bare drawers and cupboards. died. typically seen hanging on racks. and delivered a flat kick to the shank. If they arrived a few minutes later. when he punched a hole in the gas tank of the priest's sedan. At least he sweat again . Dil surveyed the damage to the door and its jamb.” Ben opened and closed his mouth in an assumed gesture of acknowledgment. iron bars. It seemed Dil was practiced in the indelicate art of breaking and entering. The courtyard offered an abundance of unused privacy. The overwhelming damage to the door wasn’t very funny. Hen passed the time kicking up small clouds in the breezeway. threw all his weight behind him. opaque glass. Dil released a great deal of anger to deliver such violence. Tall weeds filled the patch of exposed earth. but they held fast. Ben found an angle of shade to lean into. which crunched and turned to dust when the men trampled on them. The doors were locked.“Reverend. and dried up. “Wait here. Ben and the brothers stared at each other. almond-like smell nearly overwhelmed the three men. The electric bulb refused to glow. The windows were red. Hen followed his older brother inside. though. the one he found then was in a garbage dump just outside of the town where he and Dil grew up. “It’s safe to go in. hoping they were merely stuck. A long stretch of dirt filled the thin breezeway.” Dil speculated. but you want to open all the windows. A brick wall joined the two buildings at either side of the church. The latter clattered like the sound of gravel rolling down a metal chute.” Dil said. A pungent. Keep them open until you can’t smell the gas anymore. Ben had enough sun. He retrieved the screwdriver that had skittered into the church. This door was also locked. there was a back door. were absent. Hen led the way around the West side of the building. Dil was right. Ben followed. His shirt became damp with sweat. The room looked like it existed mainly for special functions. At first he looked as if he was going to run up the wall like some mean cartoon dog chasing a cartoon squirrel. other than the smell. The remaining others filled a nearby van bearing the same fumigator markings. The workman climbed into the truck with a couple other coworkers. but he spied plastic containers. and common dishcloths. is this your church?” “Yes…” Ben answered with hesitation. Hen opened the refrigerator. Dil found a suitable chunk of concrete and went to the door.a good sign. the first patch of ground not covered with concrete or asphalt the trio saw since entering the Cap. taking the jamb with it. The odor must be the gas which the exterminator warned Ben about. Dil stepped back. In fact. The trio entered the kitchen. Hen took the steps in one leap.” Hen rallied the group. there would have been no trace Gas-M was there at all. “There’s gotta be a back door. Hen laughed. “Let’s check it out. Hen let go of his shirt to peel the . Hen shook the doors. No more sunbathing for him. A canyon between the church and a solid wall of a neighboring concrete-block warehouse presented an avenue. The brown leaves curled against spiny stems. Only the glow of light could be distinguished behind the ornate glass. He opened the only window in the room. Hen stood on his toes and attempted to peer through the small diamond-shaped windows on each door. as nothing stocked the kitchen to indicate it had been used daily. The whole works needed replacing. No utensils lay in the empty sink. The trio approached the big wooden double doors at the top of a short flight of white stone stairs and tried the looped brass handles. In three strokes. Dil returned with the shank of screwdriver he previously pitched into the truck’s bed. Only the church had windows and they were protected with vertical. He had scraped off the yellow paint the last time he used the tool. The screwdriver jutted out at a sharp angle. The back of the church hosted a meager yard of stones. The view revealed a sliver of the breezeway they had come down. He disappeared back the way they had come. The force of the kick sent him stumbling partway into the entrance. The door flew open. Both vehicles vanished down the street. A small rise of concrete stairs led up to a flaking white door.

Dil kept on eye on his little brother. sucking in his cheeks. Spear tips. “Ugh!” Hen exclaimed. They stopped exploring to watch their thirsty friend. He tossed the container into the lidless trashcan next to the refrigerator. “Give those here. Hen tossed the key chain to his brother. and the feet of a sacrificed god were the only clear images. or for the merry-go-round. and stairwell before the hall turned right into the nave. then cleared. The back door is bad enough. No matter how much Ben drank. The ornamentation threw broad swatches of color to the floor. Ben reached over a small metal desk to get to the sill. Dil would certainly to take his share of any found wealth. “You still got that screwdriver. The fact that somebody saved them made the tickets important enough to keep on his person. “What are these?” he asked. let’s say this one got lost and get another one. fuzzy mold.” “In that case. The bottom two-thirds of each scene had been replaced with clear glass. Anything else in there?” Hen dug deeper into the drawer and found another envelope. Only the tops of the images were preserved. Ben's damnable thirst demanded attention like a child throwing a tantrum. Ben pushed away from the desk. Red dominated the other colors of in ornate glass. Hen tried the drawers. Light spilled into the breezeways outside and through the long windows flanking a large room. The smell was not so intense in the office. The affect of the artwork seemed unbalanced. The glass depicted battles the Chosen allegedly had waged during claims for the Promised Land.” “You’re not supposed to eat the stuff you left in a house that's been fumigated. helmets of marching soldiers. Hen pulled out a sealed envelope. “There’s gotta be a key. Hen pulled open the next drawer to find a key chain with keys of various sizes. Hen tried the keys that looked like good matches for the lock. A crucifixion and evisceration culminated a parade of victories against pagans. Ben still wanted to open the window. “I suppose these belong to you.” Dil took the envelope. “It’s almost a thousand dollars! We’ll split it three ways. the priest is right here. When Ben eventually felt his gut would burst. “It looks like a check’s inside. and priests sometimes felt compelled to cite the story in sermons. Enough bits and pieces of the remaining scenes suggested the subject of the art.” Dil informed his brother. “We don’t have to rush it. Slow down. which welled like spilled wine. barren yard. he could not satisfy the squealing brat. let’s not push it. With the window open. closet. As the brothers explored. Dil tried the door to the office. .” “Let me see it. “Food. The tour led past a closed office. He leaned into the sink and gulped directly from the faucet. Ben and the Cortras brothers hadn’t noticed when they were outside. The pipe spit out rusty brown water. The window in the office looked over the small. Lottery tickets. probably because the door stayed closed. Dil turned the keys over. you know. He wiped water from his chin with the sleeve of his sweatdampened shirt.” He handed the chain to Ben. with straight iron bars outside. Ben held them in his open palm a long time before placing them in his pocket.” Dil said. to find it filled with black. It was open. more so with missing details. Everyone knew the mythology. “This looks like the fund from the Church to this parish.” Hen suggested. and got it right on the first try. maybe. The lessons were intended to convey what the Chosen were capable of doing and willing to do. Dil?” Hen asked. eagerly.” He tore the envelope open on one side and pulled out a check.” Dil smirked. The mind struggled to paint the absent parts. the devil.” Hen put the tickets in his pocket. The Cortras brothers and Ben moved as a group through the hallway that ran along the rear of the church. “Maybe. After all. As he did. Things not on the Church tab.” Dil was right. “Looks like we need to get some food. Ben ran water in the sink. and other stuff that comes up.” “What do parishes get checks for?” Hen asked. They get these every month. Hen rattled a locked drawer. anyway. He opened this one himself and discovered tickets or coupons inside. but the top thirds of the rectangular windows were composed of stained glass. “I don’t know. He lingered long enough to draw the attention of the brothers. The three left the room and followed the small hall into the church proper. so no lock picking required. I suppose.cover off one container. he shut the off water and turned around.

then the voice said more.” instructed the companion voice behind Ben's left ear. “Uh-huh. The lack of icons beside the windows puzzled Ben. cleaning that up. The captain was a plump. They fell to the floor next to the younger Cortras. I’m happy to see you’re showing some initiative. uh. older man.” “I bet that’s why they needed a new priest. The day was too hot for a coat. “We can’t stay here. and he stopped pacing between the plain wooden pews. Reaching down. The middle-aged priest twitched his hands up in front of him. “How about you go find a place for the truck. His older brother waved him off. tiptoeing over the feathers and dead flies.?” Hen asked. The usual pollution of paintings and statues was missing. The exterminators did their job. good. The dead flies were almost as plentiful as the feathers.” “Dil. Hen's jaw hung open uselessly. Hen raised his eyebrows.” Dil took over the task of opening windows. A pin with golden bars on the lapel of the priest's black jacket advertised the rank of captain. He handled them as if the keys had fallen into a cesspit. but Dil thought they all needed fresh air. .“Is that what I think it is?” “Blood. Immediately. because he knew nobody stood there. The welcome lacked sincerity and the clenched-teeth delivery conveyed hostility. hung the expected wooden cross. He had no further interest in them. “Go get a tarp or something. yet he studied the priest for any reaction. all three were struck cold with shock. his earlier enthusiasm rapidly departed. “Dil!” Hen exclaimed.” Hen stood motionless. .” Hen agreed. shit!” Hen easily gave in to queasy paralysis. The church looked austere. The Cortras brothers didn't notice or care. Dil slipped into the conversation before his brother answered. Ben tagged behind like a stray dog that found a new pack. They had swirled and stuck to the floor of the sanctuary in a muddy. Hen even tried jiggling off unseen germs. The three men habituated to the smell. Above the altar and against a solid white wall. “Reverend Ishkott. “What in the name of the Mortal God?” the priest cried. The small corpses looked like large flies. They look burned. with wiry legs curled above and below them. Years shrunk his spine and swelled his waist. “What are these bugs? I ain’t seen them before. I presume. Hen turned the dead bolt and yanked both doors open. The captain stood glaring at Ben. we can’t stay here!” Hen objected. “We’re. “This has gotta be a bad sign. He turned around and spit into a pile of feathers. “Who are you?” the captain demanded of the younger Cortras. The wood surface was painted with a greenish brown patina. “What the .” Hen decided immediately. crimson glue. He looked wan and agitated. Dil followed his brother to the front door. That was good. Numerous little corpses about the size of a person's thumb were also trapped in the mixture. Ben didn’t turn. waiting for something. The priest obviously confused this Benedict Ishkott for the clergyman he replaced. but the garment fit him well.” Dil swept his arm toward the mass of stuck feathers and flies. “Bow and thank the ancient Aper. A bald priest stood on the steps outside. It’s good to start off an assignment giving more than what is expected of you. The man probably wore it for the impression the presentation created. . Hen picked up the keys with his thumb and forefinger. “Well. the good news is this place will be closed for a while until this gets cleaned up. “Oh.” Dil answered. We got a place to stay. The knowledge made his heart jump.and the Mortal God. It appeared sturdy enough to bear the weight of a man and then some. He pointed at the congealed liquid.” Dil tossed the keys to Hen. as the test couldn’t have been better than if the dead priest’s mother mistook Ben for her son. The doors slammed against the inner walls. Only Ben heard the comment.” Ben was not sure what to make of the comment.” Ben stated with a flat tone.” “Dead.” The priest seemed satisfied and promptly dismissed the brothers. Black feathers were everywhere. making the icon look moldy instead of intentionally aged. shocked at the prospect. “Ahh. Hen immediately crossed shoulders and hips. but forced himself to move. but the sudden fright might have caused him to act edgy. The stillness attracted Ben’s attention.

and just recently. You’ll never see this addict ever again. That’s fine enough for me. “As good as it will do you here. He felt less hostile. Ben remembered he visited Gomorrah not long ago. The older Cortras turned and skulked back to the hallway at the rear of the sanctuary. No trouble. His alias appeared to have cornered this rat and poked the jittery thing with a stick.” Ben added. they should have built the Wall around this slum.” “Yes. “And I don’t care.“Don’t be shy. “You look like you crawled out of hell on your hands and knees. So forget what you think you know about me. The priest nodded. As far as I’m concerned. Standing outside in daylight was hot.” Some arrangement had been made. not that it would have been such a tragedy. The street was empty despite the roar of traffic close by. No lowly fleet car for the captain. including bits of recollection. The feeling must have seeded in his forgotten years.” The priest pulled Ben into the sunlight by his sleeve. “I don’t know what went on in there. “Come on.” Ben didn’t feel obligated to call the man “sir” again. Even the best parts of Gomorrah weren’t as clean and in as good condition as this street. You don’t need to file reports. Forget what you think you know about Gomorrah. One jabbed finger would send the man toppling backwards.” The voice offered no clue as to what the priest meant.” “I know. It will be like you never left that shit hole mission.” The priest shifted his weight from one foot to the other. After all. The guy was going crazy and he probably sliced himself to pieces. “Hmf. taking vicarious responsibility. staring at the Cortras brothers. Rivulets formed on his round cheeks. Ben.” The priest wiped his receding forehead with the sleeve of his jacket. but the priest just sweat too much. “Sir. anyway. I wanted to see you first and be the only officer you saw.” the voice advised. If you’re lucky. “Then we’re done. the encampment outside the Wall for instance. No one was inside the church either. sir.” Ben looked around the neighborhood. So you’ll get your check every month in the mail. So the psychic voice seemed part of a package deal.” The priest stood rigid. The Church gave you up for dead. Hen followed without a word. The original Benedict must have finally taken his first step up the clergy’s ladder.” The priest rocked back on his heels dangerously close to the edge of the steps. everything will be fine. you have a friend in common. I don’t care. It was a shame he didn't live to reap the reward. He passed through much worse places. You understand that?” Ben nodded. Ben recalled the story the Cortras brothers practiced.” The priest pointed inside the church. Don’t attract attention. “Fine. He trotted to a white limousine parked behind the truck the Cortras brothers brought to Capital. “The car broke down. “What you have to do is not cause trouble for me or yourself. The priest looked over . “Listen. The Church never cared to hear from you then and certainly not now. as if he had been holding his breath as long as he could and now needed to take a deep swallow of air. Placate the dregs. and stinking chemicals leaked from his skin. You got your second chance.” he called to his brother. He suddenly lost his composure. Let them know the Church is here too. The priest drilled into Ben with narrowed eyes. He might even break his neck. Ben enjoyed a degree of pleasure. keeping an eye on them.” Ben lowered his head. You are a real cock to call me for favors. Animosity bubbled up inside Ben. Do you understand?” “Yes. you’ll be finished before curfew. I was notified when you reached the Wall. You only have one thing to do here. anyway. either. “Thank you. The priest scanned from side to side. “You two have work to do. but you don’t get special requests. “If I never have to come down here or see you again. Ben felt the urge to nudge the tottering captain. That’s all.” The priest didn’t wait for a reply. Committed suicide. The captain stood on his toes to peek over Ben’s shoulder.” “Behave yourself. He swayed as he spoke.” Dil said. What was the voice from the desert telling him? The voice sounded like it wanted to lead Ben through the encounter with the priest. “Let’s get out of this stink.

We’re staying. He listened for the voice. and slammed the door. You are a generous man. “You know. The military news service was notoriously slow to write checks and issued them on a strict biweekly basis. I’ll start on that.” His brother’s perspective and stubborn stand didn't appease Hen. started the car. “Tell you what. She was very appreciative of her friend. Hen reluctantly agreed. slowed.” Hen scratched his head. as he scooped up a pile of feathers. a pending check excited Margot. like I told you. leaving brown smears. and goop with the dustpan. the priest shut off the alarm and unlocked the doors with a single button. The experience in the desert must have disconnected a bit of himself to observe from outside and lend rational advice. Mark. and then sped away. Ben felt he was still watched. It’s a stop-in. Margot turned off the radio and answered the phone. but when the chance comes. Go get the tarp. The car accelerated with a screech.” 6 Uncovered Nakedness The telephone in Margot's single-bedroom apartment rang immediately after her story aired. but he liked the building wide open. so Hen went to the truck without protest. Another pan full of gore plopped into the can. despite having met at a college party when. “Everyone gets what they came for. The older Cortras never seemed more inspired. she and Mark seemed like friends since grade school. An errand away from the church and a few hundred dollars in his pocket were incentive enough for him. Nothing. Dil dragged the uncovered trashcan from the kitchen. Hen will still have plenty of work when he returned. A broom. Ben listened for the voice before answering. “Maybe we should go. “It feels like we’re supposed to be here. Pick up some Yowling Cat while you’re out. As Ben thought about the entity haunting him. insects. Mark. Ben. He dropped behind the wheel. The captain turned the front wheels from the curb slowly. The brothers came out of hiding. Upon finding it. Still. If these were the only tools supplied. “Who was that?” Hen asked. he convinced himself the voice was his own process of thought. mop. but this place is growing on me. The glop slid off into the trashcan like molasses. It did not offer more answers. Dil. He married soon after graduation and adopted “grown-up” responsibilities. By now the smell of the gas should have diminished considerably. We’ll cash that check when you come back. But the covert audience included more than just the priest. Ben stood in open the doorway with his hands on his hips.” Dil quipped. at the . At times. He rustled through his jacket pocket for the key chain. slowing only to make the turn. The alarm on the car chirped when the captain tried the handle. the friend who tipped Margot about the murder.” Dil pointed to the mess in the sanctuary. accelerated again.both shoulders at Ben as he went. You heard what the priest told Ben. Margot could not count on payment before the first of next month. “I don’t know about you.” the voice said as the car rolled through the stop sign and disappeared around block. called to congratulate her. The Cortras brothers at the back of the church counted among the spectators. and the voice over Ben's left shoulder. The realization made Margot a little sad. Ben would not be surprised to hear the man start to whistle. “I don’t know.” “Don’t be stupid.” Dil said.” Dil observed. so she would get paid and make the rent. Ben turned around and watched Dil set to work. The calm within the church spread to the street. the place talks to me. This place doesn’t even sound like a real church. A couple uneventful days passed since she visited the parish where the priest was killed. Ben had not noticed Dil leave and return until a snarling. “That didn’t sound good.” “You’re always coming up with the crazy ideas. Margot needed to redouble her effort to meet her transcription work quota. scraping noise and Dil’s voice broke the peace. Benedict. you either blow it or chicken out. We just got a free ride.” “I think he’s your boss. and dust pan knocked inside the can. He did not hang out on Sundays with her other friends. even though he could only make out a rotund shape behind the car’s tinted glass.” “I don’t like it.

so I just followed the outline. “Do you have pasta salad? I see only green salad here. and in fact. Congratulations again. it put you on the air. they read the story verbatim. Margot. Despite having read every word waiting for her friend. Mark smiled widely when he saw her sitting at a table outside the restaurant he suggested. More exposure means more writing. like many of the women in Capital. a rare sight in any city-state. She cleared her throat. but she still liked to be reminded of the time when she was trim and full of energy. and the transcription had her working hermit-like around the clock. Her partially braided hair dragged over either shoulder as her head turned. thank you. Most reporters Margot knew sported thin arms and began to permanently slouch. I’m a journalist. “Maybe you just forget how good I looked to begin with. they recognized each other instantly. Civil outrage would only come off as envy for the girl’s youth. You earn the trust of the military and the Church. Mark looked taller. and losing will and interest to do something about the slow entropy. One circumstance or another prevented the pair from getting closer than infrequent phone calls. She accepted without thinking anything more of paying responsibilities. It’s just a pleasure to see you.” “Nah. Life was not wasting time breaking her down. “You haven’t changed a bit!” Margot blushed. Despite the passed time.” Margot sighed.” she replied with a sheepish groan. She realized his looks and flattery helped overcome just how annoying someone could be when that person enjoyed flaunting their own laurels.” “Then I’ll have the fettuccine and green salad.” Mark waved her off. Today Mark called to congratulate Margot and proposed something more.” Mark pulled a chair from the table and sat down. Now that Margot saw Mark again.” “It has. He asked if he could take the lucky reporter to dinner. Margot jumped at the chance. “I should buy you dinner. A tenacious craving for pasta salad with feta came upon her. The waitress came to the table.” Humility was not a weakness Mark suffered. “Well. She had not bothered to learn . Most of the time. “And you get more handsome every time I see you. “No. They didn’t censor you.time. including herself and her other friends. “Margot?” he asked. She grew elated after listening to her story on the radio. Margot watched the curious man through the plate glass window at the front of the trattoria. He glanced at the menu and set it down again.” “I wouldn’t let you. she remembered why she was so fond of him. Margot blinked and drew a tolerant breath. they had not seen each other in the flesh for years. I liked what you wrote. She was young and resembled the thin man who periodically peeked from the doorway to the kitchen. the only thing they had in common were their majors in journalism. Margot knew for a fact that her butt had grown a little bigger. There really wasn’t much to the story. and felt celebratory. Margot soaked her hair in peroxide. even in the monotone of the woman announcer.” The waitress bounced as she wrote out the whole order.” the teenage waitress shook her head. Mark and Margot met in late afternoon at a modest trattoria close to Mark’s residence. “I can see you’ve been working those pecs. and thank you again. Neither had ever seen each other’s homes. Margot had difficultly figuring out if her old friend was truly arrogant or just enjoyed playing with the trait. “We just have pasta. Margot perused the menu again.” “One and the same. “What d’ya want?” Mark looked amused and pointed to Margot. I notice these things. Margot pushed the self-conscious thought away. in feigned surprise. This conversation was not going to start with complaints about finding oneself fat and flabby. The censors flagged the story for censorship. Margot heard enough whining on Sundays. He was tall and naturally blond. I’ve been in your shoes.” “And a fine one. did they?” Mark queried. The girl's etiquette cinched the suspicion. “Still. But the check hasn’t even been cut yet and I’m short of cash. you know. The waitress was probably his daughter. Time has really flown. Margot needed a break. I know.” Margot handed a menu to Mark. She caught whatever afflicted him and returned an exaggerated grin. She asked for two when she arrived. That. as if working out made him grow.

and able to reign herself in with some efficiency. I have no clue where they came from or what they mean. She was surprised. “Are we going to talk about the details of a murder? I am about to have dinner. Tamara Stoughnt. but forever outside the bloodline. That’s why I didn’t go into the church. A man is expected to have a little paunch. The young waitress brought a couple glasses of water. a big asterisk? You said feathers. The scene sounded too gruesome. She found Mark much more attractive with bulging muscles and a straight frame. “After the priest was killed. “Flies?” Margot relived the conversation she had with the old woman. but didn’t want to pull away . I saw the feathers in the crime photos. I don’t think I would have. Her father had the twang of a northern accent. “Just an ice tea.” “Thank you. Margot deserved a little untoward flirting. I don’t really know.” The waitress checked the menu.” Margot lied. The acknowledgment popped the girl’s tongue between her teeth and she gently bit. He laid his hands on Margot’s. no. The girl's name sounded like Sadie. It was a murder. this time exaggerated and frustrated. Margot noted Mark's talent for inspiring immediate giddiness in women. A phone inside the restaurant rang and the girl's father called her to the kitchen.” “You didn’t go in the church?” Mark sounded incredulous. The girl turned to Mark and he winked. or Sally.” Margot sighed again. The conversation between Mark and Margot lulled while the waitress lingered. Then it’s really good to see you. which confirmed Margot's suspicion.” The waitress trotted back to the kitchen.item numbers or short hand. “I just wonder if there is any real connection between the murder and the heathens. It’s how a woman knows he’s taking care of his loved ones and not thinking about himself. most likely the word “fettuccine.” “Margot. too. I have to watch my weight.” Mark consoled her. “I don’t know. please. the day Margot investigated the death of the priest at Saint Erasmus. “Aren’t you having dinner?” “To tell you the truth. let’s not talk about her.” “Nonsense. Was there anything at the scene like a star. She had always found him attractive. The attack was so bad the military just carted the priest away and fumigated Saint Erasmus.” Margot sipped her water. but remain tainted. “We never do.” The young girl brought the ice tea. biting flies. His daughter would be viewed more kindly. and seemed oblivious to the awkward wait her lack of skills caused as she scrawled. Margot asked her to also bring water. Since Margot was older now.” Mark said. the flies attacked everybody. like a foreigner.” Mark drained half his glass of ice tea as Margot spoke. She changed the subject before losing herself in a familiar daydream she held captive since school.” Margot sat back and folded her hands in her lap. The waitress turned with a frown and went back the way she came. The military didn’t take very many because of the flies. waiting for Mark to notice her again. Judging by the way the waitress twisted her face. but happened in places outside the she didn’t. she knew how to stop the tumbling spiral. maybe by a maniac.” “And that’s why I like talking to you.” Mark suddenly became flustered. The marriage elevated the man above the caste of UnChosen.” Mark's smile returned. He must have married a Chosen with family in Capital. sweetie. “All right. “Do feathers mean . That’s why I thought some crazy killer murdered the priest. she saw Mark’s charm didn’t affect just her. his blood must have attracted flies. “What do you think happened in the church? Is there any truth to the story heathen sympathizers were involved?” “To tell you the truth. Margot assumed the girl had trouble spelling. Such unions were rare. “I didn’t actually go inside.” “What do you mean? Maniac?” “There were feathers all around the body. “How is your wife?” “Oh.either. When the ambulance arrived and the patrol took photos. “What about the feathers?” Mark resumed. Having been in the flurry of confusion before. “I am curious.

and the restaurant had so few patrons.something to the heathens?” “No. a driver had raced down the street. but Margot resisted. Margot looked around. She pulled her clenched fists to her sides. not toward the heathens. After Margot’s first nibble. prompted by a missing scout and reports about Ilu Drystani in the area. Anyway. “Time for confession. The trouble could be that the two had known each other for years. Missing scouts and Drystani resurfacing go hand in hand. You can’t just take it over after I’ve done the legwork. but Mark could see Margot wanted to succumb. Margot spotted the uncomfortable squirming through the glass tabletop.” “What are you talking about?” “The military conducted a raid outside Gomorrah three or four days ago. But there have been rumors that he is in Capital. His hands remained on the table where Margot left them. his wife would not let him go free. It doesn’t sound like the tactics of heathens. The crash and the whoosh of fire were instantaneous.” Mark said. or Margot knew he was married. Mark acted especially bold this afternoon. but now he interlocked his fingers. He melted the waitress easily enough.” “Yeah. Nothing I’ve ever heard. but she had always been with someone else. There were far fewer people and automobiles back when Capital opened on the Shur. but at Mark. No reckless drivers today. and disappeared inside.” “So what makes you think Drystani is connected to the priest’s murder?” Margot jumped to a grandiose conclusion. Why are you so interested in this one?” Mark shifted in his chair and thrummed the water glass with his fingers. you covered enough murders pinned on heathen sympathizers. the driver veered into the café. “Mark. He wondered if his charms were lost on older women. The Church and military built the Wall as a shield against such frightful paranoia. but the child died at birth. the cave-like opening filled with flame.” “I heard about that. Still. “I don’t. Commitment came later in life. you know. The image terrified Margot as a little girl and makes her ill today. He probably became a heathen just so he can hide his crimes under a cause. “I’m not doing that at all. Tales from before the Wall were among the stories her grandmother repeated. This is big. whether real or not. after all. There probably is no relation. He gazed contentedly at Margot’s face a little too long. He was in school. despite his resisting her pleas . He’s a sadist. Of course.” was the only reply she managed. and an unplanned pregnancy. “So why do the heathens want to hurt people?” Mark sighed. her grandmother shopped across the street from a café no bigger than the restaurant Margot sat outside now. Her flushed face refueled with hot blood. One day. For him. but that didn’t stop him from having fun. Before the falling people hit the ground. That was possible decades ago. I wanted to see if you still looked sexy when you got angry. but also relieved. even though I’m sure they wouldn’t be upset over the death of a priest. Mark felt sad.” “Why did you really ask me to dinner?” Mark shuffled again.” Margot’s anger dissipated like the failing resonance of a bell. “The whole Drystani thing is just a rumor. Mark relaxed and leaned back. The stare sustained her blush. “If there is a connection. He had known that since school.” Margot shivered. the place couldn’t possibly be a feasible target. There must have been a bomb in the car.” Margot became suspicious.” Mark shuffled his feet. The salad arrived. but her grandmother recalled the terrorist attack clearly as if it played out on film in slow motion before her. “Shut up. Mark was too. smashing through the front window. That’s all. as did a refill for Mark’s ice tea. Margot's grandmother said she saw people thrown into the air by the impact. You know heathens say those things just to rattle the military. before the constant tangle of automobiles. the shackles came immediately after graduation with the only woman who ever stirred guilt in his heart. But I have to connect all the dots. this is my story. Margot felt sudden ire. “I wanted to see you. she felt compelled to start another conversation. As Margot recalled. Babble on the airways.

even when there wasn’t anything to be mad about. And we look good together. They don’t accept that human beings can overcome a god. the Chosen and the Church. “We’re iconoclasts. Margot was the genuine love of his life. “One day. “The last thing we need is her getting the wrong idea. but maybe it was about time someone challenged Mark. more experienced reporter. she'd get in the way.” “So tell me. you want to discover their plots and land the assignment from military news.” Margot shared. Still. “I always thought we would make a great team.” “But we don’t worship the cross. although he suspected age only enhanced his appearance. for that matter. Who could scoff at such a romantic destiny.” “Honestly. Mark just could not get Sarah to leave him. “Let’s work together. “So I should always call you.” “They know that. For now.” Mark leaned forward again.for another child. He would have walked out a long time ago. or god serves man.” “Well.” Mark had a valid point. Even if she did find a lead. If you didn’t know better. This time. he set aside his game of peek-a-boo with Margot to rethink his strategy. “I think it’s politics. This time she put her hands over his.” Margot ate enough of her salad and pushed the unfinished portion aside.” Mark answered. “Seriously. and terrorism. “Maybe that’s what heathens don’t like about us. you would think they worshiped a cat god. the story of true love held some truth. chances were the story would go to a trusted.” “And if they have. where the alternative was a hopeless marriage? Despite growing from the seed of a missed conquest. Then we have a partnership. But he is their lion. “And so would you. heathens hold to strictly literal interpretations of the scriptures. Margot liked the attention. But you’re still a reporter and I know you prefer investigation over writing sensational propaganda. Making themselves essential reporters required far-fetched thinking and luck. She has always been jealous. The secrecy absorbed her. I made a career of crime scene reporting. The resumption of his flagrant philandering had no impact on their marriage. The . “And?” Margot asked. I don’t think he has ambitions other than murder and mayhem. And if you need to call me.” Margot emphasized the possessive aspect of her comment. trying her best to sound unconvinced. I have never been very religious. You work part-time copying illegible handwriting to stacks of mundane forms. Margot required work. He could always use new tools. hang up if my wife answers. I know the difference between crimes of passion. but did not want to look like the bad guy. They want a theocracy of their own.” Mark replied without embellishment. Mark’s family warned him against his callous behavior toward his wife.” The idea of a clandestine adventure tempted Margot. if you believe heathens have infiltrated the Promised Land. “That sounds a lot more fair than letting you steal my story.” Mark returned to flirting. They think it’s the other way around. lunatics. or had some thoughts of her own. They ran the same race. That wouldn’t be Mark.” “Let’s be realistic. Margot.” Mark proposed. an old friend from school turned up. He shared his idea. “Great. do we?” “Besides feathers in a church that have nothing to do with Drystani and the heathens. a unique way of thinking or an invisible source.” “And Drystani would be a dictator?” “He’s only a captain in the heathen militia.” Mark ventured.” Mark continued. what will Sarah think about you working what could be long days with an old school flame?” Margot read Mark’s mind. there is the story about the prophet in the den. In fact. although he had a couple laps on her. accompanied by the realization of an unfulfilled love affair. either. “That pit is now Capital. But neither of us have a lead. a messiah will come and wipe the Church and all its graven images from the face of the earth.” “Well.” Margot doubted there was ever a time Mark's wife didn’t have a reason to be upset. sure I do. heathens talk a lot about lions and tigers. They needed some angle to make either of them indispensable. “She doesn’t need to know. or break a story.

They’re rations. waving a string of paper tickets. Shades of fall dabbled room. we wouldn’t want to give your wife any ideas.” Dil said. “Oh. Despite the taste. Hen entertained using the altar as a dinner table. especially for Margot. I still owe you a dinner. “Well. Just give me the address today. right? The Church will have a tough time ordering a new assignment on short notice. once the partially eaten burrito turned to vapor and steam. No priest means the facility is absent a caretaker. right?” Mark instructed. An animated Dil was unsettling. “There was some talk about prohibition in the Cap before our time. “Besides. especially if what happened already made the circuit.Saint Erasmus.” “I suppose it’s better than nothing at all. She swooned at the strength of his arms and the solid feel of his abdomen. This man was bold and smooth. The sun threatened to set by the time he finally returned through the front doors. Margot tasted the fettuccine. Mark could also inspire jealousy in women he had just met. this isn’t very good. Dil raked feathers like leaves on a lawn while doing yard work at the end of a warm autumn afternoon. As the work progressed. She now held the long gaze and Mark’s eyes grew wild. Chances of either of them getting down to the parish in the coming days were slim. “I’ll take a look if I get a chance.” Hen noticed something different. “Those weren’t lottery tickets. Margot still offered Mark a sample. stroking downward until his hand rested in the small of Margot’s back. Hen was late. He scouted the pews before the image . Come to think of it. Mark leaned down. We can go together later. He expected his brother to be mad about Hen having been gone so long. he acted oddly cheerful. rolling dead insects into a mound like fruit suspended in an opaque desert. Apparently. With the sun so low.” Margot said. “Thank you.” he critiqued. The place is in the ghetto. The young Cortras managed to find pizza and more ‘Yowling Cat. The old friends. Perhaps Dil found and drained a bottle of liquor while Hen was absent. unsurprised with Hen. as well as an appetite. hugged. Hen would have preferred him angry. yeah. They found a rake in the opposite breezeway that they had followed upon arrival at Saint Erasmus. Margot and Mark finished the creamy noodles together and talked a little more about where they look for clues. but the pasta had already grown cold. I don’t think anyone would volunteer for that kind of work. Ben crouched as he pushed the dustpan through the red jelly. and new partners. She retrieved a pen from her purse and wrote the address of Saint Erasmus on the paper napkin that came with the ice tea. only the top portions of the stained glass let light splay into the nave. the waitress provided only one napkin. The scraping of the pan and rake against the wooden floor bit painfully. She had always known it.” “Maybe it isn’t. as if an angry spider skittered through Dil’s left ear.” Hen reported.” “Why? Everything is probably cleaned up by now. “Give me the address of the church.” Margot announced. After finishing their early dinner. No doubt the lukewarm dish was the deliberate fault of the waitress. “There will be that mess you don’t want to look at.” “I can go.” Margot gloated over the attention she received in preference over the young waitress. leaving Dil to the unpleasant work. Mark left an overly generous tip on the table.” warned Mark. Instead.’ the alcoholic cough syrup the Cortras brothers called wine. The carved furrows in the wood floor resembled scars between the blackened smears.” Margot acquiesced. The teenager snubbed Margot with a sour wince and abrupt twirl. 7 Leviathan The older Cortras brother worked up a sweat. “You can only buy as much liquor as you have tickets. you don’t know what I’m looking for. Ben joined Dil in the grisly task of cleaning the sanctuary.” “Uh. His grip lifted Margot to her toes. He had somehow stolen them from his older brother's pocket. scratches and stains damaged the floor.fettuccine dropped to the table with a clank that almost cracked the glass surface. I guess they came to a compromise. but decided the act would be some sort of sacrilege.

Long red pin stripes were drawn down the front of his shirt. Hen leaned over the pizza boxes and breathed in deep. and Ben didn’t seem to care. Ben didn’t say anything.. Ben washed his bloodied hands in the sink. like a ripe. Dil's arms spread wide as one fist gripped the bottle. mushy wad of pizza muffled his speech. He wiped his hands on his clothes.” Saving work for the young Cortras and Dil's instruction sounded a little better to Hen. Hen hoped Ben caused Dil’s transformation. The burden could not be more light. Hen opened the pizza boxes.” Dil took a huge gulp of wine straight from the bottle. “I was getting to that. but Hen couldn’t imagine the pie tasted as good as Dil expressed. Hen wondered what his brother and Ben talked about. Ben left the water running so he could take another long drink without the copper flavor. swarms of them. and I even parked the truck down the street with a couple other wrecks. The biggest squids ever found. The sweat from Dil's arms liquefied the jellied blood again. even if Hen worked alone.” Dil shoved half a slice into his mouth. A huge. but their bodies were like snakes. “It needed a little something to spruce it up anyway.” “So the military news talks about events other than heathens and body counts. Come to think of it. He reached for a bottle of wine. if anything at all. “Hey. The Cortras brothers had gone without pizza for a long time. odor. The smell of fumigation gas had faded. Ben also ate greedily. He was with Eating preoccupied the sunbaked stranger the Cortras brothers found in the desert. but only if it lasted temporarily. one in each hand. Hen always felt compelled to talk. have I told you that my brother is a crack-up?” Dil spat crumbs as he spoke. “Did you get a tarp?” Dil asked. The next moment. But they weren’t really squids. although he secretly hoped the work would be finished by the time he returned. The military brought flame throwers to fry 'em out of the sky. Dil was going to retch.of the blood and feathers turned his stomach. but did not protest the attempt at discourse. Dil didn’t bother washing. The change would be okay. staining his denim shirt and the crotch of his jeans. He betrayed no interest in rhetorical gambling.” Dil observed. Chewed crust spilled out and bounced off the edge of the table on a trajectory to the floor. “What are you doing with the feathers?” Hen asked.” Dil laughed with his mouth wide open. ah. he bowed over the table and jutted out his tongue. “I made a point of saving some. The aroma of cheese and tomato sauce filled his nose sufficed and masked the other. His older brother was never much of a connoisseur of anything. they had the arms. He unsuccessfully shook his hands dry. They were huge. Dil led his brother and Ben down the back hall to the kitchen. “I know where those bugs came from. His voice echoed in the hallway. The flies started biting people on the beach. can we eat this in the kitchen?” Dil and Ben put eagerly aside their work. “Dil? Are you on something?” Hen asked. so creating dinner conversation fell to Hen. Sausage and mushrooms topped both pies. Tackling the remaining work wouldn’t fill a morning. He lathered with a crusted bottle of dish soap he found in the cupboard below. the stranger never really did speak.” Hen’s audience continued eating.” Dil answered. This must be their golden age of radio. The other hand wielded a folded slice of pizza. “Yeah. The smell of pizza drove home Hen’s hunger more than the promise of a fine culinary experience. “Ben. but a rotten scent lingered. but he saw Ben and Dil made admirable progress. He never heard his brother talk this way.” Dil mumbled..” “You said you knew where the bugs came from. “They were on the dead squids. sliding a couple chairs from the table. “Cuz’ I wouldn’t mind. Any wager. “The yard.” Hen’s skin crawled. Hen did not notice as he busied himself making a selection among the irregular pizza slices. His eyes rolled back. offensive. dead rat recently removed from a trap. “There were some prehistoric squids that washed up on the beach. heavy with sauce and stingy with cheese. Ben?” Hen didn’t know what his brother talked about. Hen rescued the uneaten . “There’s plenty left for you. They both plainly required a change of scenery if they were going to enjoy a meal. “Where did the flies come from.” Dil said to Hen. I heard it on the radio. Hen? My money is on the ass of Beelzebub.

“There’s a store on the corner. A younger sibling had no place telling an elder what to do. Last night. The shop is closed. This time Dil swallowed hard and clenched his teeth. The effort to recall made his head throb. Dil. To avoid pangs of thought. even in Ben's debilitated state. except for the constant prattle of the refrigerator. but still illegible. “Can you get some more?” “It’s the same stuff we always get. “Damn. Hen hoped the impending hangover would dissuade Dil from drinking again for a while. He could not conclude that Dil and the voice were the same. The change was obvious. a lesson once reinforced in a drunken brawl. The backward ghosts of letters were perceived. We still got tickets. but the uninvited guest arrived before the Cortras brothers came along. Hen knew better than making attempts to curb his brother’s drinking.” Dil said. impossible to hide from anyone around the table. “I think we’re going to be great friends. That is how his ideas came. especially if obviously rude attempts were made to ignore him. or a little too late. “Hey. Seeing the images was like staring at a blank piece of paper with words printed on the opposite side. as if somebody else slipped into his Dil’s skin. Hen could have lied about the tickets. Neither Dil nor Ben seemed to notice. just in time. “Did it work?” “What?” Hen already forgot the dinner conversation.” “Then we need some more.” “Not tonight. The encounter with the dead priest. “Let’s talk about something else.” Hen answered. Ben appreciated nobody asked more questions about his identity or where he came from. Ben droned away at his immediate task.portions of pizza. “Ben. The older Cortras claimed one bottle of wine for himself alone. he usually encouraged his older brother to stay sober. Ben ate and Dil drank. Ben mapped out the order of events on his recent timeline. During the work. too. me. Ben couldn’t help notice that Dil acted as if he recently met his younger brother. Dil recovered. but focus on the blankness promoted meditation.” Hen said in a low voice. . Mindlessly scraping congealed blood from the floor in the nave passed a few hours of the afternoon. The talk reminded Ben somewhat of the voice that haunted him. “The flame throwers? Did they kill all the bugs?” “I suppose so. Hen leaned toward Ben. Even though Dil would suffer in the morning. “And fire in the sky!” Hen sat cemented to his seat. Ben realized he tried to find an external source for the voice. “Where did you get this?” Dil asked. Even though Hen also enjoyed tipping the bottle. Tomorrow. Pent-up viciousness clawed Dil on the inside.” Hen thought twice about telling Dil to take it easy with the wine.” “There’s a curfew. my good friend. This other Dil took a couple big swigs of wine. Ben. “What did you guys do when I was gone?” “By the wiggling toes of the Mortal God!” Dil exclaimed the interruption. Eventually. right!” Dil added. “Damn!” Dil exclaimed.” Dil put down his squashed pizza and favored the wine. His goose flesh went cold. Ben noticed drinking transformed Dil. He already personally focused on those mysteries with as much diligence he could summon. Something more seemed different about his brother. and him. He quickly drained half the contents of the bottle. You. but he already spoiled the chance. Still. “Well. I have shoveled dead bugs all day. was also pinned in his shadowy history. Ben didn’t know much about either of them to say the behavior is out of the ordinary. Hen could never get the better of his brother in any condition. Hen avoided tapping into it.” Silence swelled within the kitchen.” Dil turned around to recover the chair that skidded back when he abruptly stood. Ben partly listened to Dil’s light-hearted comments and morbid quips.” Ben said backing away from the table. but the food was never in real danger. He knew his memories were almost within sight.” Dil thrust the neck of the bottle toward Hen. Exposing that anger was easy to do when Dil was drunk. focus would drift through the white portions of the paper. whose identity Ben assumed or shared. More alcohol must let loose more of that alternate personality. “Plague.

Here we are together. Everything happened thus far according to the plan. He didn’t care either way. He welcomed any suggestion leading from the current topic. Let’s make a pact.” Dil’s audience wholly dismissed his drunken rambling. One more mouthful will finish the meager amount of liquor in the bottle. stiff with momentary paralysis. “We need to make our own miracle. or wherever he built his summer place. Hen stood. as a base of operations. His face hovered in complete shadow except for the beads of sweat clinging to his cheeks. Dil. Hen darted behind Ben. He smiled again and stood up wavering.” “You know we’re not heathens. Get ourselves a flock. His petrified state returned as he prayed Dil merely drank too fast. all illumination retreated. Dil’s seat faced away from the light. about the existence of a god – Mortal. and Ben didn’t believe he had his own plan quietly unfolding in his subconscious. Ben avoided being struck by the bottle as Dil swayed. “Oh. Ben. “But we can. “There is not going to be a messiah. Took a vacation and decided he liked the other side of the galaxy. They appropriated a parish church.” Ben said. “We can talk about something . Ben?” Hen asked the stranger. Dil took the gulp after an exhalation in which he pretended to breathe fire. then sat back down with a thud. “It won’t make any difference. Ben eventually became aware of the unsavory fact. Don’t get upset. “This world is coming to an end. “Let’s go to sleep.” “What do you say. Ben picked that up instinctively. “That’s what I’m saying.” Dil pronounced happily. Do some great things. He decided to stay unconvinced. A bare bulb over the sink cast soft light and fuzzy shadows into the room. They were hiding. Ben remembered the younger Cortras mentioned that fact to the dying priest. but he felt the blankness was bigger than his amnesia. How about we start a new religion? How about a cult? Virgins and drugs and not-so-virgins. Thinking spoiled his dinner. “What better place to bid him bon voyage? Just don’t expect any miracles. “What better place to make a difference.” Ben replied. causing the legs of his chair to creak in complaint.” Dil’s chuckle echoed hollow in the bottle as he raised the wine to his lips.” Hen begged to change the subject. Living or something other. only zombies.” Hen eagerly agreed.” Dil announced. A large gap in his memory needed to be filled. Hen was glad Ben asked. but now that the sun dipped behind the low mountains beyond the Wall. But whose plan? The brothers thought things out only as far as getting past the Wall and finding a place to stay. right.constantly nagged and bullied?” “You’re talking like a heathen. Being the only reveler. Ben stood up and established a safe distance between Dil and himself. God is gone. A large chunk of pizza grew soggy and tasteless in his mouth. either. No one noticed the light growing orange and dim as the three men ate. the lack of participation could not escape his notice. with little oversight. Hen was grateful Ben picked this moment to shake off his mute daze. Dil. Ben?” Dil staggered. my friend.” Dil suddenly grew solemn. “Soon. There was a reason Ben came to Saint Erasmus.” “I was just playing around. We have plenty of blood for use to sign our names. come now. A good chunk of time had passed between taking the bite and beginning to chew.” Hen cautioned his older brother. “Let’s not talk about this anymore. “Yeah.” Dil laughed loud and hard. We're in a church.Ben and the Cortras brothers now hid in Capital. if not completely unconcerned. He found a switch near the refrigerator and flipped it up. We believe in the Mortal God.” Dil begged. They glistened like diamonds embedded in his skin.” Darkness filled the room. “Do you think the Mortal God wants any part of this place . He’s not even writing postcards. more solid than some metaphysical purpose. He didn’t care what they were hiding from. “I think I need some sleep.” “What are you talking about?” Ben asked. “That has nothing to do with it!” Dil shouted. vampires and Cain will walk the face of the earth. spinning his free hand in a grand circle. He still held the empty bottle in his fist. A little birdie told me. He rose from his seat. Hen believed the clarification important. “Here we are in a church. His high-pitched voice trembled.

Ben pulled the wrist of the snoring man. The table slid forward with the momentum of Dil’s fall. The hard mattress bounced once before settling. He busied himself exploring ways to handle Dil. The room Hen chose contained two naked twin beds and closets. but Ben yielded. The light floated through windows barely above the walls at either side of the church. Ben and Hen strung Dil’s arms over their shoulders again. After swallowing the dry bread.” Ben noted. and his breath smelled like rotting oranges and rubbing alcohol. including a kitchenette with a hotplate. Hen didn’t get a chance to save the leftovers this time. Ben pushed Dil’s shoulder beneath him so the man lay on his side. which carved the room into an irregular shape. If we can’t get jobs. Its tubular metal legs creaked and screeched as they strained against the unexpected weight and motion. Can you help me?” Ben nodded again. Ben wondered if a stash of riot gear or other provisions were hidden inside somewhere. Ben let go entirely. “Are you sure he didn’t take anything?” Ben shook his head. Hen followed the example. I mean stay at the church. but Hen didn’t see.” Dil pitched forward into the open boxes of pizza crust and partially eaten slices. “Are you going to stay?” “In here with you?” Ben asked. Ben steered for the nearest bedroom. which nearly dragged Ben backwards. and his arms dangled over the sides. This isn’t what Dil is like. but no other appliance or sink. Use of the place as a way station for military patrols in times of unrest was not such a long stretch of the imagination. Ben couldn’t help think he came full circle. “No. “Those things he said. worried his brother would suddenly stop breathing. Ben hoisted the unconscious Dil up with his hand under the man’s armpit. He never talks like that. Hen lifted Dil’s feet onto the bed. casting thick angular shadows. They navigated the steps at an angle. Hen didn’t let go and almost fell again. He slept and snorted as he snored. Sit down.else. The arrangement formed a nook filled with a table and chairs and provided a simple outdoor view of rooftops.” “Are you going to leave him there?” Ben asked. disregarding the disclaimer. A gentle breeze blew through open doors. While ascending. Dil was tugged between the two men. Then building. with his knees bent. we can stay in the Cap. The layout looked more like a hostel than a church. “I suppose there’s a bed upstairs. we got enough to live in the encampment . The bottle slipped from his grasp and landed with a cavernous thud. “That hit him pretty fast.” Hen said. The pair strung Dil’s arms around their necks. Once Hen pushed upright. with Ben going ahead. But we got lots of money now. He would not allow himself to tumble backwards into a monkey pile of grown men. but Hen still wasn’t watching. He caught himself on the bed. I don’t know. More cots stood folded against the far wall. More than I have ever seen all at once. the place was designated for other purposes than a house of worship. If we get jobs.” “Where are you going to go?” “I don’t know. He headed for the second room. This place might be haunted or cursed. I still want to leave in the morning. We need more wine… but I’m not feeling so good. When the three men reached the nearest bed. The older brother would surely wake to mysterious bruises the following morning or early afternoon. “You know he didn’t mean it. Big rooms and a large bathroom partitioned the second floor. Dil was dead weight. His body draped over the table. “I haven’t seen him like this before.” Hen started. he and Ben dragged the unwieldy Dil by his arms the remainder of the way upstairs. The empty bottle rolled leisurely toward the splintered doorway. Ben dumped Dil gracelessly. Hen lifted Dil’s head. A game of tug-of-war was also out of the question. narrow stairs. One good deed had now been repaid with the same. He did not bother taking off his brother’s shoes. Hen tripped and fell on Dil’s limp form.” Hen swore. Feeling the uncontrolled tug. but Hen and Ben both stumbled on the steep. Moving into the hall went easily enough. He still held a sliver of crust that he now casually chewed. I don’t like what maybe happened here. A dusty glow at the top of the stairwell provided insignificant light. Apparently Hen was unaccustomed to touching his older brother. Hen wanted something cozier. Dil passed out. His selection contained a half dozen bare cots set up in a row. Hen watched as it bumped and rested against the wooden door that could never be fully closed. For leverage. “I guess this will be our room.

except for the few tiny blemishes Jimmy caused and hoped no one would notice. This must have been the priest’s room. The big. Jimmy would sit behind the steering wheel. The red. The car maintained its pristine condition under cover and locked in a dark garage. Then there were the blood and feathers. Ben realized he really was tired. Ben came with a job to do. 8 Pride Jimmy Batheirre lived a very short life. The family consensus agreed the car appeared tacky. and table lent the space a lived-in appearance. The car cruised as fast as it could go with the white vinyl top folded down and Jimmy’s foot planted heavy on the accelerator. A human. The jewelry made those first. Arroyo was a real work of art. barely perceptible scratches. armchair. Even as Ben was an impostor. not so much as a shudder as the automobile rocketed through sunlight and solitude.” Ben said. and even a swimming pool in the back yard were mere trinkets compared to this marvelous machine. Standards were dismally low in Gomorrah. The vehicle belonged to his uncle Judah. He pulled off his boots and lay down otherwise fully clothed. indicating something terrible happened to the previous priest. He could not describe any of the frozen. He never touched the dials and buttons on the . and there were no better judges than a brother. the wooden garage doors melted away and he was instantly transported to an empty road in the desert. At seventeen. The eyes of the Church may be turned away. and the car surpassed any little token the peasants presented. but the trio stayed here on borrowed time. Youthful whim drove most of his desires . He bet his uncle felt the same thrill the first time he sat in the driver’s seat. when Jimmy's mother left him home alone. Glossy white leather slicked the interior. gold watches. but he noted the absence of sound. but Dil was a different matter. intangible images. knowing already he would stay. He often spent a good part of an hour gazing at the beautiful monster. newly antique convertible “Arroyo” was not one of those passing impulsive urges. His dreams were still and deaf. great things. The Cortras brothers would too.a symbol of wealth and class. The older brother gave a stoic and contemplative impression. Signs did not bode well. Jimmy thought it a shame the car sat beneath a cloth cover in his mother’s garage. This jewel was meant to parade around town . Yet. despite Uncle Judah inheriting the family's fortune from his UnChosen father. armoire. Jimmy would never dare lower the top when the Arroyo sat in the garage. blank spot in his memory might not have anything to do with the inexplicable feeling. inspired directive felt more comfortable than believing everything the result of ghoulish coincidences. “Let’s see what happens tomorrow. Money bought respect. Ben left Hen and walked to the farthest room. he gained entrance to the Cap and specifically came to Saint Erasmus for something. Hen would not leave Dil. In Jimmy’s imagination. Poor Hen was like a man who wouldn’t unlace a comfortable boot caught in the tracks of a train barreling down on him. Jimmy would sneak into the garage and remove the thick cotton cover. A window overlooked the street. if shortsighted. not merely for celebration or honor. A large bed. Part of Jimmy's ritual included slipping off his sneakers and stuffing his rings into a pocket.forgotten once appeased. and a liberal amount of chrome was applied inside and out. he got everything he wanted when he wanted it. Arroyo was a fine example of mechanical sculpture.” Ben couldn’t shake the feeling he was meant to be at Saint Erasmus. Sometimes. Arroyo symbolized the blessing of the Mortal God. Hen saw it. Ben felt better to know the character of the younger Cortras brothers. However. Dil made it obvious that he also felt welcomed.for a while. The Church and Chosen caste did not intimidate the Bathierres. That personality started changing even before the man drank. Their shapes and colors were not exact in the low light. Ben had to assume the nothingness did. The soft ringing in the back of his head returned and the steady whistle lulled him to sleep and into dreams. Only Hen voiced aversion. In a strange way. Shiny leather shoes. Jimmy dreamed of the automobile since the age of thirteen. He knew what to expect of Hen. and his reaction was perfectly natural. but to Jimmy and his uncle. that did not guarantee he wouldn't be the next victim. Everything on the automobile was original with not so much as a scratch in the paint.

especially a woman one-quarter Chosen. Cancer took the patriarch before Jimmy was old enough to remember. So. although his wisdom did need more time to cure. Apparently. Eventually. She and Uncle Judah went to lunch. the car would become a gift to the boy. Jimmy would not turn his back on fortune or luck. A car accident killed Jimmy’s father soon after the death of his grandfather. Nate said Jimmy’s grandfather was thrilled to have a grandchild. The vices of common people made Bathierre family rich. but temptation to escape the drudgery would have been insurmountable. No time at all wasted ushering the girl into the family tree. the boys were family. Buyers and sellers in family business smoothed the sketchy morality of use. At fifteen. Going to the university was still a year away. That supposedly caused a problem between his father and grandfather. The Batheirres were a close family. Jimmy found the keys. distribution and selling of methamphetamine. so panicking he restored the cover and keys. but many times removed. if Jimmy finished school and actually attended the university in Capital. The Bathierre lovingly welcomed another leaf. the Batheirre family happily provided the goods. A young Judah took over the business while Jimmy’s father forbid an ill word about his wife and new son. the little adventure went undiscovered. In truth. Neither cause really mattered. The unexpected death of his grandfather soon solved the problem. The diluted Chosen blood in his veins made him an intelligent and ambitious kid. Jimmy also knew he'd been conceived before his parents married. Some Aped loser failed to yield at an interaction. Wealth put Jimmy and his family above most Chosen and now Jimmy dreamed to craft his own destiny. So Jimmy’s father married his mother. If his family did not provide the wants of the population.console. The business ran passed from generation to generation. Nate belonged squarely in the UnChosen caste. Luckily. who was envious. but Jimmy's uncle decided the boy would major in business and then graduate. so by tradition. his grandfather passed away. smart enough to know life handed him a free ride. If people wanted to spend less fortunate existences Aped. Jimmy sat closer to the brutal center of power than he realized. he inherited the family the empire. Why not? Jimmy saw what Gomorrah offered for the less privileged. Even though the production. The Batheirre held the solidarity of family as a core value. The Batheirre family provided a service and held civic responsibility in high esteem. Still. a demand persisted. Nate was older and wiser by a few years. The scratches were the only evidence Jimmy dared to leave. Jimmy couldn’t resist starting up the convertible. tradition held firmly in place and Jimmy’s father assumed control with enthusiasm. of course. The Batheirres were not bad people. especially with relief so readily available. That someone could be less interested in the longevity of customers and the safety of the city. Nate told a new variation of the story. He threw open the garage door and waved an old blanket through the air for twenty minutes to help dissipate the fumes. As Nate told the story. or two in this case. and a few other choice drugs for which the family was less known. If he were not a Batheirre. and rarely saw each other. but that was not a problem. Jimmy always believed that. Union kept the operation of their business tight. until he spoke to his cousin one summer day. He had not heard otherwise. Nate foolishly outlined the history of the Bathierre family. were illegal. His uncle wanted to see the car one afternoon. and if he could do something about them. Rumors the heathens engineered the drug for addiction only stimulated craving. either. Uncle Judah and Jimmy’s father were brothers. Nate revealed the development did not sit well with Judah. Jimmy believed he didn’t need his family to pave his entrance to school or land a job. Throughout youth. to which his large family bought admission. instantly killing Jimmy’s father and the other driver. Jimmy’s father was the oldest brother. swelled with plenty of money. somebody else would. he would. who learned the ropes from his grandfather. Judah and Jimmy’s father were overfed competition between each . Ape became especially popular. as he occasionally would. Caretaking was good business. Jimmy had merits. That was never a question. Jimmy and Nate were related. Then. The couple was indeed young and unmarried. instead of immediately secreting them back into her purse for safekeeping. Who were the Bathierres to tell people how to live their lives? They certainly were not responsible if customers got hooked. As Jimmy always knew. He nearly panicked when exhaust filled the small space. he too would probably be an addict. Jimmy’s mother left the keys on the kitchen table.

He thought about being mercilessly stripped of a father. he was also the only true heir to the family business. In addition to the plan for Jimmy to attend school and earn a degree. Jimmy would not have the money to go to the university after passing entrance exams. The convertible in the garage always served the best distraction. His mother’s beating was a long time ago. Jimmy distracted himself. but Jimmy formed the impression she wanted to put distance between her son and the Batheirres. However. The family disapproved of the interaction and had harassed Judah ever since. but disagreements would not matter if Judah made decisions for the Bathierres. and maybe even bring it some legitimacy outside the ragged borders of Gomorrah. Nate said Jimmy’s father demanded exchange with heathens end. The loss was the only thought going through his head all the way home. They visited relatives only when Uncle Judah showed up at their door. the head of the family. The dealings with the heathens started at establishing lines of demarcation. Nate called after him to solicit silence. everyone expected the boy to do wonderful things for the family name. The small trauma glared in a new light impossible to ignore. An ultimatum tantamount to excommunication was delivered. He ran straight home. he undoubtedly would come back to Gomorrah. The family insisted on an immediate cremation because the body of the fledgling Batheirre heir was so horribly mangled in a fatal accident. The tailor shop Jimmy’s mother owned would have failed miserably a long time ago. When Jimmy graduated from college a good five or six years from now. Jimmy didn’t know what to do. Uncle Judah never married and fathered children of his own. She never spoke of her misgivings. He even occasionally spoke well of Jimmy’s dead father. Jimmy’s father became obstacle to be removed. Jimmy’s uncle said as much. His uncle insisted upon being involved to the point of imposing on Jimmy’s mother. With that knowledge. Jimmy grasped a desperate idea to make himself feel better. but favors were exchanged. Judah did not think his plight fair.other. and whatever Jimmy picked up in school. and dragged them to holiday affairs or other special events. to restore his oblivious happiness of just a few hours . That kind of activity could not stay hidden from a family the size of the Batheirres. Jimmy tried to comprehended the idea through difficult feelings of loyalty and revenge. Jimmy never witnessed Uncle Judah say or do anything to coerce his mother. Jimmy didn’t want to hear more. The fight left his mother crying and bruised. grew complicated before the death of Jimmy's father. Their father preached the importance in guarding against apathy. Maybe Jimmy's mother sought to avoid the memory of her dead husband. Jimmy didn’t know how to deal with that. Jimmy pushed the recollection of that day beneath more pleasant memories. Most of what Jimmy knew about his paternal father and his grandfather came from Uncle Judah. not like a genuine partnership. The relationship between Judah and his brother. or he firmly coupled his dark desire with heathen strategy. but Nate’s story dusted and polished the unpleasant memory. Judah fostered an uncomfortable relationship with heathens around the time of his brother’s death. but she did insist Jimmy express what he wanted for a future that belonged to him and was his alone. Uncle Judah would then teach Jimmy how business worked in the real world. the comment resulted in a terrible argument between Jimmy’s mother and Uncle Judah. Uncle Judah had always been kind and generous to Jimmy. Judah landed in second place. Uncle Judah was the only extended family who came to visit. Nate's revelation had a bellyache of truth. and typically arrived unannounced. Uncle Judah even said he chose Jimmy’s given name. Both sides benefited as long as their activities remained separated. The business went to hungry sons. When bad memories bubbled up to his consciousness. He grew up without a real father. although Uncle Judah attempted the role every once in a while. and he wouldn’t have received the plentiful gifts and cash throughout childhood. Nate had no reason to spin lies and other circumstances cast Uncle Judah in suspicion. solely due to the happenstance order of birth. Whether the claim was true or not. Yet a subtle tension existed between his mother and uncle. Jimmy did. but she looked reluctant and pressured. The arrangement became tit for tat. In either case. His mother never disagreed. but Judah remained committed to the path he had taken. so he engineered the death of his older brother. A whole other life had been denied him. but life would have been very different without the support of Uncle Judah and the rest of the Bathierre family. Judah might have gone too far and owed too much to back out. either. Trouble in one camp never touched the other.

Jimmy caught himself minding the radio rather than attend to the road. he built up enough speed to whistle the wind past his ears. shifted into “Drive” again and gently dropped his foot on the accelerator. ever. Jimmy raced the car down the street a second later. sun. Being the only nephew of the most powerful man in Gomorrah automatically granted Jimmy fame and status. The transformation was like watching a flower bloom or a bride lift her veil. He almost expected to see his mother and Uncle Judah standing in the driveway or on the corner at the end of the block. She must out be making a rare call on a neighbor. Jimmy couldn’t hear himself laugh and yell. The tires screeched with the slightest touch of the gas pedal. On long empty streets. Jimmy felt thirst from the machine. The reflection flowed across the hood as the car tentatively crept forward. Having Arroyo now. open to the sky . Her purse sat in its usual place on the vanity in her bedroom. Jimmy unfastened the latches of the top. despite lack of experience. Once in the garage. After he slipped the key off the keyring. because everyone recognized the boy. When done. Jimmy snickered at his momentary loss of confidence. No doubt. What more did little things like twisting knobs matter compared to that? The day arrived when Jimmy did what he had wanted to do for years. climbed inside and started the car. Jimmy wanted to hear sound from the dashboard speaker. He felt the knob give a little and pulled harder. He turned the knob on the radio. The twirling locks brushed away tears the wind blew from his eyes. Jimmy scouted the area in three long-legged paces. He tossed it into the broad back seat. The other knob did nothing at all. The car wanted to go. news of Jimmy’s adventure would soon reach his mother and uncle . hoping the silence would . People raced out of his path anyway. fast and far. He would take Arroyo for a drive. today. Everything Nate said now flew away to become the furthest thoughts from Jimmy’s mind. Jimmy believed himself a good driver. but that was far enough. The speed. Both channels droned and bored the boy. That was all the convincing he needed. The timing couldn’t have been more convenient. He grasped the first dial between his thumb and forefinger. The feeling made him more bold. Sermons from the Church and military news never catered to teenage boys. The car evolved into what the vehicle was meant to be. Jimmy returned to discovering how to operate the radio. Jimmy forgot to open the garage door. Jimmy backed out of the room. A wonderful exhilaration made his heart beat faster. The convertible awakened when Arroyo stretched its mechanical arms after a long hibernation. but he had nothing for listening to. Jimmy sat dumb and amazed as metal struts folded back the top. Playing with the radio was really just a matter of exploration. Jimmy wanted nothing more than to drive away. In his haste. His foot pressed more heavily on the accelerator when he forgot to watch where he went. The biggest risk was to take the convertible in the first place. Jimmy jumped back into Arroyo and rolled the vehicle from its cramped cell. Jimmy tugged the steering wheel to the left to avoid sideswiping a parked car. The sun glistened like a bead of molten glass in the red paint. His shaggy black hair danced the whirl of a dervish as greasy strands whipped across his vision. He hopped out of the car and dashed to the door. As he passed. Taking the Arroyo was the only thing he was not allowed to do and the only thing not given to him the moment he asked.before. he realized he had not even come close to the other vehicle. The perspective and sudden upward glance tricked him. Jimmy snatched the key to the Arroyo. His mother had stepped out. The little orange bar behind the floating white numbers moved to the right as Jimmy continued to turn the knob. probably not far. coughing out carbon monoxide fumes as he went. but he restrained himself long enough to lower the garage door again. The radio was not cackling. and feel of the wheel in his hands stoked Jimmy’s daring. he deftly removed the convertibles cover. tasted sweeter than any fulfilled desire he ever had. Jimmy lowered the top the first time. subconsciously retracing his steps. Jimmy returned to the idling car. but Jimmy didn’t care. Jimmy listened to the growling engine.the drawback of fame. People would either be at work or busy finding shade. The garage door raised with loud twangs of un-worked springs and fear gripped Jimmy. after wanting the convertible so long. The street looked empty in the middle of a hot day. He wanted to blast the radio over the noise of the wind and the car. The feel for the car came naturally to the boy. Between the wind and the thundering engine.but not quite yet.

Judah sobbed and raised fractured fingers on his right hand before his face. a dozen people looked for the squashed truck because the Bathierre's offered a reward for the vehicle’s owners. but the boy never recovered. Annette rushed to Judah’s home to see her dead son. but the pressure . However. They would make amends with tears and their lives. but Judah now knew who was responsible. It bounced off the steering column. Judah Batheirre hovered over jimmy's body in stunned silence until the doctor offered condolences . She had not forgotten her lesson in how effective violence came to winning. When she heard the convertible became the instrument of her son’s death. and word spread quickly. Jimmy sealed his destiny. The Cortras brothers escaped. She did demand Jimmy be taken back her house and spend one more night at home before his funeral. Jimmy’s mother. instead of allowing Jimmy's body to be treated like muck in which to rub the noses offending dogs. as she had not even bothered to look. As inconvenient and unorthodox as the request sounded Judah granted the wish. Jimmy still lived. Judah ordered everyone to find the unlucky bastard who killed his son. to take proper care of him. depending if he fell on a station during his clueless dial twisting. As far as she was concerned. technically. as half of Gomorrah did directly or indirectly whether they knew or not. Though there were many members to contact. then rolled on the floor between the gas pedal and brake. Before nightfall. He allowed the mother her quirks in her grief. Everyone knew Jimmy Batheirre lay in the crushed convertible. Jimmy’s instinctively and immediately reach down and retrieved the dial. She spent the night worrying where the boy had gone. The convertible folded like an empty soda can. all lived in the city. Jimmy could easily fit the knob back into place. The sight of the displaced chunk of cast metal rushed back the anxiety of breaking something on his uncle's car with fury. Annette refused to be grateful. Judah demanded the viewing take place at his home. while the crumpled car skidded an impossibly short distance. Jimmy’s blood fell in thick drops over the white interior and shattered glass like big pearls of rain at the beginning of a summer storm. There were currently way too many details to wrangle over. The following morning.” He commanded the murderers would be here to see what they had done. Annette. Loud cracks accentuated Judah’s flourish of curses until both men lay on the floor. Months often went by without her going into the garage. the summoned doctor pronounced the boy dead. The concussive collision drew witnesses after the fact. Neither happened. finally heard the news of her son's death. Five minutes after that. The truck pulled away as if nothing happened. that part of her home didn’t belong to her. He beat the unsuspecting doctor. He argued a valid point about space. wrapped Jimmy’s limp body in a blanket and rushed him to Judah Batheirre’s home. Still. Gathering the Bathierre family together was a simple matter.change to shower of voices or static. burst and inflamed her. before the cowards fled. Judah took over the territory for his brassy car. the guilty party was not found. A few people recognized the truck belonged to the migrant Cortras brothers. as did the bed of the stalled pick-up truck Jimmy rear-ended. Instead. Judah and Jimmy’s mother sat furthest from each other at opposite sides of a burgundy casket. even though the vehicle was relatively new to Gomorrah. only oblivion. Gurgling came from his throat. just as he always had before. Judah and Annette held visitation a couple days after Jimmy’s death. given the vehicle's momentum before becoming stopped. Someone who worked for Judah. Within fifteen minutes after being placed on a leather sofa in Judah’s den. Jimmy drowned in a lungful of blood. likewise. The ceremony passed quietly. The doctor suffered fractures all over his face during the knock-out blows. Jimmy watched the knob flip through the air in front of him. His nose and jaw pressed unevenly to the right side of his face. the bitterness toward Judah that Annette harbored long in her bosom.then Batheirre exploded. Judah emphasized the word “son. Annette failed to notice the missing convertible. and shock made Annette too tired to dispute. As he did. Today was an infrequent occasion when her will dominated the arrogance of Judah. Annette discovered bending the crime-lord's bandaged fingers in the course of an ensuing argument helped make her point. No more thought or desire. since last night was the first time Jimmy had not been home in the evening. Sudden fear gripped the boy. Judah took care of everything. The truck rolled forward. for the most part. The coffin was originally going to be red like the demolished convertible. the knob popped off its metal stem and slipped between his fingers.

he saw so much of the boy’s features in her face. He’s been dead for a long time. The sound of his voice took him back to youth. The black dresses worn by woman reflected the sorrowful mood. Judah opened the coffin to show whoever passed nearest. The boy shared the same almond-shaped brown eyes and high cheeks as Annette. The booze or the pain pills Judah consumed throughout day played no part in the insight.” “And that is why you tore it all away. An open casket would have been cruel to the mother. She lingering near the coffin. Judah. “Let go of me. Judah remembered the beauty of Jimmy’s mother.” “Marrying the wrong man was the stupidest thing you ever did. even as her voice shook. in vain. Judah surprised himself. since the boy’s face was turned to pulp in his fatal accident. He tasted the sulfurous smoke that curled from his open mouth.” Judah said. Witnesses to the work of cowards volunteered and Judah got his way. He and Annette made Jimmy into the boy he was. His voice carried the inflection of reverence it had not offered in years. The immediate members of the family gathered at Annette’s home that evening. I just don’t understand why you’re not fucking me now. an affirmation of life. The family still in the room attempted inconspicuously retreat. A purple imprint of his fingers would swell the following morning. Annette eventually found herself unable to decide between the loves of two brothers.tragically. “This is not what I wanted for us. “There is so much I want to go back and change. No amount of creativity on the part of the mortician restored Jimmy’s cheeks to the same shape they held in life. but a matchstick struck in his chest. Or is it some kind of sick joke. and certainly did not look like one anymore. Judah finally saw Annette again.of time and defending poor taste were too great for Judah to overcome. ordinary suits of men increased the somber tone. We have wasted so much time. The dull. that you killed Paul and his son in the same way?” Judah reeled. Judah decided their game of avoiding each other for the past day and a half came to an end tonight. Annette might see the affection in Judah now. He swam in rediscovered memories of love and lust. Both mother and child possessed sharp chins and noses and clear. given the circumstances. more than obligated. and he missed seeing that beauty now. You don’t know what you’re talking about. Now he could only conjure the mauled image of the boy in death. Judah invited himself. The renewed charge was unfair and flatly inappropriate. You thought you fucked money. Sleeping with you was the stupidest thing I ever did. with venom in her eyes.” . Ultimately she chose the elder and rational brother. Judah regressed to the weeks of tumbling romance when he tried to win Annette’s heart from another man . the one who didn’t scare her. The family prepared for confrontation. captivated him so many years ago. The sound of his own voice rekindled the excitement the first time he had made love to his brother’s girlfriend. Jimmy was no longer a human being. and a new beginning. The lid remained closed during visitation. even though Judah demanded everyone see what lowly migrants did to a member of his family. he grabbed Annette’s arm. When the last back turned. He didn’t expect to hear accusations tonight. Annette.” Annette spat. She felt the muscles in her neck and shoulders tighten as if she coiled. “What is it.” she screamed. Judah felt he regained from Jimmy the passion he lost with Annette. After such tragedy.” Annette glared at Judah. the day Judah staked his claimed. Judah crossed the room and stood squarely before Annette. This woman dragged a bag of bones out in front of the family at the very worst time. The topic was off limits. He recognized what he loved in Jimmy and realized he loved Annette all along. but he’s dead. the day Judah discovered his deceased older brother met this lovely girl. Judah? Did Jimmy remind you a little too much of Paul? Did you think he came back for revenge?” That was enough. He felt justified. The corner of the room cleared when the two met. Judah caught the motion in the corner of his eye. Whenever Annette stepped out of the room. Despite his tenuous relationship with Jimmy’s mother. “Jimmy is my boy!” Judah yelled. He was the only friend she had. “Jimmy is Paul’s son. “Annette. The subject had not come up since the argument over Jimmy’s real father. but Judah refused to heed warning. He thought Annette’s suspicion about the death of Judah's brother buried ages ago. The time for renewal arrived. Annette grew louder. pink skin. “You lack imagination. Judah still stood speechless.

She must have been a changeling. Judah’s uncle on his mother’s side. Judah had learned that lesson when he was young and more rash. The reminiscent affection for the woman burned away.” Judah fumbled with the latch.” “Bitch. but thought better than to strike the woman in return. He called after the fleeing woman. When it was obvious the man was not going. trying to gain their attention. Annette's fingertips tingled and turned purple. Judah raised his bandaged hand. and he couldn’t take a clue from everyone else. He personalized the saying by making his retribution hurt much more. What other than a mythical explanation sufficed? “Judah?” Truman asked. Judah stomped across the floor. Jimmy is my boy. He resembled a plump rat. Instead. as with every movement. Annette managed to slip away. “What does your Aped brother really want?” For a moment. Even in rage. If he let go of Annette. “He wants to express his sympathies. Struggling. Once he let go. Judah let go of Annette.” “To me?” Judah was incredulous. grateful Truman stepped to one side and cleared the doorway. Judah needed something else to do and at an immediate loss for anything.Annette slapped Judah.” The ringing phone was something else Judah and Annette missed. “He’s on the phone. “No!” Annette sobbed in protest. Killing family was much too complicated and perilous. I’ll make sure of that! I’ll take it all away!” A dilemma arose. as he worked the latch. The far-fetched solution seemed to be the only practical one. “What’s going to happen to you now?” Judah asked. Her looks certainly earned her a grand share of undeserved favors for her rodent-like siblings. but then he remembered his prey escaped him. Do I have to point out the resemblance?” Judah fired. Judah went for the latch on the coffin's lid again. Injury taught restraint. Annette tugged at her captured arm. Judah couldn’t possibly unlock the casket with his bandaged hand. “Bitch. “Please. he timed his next motion. but closer to the center of power than Judah preferred.” Judah muttered again. she would undoubtedly bolt.” “Judah. The Batheirres were introduced to him when Annette and Judah’s brother. Truman would be the only person so obtuse not to realize Judah desired privacy. Judah often felt lucky the fire in his father’s blood made up for the meekness and beggary that cursed his mother’s side. Judah yanked Annette off balance and pulled her. Judah mused over finding an island and creating some kind of leper colony for his mother’s side of the family. An eye for an eye served as his motto. It was Truman. “Let me show you why Jimmy is mine. Think about how good you’ve had things!” As Judah watched her go. all thanks to Judah. kidnapped at birth by a pack of half-rat creatures. Judah was not a man who gave up easily. Paul. I don’t want to see my baby like this.” Truman answered. Truman and Josiah will instantly become residents. and Annette would follow out of principle. constricted Judah’s grip automatically. “You would have nothing without me. Josiah.” Annette pleaded. he would have to lunge forward and deliver a backhand to Annette’s face. Judah's mother was fortunate to preserve her natural beauty well into middle age. performed the . “It’s Josiah. stunned and wobbling. Judah still pulled her along as she skidded on heels. She righted herself long enough to firmly plant her feet. please. while Judah's knuckles turned white. Judah waited for Truman to leave. Judah didn’t like touching the man. he couldn’t believe he had allowed her escape. Neither Judah nor Annette heard the man clear his throat. Annette. He was nobody of consequence. His broken fingers made the task difficult. She ran past Truman. stumbling. The flight made Judah more angry. Judah reached the final seconds of his silent countdown a mourning guest disturbed him. just like his brothers and sisters. Too many “hanger-ons” and charity cases dropped from that branch of the family. I don’t want to see my baby. Josiah Kanen once showed potential. “Like I said. not Paul’s. He stood alone in the room with his unpalatable uncle and dead nephew. a Chosen priest. Judah was not going to take the call. You will be nothing without me. toward the coffin. were married. “What is it?” The fire still burned. “Think about what you do next. like the past and Jimmy.

That knowledge is what the upstart priest had on Josiah. “I wanted to say I’m sorry about James. “What do you want?” The caller paused then replied a keen inhale.” Judah accused. Without the resources of the Batheirres. Your fake sympathy isn’t going to change that.” Judah knew it. “That’s not why I called. but the few who remained went back to the room with Jimmy’s casket. He’s here. This other priest took advantage of the discovery. He didn’t have the vision or temperament. “Yeah. producers. turned to maintaining status quo. You handled it. His addiction became liability. he could have played both sides. “All right.” Josiah blamed.” “This isn’t just my problem. Josiah genuinely Judah impressed the priest brought an outsider into Capital. Judah behaved more like a rolled-shirtsleeve overlord. Not only was Josiah a priest. Now the priest wanted his mess cleaned up for him all over again. with word on the street. The accomplishment made him wonder if his uncle held out against his obligations to the Bathierre family all these years. The man was a regular. Josiah pulled frayed strings and got lucky. but once an initiate became ordained. The connection could prove useful. Josiah fell out of favor with the Batheirres.” Josiah pleaded. and I get none. why did you call?” “I need a favor” “I knew it. You know that. Another pay-off. Bribes and payoffs that once bought position and promises. “So what are you going to do about it?” “I don’t know. The Bathierres wasted too many resources keeping secrets. Losses had to be cut. there was no such thing as a pink slip. If Judah was more ingenious. and blindly wandered the streets of Gomorrah looking for a hook-up. This other priest got his Ape from the gutters of Gomorrah. Bur Judah disagreed.ceremony. The sound of desperation made Judah feel ill. Judah. The extortion was not the first time someone blackmailed Josiah. please. As it was. right?” “He can’t stay here. it should be obvious the theocracy had an epidemic of Apers.” “Judah. Judah decided no more money or drugs will go to Josiah. Judah will not bail out the sorry excuse of a man.” Judah said.” “You better not ask me for anything.” Judah remembered. “Hello. The priest experimented with the family’s product and liked it. “No. but also assigned to a position inside Capital. you didn’t even know he was dead until you called. that’s not fair. That’s what you do.” Judah made a concession. “I thought that’s what you wanted. Annette stayed out of his sight.” “But what am I supposed to do?” Josiah implored. The day came for Josiah to handle his own problems. Judah’s father called a connection inside the Church unfortunate. It’s done. The Church just shuffled addicts from one low profile assignment to another. That a captain in the Church sunk so low looked bad. Most of the family left the house. I did. “What if the Church finds out the Batheirre . The Church had so many addicts. Judah went to the kitchen where the phone hung on the wall. always getting his hands dirty. Josiah got stupid.” Another pause punctuated the insincere greeting. What is the matter with you? You’re a captain now. a catch to Josiah’s temporary solution. At least his pitiful uncle distracted him from Jimmy and the dead boy’s mother. “Handle it yourself. But the manipulation was out of Judah’s scope of abilities. dealers. An opening arose at a parish in the Cap. He knew the players. And I truly am sorry.” Judah said into the phone. Judah. The fact the compromising position would happen again seemed inevitable. but that time Judah refused Josiah's request.” “It’s that priest. Judah’s continued insistence for privacy was evident. Despite the Batheirres’ money paving Josiah’s rise through ranks. “Joe. another addict. the investment amounted to pearls for swine. and other buyers. The Church and heathens could have been unwitting tools. everyone knew why Captain Josiah Kanen crawled the alleys in Gomorrah. right? I’m supposed to ask you for favors. That is exactly what Judah thought Josiah did with this other priest without rank.” “You know I cut you off. He’s got to go. even if Josiah managed to kick his drug habit.” “In the name of the Mortal God.

The slow introduction of daylight and steady. I don’t know what to do.the best for everybody actually. Josiah grew hopeful. All you’re going to get from me is a phone number. The hard part was figuring out how to kill him and get away with the deed.” Judah snubbed Josiah. upholstered in faux brown leather. The Cortras brothers might leave today. even as he fought waking. Ben still felt lethargic. then became a steady drip. The closet contained an identical wardrobe as discovered in the suitcase Ben . Just as Ben decided to start the day. The music of activity could have sung Ben to slumber. Judah still wanted the Cortras brothers. Asking just looks amateurish. Judah refused to fall for the empty menace again. “So you want him dead?” Judah asked. and they would have to be put into perspective. Judah became familiar with a few. Only the strands held in the bulging stuffing. would be sliced off . However. 9 Wantonness The noise of scrubbing. Ben realized he squeezed his eyes shut more tightly as the intensity of the morning light grew and his struggle caused pain. just a little brighter than the streetlight that shone through the night. He took vicarious solace in the fact someone will die.” The conversation ended with a number and more thanks from Josiah. For now. the thirst will take precedence and needed satisfaction soon. Judah. The struggle against daybreak was clearly a battle he will not win. No place will be safe. At first the glow was soft and feathery. sat next to a bare table. The ache at the front of his head vanished instantly. Ben pulled the doors open by their thin brass rings. He won’t tell you anyways. Gomorrah was of no consequence to the Church. He can walk straight into the Church complex here at Capital. The arms and back of the chair were worn down to the thick string mesh. Ben bore the intruding light when he finally opened his eyes. Nothing more could be said. The armoire and table he spotted last night were made of pine and stained dark chocolate. the running water stopped . so Ben allowed himself to drift back to has their fingers in the affairs of he Church? This priest could tell them that. except daylight became a rude guest. A chair. but the death served only an appetizer. You handle your problem yourself!” Judah called Josiah’s bluff.” “But…” “Shut up. “There is someone in the Cap you can talk to. don’t ask him his name. woke Ben. and Ben’s face ached. He will make calls the next morning and offer a bounty. In the Batheirre family business. Joe. What would happen is that particular finger in Capital. increased intensity adjusted his vision. within minutes. “Let me remind you. Jimmy is dead. but did not have a lock.” Judah provided an avenue and Josiah already steered the wrong direction.” That was the simple solution. not even the Cap. He had bigger concerns. I wish this guy dead. Ben needed to wake and plan his next step. Judah went home without talking to anyone else. Nothing will happen to the Batheirre family. I don’t have time for your shit.” This was an old threat. The latter sound reignited his thirst. “You got money?” “I can get it. Drowsiness made whimper softer. “Or you might as well fuck it up yourself. The combination of scrubbing and water flowed together into a rhythm. and running water. The resources were often a necessity. The priest always was a terrible gambler. the gangrenous Josiah. the glare pounded through his closed eyelids. Ben to explored his new bedroom. You better have the money up front. I’m looking for the cunts that killed him. Can I send it to you after you’re through?” “I didn’t say I was going to do anything. The armoire was shut. His fucking brain came out his nose. what has happened here. but now that he gave up doing back asleep. if Hen talked his brother Dil into the idea. but Josiah still needed help. Judah finished this detour in his tumultuous evening. “You’re right Judah. When you call. There were professionals in this field. He wished Judah would just tell him what to do and he would do it. but he would ignore it for now.” “Thank you.

. Ben pulled out one of each. and he realized slurping repeatedly from his hands was not going to be enough. Ben enjoyed the air on his feet too much to smother them away again.” Dil evoked and tossed the brush. “To hell with this. The dinner of pizza last night taunted Ben's stomach to expect regular meals again. The work appeared masterful . The plaster sucked up the moisture. Hen must be gone. His head was too large to fit in the basin under the reason to prepare for anything formal. Ben felt gritty from his work yesterday afternoon and his skin stung because of his extensive sunburn. Ben stripped off his clothes and piled them in the dry sink. The shirt and pants were too big. toilets. The difference between them and his still swollen red hands made him muse he looked as if he had been stitched together from two different people. He decided he would wear the same clothes he wore the day before . Dil bent over a bare mattress. As the dripping bristles sailed through the air and struck the floor. Ben listened a little longer for conversation. and showers. The basin had filled. white suds splattered the wall besides the bad. filled his cupped hand and brought the contents to his mouth. He decided he would do that. Ben still tried. The mattress leaned upright against the frame. wet side down. In either case. Toward the bottom of the stairs. Ben ignored the criss-crossed wrinkles in his clothes and walked into the hall. Ben ran water in one of the sinks. Ben followed the dripping sound. Ben dreaded the idea of putting on his beaten boots again. which led him to the large bathroom on the second floor. All his pressing problems were solved with a shower. Frustrated. Ben hoped Hen hunted breakfast. He decided to continue living out of the suitcase. or perhaps the sight of puke triggered some hidden olfactory memory. joined at his waist. The water was not as cold as yesterday. Neither man acknowledged each other and continued their mornings as if they had not seen one another. All the color was worn off during his walk through the Shur. including sinks. His toes looked bony and shriveled. Dry. He knew Hen. stained rings. Ben tried to remember where someone placed the suitcase. yellow vomit coated the front of his blue denim shirt. Ben discovered where his two halves were sewn together. Ben looked at his stark white feet. Dil reached over and gripped it again. Ben almost forgot to turn the water off in the sink. Dil stood erect. He solved his quandary with a quick scan of the room. Ben moved on. Ben heard Dil lumber downstairs. filled the tiled bath. eaten down to the last two colored bands. rubbing spirals in a large soapy circle. The older Cortras must have missed the last step just where the path became darkest in the expiring morning. but cool enough. then instead tossed it on the rumpled bed. Ben stepped into the shower. Ben assessed his wardrobe options again. He lost his grip and the mattress slipped to the floor on the other side of the bed. because need drove him.not a sign of a stitch. Dil cursed and hammered the floor once. Dil was still in the room where Ben and Hen had left him last night. Doubles of every fixture. the younger Cortras brother. Some plunging may be required if he and the Cortras brothers stayed at Saint Erasmus very long. The scrubbing noise intrigued enough to investigate the source. He jerked the mattress back up and then over. Once he removed the boots. The older Cortras brother held an oval-shaped toilet brush. With the mattress turned over and back on the frame. The drip echoed from the nearest shower stall where a soapy puddle obscured the tiles and drain on the floor. Ben turned to the second shower stall and started the flow of water. leaving small. Dil grabbed the mattress and flipped it up. Nothing. He spotted the suitcase just inside his bedroom door. well enough to expect some greeting for Dil. eventually. but first he would get a long drink of water. just when Ben expected to hear nothing more than a footfall. Ben began opening the case on the floor. from the pump at the edge of the encampment. Ben then became aware of a rank smell. He resembled a living peppermint candy cane. barefoot. The armoire also held a pair of black polished shoes that looked like they would fit if Ben wore a couple pairs of the black socks. The wide shower head offered a torrent of cool liquid. The bristles had splayed from abuse. because the fit of those clothes is less conspicuous. even larger than the wrinkled clothes he presently wore. Looking down. He captured a painfully small amount of water this way.brought to Saint Erasmus: more white collarless shirts and black slacks.

Dil was rarely alone. No more bugs. last night and this place. He didn’t object to company. like decoration. the burned stranger was still the blank paper he was since rescue from the desert. Contrary to Hen’s suspicion. He watched his shuffling feet. The two men nearly reached knave before Dil said more. Ben needed to keep it running down his throat and throughout his body. The fingerprints of Dil and Ben were clearly pressed on the metal.” The tone sounded far from subservient. Ben had nearly grown accustomed to the pain. The water alone sufficed. When his legs grew tired. Dil said nothing else. Ben drank until his hands slipped. The dispute had to work itself out between the brothers. Hen must have been filled the trash can and poured the water on the floor. He had nothing good to say about his chores. The laundering seemed satisfactory. drugs did not change his brother's behavior. Dil turned around and acted like he saw Ben for the first time that morning. wringing his shirt in the sink. “Hen finished it up this morning. sir. He didn’t answer until he turned back around. Ben was merely meant to stay here at the moment. but it served to quiet Hen more quickly and gently than the effort normally took. but could not find any. if he used the semblance of democracy to convince Hen against instinct. The wood was dyed . since they would not quite fit inside the can. but not as white as Ben’s lower half. It dripped from the shirttail and loose cuffs. It was not as strong as Dil’s odd enlightenment of having found a place to call home. Dil held up his shirt. Dil put the shirt back on. Ben suspected he knew what Dil wanted. Ben looked for soap. “I sent him to cash that check. Shaking his limbs didn’t help much but Ben enjoyed staying wet. as there was no a towel in the bath. and banish the emptiness of memory and the past. Ben stepped out of the stall and dressed. Ben waited for Dil to say more. All Ben currently had was his own instinct. but only at times. The smell finally left the shirt and Ben’s nose.His skin felt soothed again. The back of Dil’s neck was red. clots. He decided to stay barefoot just a little longer. He assumed Dil tried to read Ben. “Yes. forming shapes like diamonds. He didn’t bother to dry off. Ben would have to continue the conversation. Dil glanced over his shoulder. Ben followed Dil. in spite of the can having been rinsed. sopping wet. locking his fingers together over the copper pipe. he would not leave with them. leaving raw flesh beneath. Ben hurt evenly. Dil’s red band was thick and permanent. The open wounds were not any more painful than the rest of the top half of his body.” Dil punctuated. Ben noticed the trash can they used yesterday was back in the kitchen. Something was different about him. but the feeling was not wise to dismiss.” Dil looked at Ben again. to bring back life. Besides. He stood on his toes to catch as much of the water as possible and drank with restrained swallows. Ben took hold of the spigot and held himself up. The older Cortras brother looked for a majority vote. Empty pizza boxes were tossed on top. so he abstained. “Yeah. but again. The water had to fill the grotto of his belly and then overflow. like a leather collar that never came off. The light from the window streamed through the coarse fabric. If the man today was the original Dil. Most of the blisters on his arms and shoulders burst during the night. Dil stood in the kitchen. Every living thing within him depended on water and its motion. Ben did not have a particular inclination to stay or go.” The two men surveyed Hen’s handiwork in the nave. Ben imagined his insides like the bed of a stream. he the man did not have that chemical smell. Only then did Ben take a few minutes to bathe the rest of his body.” Dil smirked. His back was pale. “If the sun weren’t shining. to hear that Ben outraged at the thought of leaving Saint Erasmus. or feathers littered the damp wood floor. people would think the two of us got caught in a downpour. The boxes tilted up on their sides. The vague feeling Ben had a purpose in Capital to fulfill nagged him. A good deal of water had recently been dumped over the wood. not like Ben’s. the older Cortras would not say anything else. but did not button it up. Ben needed to know which personality prevailed this morning. Ben retrieved the shoes with two pairs of socks before going downstairs. “So are you finished with the mess?” Ben asked. Bloody stains and streaks covered the surface. Between Hen and Ben. He walked past Ben and into the hall. Dil turned away. If the brothers were to go. The personality change came and went like the voice that followed Ben the desert. Dil didn’t really need consensus for his little brother. Ben had just stepped into the flow of water when he turned his open mouth upward. He got up early.

their pasts may not be so different. but Ben was the key. “I didn’t think I told anybody. Hen could be cowed and distracted.” Ben stated. But the dream I had last night.” Dil offered. “So cut ‘em off. They should probably talk about it. He took a prolonged look at each window. The barrier made Ben restless. Dil scowled. “Why do you think we’re here?” “I had a dream about that last night. “I’ll even help you. For Dil and Ben to arrive at the same destiny. was mine.” “You didn’t tell me. The statement was vague and made before you passed out. everything I told myself I could live without. the pretense existed they repaired the floor. The iron bars outside appeared black and two-dimensional with the morning light behind them. Other than money and a safe place to hide from whoever looked for the brothers. if the effort made a difference to Ben's decision. And I mean everything. hidden reason. “You don’t look too bad. The older Cortras wanted to stay. Ben .” Ben handed the excuse to him. hope. “Now you’re a doctor.” Dil volunteered. In the meantime. An investment of energy meant a longer stay.” Ben changed the subject. The very wet cloth stuck to his shoulders like a second skin. but I don’t expect anything. “I never had much expectation. All I only had to stay here at the church. Dil didn’t speak again until he finished with the third button from the collar.” Dil looked astonished. priest?” Ben heard Dil talk to his little brother with the same sarcastic scorn.maroon.” “And the wine. The plan really hinged on Ben's continued masquerade as a priest. I don’t talk about ’em.” “That was all it was about?” Ben hoped for more revelation.” Ben observed. Dil blanched at the question. It was the desert. The dream was a promise.” Dil replied. the wash carried a diluted stain into most of the scars. “Hen said I talked about some crazy stuff. The hint at making improvements to the place cheered him. Ben and Dil shared a wish. there would be something else. Without a priest. Certainly the amount of damage required a long time to fix. considering last night.” Dil took the time to button up his shirt. The subject was obviously a sore spot. even one in the ghetto of the Cap? As long as Cortras brothers stayed at Saint Erasmus. I meant the things you thought we could do. exactly. But this was different. After Dil dropped those words. Restoring the wood required a little more friction than offered by the leather of a sole. I didn’t even have to ask for it. You always get disappointed if you wish too much. Dil made an uneducated guess. “What did you mean last night?” Ben queried.” “You talked at dinner yesterday. “I wasn’t drunk. Ben had no qualms about letting it go. and the feeling of belonging haunted them. “Yeah. there seemed another. replacing the floor looked like a lot of work. Sun and heat. I don’t believe much in dreams.” “You might think I’m crazy. They were all still open. I didn’t even think I talked about it at all. Then this slaughter house. like the back door. Dil possessed a more complete picture of events that led him to this point and place in time. Ben took the meaning of the comment made no further comments about Dil’s condition. Excuses could run indefinitely. “I don’t remember what I said. He started at the bottom. He scuffed the stained floor with the toe of his boot. “You were out there. he drifted to the middle of the stain. but to any average eye. Dil would take on the task all by himself. uh. Even then. I got a handle on it. if I remember any. what business would a couple of UnChosen transients have in a church.” Ben nodded. if the Cortras brothers were clever. his mood instantly lifted.” Dil added. Either Dil got comfortable with Ben or the hang-over made the man irritable. It was just a dream. near the altar on the dais.” “What’s going to happen if you stay?” “I don’t know. “No water.” As Dil spoke. Nonsense. I even had the stuff I wanted when I was a kid. the brothers could even learn something about fixing floors. “I don’t like the bars. It just made me feel. When that was done. The deep scratches and gouges from yesterday’s work hinted at the original color of the grain.

” Ben pulled on the second pair of socks. put your hand down.followed. “Hen?” Dil called. It’s hard to believe there is a Mortal God. His round face looked pig-like . Sit down . he saw he stood barefoot in the discoloration. “Davey. Realizing where he stood. Be a good boy. Someone. He did feel hopeful. Davey. Ben and Dil foolishly expected that the lack of Church supervision also meant a lack of parishioners. Shoes were his only protection. like a storyteller who just lost an audience.” Dil became uncharacteristically curious again. uncertain if evasiveness was in order. The interest indicated eagerness to stay at Saint Erasmus. He put on the socks and shoes he carried with him. He stepped into a clear patch off the low dais.” The boy repeated his manic salutation. Those tasks seemed too trivial to consider. and I saw the lights. Dil nodded. Ben wasn’t comfortable with the idea. Both wore t-shirts and cotton shorts. but expressing his feelings was difficult.” Dil disappeared down the hall at the back of the church. “ odd coupling with the boy's thin body. I’m so sorry.” Ben whispered. Ben. But something brought us here. an escape route from unexpected visitors. yet duties and expectations did come the Ben's assumed priesthood. The boy hopped from side to side as the woman cleared the passage. if it ever had been. “What are you going to tell her?” “We’re closed. He didn’t have a chance to say anything because the woman continued talking. Madness and luck saved Ben. A soft rap interrupted the conversation. Her face and hands bore the temporary blemish of healing bug bites. The boy trotted up the center aisle. sermons and confessions. Maybe the voice dictated their fate. but Ben didn’t bother correcting the position before sitting down. She moved too slow for him. Brought you out of the desert. Even outside the Wall. You have to be here for a reason. Looking down. Dil. “I gotta be honest. I’ve got no other place to go. The visitor was not Hen. “Hello. Thank the Mortal God you came so quickly. had pushed nearest pew back.” the woman greeted. the plan had not included prayers.” Tamara said. as the boy approached the outer perimeter of the stained floor. don't cha?” Dil observed. The woman blinked as she struggled to adjust to the dim shadow inside Saint Erasmus.” “Hi. Together the chaos spread like a virus. leaving the shoes untied. The wood felt soft and cool. even. The old woman shuffled faster to catch him. Ben concluded a connection between the flies and the woman. You should be dead. His finger shot within a hair of Ben’s nose. “Don’t worry. One of the front doors slowly swung open. Stay with your mother. Ben stood ready for his performance. he surveyed a poisonous red field before him.” she introduced. but that idea sounded crazy. one went with the other. “Are you the new priest? You must be. “Me?” Ben asked.” “I never said I was.” That was true.” The woman was short and grayed.” “You’re red!” Davey interjected. but refused to perpetuate the spurious religion of the Chosen. He brought those to the Cortras brothers. An old woman and a teenage boy timidly stepped inside. based on the impracticality of ever arriving inside the Cap. Ben felt a breeze chase the quick hand and he pulled his head back by reflex. Davey was retarded. He pushed open the other door and danced in front of her. hello!” Davey laughed. “You feel it too. The pair must be a couple from the flock. this time without alcohol. “I know you’re not Drystani. but also like someone or something else controlled his situation. “I’ll be in the back. Dil looked disappointed. The exertion made her breathing heavy. Ben took a deep breath and exhaled his sudden rush of adrenaline.” Dil quietly announced. The presence of guests spoiled Dil's expression of contentment. probably Hen. “Davey. “I’m Tamara Stoughnt. He wore the trappings. don’t go there. “C’mon. Ben withheld reply. “This is my son.” the woman implored. This needs to be a good place again. The suspicion made Ben uncomfortable. He now knew the corruption was not his religion. “I saw a workman go into the church last night. Ben felt the sensation turn clammy. Ben will have to chase off the woman. “It’s dirty. As much as he enjoyed stretching his toes. The sound and motion caused Ben to jump up.

She was very pretty and young. “Sorry. Why was the priest killed?” “I don’t know. mottled with fading purple circles. “Ow!” Tamara cried. She rubbed the bludgeoned side of her head and stomped her foot. He threw his head against his mother’s head by accident. “I like that you're not so formal. Did they tell you what happened to him?” “No.” Davey did as he was told. “You are badly sunburned.” Ben replied.” Tamara smiled. “So you didn’t see the murder?” “No. “Yes. Hen did not need more reasons to pick up stakes and move on. Ben took a clue from Tamara and ignored the boy. baby. I don’t know. “Uhk!” “Shh. The motion was empathetic. although Dil would not want Hen to know. I told her everything I heard and saw. You’re being bad.” he sheepishly apologized. Her name was Margot. I know you saw them. wrinkled neck as she surveyed the floor. Because of the flies. until he reached the spot his mother pointed at. “I know. Still.” Tamara showed Ben her bitten hands.” Ben felt disappointed. It was so terrible. Meanwhile.” “A reporter came here?” That worried Ben.” .” she whispered. I told you to sit down.” “Is she coming back?” “Oh. It was being gassed when she came to visit.” “Yes. Davey put his hand down.” His mother said. Davey was determined to push his way into the conversation.” Ben chanced. “There is still a lot to do.” “Yes. That means you’re friendly. I want Davey to be a normal boy. Davey echoed him. If the old woman's son didn’t constantly distract her. Please.” but the burn should have hurt more.” “Reverend. Just sit down. but I heard Reverend Arnett die. Missing secrets made him assertive. The old woman might have planned that. She gently nudged her son’s head away when he attempted to join the huddle. He stood at his mother’s side. He already expected an explanation. They were smooth and dry. what is your name?” “I’m Davey!” The boy raised his arms over his head. “I think because of what he did for Davey.” Tamara crossed herself. “Ben. but realized he was too hopeful to expect a substantial answer from this woman.” The woman pointed to the middle pews.” he old woman rolled her head on her thin. Davey. Davey stuck out his bottom lip. listen to your mother. it does. That’s the important thing. He thought “Obviously.” “Who?” Ben asked. just like Reverend Arnett. She might want to look at the church.” “What do you mean?” “I asked Reverend Arnett to command a miracle from the Mortal God. “Oh.” Ben replied. He stared at the stained floor. The boy’s howl of protest almost drowned her statement. “They didn’t tell you? Reverend Arnett was the priest here before you. but I have work to do. He didn’t like the idea of more people showing up and asking questions. You can ask the reporter.” Davey furiously rubbed his head. His mouth fell open and his tongue protruded.” “But you’re here. there’s really nothing to see. going from one end to the other of each row.over there. and the blood. but did not go away. Tamara returned to Ben. “Oh. He weaved between the pews. and you cleaned everything up. The boy didn’t have the wits to know better and the result was a thud of skulls. Does it hurt?” “Yes. Tamara spoke to Ben. She practiced her timing and volume. The Cortras brothers would agree. “The church will be closed awhile to come. twisting his fingers in his ears. she may answer her own questions. keeping her voice low. He wasn’t injured in the least. “He was murdered. Tamara leaned close. Over there. The story was even on the radio. Davey. “There were black feathers and big flies. “But you were so quick to clean up.

he had been blessed the past couple of days. “Put those in the kitchen. The sergeant at the Wall and an addict captain in the Church were enough trial for Ben. They still stood partly open after Tamara and her son entered. They behaved like two young dogs eager to make friends. This is the same god now gone. he subjected himself to crucifixion and an everlasting life of servitude.” Hen informed nobody in particular. Hen strode closer. “I couldn’t cash that check. “Ben. Every one of his small teeth was visible and shining. Dil christened him when they were kids. “Hey.” “Yes you are.” Ben said in obvious rescue. “You’re a chicken!” The comment took Hen off-guard. “I’m Hen. “Sorry. dumbstruck. You can call me Tamara.” “Mrs…. Ben. He did not anticipate seeing any other reporters. Light followed him in. You should go now. “No. . Ben would at least try to learn from the woman why reporters had such an interest in this parish. He liked the ribbing a lot. I’m Davey. I know I am a low UnChosen. so the name stuck. or military patrols for that matter. This world is godless. The woman must have sensed his disapproval “Please. The young Cortras looked at Ben. He did not want to tell lies to someone specialized in asking questions. This woman had been visited with hardship. that was only a possibility.?” “Stoughnt. but still uncertain of each other. “Uh. “Tamara. nothing but a hacked story for a paycheck. Hen grinned.” That sounded fair.” Hen agreed and immediately followed the direction. The reverend was just unlucky to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The selfish wants of an overgrown and merciless species of lemur drove away the deity.” He opened his hand toward the doors. They had never been afforded him and he never asked. like his panicked voice in the desert. But Davey is just a baby. A booted toe tapped the front doors the rest of the way open so he would not have to squeeze through. just like most. Chance resembled miracles and luck substituted for divine intervention. Ben would not abash himself and pray for worldly comforts.” “And you’re funny. except an impostor priest and a couple squatters on the lam. Hen was his nickname. Tamara failed to notice and even squeezed a little harder.” Here it was again. One who so loved his creation.” The boy grew soundly sober. Hen remembered being teased with the name by his older brother. “Since Reverend Arnett is gone. and she would cope or perish. I think the devil did it. The church isn’t ready. but Davey lunged first. but the comment firmed the recollection. “What did they say about Saint Erasmus on the radio?” “They said heathen sympathizers killed Reverend Arnett. can you pray for Davey? Please make him normal. did not exist. yeah. like innocence. I know I was irresponsible and had a child when I was too old. “I’m Davey!” the boy shouted. Lack of either opened a person up to exploitation by the Church. Her touch was light. but that sort of miracle. He shouldn’t have to pay for my indulgence. Still. Ben chose to believe as the heathens. nothing more to see. He carried a couple full brown paper bags in his arms. He froze. Tamara continued her plea for intervention in her fate.” “No!” Hen laughed with a shrill. “All right. but lacked the chafed helplessness.” he managed to say and glanced from side to side. Ben guessed by that criteria.” Ben paused. Hen strode up the center aisle. The sight of Davey summoned back Hen’s too-soon-relinquished boyhood.” She grasped Ben’s forearm.” The boy let loose a rollicking laugh. Now Hen plainly saw the old woman and boy. I don’t know about that. The restrained impulse to run over and sniff each other burst. Mrs…. you’re funny. Besides.There was. His meandering steps mirrored his disarray. no one listened.” Ben will not argue the woman’s beliefs. but she and Ben were interrupted. prayer would only be for naught. Hen fixated on the teenage boy and Davey returned the stare. but he still winced from the sudden pressure on his damaged skin.” “No I’m not. truthfully. another demand on an eviscerated god. He felt satisfied the reporter dispensed the standard propaganda. He is innocent.

it was fun to meet you.“Brawk!” Davey roared back in laughter. Gut reactions were guides. “I need to go with him. He checked his pockets while he went. I’m not going back to the bank. If Dil was here now.” Davey sang. He didn’t think to go and tell Ben.” Hen skipped out the back doorway without waiting another second. “I just got a bad feeling. stood on the stairs before closed doors. Instead . Hen’s hopes would have already been crushed.” he declared. When the young Cortras reached the end. Tamara spoke to her son. even after Hen vanished down the hall. Hen used his knee to find a new grip on the groceries. “Hen is my friend. The doors remained open after the exit of the pair. The boy led the way out of Saint Erasmus.” Ben bit his bottom lip and looked to the bars on the windows. Hen pulled back into hiding. skipping out of his mother’s reach.” Hen bought an assortment of canned foods and a can opener.” Hen confessed. Ben expected Hen’s real motive was escape.” Hen then turned back to Davey. Ben looked for Dil out the broken doorway.” Ben didn’t tell Hen that his older brother had more in mind than mopping up a floor and grocery shopping. “He said we can go when the church is in shape and you’re set up. No real alternative existed except throwing the doors open wide and accepting whatever lay on the doorstep. “OK. The fact Hen saw nothing comforted him. “Davey. He expected to find the Cortras brothers together. If that was the case. but the young Cortras stood still. “Who is it now?” Hen asked. “How about I go look from the side of the church?” Hen asked. along with bread. Ben was fine with the cowardice. The mound attracted flies of the normal variety. baby. If the younger Cortras brother didn’t like what he saw. “All right. He wondered if the old woman had the same affect on Dil. but only saw Hen. you’re going to have to do it.” “What happened?” Ben asked disinterested. he closed and locked doors.staring at the back door. he slipped one side of his face around the corner.” Neither man moved. Tamara nodded and smiled. Tamara’s hand rested on her boy's shoulder. after that. I’ll come back.” Davey continued giggling. He would simply slip onto the street when backs were turned. with his head jutted out. “Let’s go.“This kid is great. “I love kids. think about what I said. Ben. Dil was not there outside. The old woman was engaged with the scene. I gotta put this stuff down. he’d be outside the Saint Erasmus already. Davey. He thought Dil was determined to stay. As much as Ben wanted to keep the entrance open. “Is he still sick in bed?” “No. “You see? That’s why we gotta go. Hen joined him. Dil stalled. “Anyway. This is a check from the Church. The old woman and her son. The knocking at the front of the church continued.” “Is that what Dil said?” Ben was puzzled. “Hey. At first. “I mean. He only saw a sliver of an empty street. if we’re going to cash that check. and he probably wanted to get Hen out of his hair while he recovered from last night. Ben allowed Hen his joy. Please. dragging his back against the red-brick wall of the church.” Tamara retrieved Davey. and the subject of prayers and an explanation for Hen’s presence went forgotten. jelly. I thought he would be in here with you. They were coming off. Indistinct knocks floated through the kitchen.” Ben said. peanut butter and canned juice. The action reinforced Ben’s suspicions. “Where’s Dil?” Hen asked. The gruesome pile of feathers were strewn partly across the stone yard. I thought about it. then went to the kitchen. right? Shouldn’t a priest have it?” “You’re right.” Hen nodded. he could not know what the brothers said to each other earlier this morning. Then again. we’re going to leave. Stooping. but moved too far away for Ben to hear. I don’t think coming to the Cap was so good. “Yeah. he held his breath.” Ben became aware the Cortras brothers lived on a balance of caution and risk. He spread the items over the table. Hen stole up the breezeway. Ben mistook the sound for the cans Hen stacked on the table.

Thank you. No one wanted to be stopped by a military patrol a block or two from their apartment or house. was to be asked stupid questions with obvious answers. at the church. She did not recall him leaving this morning. ordering Margot to get dressed and hurry outside.” Hen thought about spending an afternoon with the boy. “Thank you. He gets into trouble. The last thing anyone needed after drawn out hours of inane busywork.” The old woman looked anxious. Playing with a kid would be a welcome change to all his recent stress and fright. being detained by the military would be an inconvenience. After that. thrilled. “You mean babysit?” “Yes. After a hard day at work. Caution and risk took a back seat to impulsiveness and luck. “Hello. Just for a few hours.” Hen said. Why is the door locked?” “Don’t worry about that. The last thing Margot remembered was when she fell asleep in her bed. 10 Wild Beasts Mark knocked incessantly on Margot’s door just after dawn. “I really need to leave. He and the boy laughed.” “Ben wouldn’t mind?” “Not at all.” Hen lit up. “He’s around.” “Why are you out after dark?” “Traffic. Last night. You’re so nice. “I’m going to babysit Davey!” Hen bragged. feeling an iniquitous pleasure with the fact she . I can’t leave Davey alone. The sudden rousing from slumber disoriented Margot.he casually strolled around the corner to the curb. I need to dust shops at the strip mall. I’m late.” “Oh.” Hen said. “Can you find Ben for me? I need to ask him something. and a longer day in traffic.” the old woman settled.” “I suppose that would be fine. You don’t know how much I appreciate this. on the floor.” Hen said. “Hen!” The old woman turned.” “But don’t you have work to do?” The old woman sounded confused. you know. won’t we. I can’t find someone to look after Davey. I can ask him.” The questions were the extent of the pleasant part of an interrogation.” “No problem. We’re just doing some work. A long time passed since he could relax. Where is the Reverend Ben? He was just here. Mark shouted through the door. Dil was no where to be seen A few hours with Davey before leaving the church and the Cap might be something Hen needed for his own mental health. “Where are you going?” “Home.” “Good!” The old woman lit-up. knowing the frustration they caused. I’ll look after Davey. Davey jumped around. “I’ll be back soon. “I mean. That was at dusk. wrapped in Mark’s arms.” Tamara Stoughnt hurried down the street to some unseen strip mall. soldiers became sadistic. “Hey. Davey cheered for Hen and had to be hushed. I’ll take him to Ben. People rushed to their destinations in the fading illumination and choked the roads. “We’ll have fun. I wonder if I can leave him here. His hammering jarred her awake. Davey?” Davey squealed his affirmation. “Sure. Margot drifted off to sleep.” “Um. just like Ben. Hen led Davey down the breezeway and into the kitchen. “That would be fine.” Hen called. when the curfew took effect. Ben stared speechless when he saw the boy.

Mark had a wife waiting at home. Margot seized hold. but no doubt he had snuck out right after she fell asleep. A fleeting moment had not caused a rash or desperate act. She was not practiced with blindness. The Church refused divorce unless both partners wished separation. The uncomfortable moment when Margot watched him draw up his pants and leave. Margot groaned and groped for her robe. Margot would have liked to believe the attraction was mutual. She hoped he left at sunrise. Margot could not say who had kissed whom first. Although her small bedroom was dark. She guided his hand to her breast when the warmth of his lips spread through her. The moment to wake peacefully to gushing proclamations of unfurled love or a romantic soliloquy passed. She didn’t believe in cultural timetables and predestinations of nature. an infusion of hormones might be the answer. she refused to see the clock. Margot was happy for that. The door automatically locked when he pulled it shut behind him. Margot might doze back to sleep for another hour or maybe two. she was well aware of his infidelities. Margot padded the surface of her bed with her eyes closed. If existence was worse than how she felt now. Margot didn’t know what would happen last night. She unbuckled his belt and pushed his trousers off his waist. after disturbing her. She only needed another hour of sleep and a cup of coffee. Margot slipped the robe on over her t-shirt and panties. Mark now stood locked outside and knocked. Circumstances could not sink the need that finally surfaced. Once Margot sat upright. until she discovered Mark snuck away. Margot just felt tired. but the lost sense of time and the setting sun restricted him his departure. Obviously Mark took his chances getting home to avoid a confrontation with Sarah. Jealously was ridiculous. The thin satin robe was missing from the foot of her bed. In the morning. He waged a guerrilla war to shatter the marriage. Mark and Margot eventually shared with each other. When they undressed. She hadn’t expected him to stay after they made love. before she slept with her old flame. but he could not marry again until he annulled the marriage with his wife. but his wife held on.trapped Mark with her for the night. The robe had fallen to the floor with most of the comforter. Margot only knew she did not want a complicated affair. Margot made the first move. she dismissed the idea of children. although his flirting and advances were especially tempting yesterday afternoon. Mark could always leave Sarah. Having been jolted awake and finding Mark missing brought the weight of age back to Margot. This encounter waited a long time and she would not waste the opportune moment. The expressed desire. never arrived. The damage was already done to Mark’s relationship with Sarah. resisting every humiliating siege. Margot had a strong feeling his enthusiasm wasn’t over her. Mark brought Margot to life. she could not bear growing old. At one point last evening. but he did. She wasn’t thinking of marriage or even a relationship beyond what they currently shared. The old school friends shared a smoldering interest that lasted years. The afterglow faded away. This man she brought to her bed last night would not afford her those tiny luxuries. Margot usually tossed the robe on the bed before sliding between sheets. In the end. so no choice remained except to open her eyes. Making love with Mark renewed her. A long time passed since she had been with anyone. Maybe Margot needed a child. Margot stopped Mark from reciting a listing the names women he had known. Margot refused guilt. She accepted the consequences of her decision with maturity. Margot still might send Mark on his way and catch up later with whatever he sounded excited about. Mark never seduced Margot with promises. A halfdozen steps separated her bedroom from the front door of her apartment. but she probably had knowingly stepped over the hazy line. Margot knew Mark was married for years. A numerical trip down lover’s lane sounded tawdry right from the start. She wasn’t prepared to open her eyes. Margot began to fret she irretrievably squandered her youth before ever having sex again. Youth returned like a flower after winter. Margot wondered when Mark had made his escape. came naturally. When the moment arrived. Desire for each other drifted and survived a river of time. Margot knew Mark first. Sarah entrenched herself upon a barren hill. The royal blue of the robe beamed against the ivory bedding. a lifetime. If Mark left now. Sarah fought against his wishes and generally played unfair. The doldrums of adulthood may be the result of ignoring her biological clock. Margot doubled the . A roll call would only squelch her libido. She wondered what being thirty felt like. Something had to change in her life.

Margot!” Mark guided Margot back into her apartment. but Mark was already moving and too massive to resist. Your neighbors are going to complain. Mark tore himself away from the thought .” Margot hoped they would. Remembering his exploits was like savoring a particularly luscious aftertaste. “Mark. She needed extra time to rake her fingers through her hair and tie back a ponytail. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his brown leather jacket. He occupied himself completing his mental list of women whom he slept with. Margot needed to stand on her toes and steady herself against the frame. but he never watched how one went about dressing. She wanted a mob to confront Mark for his outrageous wakeup call.” Mark glanced downward into Margot ’s eyes. Expressing feelings of overpowering affection seemed foreign to him. I can dress myself. Margot was his most recent affair. Mark must have left his house the instant the curfew was lifted. Mark’s change of clothes and freshly shaved face proved he had not simply returned from a forgotten. “What took you so long?” Margot wanted to punch him. “We need the assignment. She needed to lift her feet if Margot didn’t want Mark to carry her. he remained quite successful. Margot unlocked and opened the door with a single twist of the knob. tell me what’s going on or I’m not moving. Whatever brought him back to her door this morning must be important. at least in most cases. Talking about emotions only amounted to an insincere attempt to make sex more than the basic need it was.walk with half steps. It’s a first-in basis. but he couldn’t stop thinking about his exploits. slightly dimpled chin and make the blow count. “Let’s go. or a little before. Margot should be thankful. Mark became clueless. striking a pose reminiscent of a giraffe stretching down its neck for a drink. “C’mon. Margot. when I’m ready.” “This is important. as his reminisces added gasoline to an already blazing fire. Mark rapped and shouted the entire time. Mark nearly allowed himself carried away in a current of deferred desire and fulfilled wishes. Mark enjoyed starting over numerous times when his concentration broke or he put a wrong name to a face. In fact. striking an impatient pose.” Once they reached the bedroom door.” Margot helplessly protested.” .not an easy task. but urgent errand. “I hope you brought breakfast. Margot knotted the robe shut standing behind the door. “Flowers would be nice. Mark jerked a half-smile when he realized he practiced just the opposite. She hope dead weight would be difficult to manage. depending on how Mark shuffled the criteria. but I would love a croissant and some cheese. In fact. he enjoyed the whole exercise. Mark probably wouldn’t notice and would just brush off the pathetic strike. She tried to brace against his shove. “Wait. “Should I get you a key?” Margot queried. “What is this about?” “We’re going to get you dressed. He needed a little reflection and distance behind the coupling before he could truly be objective. She doubted she had the reach to travel to his cute. After leaving last night. Open the door.” “We are losing time. Margot. The evening felt too emotional for him.” Mark observed. “You’re not dressed. let’s go. getting women out of their clothes.” Curiosity told Margot to disregard staying hurt over the indignity of Mark's stealthy leave of absence. to get back at her apartment so soon. Please. He pressed his solid hands against her shoulder and the small of her back. Mark wasn't concerned in the least about patrols and checkpoints. She might have forgiven him if he woke her with a soft kiss and strong embrace. What he had to share had to be just as important as going home to Sarah last night. making him hard. Margot. Margot let the impulse fade. Mark ignored the remark and the sarcasm was lost.” “I’m a grown woman. He was married and had lived with a woman for years. too. watching Mark through the peephole. He fended off falling asleep and left as soon as his unnoticed departure became feasible – another skill learned amidst countless affairs. but she went to the top of the list. but Mark spoiled it and deserved any grief Margot could imagine. Mark continued trying to number his conquests since last night. that was her dream last night. In that respect. I promise. She peeked through the peephole in the door. Margot stopped him before he organized his conquests. So Mark kept himself in check. I’ll get you something on the way.” Margot warned.

were found traveling from the encampment to the only local seaport outside the Wall. That information will only be found at the port outside Capital. but will dead-end during the preliminary part of the investigation. The short battle resulted in one casualty. Margot predicted that much. surmised the fertilizer was meant to be smuggled into Capital by through its ports. made enforcement tough. Essentially. Something concrete had happened since last night. Margot would not call Mark unless communication was imperative. Someone will wait. Mark proved himself a good conjurer. Seeing through spin and propaganda came with her trade.Margot understood now that Mark talked about a story from the military. His name went to the top of the list of reporters for one reason or another. Other times. Margot believed the breach involved complacency and arrogance of the military. usually over the barrels of rifles pointed in either direction. The great risk associated with transporting and storing incendiary material discouraged terrorist hobbyists. those stories to which Mark and Margot were not assigned that smacked of potential. Margot naively believed his experience earned Mark privilege. Reporters for the military. Inside the Wall. when an automatic wall of spinning metal tore the driver apart. His identity remained unknown. If the right chemicals became available. She heard that as soon as patrol soldiers pulled the driver from the truck. runaways. design. a sympathizer. tried and true exploits. most likely a woman. Rumors of heathen infiltration carried more merit than anyone outside the military gave them. Mark and Margot waited in lines for assignments and wasted days unable to get across town to follow up on investigations. He hooked Margot with a taste of heathen sympathizers and terrorists within the Wall. he probably had a source inside military headquarters. despite being decent at the game. only one way to supply Capital existed . and their censors. he flashed a pistol and a firefight ensued. though. coming and going. untold story will begin there. somebody could quickly assemble an incendiary bomb and put to use. Bimonthly drills dealt solely with bomb threats. the gates through the Wall presented an impossible route for large trucks carrying goods. even the lackadaisical patrols could sniff out explosives. It was only a matter of time before heathens successfully navigated the harbor. Such was the story about the fertilizer. The latter often involved the former. The real. Fertilizers. and curfew violations. heathen terrorist or even a sleeper cell. or an agenda drove stories aired on the news. however. In the past. who suddenly had much to say about the Church or the military—lots to say. Mark kept secret how he got leads. Everyone knew the seaport the least secure section of Capital. That alone was enough to assume a terrorist attack was in the works. but the scenario was most likely the same as her own. Margot wondered if Mark allowed his source to call his house. Margot suspected something brewed. Margot never gleaned facts regarding a fertilizer plot. Soldiers in Capital had uneventful nights and grew too comfortable handling mundane domestic disputes. but the volume of ships and cargo. Decades of trial and error probed for weakness. and few words of praise. In reality. She fell for his conspiracy theories. The military policed the harbor night and day. or one within the Wall. events in life distracted their attention. The news Mark probably carried merited a call to his home. A reporter required a clue to the recipient to move further. like last night. He and Margot could not afford to waste the opportunity stuck in the congestion of traffic. Authorities currently tracked the place from which the fertilizer was purchased or stolen. Little mistakes often caused elaborate plans to unravel. A sympathizer was not likely. There were. Yet the priest’s murder and Margot’s last couple stories seemed unconnected and didn’t amount to more than drunks and blasphemers. Real threats did grow. Margot imagined Sarah spent a great deal of time answering the phone to dead air and abrupt clicks when callers hung up. a real terrorist could and would do . The suspicious note about the fertilizer was that the cargo went the wrong direction. The parish in which the priest was murdered drifted out of sight. Patrols across the Shur frequently spotted heathens. Military training focused on teaching soldiers to find that sort of danger. On that point alone. The truck was registered to an owner in Gomorrah. deceased many years ago. but the military concocted most information provided to the public. The only hardened soldiers patrolled the desert between citystates. used in explosives. Margot and Mark were those alchemists who mixed ingredients. On the contrary. Mark probably got a lead.

I have to dress. I would have liked time to take a shower. but now was the only time he would deal with Margot's jealousy. Margot.” “And?” Margot opened the bedroom door. idealistic lifetime preparing for a holy moment of destruction. If Mark planned to go where she thought he was. lives were still wasted. know that. His old friend seemed incapable of disappointing Mark. Margot believed even if the military prevented an attack. Mark was fascinated the appliances were scaled half-size to the real things. Margot cleared her throat and crossed her arms. she expected to clash with Mark’s tan slacks and brilliant blue short-sleeved shirt. Too many people existed with the single-minded purpose to take or save life through violence. They had permanent assignments and been down there almost three years. a gray knee length skirt and peach long-sleeved blouse. Mark was unhappily married and preferred not to make life in his own home unbearable. if he didn’t accommodate. So tell me why you left. “Does it have anything to do with the fertilizer and the man transporting it?” Margot inquired. There was no any place Margot could keep it that Mark had not searched in the minute he spent looking.” Mark answered.” Margot pushed Mark from the room. because of last night. Margot was mad and not crying.” Mark claimed. The compact oven and refrigerator looked like they were custom built for the tiny spaces they occupied. “You could have gone without me. Margot would throw him out. Maybe if you had called ahead. You. She faced him. “Besides. The world could not help but become a better place. “Besides. Mark silently tortured his wife. Antiperspirant and a little perfume topped off the morning’s preparation. She knew his disapproval was because her recycled outfit. Mark gave her a sidelong look. She dropped her arms and walked into her bedroom. “Excuse me. A terrorist spends a whole desperate. If the reason Mark so rudely came back this morning was not connected to the most plausible terrorist incident. Margot shut the door. At least.” Margot’s interest peaked. He walked into the kitchenette. or hundreds. The clothes Margot wore yesterday were a good combination. they had no time to spare.” She cleared her throat again and grasped the bedroom door. especially after last night. I can always have my modesty. too. but Margot needed to understand his situation could not be helped. You’re making me leave? After last night?” “Yes. He saw no reason to suffer outright confrontation. I heard a story about missing soldiers down at the docks. of all people. last night. This morning was not the first time he witnessed spite fester. mister. Margot left her hair tied back in a single ponytail.” Mark was vexed. Mark followed. If all that were unnecessary. He doubted she had any. As much as Margot knew about fashion. it’s a good thing I went home. “Listen. I would be more to your taste. Giving his or her life for a chance to take others seemed a fair gamble to those inbred psychotics. Terrorists were conditioned to trade one life for another. “Are you going to tell me what happened?” Margot asked.” Mark gave up trying to find the coffee. “About the story? I’ll tell you on the way.” “No. “Sarah would have made my life hell. a nook appended to the only other room of the apartment.” “After last night. in spite of his admirable performance last night. “And?” Margot prompted. Just tell me what . people would then be free to better themselves. “So I called military headquarters this morning. She hurried dressing herself. “Maybe. as soon as I knew a real person would answer the phone. Coordinating a new outfit took would take too much time. besides the bedroom. I would never heard the end of it. Margot did her best to shake out the wrinkles. He spotted the coffee maker and searched the cupboard for coffee and filters. Mark shouted so Margot heard him through her closed door. He recognized the place Margot’s attitude came from. “About you. He even felt pangs for behaving so rude. She would not have been able to.” Margot frowned. of Chosen in exchange for their own.just that.” Mark answered. “I already saw you naked. but their goal and lust was the death of dozens.” “You know.

” “That's no surprises. I’m sorry. especially when he acted more “emotional” over a fitted car cover than the approaching anniversary of his child's death. A solid walls of parked cars enclosed both sides of the street. The Church was politically motivated to mandate traffic control. The task was boring but not difficult. Mark. Despite the predictable routine in Capital. Buying the Corbeta was the first thing Mark did after the birth of his stillborn child. especially as the yard emptied after the soldiers began their guard. The missing soldiers weren’t responsible for those critical areas. Mark continued filling in Margot. Alpha.happened when you called headquarters.” Margot said. The job entailed marching vacuous circles inside fenced loading zones. Mark completely ignored his wife’s bout of crippling depression.” “When did the two guards go missing?” “When the third shift arrived to relieve them.” The pair hustled out the front of Margot’s building to Mark’s silver coupe. He ascribed the miracle to the hereditary decency of the Chosen people. Corbeta handled so easily. “Okay.” “The military oversees shipments and perform searches before goods come off boats.” Now Margot rushed. but nobody discussed faults of the clergy.” “Why are guards needed during curfew? Nobody lives near the docks. but then came back to her husband. These two steps hold the highest potential for finding contraband or evidence of sabotage. Keeping the traffic on the freeway moving this time of the day topped concerns of the military. Mark caused a great deal of controversy between their families. Mark left his car unlocked and the windows rolled down. I asked if there were any development on the missing soldiers. and ladened and locked trucks that could not leave the yard due to curfew. Mark opened the passenger door for Margot.” In this extreme cases. They only guaranteed everything stayed where it was put. twenty-fours hours a day. More sailed down the road and all moved in one direction toward the freeway. “Typical causes of reprimand included drunkenness. The soldiers were the only two souls besides the random patrols in the harbor and streets outside the chain link fences that separated the dockyard and seashore from Capital. He made the purchase in either defiance of added responsibility or celebration of preservation of a degree of freedom. Margot never learned why. The replacements waited a half .” The same applied to priests. “Details were unavailable and probably not relevant. They also monitor cargo that goes into waiting trucks. “The missing guards were reprimanded on numerous occasions. “These two particular soldiers were assigned to guard cargo stacked on the docks. Mark opened the front door.” Once Margot found her purse. insubordination or a combination of any or all of the ills that plagued working career soldiers. The clothe top stayed up most of the time and today was no exception. instead of dictates. She pulled the cushions from her love seat. “How do you know that if you know details?” “Frequent short-term assignments in diverse locations and guard duty drawn out over years indicate a troubled soldier. Sarah stayed with her parents for a month. “Tell me more.” Mark raised his hands in surrender. Concessions to the will of the populace. The slick convertible danced between moving vehicles. He merely took advantage of the available opening and parking zones that were not enforced this early in the morning. military jargon for the station the military designates for the change of guard. waiting to be packed into trucks. “Well. The records of the two dead soldiers exemplified the violation.” Mark said and then vocalized assumptions. the lack of more crime amazed everyone. There was. “Let’s go. The pair worked the second shift during which dockhands secured cargo for the night and then dismissed. Mark continued speaking as he joined the flow to the freeway. tardiness.” “C’mon. was abandoned.” Mark slipped into the traffic of the surface street. Mark relayed the details to Margot during their stroll from her apartment to his convertible. were rare. The military dedicated resources exclusively for the purpose. Mark safely assumed soldiers no longer fit the military’s acceptable mold. Mark parked in front of a fire hydrant. a common practice. Her purse typically slipped behind them.

He's dead. You learn to write the story even before you start an investigation.” Mark flatly stated. Mark didn’t bother wading up to his waist in traffic. He stomped the accelerator and jumped ahead of an elderly man who attempted caution. “He handled stories about Drystani for months at a time. However.” “We got this story?” Margot asked. The tide must have carried the body out. received a status report from guards they relieved and waved goodbye to a few acquaintances. She didn’t give time for a mental image of grisly mutilation to form in her mind. even higher than the murder of a priest in a ghetto. She suspected Mark charmed a clerk. in most cases.” “That isn't exact. this amount of detail suggested he made a connection higher up the rank and file. The checklist of rounds was also missing. Paperwork these days is. writing the story is not hard to do if it is flagged for censorship. “Anyway. Margot forgave the tone in light of her earlier question. “Experience. “His throat was cut. the missing soldiers arrived at the yard. Margot’s question reflected her novice outlook on the world. we’re going to claim it if the primary doesn’t get to headquarters in time. She waved her hands as a gesture meant to erase the premature query. Acts such as those were degenerative.hour before they began their scheduled patrol. “Yeah. she wanted to know which way to look to see the letdown coming. what’s happened?” “They found one.” “What did he say?” Margot realized the question was presumptive when she asked it. Chances are lazy soldiers ticked off the list at the beginning or the end of shifts. That’s what we’re going to see for ourselves. So it’s fair game for anyone on the list behind him. “How do they know one didn’t kill the other?” Margot asked. Facts point to a couple of malcontents absent without leave. you learn who to talk to and what to ask.” Mark wasn’t entirely convinced. Well. “What do you think? Are heathens really in Capital? Do you think this might have anything to do with Drystani himself?” “Thinking Drystani is involved might be going too far. if the soldier wasn’t dumped there intentionally. but reacted too slow. once we propose an assignment.” “That sounds like heathens. To think one Chosen would kill another was preposterous. Remember him?” “Sure. If she was going to be disappointed. A mangled and murdered soldier in a secured area sounded like a high profile assignment.” “That would have been foolish to take a boat out at night.” “How do you know Ralph won’t turn up once we get to headquarters?” The story assignment sounded too good to believe. They might be upset they lost their manure. Gates remained locked and all areas were secured. Chosen don’t kill each other. The only certain thing is that both soldiers were unaccounted for at the end of their shift. The relieving soldiers notified a superior officer. “No one knew precisely when the two soldiers disappeared. Chosen lie and cheat each other. Margot convinced herself that is how Mark got his early leads. “After a while.” Experience taught Margot that much. The answer was an unsatisfying morsel. “They were Chosen. Mark continued. “His killer carved a Star of Lucifer on his face. we got it.” “Well. about the missing soldiers. if censors don't do it for you already. Mark waited for the bellow of honking to cease before he answered Margot. She found the luck hard to believe. That the sheet wouldn't have been any help. Margot hated to see the opportunity dangled in front of her nose and have it yanked away.” Margot said. The praise sounded condescending.” “And they showed up in the first place?” “Earlier.” “Well. She will soon learn for herself and accept the way things were. . I imagine the military will dredge the harbor for the other soldier.” Margot complained. and weren't found during a subsequent search. Mark hesitated. The original two guards never returned. but I do think heathens are here. he can’t be contacted. Patrols would easily spot it.” Mark gloated. They found him floating in the middle of the harbor.” Margot focused on other questions. “Nothing.” “How did you find out all of this?” Margot asked. an optional formality. but murder and theft were different sins all together.” “Smart. The military assigned the story to Ralph Menton.” Mark said. The story would surely go directly to a trusted reporter.

You get this one. so Robber freelanced. She half-expected if something of this magnitude came up. Robber received his payment like a reporter . just the same. She should consider everyone hostile . I know you could have kept the assignment for yourself. A low profile was advisable. before you get uptight again. Robber's stories were undeniable facts of death.” “Nobody does. With lots of practice. the military. Robber played his part. Margot missed hear the comment hidden in the noise of the air conditioning of Mark's convertibles. Margot realized the significance of her inclusion.” Margot began with sincerity.” Mark mumbled. and knew he possessed just enough talent to realize he could always use improvement. Robber imagined himself an artist. invisible cloud of cancer-causing vapor formed. Just like a reporter.” The traffic slowed as drivers waited turns at a blinking red light on the freeway on-ramp. That was another exception to his job. but because of the number of times you pulled that stunt on other women. for the most part. don’t think this means you have a clean slate. this is a big deal. one day his signature will be recognized. but thank you.” She thought the subject went a little over the top. As far as his position on the payroll of heathens. leaving greasy black soot. a permanent. Mark could simply have gone incommunicado. but for now. Margot even took a class at school called “Strategy and Tactics in Journalism. Robber will wait for his money and sniffed out the other offer. The fumes on the freeway would soon grow thick. An open window was invited an intangible monster wanting nothing more than to seed a living lung. I can almost forgive you for last night. and a loose breeze from the sea. His look changed to a genuine smile with an adorable smugness. we just have to pick it up before some rube gets lucky. More opportunities will undoubtedly abound as plans progressed. Robber delivered death like a message and accomplished the art as a craft. as did his ‘secretary. Margot. “That makes me just about even.” “Hey. During the conversation’s intermission. I told you I couldn’t stay.” “We have a deal. “Mark.” 11 Assassin Robber finished the part of the job for which he was best suited. “We got this one. Mark did not have to stop and pick her up. from a Chosen priest no less. Reporters lived in that kind of world. “All right. You have every right. he created them.” “Margot. she would never hear about it. Remaining faceless and nameless always remained an imperative. The instructor lectured that once a doughboy like Margot graduated and started a career. The particularly strong ties Judah Batheirre shared with heathens meant offers came to Robber directly and he did not need to panhandle. It clung to cracks and crevices of overpasses. with no room to spin propaganda or bury fact. I think that is worth a full pardon. Crime lords in Church-forsaken city-states often needed his specialized services. she needed to think like a soldier dropped behind enemy lines. everybody. The other offer came by referral through the family. however.fellow reporters. Judah Bathierre. He didn’t even have to tell her of the development.” Mark sneered. Robber’s current engagement for the heathens brought him into Capital. we are sharing a byline. Robber supplemented his sporadic income. Despite the roads clearing every night. In the meantime. Rent required payment. Mark broke the rules for her. and I have to say you are stunning when you’re angry. Instead of writing stories. money came in with the same regular delay as paychecks did for soldiers in the Chosen's military. Robber murdered. “Still. Judah Batheirre respected Robber's need for continued anonymity. The Batheirre family in Gomorrah proved a reliable and secure source of work.” Mark rolled up his window and pointed for Margot to do the same.’ This young man Robber brought to his apartment at once became his unwitting .“Ralph’s a drunk. “I want to thank you for this. the Church. Acidic gases scratched as they crept through nasal passages and made throats raw. but Robber had to eat. transparent tentacles wrapped around signposts. The day just began and the reporters will get to headquarters with relative ease. I’m on the list and we know which story to ask for.” “I did say almost. despite their proposed joint effort and last night. remember?” Mark sustained his sneer since commenting about Ralph Menton's drunkenness.per assignment. specifically.

Under the circumstances. There was more detail. The scheme had to fall apart sooner or later. Robber mentioned he did not plan on being home often. Even then. Robber's secretary found a route into the Cap. The risk remained the bane of interlopers. There would also be no sneaking out. in the face of losing everything. When his secretary answered calls. Robber's secretary answered the phone. An ingenious scheme. the improbable arrangement offered the best that outcome that might have occurred. The name might have belonged to a long ago victim or conjured on the time to think and nothing to lose. The only traits required for success were need and desperation. Robber assured his secretary the advice was best for both of them. in Capital. When night fell. The entities were one and the same. So Robber’s secretary gave away his name and ID cards. Robber said he will stay in contact and retrieve messages. trespassers were still detained by the military. Hidden breaches. including life and limb. luck never had much say in the matter. cards or no cards. resulted in his secretary's role. His employer became Robert Veritos. The Living God’s truth. That is when Robber employed Jack under the official capacity of secretary. They pinpointed and patrolled every obvious hiding place inside the Promised Land. Robber expected he would forget the inconsequential name minutes later. but could call back. come nightfall. the young man's excursions will be rare occasions.accomplice and alias. constantly broke open. and night had solidly fallen. If either man was excised to a detention camp. Robber was fine. but had no place to hide. His secretary will then make the caller's name and phone number available to Robber at the next contact. Darkness acted like a net inside Capital. If his secretary wanted . but nothing more could risk being revealed until the pair safely arrived at the new Robber’s apartment. If the military ever came knocking. and swapped identities with the thespian-assassin. Robber amazed himself he had gotten so far with the crazy plan. Robber then offered his deal. Robber presented the cloistered lifestyle as a directive. if anyone asked what the young man did to make money. Of course. the young man needed to say Robber was busy. the truth belonged to the Mortal God. No ID cards came with the identity The point of the exercise was to weave a twisted tapestry of false identities and untraceable pasts. The military had a purpose when they planned the layout of Capital. Robber then simply waited until the approach of night brought panic. His secretary would never leave the apartment without Robber knowing and giving approval. The new Jack nervously joined Robber at his cramped. the imprisonment served no one’s interest but that of the military and Church. Robber's secretary quickly reached this poor state. In exchange for a room and a little cash. But then. If the military didn't find and detain Jack. The new Robert asked if his secretary had preferred being called simply Rob or Bob in his former life. the young man needed to get out of the apartment and run as fast and as far in the other direction as humanly possible. No matter the name used. The young man was an atypically brown-haired UnChosen. Any improvised tool to smooth nights was not beyond experimentation. Unfortunately. a military patrol would have quickly found Robber’s secretary after curfew. That was a warning. Robber laughed once the pair exchanged names. took messages. who disregarded thought as to what to do or where to go once inside the Wall. The Wall served as little more than a facade. wide enough to crawl through. Robber marked his target and followed the young man. The faith the population of Capital placed on the ability of the military to keep out immigrants and heathens proved laughable. the trapped could do little else than wait for a patrol to show up. driven by paranoid dreams. The threat made an already desperate person more compliant. Luckily. Robber will kill the disloyal young man. probably a pilgrim. The new Robber could not remember who that had been. A stranger without a place to go in the Cap was as good as caught. Robber only provided the name to solicit a disarming degree of faith. His secretary became Jack Ferdin. Sleep is a rough sea and insomnia was a notorious hazard in his business. but he would find out his secretary betrayed his trust. Robber found his secretary before the patrols did. one-bedroom apartment. The terms were simple to understand and included employment. Jack officially lived alone and never entertained guests. Childhood friends teased the poor man with the name as he grew up. The young man supposed they weren’t of use anyway. The situation favored Robber's proposal .

He would even throwing in a couple heretics for free. when intolerance persisted among the lower echelon of any caste. The look was unmistakable. In death. they served as pawns. There was that priest in the Saint Erasmus parish cut to pieces. An equivalent achievement for Robber should be reputation. Robber generally remained aware of heathen activity in the Cap. Strangely. The soldiers Robber marked were alone without backup awhile longer. Robber confined his exercise to lustful fantasies of infamous acts. Arrogance flourished when lowly heathens were involved. after all. Putting on a clean shirt and pair of pants required hurdling a fence and locating his locked car. his secretary got a good deal. The military will look for someone like Robber. maybe had kids and a little something to show for their careers. and even delivered a vague threat. He needed to remember to bide his time. the two became downright sanctimonious. Darting into the shadows as patrols passed was difficult enough. His black clothes were bloodied and dripping. Robber had no intention of reporting his secretary to the military. The alternative was to be caught by the patrols. The air felt more cool close to the water. The harsh personal critique was not just a reflection of humility. Then again. The second shift came to an end. but there were the two recently murdered soldiers. Heathens were not involved with the murder of the priest. Most men his age were married. Robber fell behind in that respect. Robber promised he would honor the wish and promptly pass the ID card to the military with a tip to look for a heathen sympathizer. and the lack of empathy distressingly obvious. The soldiers apparently had no problem taking bribes to look the other way when cargo disappeared from parked and locked trucks. He took part in their plans. The vague comment carried no authority. The magnitude of the crime shone too bright to frame a transient. Being so careful taxed his manic personality. The bodies of the dead soldiers bore his mark after all. Robber botched the job and he had no one to blame but himself. although Robber wished knocking off random priests was on his agenda. he will either be caught or killed. Still. Yet they got uptight when they learned heathens were part of the action. Robber scaled the fence at a dark spot between vaporous circles cast by streetlights and hustled straight to the docks. corruption often seemed impossible. They dropped hints about patrols stumbling across the nighttime activity of smugglers. They weren’t even concerned when cargo mysteriously switched between vehicles. blade and garrote. The threat had merely been funny and convenient. Robber professed himself an expert. They grew bold and stubborn instead. the military will consider the soldiers “killed” as soon as the someone figured out they were not ever coming back. At least. The . both meant his death. Robber assured the young man that everything will work out for the best in the end. blocks away from the scene. That admission set him apart from true artists. Even money could not overcome righteous prejudice. Robber entered the shipyard after waiting near his car and following a patrol. His secretary’s lips even turned blue. His secretary escaped one net and ensnared in another. he should have learned already. Robber resolved to devote painstaking attention to detail after that spoiled job. although Robber was embarrassed to admit the fact. In either case. The challenge began upon leaving the shipyard. the best someone in his predicament could find. At Robber's age. They believed birth handed them crowns. if the young man escaped being made an example or pinned with a crime he did not commit. Robber’s clients did not appreciate the disdain and lack of cooperation. If he failed to improve. Two guards worked the docks after curfew. Robber still amused himself every time he remembered the color running from his secretary’s face as if he cut the man's throat. Robber fondly remembered the retribution delivered at his hands. The angry reaction was not unexpected from Chosen. A long detention would be quit. The whole scene required a case before Robber made his move. the military would not waste pinning that incident on his secretary. Then again. An opening for a scapegoat in that piece of propaganda was still available. Robber was contracted to kill both. he dared not risk leaving a trail of red splatters anywhere along his escape route. everyday practice was not practical or even possible. The hot summer continued unabated. The time arrived when these two bigots paid for pretension. Pressure failed to affect the two soldiers. but guard duty was the kind of job for which no one showed up early.

but did nothing more for the dying man. the other soldier suddenly came within view. Blood sprayed in rapid jets and covered Robber. Robber learned this trick well. never to wake again. the end came with the poor souls clawing at the strap embedding and constricting around their necks. and shoulders were forgotten as he floated above his body. The rifle dangling by its strap from the soldier’s thumb. Robber slit this one’s throat. Death arrived. if that is what really happened. which forced the air from the man's lungs. The exertion and pain in his hands. The pause and distracted curse provided Robber all the time he needed. He typically knocked his target down and trapped the air from their windpipes. they had already grown too weak and clumsy from lack of oxygen. The soldier tried in vain to stop his life from completely pulsing out. but there was no room for delay. When Robber returned to his flesh. they reported either soldier will linger on the docks. Blood showered the oiled wooden planks beneath the dying man. Robber preferred bludgeoning. and the killer was still somewhere within reach. near the ocean most of the night. He acted too late to find a hiding place. Before the smugglers were evicted. Jerking his head away from the shining blade threw the man off balance. From his perspective. The guard appeared alone. For a brief second. if Robber had not lost track of the rifle of the second soldier. Nothing could have prevented this man from dying like the first. His victims lay splayed. Robber actually enjoyed allowing his victims the fleeting experience. Robber whirled and doubled back as the second soldier bolted in his direction. The second soldier readied his rifle when he watched one figure drop and the other run. All Robber could think to do was kick the dying man away. Robber jabbed at the man’s face with his knife. Robber immediately squatted on the downed man. so he gave chase. no blood spurt or other indication revealed Robber's strike. When the soldier turned. Momentum carried the man backwards. There was no time for self-chastening. Robber never saw a soul from his elevated vantage point. The shocked soldier recoiled. dazed and helpless until they lost strength to fight. Robber never allowed himself to think much about the sympathetic reflex at the moment of death. The second guard witnessed two men scuffle and recognized the shape of his partner. For his own safety. Robber unwound his leather garrote. Robber grabbed the soldier’s wrists and pinned him to the ground. Everything became rushed after that point. Robber muffled the locking snap of the long blade with the palm of his hand. he still felt light. The unpleasant task of cleaning up always required completion as quickly as possible. He would have used his garrote if he had not dropped the tool. Robber quickly drew and unfolded his custom lock-back knife as he dropped the garrote. The soldier turned around to meet Robber face to face. however. too. Robber watched the passing life from behind. Someone then called the guard whom he slipped behind. The victim simply fell limp and heavy. A racing mind needed calm. Slashing just wasn’t a clean way to get a job done. The soldier had no chance to even raise the rifle. so Robber threw his foot into the soldier’s crotch. That. . The spasms and sounds soon grew weak. Before Robber reached his first target. He felt like a voyeur to himself. A wide gash pulled his neck apart. The guard paused for a second to verify his partner was the one who fell. That is precisely where Robber found them. arms. If a departing spirit truly went heavenward. despite the reflex to fold in upon himself. Robber’s blade flew across the surprised man’s throat. Their arms then twirled from their sides like a kid imitating an airplane. when he found he could not pull his next breath. The man fell unconscious. then strangling his victims. His back arched and Robber drove a left hook into the solar plexus of the soldier. By the time the sad prey realized what had happened. Robber heard that strangled people were graced with a lightheaded euphoria. The second soldier rightly believed nothing could help his fellow soldier. and more importantly. The wound looked like it ripped its own corners. The soldier bucked and gurgled. Robber saw the rifle was missing from the soldier’s hands when the man reached up and grasp his fiercely bleeding neck. He uttered an empathetic curse. One soldier was already present when Robber reached the water.blacktop of the yard hoarded the heat with miserly tightness. He had to catch his breath as if he held his own in synchronization with his strangled victim. ushered in with colorful hallucinations. unseen most of the time. then dropped into the water as the guard doubled over. Robber darted for cover as the second soldier ran over. The guard had started to drop his off his shoulder.

he thing was a genuine sea monster. As Robber watched the boats. It seemed only fair he wouldn’t have to wait a turn going to his impromptu resting place. The thing sunk and water grew still. This job became another situation in which Robber should have assessed the outcome before making a move. Robber thought the thing was some kind of huge fish. he had improvised. down the bridge of his nose to his chin. To him. A large snake-like shape rode the waves. so very different from the gully of the tall buildings where he grew up. pulling the rest of the body with them. but Robber never learned how. These murders made a chink in his pride.the patrol boats. The expanse of water looked beautiful. Robber. The way the boats zigzagged made it look like the soldiers were joyriding. The carving made Robber look like an amateur. He then made a perpendicular cut across the man's brow. The cuts reached all the way to bone. Despite his instructions to leave the soldiers in the open for discovery. Robber grabbed the ankles of the soldier he had killed first. Robber promised himself a trip to the beach during daylight within the next few days. Robber felt embarrassed by his handiwork. The splash echoed through the thick pylons below. The cut should have gone over the cheeks. Before Robber turned from the ocean. Robber spent most of his life in the confines of desert city-states and didn’t know what he missed until he now stood at the edge of the sea. That sort of graffiti was for children. The spines limped to one side. from his scalp. A dark shape much closer to the dock rose up and broke the surface. Robber dragged the bodies the short distance to the edge of the dock. Robber determined the time had come to leave. It was not the sort of work for which he wanted to be known by a fearful public. He had never seen a real river or lake. When he looked over the edge of the dock. The thought occurred as more of a whim as he waited for the ride of the man’s death throes to finish. He was curious if anyone went into the water off the Cap. were smaller and spineless. The moon and city lights reflected as moving distortions on the surface of a deep world. As that part was also not planned. Robber used his knife to carve a deep “X” on the man’s face. looking for something to throw on top of the bobbing bodies. he regretted his idea. with babies schooling all around. He watched flashing lights cross the harbor .Sitting on the dying man gave Robber an idea. Blood smeared and pooled across the killing ground. Garbage had no claim to being better than anything else in this world. But. Robber dumped the second soldier into the water the same way. Robber didn’t really know what he witnessed. Once Robber finished. with little hope for graceful recovery. Once something screwed up. As the shape rose. Robber never saw the ocean before. Robber had never seen the ocean until tonight and there were all sorts of mysteries to uncover. Robber tossed the dead man’s feet over his drooping head. with their backs to the water and heads hung towards their laps. They fell with a fluid grace like a string of dancers collapsing in a wave. All his effort to hide evidence accomplished nothing. Racing over the open sea looked like fun. He grew anxious and shuffled about. Tentacles. One drifted further from the dock. He was familiar with hoisting dead weight. he once surveyed an aqueduct and watched washes drain dry in the Spring. the other was . there always was a better chance more will go wrong. Good riddance to the self-righteous grunts. At first. maybe like an eel. even in darkness. The cross went from the temples to the opposite jaw on each side of the man's pale mug. Blood still dripped from gaping wounds. He decided one of his big areas of improvement was not to let one slip lead to another. for lack of a better description. Robber gave up and hoped the tide will take the soldiers away. Once Robber learned to swim. something else caught his attention. He propped one body and then the other upright. he would venture into deeper waters on a boat. Robber looked toward the bodies. More dark tubes rolled across the surface of the water. spotted the corpses of the soldiers he killed floating just beneath the surface. The shapes appeared attached to a single creature. Moonlight shown through the veined membrane that stretched between bony spires. That’s why he needed to dump the bodies. he peered across the water again. The last line was cut too high to represent an accurate Star of Lucifer. The legs dropped over the side of the dock. Robber then cut down the middle of the man’s face. long curved spines fanned out and up. There was enough of a distance from dock to the water for the body to tumble almost all the way over. This became a lesson to him. They were but refuse now. The ocean became a whole new world to explore. for that matter. An urge to learn to swim came over him. realizing he should have tied something heavy to the dead men.

The point of entrance was a random one. A lone car always attracted attention. Nobody spied his movement. While waiting. Robber then retrieved the jacket and shoes. The smugglers would have been caught. The area was finally deserted. literally with his pants down. His skin remained smudged and pants stained. Moving became the key to his life. Robber wasn’t happy at the time. Twisting the front of his jacket and pant legs had little effect. If the military was called. too. a long infinite triangle that dimmed as it grew wider. He found a dry spot on the back and wiped his face and hands before turning the jacket inside out. everything went solid black. Its beat amplified as Robber held his breath. Robber could have entered the yard anywhere. The thick juice squished in his fists and oozed between fingers. Robber carefully opened the car and gathered his belongings. Robber hoped the soldiers will come and go before the graveyard shift reported for work. He saw the beam of the jeep’s mounted spotlight crawl over the yard. A trail traced his path from the scene of the murders to the fence. possibly washed underneath. He was more concerned with being tracked once on the other side of the fence. Neither the idling jeep nor slosh of ocean waves drowned out the noise. Scraping the slurry-like blood worked to remove the wrung-out excess. The last thing Robber wanted was to be caught unawares. as if the streetlights and the moon were snuffed out. He then looked in the other direction. Robber cursed his suspected incompetence before the spotlight finally switched off.missing. Robber attempted to ring blood from his clothes. Robber shook off his hands. then knotted his jacket into a tight bundle. Robber could not say which dead man was which. and scanned the ground for footprints or other marks. with no further delay. Robber hoped the heathens exerted better control of operatives than to allow such an untimely snafu. He hooked his fingers and toes into the chain link and easily cleared the fence. Robber rushed back the way he came but stopped in the tall grasses leading up to the fence. Robber locked the doors and carried both bundles of fresh and soiled clothes into shadows. Patrols made a habit of peering through windows. A patrol will make a round soon. The car stayed clean. Daybreak was still many hours away and driving was not safe before then – with curfew in effect. and he had not even changed clothes yet. hunkered down in his vehicle. Robber rose to his knees watched the shrinking tail lights disappear around the block. He needed to leave. He removed his shoes and hopped into a cleaner patch of grass. but the most obvious and condemning trail will lead straight to Robber's hiding place. The booming of Robber's heart became unbearable. he felt heartened. Robber hoped the empty vehicle remained outside suspicion until he returned in daylight. Robber played this game of hide and seek since being a kid. The oversight did not matter. Robber knew hiding in the automobile was unwise. The patrol moved on. but as long as the trail had ended there. Robber hoped smugglers had not returned unannounced. Robber convinced himself he left thick red footprints across the planks and blacktop of the dock. Robber knew he could not wait inside his vehicle. He crept back to his car. The soldiers weren't looking in his direction or along the trail he left. Robber tossed his package of shoes over the fence in a high arch. His jacket left a smudge where it landed. Crouched in the grass. as well brushed blood from his clothes across the grass. but his clothes stayed wet. Robber spent the remainder of the night crouched and running. He waited for redundant patrol to pass and scampered into the nooks already investigated. The light was powerful enough to catch anything that did not belong between the fence and the sea. Robber wrapped his soiled shoes inside. Robber dropped to his belly and flattened in the grass. He had made certain he had everything he needed then checked for marks. Robber rolled up his pant legs to his knees and next took off his jacket. Robber decided not to be concerned. The patrol arrived. Opportunists might have anticipated the sudden demise of the soldiers and seized the chance to finish incomplete business. a good tactic even when he . Robber wanted to stand up and see what caught their attention. The patrol lingered too long. Robber was not certain he could get out of the yard. apparent for anyone to see. The force of the fall squished blood through the dark fabric. The identical soldiers went into the water face down and wore the same uniform. For a moment. He depended on his car waiting for him. but his tidying-up was the best he could mange until he got to his car and the clean clothes kept inside.

Robber had yet know learn details. Nothing inside the car suggested anything other than an ordinary vehicle.detached or barely held together. Robber arranged a rendezvous. If Robber truly wished to be reborn. Robber determined the military's coverage will span too wide. making them sound like foreign tongues. Robber was better with concealment than killing. but once the trail led over the fence. The rush of traffic will overwhelm attempts by scattered patrols to keep the area secure. The military gave Robber every small advantage anyway. The inside the perimeter was now the safest place for prey to hide. This was a special job. Robber evaded opening-spiral search patterns like the one the military ran tonight for as long as he remembered. The hue makes hide at night more difficult. but there was no glory in hiding. His hatred of the Church and everything the theocracy stood for was another factor. The cool and salty ocean breeze carried distorted voices. A rabid pursuit in the middle of the night served the best tonic for caged dogs. Floodlights filled the yard. but heard a number of vehicles at the gate. Then Robber will go to the meeting for the other offer. Robber decided to change his clothes. Robber thought they would. just listening to the prospective employer. a face-to-face meeting offered comfort. The military was occupied with puzzles the next few minutes. including half his fee. His skill at hiding was a reason Robber believed he wouldn't be shoddy at his surreptitious work.had no reason to hide. The meeting provided everything he needed. Residential areas always needed to be avoided. Robber had yet to discover he enjoyed swimming. the manhunt unofficially ended. Meeting a member of the . insomniacs who continually sat at their windows. At the very first ray of daylight. Robber will now blend with commuters making their way back to their automobiles. Strange enough. the hole opened. They elected to take an extra hour or so and walk home. but he guessed what the request entailed. He then planned to slip back to his car. that is why Robber never asked for concise information when he returned messages. A priest asked for camouflage in bright sunshine. When the circle grew so wide one patrol involved in the hunt met another. which led to wrath and oblivion. One could do worse than stroll in a summer sunset. Besides caution. The dark clothes were completely bloodied and had grown stiff when they dried. His detest aside. Besides. Robber needed to intrude on his secretary a few hours. In most cases. The blocks around the docks were peppered with lonesome cars and trucks. If the job sounded acceptable. but Robber was indeed masterful. The searched territory became another nook in which soldiers had already peeked. and hope he earned some reward for all his good work beneath the heavens. Night owls. The trail to the fence enlivened the Chosen soldiers. Like a shark. Robber could only wish. He decided to go barefoot. He beat his pursuers before they began their hunt. vehicle owners had grown sick of fighting traffic and looking for a place to park in the crowded surrounding neighborhoods. Being recognized for the ability to hide seemed ironically incongruent. were guaranteed to call the military in haste. were thin and light colored . and the money real. Robber also grew sick of their putrid smell. Depending on the stomach of clients for such despairing deeds. on the other hand. Robber reached his scanned and forgotten vehicle. He sorely needed a shower and safe nap. his or her voice will tremble or become stoic . with all his heart. Robber moved well away from the shipyard. making the glow visible from blocks away. especially if the alternative was imprisonment in an idling automobile on the streets of the Cap come curfew. almost a favor. clueless monotony subdued the animals. The clean clothes. Once morning dawned. so he evened the odds a little by removing his shoes. Robber needed to move to live. He would not dare make demands or even ask a favor. At one point. Robber moved away as the military widened their search beyond the yard. he will quietly beseech the Living God. another murder. even if unshod feet hampered flight. Such weakness was a false belief of the Chosen. Robber chose a shark as the creature he will become in another life. but the crazy idea of reincarnation belonged among cults that parodied the extinct pagans far away from the citystates. Despite the hours before sunrise. Robber put all the dark clothes he wore into the bundle held in his inside-out jacket. the omnipotent god of heathens. but Robber will take his chances.

She was joyful to earn her money all at once. unless some adventurous or bored explorer discovered the small carcasses. Tamara explained she found more work than expected. the dirt waited for her. due to difficulty finding someone to watch her hyperactive son. other than the final kind of meeting. the dirt thickened to brown haze across the skyline. 12 Wastrel Son “Spiders have eight legs and bugs have six legs. At least the gap in Ben's memory had faded to finding his circumstance familiar. all manufactured by its masochistic inhabitants during their daily lives. Tamara regretted moving so slowly. Davey and Hen immediately became steadfast buddies. Hen just could not keep up with Davey any longer. but Hen thankfully found something productive and enjoyable to pass the time with the boy. before coming straight to Saint Erasmus. Hen worried. The priest could not know who Robber was. Hen could not disagree with the fact. That is when Davey found the dead insect and showed Hen Cortras. making Saint Erasmus unsafe. Their eternal resting places remained hidden while the bugs dried to dust. More so. but is somehow related to Judah Batheirre. Hen's singleminded focus to abandon the church got old and vain. He watched and rested. seemed a mad idea. The mother of the retarded teenager left Davey with Hen all day yesterday. Specks of dust floated like veils in sunbeams that angled through half-shaded windows. Stress over his missing brother sapped Hen's energy. Even one day of respite seemed like an answered prayer. Hen usurped the role of sitter and monopolized the boy’s attention. The day-to-day worry over money wore on her aging heart. remember what he was doing as recently as a week ago. Ben suspected that she had not even tried her neighbors. The old woman already found a willing gull in Hen Cortras. Tamara brought Davey back to the church the next morning with more apologies. Based on the rumors he heard throughout his years working with the Batheirre family.Church. but Captain Kanen came with hands raised. the attitude of the priest reminded Robber the two of them stood opposite the lines of faith and justice. Davey found a huge fly. like those swept from the floor of Saint Erasmus. Advancing age slowed her down. As Robber thought before.” Davey informed Hen. Outside. As Tamara usually was not able to leave home. This priest. The Cortras brothers would move on or something would eventually happen. The cloud that clung to the surface of Capital was not just dust. an expert was not needed to determine Davey and Hen observed something unnatural. but full of plenty of other noxious stuff. he wouldn’t mind knocking off a random priest for the heathens. The priest waved the name like a flag of truce. The arrangement made Ben happy. with black and white stripes that ran the length of the insect's elongated abdomen. He had not agreed to play guardian. However. This Captain Kanen will still be as bigoted and deluded as the rest of the theocracy. The boy crawled under pews to entertain himself. an untimely demise of this one would actually be the favor to Judah. Robber’s preferred benefactor. Ben knew he could not indefinitely continue his drift. Ben had to prepare himself. Even though Tamara never received much cash. especially because she could not charge for her service by the hour. Davey and Hen disappeared into the hot afternoon for hours. Much work still waited for the tired old woman. in overlooked cracks and corners. There was not much difference between the knowledge of either the boy or younger Cortras brother. They played all the while . compared to the great gulf that separated the two from an educated specialist. but that was never the truth. He needed a plan – and more importantly. however. but too close to curfew. Despite the kin of Captain Kanen. The dust in the shops she cleaned piled like ash during hot days in Capital. A younger person could accomplish in an afternoon what took Tamara two full days. Little carcasses hid everywhere. had no real vestment in the Church. The woman gushed apologies and excuses that sounded selected from well-thumbed note cards. Ben used the respite to meditate and think about what he should do. Tamara believed the boy under Reverend Ben Ishkott's care at Saint Erasmus. Tamara Stoughnt finally returned. The problem was that neither he nor Davey were entomologists with degrees. having a pocketbook of bills made her feel wealthy for a little while. The pair returned with ice cream and playing cards.

There would not be anything unusual about a priest talking to the military. The extra effort required of patrols in a city-state the size of the Cap was just not practical. once again the military will come to Saint Erasmus for the second Cortras brother. curfew began and the streets emptied. Curfew had fallen and Dil found a safe place for the night. Hen's older brother did not appear last night. Most of the time. Hunting for a trespassing UnChosen did not make a lot of sense and would attract attention. If Davey was left with anyone else but his new friend. Apparently. Ben didn’t like the idea. he went on foot. Safely getting himself out of . if Dil failed to return. If Dil became drunk. Hen might have been Tamara's only resource. squads rushed past the church on way to matters more urgent than usual rounds. Ben added he believed a visit to the military was unnecessary and repeated everything will be fine in the morning. Certainly no wanted posters for the Cortras brothers appeared in the neighborhood. an old woman. Ben was a priest. Davey's fit might grow to turbulence his mother could no longer weather. Without his older brother. The boy was scrawny. Ben assured Hen the military would not expend resources to find the brothers. At least. Ben could say he looked for a stray workman. Hen immediately suspected the military came specifically for the Cortras brothers and plucked Dil on orders from Sergeant Meshonne at the Wall. the boy’s laughter would probably have turned to tears and an overgrown temper tantrum. The sergeant at the Wall merely made the customary threat to strangers upon entrance. which Ben expected of the younger Cortras. meanness simmered in slow rage. Nobody came Saint Erasmus looking for the Cortras brothers. The older Cortras brother would likely return in the morning. He joined Hen's worry. Ben and Hen discovered the boy often lapsed into a singsong voice. After curfew. but he was still a teenager. he might fly into rage. he unnerved Ben. it seemed they would never run out of ideas. Starting a search at the stated destination seemed the first logical step. If a patrol did capture Dil. out loud for Hen’s benefit. No word of the unaccounted presence Cortras brothers aired over the radio Hen and Davey had found upstairs and switched on. The fact the military detained the foolish man certainly seemed possible. nearly paralyzed. Dil and Hen were forgotten the moment they passed through the Wall. Her control waned over years. but one Hen accepted. repeated their games and teased each other in every room. Still. The passing sighting amounted to the totality of military presence in the parish. The military had their names on a list. Despite holding the keys. or at least passed as one. That alone should be proof enough for Hen. Ben only hoped Saint Erasmus will not become a daycare. Tamara could eventually do no more than relent to the perpetually childish demands of her son. Hen is lost. To the boy’s credit. Capital was a big city with larger problems. Hen worried a patrol caught Dil. the lack of rhyme and mediocrity made the songs grating. His older brother did something stupid. Where his singing was not unpleasant. Davey would whisper his song if asked to quiet down. that if something like that happened. They explored the church. after all. Ben would bet Davey talked and sang about Hen all night. Davey could now keep the pining man busy. when Tamara and Davey showed up at the doors again calling for Hen. Desperation drove Hen's request. Ben conjectured Dil simply lost track of the time. The sergeant did say the brothers remained suspect and their truck under surveillance. Hen verified the vehicle remained parked a few blocks away a dozen times. Even crossing the street at the wrong spot might lead to detainment. Hen risked military patrols and ran into the twilight to check the covered truck that belonged to the Cortras brothers. Last night. The whole day passed and Ben did not see a single patrol and he told Hen as much. His slow mind and growing body could potentially badly damage his mother. Hen remained so adamant when he stressed mounting danger. after Tamara came and took Davey home. Ben rationalized. He agreed to Hen’s request only to calm him. Wherever Dil had gone. Ben was glad. The tepid promise offered enough hope to send Hen to bed. Hen jumped to the next conclusion. Dil had a problem controlling his temper. Between the two of them. Ben spent the night coping with Hen’s indecision over a lapse into nervous breakdown. Ben attempted to restore peace by pointing out the flaws in the scrambled thinking of the younger Cortras. Ben's hesitance seemed minor to his growing concern over the absence of Dil Cortras. Hen asked Ben to find an occupied military station and make inquiries. but bubbled up when not closely watched. an interrogation might reveal Ben an impostor.Tamara was gone. The hypothesis seemed a shaky.

Church and military bureaucracies shuttered offices for a long weekend. The Chosen beliefs were especially debauched. as in “normal. Ben knew the truth. Hen. The next holiday was not until the end of the season the Chosen’s parade of saints. Once Ben brought the Cortras brothers into Capital. only oblivion seemed genuine. Easter passed two seasons ago.the young Cortras rushed around outside Saint Erasmus and to the truck. Their squat together at Saint Erasmus was an arrangement of convenience. . Before Ben agreed to watch Davey. he lacked will to escape out the back. The heathen treated the day with more reverence.” The older Cortras would hopefully come along soon. Hen might never leave ominous Saint Erasmus. Catatonia was not conducive to the long-honored instinct to survive. dry stretch of uneventful days filled summer in the Shur. but now I know my brother is alive!” Hen chirped. The old woman offered apologies and thanks again. Ben coordinated the effort to keep Davey out-of-the-way. Becoming a surrogate brother never entered the picture Ben conjured as a future. differently. Hen encouraged the bad habit when he struck a match to life between his front teeth and spit out the sulfurous bit. Hen happily commented he felt like he had new brothers. The orange flash and burning blue circle kept the boy content until Ben finished cooking. Ben could not to watch out for Hen. to replace the wine consumed last night. Dil appeared willing to do anything Ben wanted to make Saint Erasmus a home. but making breakfast with the stranger and boy felt right. Tamara delivered Davey just in time to stem an anxious bout of unanswered questions. made his stomach churn. pitiful. The three men now coincidentally shared accommodations and spoils they stumbled upon. The idea Ben once subscribed to these beliefs. Ben refused to bear dead weight while he gathered pieces of his past. Presents awaiting them. At the moment. Ben heated the beans separately. the boy sniffed out Hen inside Saint Erasmus. The two faiths honored celebration of Resurrection. He behaved like Easter morning had dawned. The trio prepared a bland mix of rice. both beliefs were obsolete. The only reason he joined the Cortras brothers was his own lack of direction.Capital would be impossible after such tragedy. “Where is Dil?” Ben asked sleepily. The two men gathered their own meals until the boy insisted he help them both. Dil took the unfinished bottle of wine with him. the province of the Chosen and the Church. The pair went downstairs. a magical day when prayers were answered and gifts stripped of patterned bandages. Ransom of the living corpse of a mutilated deity in exchange for immortality struck Ben as pathological. the most prolific holiday of Chosen and heathens alike. Rebirth testified to the immortality and omnipotence of the Living God. Dil and Ben talked about cutting bars from windows in the nave yesterday. As far as Ben was concerned. he already repaid any debt for his rescue. In the absence of god. or lack thereof. Hen will sink into helpless despair and conclude nothing mattered. Hen felt unburdened for a few short minutes. Ben allowed Davey to light the stove top burners and no more. Ben ignored holidays. Ben knew he fared better alone. Hen insisted Ben wake anyway. The younger Cortras will surrender without flight or resistance. Mortal or Living. The boy fixated on playing with the stick matches Hen discovered on a shelf above the stove. and Davey fixed breakfast together. Tamara arrived at her job by the time Ben. Losing that ride. A small hacksaw lay on the kitchen table. An unopened bottle of Yowling Cat. This day was not a holiday. Ben had no clue where Dil vanished now. The heretics flaunted obscure and sadistic graven images on the streets. canned tomatoes and refried beans. A long. Everlasting life is not a birthright for the Chosen to take for granted. Hen would have liked Dil in the kitchen. they were square. accompanied the tool. Hen’s brooding panic drove him to question Ben again. He especially praised and played with Davey throughout the preparation. but an earned grace. The theology of the Chosen was wrought with abominations such as these. “He's not here. The rising sun woke Hen. He found Easter. Hen stirred the tomatoes into the rice. otherwise meaningless. if Hen were in peril from the military. looking for his brother without luck. Ben guessed a search for the saw was the reason for Dil’s delay. Davey seemed normal in respect to his typical adolescent fascination with fire. Dil must have gone off on his errand when Tamara Stoughnt paid her first visit. After answering Ben's question. Dil unmistakably left the gifts. Hen wasted no time when he woke Ben and implored him to hurry downstairs.

although fear of a concussion was groundless. Time skipped an hour while Ben sat in the kitchen thinking and staring at the blank wall outside the window. No more pieces of his puzzle uncovered. even if everyone at Saint Erasmus checked into different rooms. A single swipe might razor off a good bite of flesh. his next questions included his mission and how he knocked years of memory from his head. Within minutes. The boy refused to wash his dishes until Hen took responsibility. The same probably applied to Ben's attempt to rationalize the necessity of his presence there and then. The best thing he and Hen could do at the moment was keep busy. Ben looked at a straight beam of vicious looking perpendicular triangles. The sharp points bit. toothed row of teeth belonged in the jaw of a piranha. The only problem with the undertaking existed in his head. That was enough for one day. The idea supported the feeling Ben played a role in an agenda of someone else. consequences might result because of failure or he missed an essential contact. He felt no particular affiliation with the Church or heathens. Today. The blade only scratched the iron while he delicately cut the metal like a jeweler. His right leg went to sleep. Metaphysically. Ben must have been on his way to Capital when something happened in the wastes of the Shur. When Ben stood. Any importance and imminence simply went away – as did the voice. not even so much as shadows fleeting from the corner of his eye. Yesterday. Ben convinced himself entrance to the Cap was the condition of some mission. Ben may have acted in the interest of a crime-lord of one of the poor city-states like Gomorrah. He did not suffer symptoms. Ben gripped the blade in his fist. If Ben acted in some scheme. If not for an urgent sense of caution. Ben spent most of his waking day drinking and pissing. hoping his calf would not cramp. The step to remove the serrated metal strip turned out simple. If so. an electric jolt stabbed through the sole of his foot and up his calf. Ben might believe he had legitimate business. No lump rose on his scalp. The short. The suspicion was just not the shining revelation that may have been intended. Ben got a little spooked. but today was brand new. Ben will open up a window or two and see if the subtraction made any difference to the odd claustrophobia he experienced in the large room. When Ben began again. To reach the base of the bars comfortably. The bars were set so close to each other Ben needed to take the blade from the bow. He ignored Davey and drank until content. both became insubstantial. Ben froze. His acceptance was delivered blind and immediately. Ben held the blade carefully at one end between his thumb and forefinger. he stopped worrying about injury and attacked the bar. Ben kneeled. The window nearest the back hall seemed the ideal candidate. The grandiosity of purpose and destiny that encompassed Saint Erasmus in Capital diminished. Ben’s thirst was not as intense as yesterday and he felt grateful. The numbness spread all the way up one side of his buttocks. That might apply for whoever Ben worked. The chore . instead of share the limbo in which Ben lingered. the church is still the same motel. Ben realized his approach as impossible. Ben only concluded he restored his sanity. keeping an eye on the covered vehicle and on the lookout for Dil. Frustration soon forced Ben to abandon the attempt. To get serious work accomplished. the three mixed their own servings together. if he did work. A cut a few millimeters deep appeared in no time. that might have been evidence of heat stroke. Hen and Davey merely distracted Ben. Ben might have tried too hard to listen. During breakfast. The feeling he belonged in Capital still lingered. The miniature wing nuts on the tool easily spun loose. Ben used the time alone to resume thinking from yesterday. except the ringing he heard. Both the voice and sense of destiny seemed like new notions of faith. but did not break the skin. Ben blew the scattered metal shavings out the window and ran his finger over the incision. which included the continued trips to check the truck. He decided to cut bars from windows in the nave. Ben needed a plan in case things at Saint Erasmus went wrong. Davey teased Ben about returning to the sink again and again to refill a water glass. Eventually Hen and Davey rounded out the morning staked out on the corner. He propped his elbows on the windowsill and sawed at the bar in the center. since it came first in line. the reward came immediately. Ben turned the hacksaw over. Nobody grumbled.After dishing the rice and beans onto everyone’s plates. Ben could have hit his head. Hen’s doubt and general bad feeling grew contagious. Davey then gladly helped with every chore Hen accepted or invented. As soon as a hard look at either seemed warranted.

Ben mulled the significance. a pew turned on its end and leaned against the church would work. but deep pits formed an indention across the meaty part of his palm beneath his thumb. but wanted to be certain Hen refrained from planning some inept scheme. The bars will wobble every stroke. fortune telling was nothing more than a farce. The boy jumped up. Ben absolutely needed water.” Hen said. It lay on its back. Ben knew the man felt depressed because of his absent brother. In this neighborhood. What would anyone know of fate? Practitioners were all charlatans. The latter would be more difficult. with its numerous legs curled up. Namely. Ben will make a point to change his clothes today. The wretched inhabitants of the slum of the Cap will come to make wishes and toss whatever coins they pinched into a collection plate . Saint Erasmus may just a way station for the military. Most of all. Ben stopped sawing. the emptiness was addictive and the task seemed safe and certainly serene. he wanted to lock the entrances. Davey’s shriek sounded from beneath the crooked row. Enough conspicuous comings and goings indicated Saint Erasmus was again occupied. offering nothing more than entertainment. keeping alive fragments of forgotten pagan mythology. The bug was just one of the hundreds that succumbed to gas. “Count them again. and then pranced over to Hen. Ben could finish cutting them completely if he went outside and sawed the bars at their tops. Hen had the look of a man who wanted to ask a favor. He definitely will not issue a Church newsletter. In the past few days. It appeared huge. He sucked the inside of his cheeks to start saliva flowing and tried again. the floor. Dil might be right. The points perfectly matched the teeth on the blade.accomplished an affect Ben experienced with Dil a couple days past when they scraped gore from the floor. Any morning he could wake up to a slew of pious sheep eager for a sermon. Ben had not heard the younger Cortras come into the nave. Ben could not imagine he would generate ideas or recover memories if he continued work. as did the discoloration from the blade. or he could cut at the furthest point he was able to reach up from inside. The pews in front of him suddenly bumped up and slid askew. he checked on Hen. Sitting in the thin hand of the boy made the evil thing look sharp and dangerous. Protracted repairs would still keep the public out. Isolation from the dead swarm and clean of gelled blood did not shrink the insect. Hen's face was long and his gaze remained fixed beyond the cross over the altar. Ben realized the fact after he returned to cutting the bar. That odd feeling troubled Ben. Ben wondered why the congregation waited. Ben decided to move his work outdoors. The side of the building with his window will remain in shade a while longer. He was thirsty again. Ben could not allow himself to get too comfortable with his alias. His shirt was wet with sweat and he smelled his own musk. The pair started playful argument. The repetitive work numbed Ben's mind. Ben looked at the palm of the hand that held the blade. not many people visited. Ben will also not go knock door-to-door. As much as Ben desired to remove bars from the windows in the nave. The scar was really just an impression. Ben licked his dry lips. Ben needed a rest. Davey held a dead fly in his hand. Ben rubbed the artificial slice with his thumb. He poked into Davey’s open palm. Davey. but knew he didn’t have any coming. but this time he had reason. but the indent remained. He needed something to stand on. even in death. front and back. and the old woman and her son. The idea made Ben feel secure. He had cut through the base of two bars before making the realization. Hen flickered back to the present. Any palm reader would say the slice was temporary and artificial. but the back door also needed repair.voluntary taxes paid to the Church. but his tongue was sticky and lacked moisture. A black line pressed into the skin. Davey showed something to the younger Cortras. Hen sat in the pews near the front doors. Ben and the Cortras brothers needed to keep out the idle curious. Guests included the priest who presumed to be Ben's superior. A chill creep over Ben's shoulders . Ben turned around. but the marks broke every major crease in his palm. The pile of sticky feathers in the back might raise enough uncomfortable questions. Hen looked sick. No one knew the future. the flock certainly only consisted of UnChosen. Even dots of small. Before Ben went to the kitchen. Then again. The day of the week fell into mystery. trotted around the pews. Yet. The flesh turned just as red as the burned topside. No soldiers or other neighbors even slowed down to look as they passed.

” Davey declared when he finished counting. “Oh. Hen's patience for the show was not as keen as he believed Davey deserved.” Davey claimed. but the boy did not have an audience then. Davey. Davey raised his fists near to his tiny. His mouth froze in an open smile. More distressing were the long mandibles that looked more like pincers that belonged on a beetle. Davey patiently waited for more praise.” Hen curled back his lips.” Ben said. The boy paused and blinked again. Davey made goodbyes a condition for going home. His revenge seemed stymied. he raised a finger for each vocalized number. “They killed ‘em with gas. that’s right. both hands opened with fingers splayed. Davey looked like a mechanical traffic sign where his motion indicated a flash. The insect rolled around inside like the muffled clapper of a bell. “Because they’re poisoned. Both Ben and Hen had seen Davey count quietly before without the use of fingers. “Why?” Davey asked in defiance. Before he continued. Davey kept going until he reached one hundred. If you eat it. He softly lay the insect down beside Hen. Besides. His hands jerked to his sides like a gunslinger. fearing he might shatter the thing. The bent legs made the process difficult. back to thinking about the windows. “That’s real good!” Davey laughed and snatched up the found bug. When the boy reached ten. but he recovered. The preparation was for the sake of performance. but thought he mistook a pair of antennae for legs. “You’re sure?” Hen asked. “Hey Davey. He saw the boy was determined to continue. faceted eyes that glittered gold in the light. It bit mama. “I guess this spider has wings. Davey struggled to remember which hand to use. Ben would not have even given that if the boy had not demanded a farewell from everyone. counting again himself. as a matter of fact. Hen glanced at Ben. high-set ears. the warning was the first words he spoke to Davey since saying goodbye last night. and blinked as he concentrated.” Davey tattled. although the insect did not appear to possess feelers.” Hen upped the ante.” Hen jumped up. Hen turned again to Davey. Davey’s routine had grown rusty.and the back of his neck. “I’m going to eat it. The boy dropped his hands and waited. Davey reached fifteen and closed his other hand. Ben turned back around. “No. He looked disappointed. how high can you count?” Hen asked. Hen came up with the same number. The shiver made his sweat feel like melting ice. If Davey made a move toward his mouth.” Hen said. His squeamishness built to a level he could no longer handle.” commanded Ben. Hen slid away with a jerk. Davey unfolded his hand in front of his grinning face. Davey paused and he grew serious. kid. He snapped one hand shut. If Hen could interrupt and explain the boy didn’t need to prove anything. The dead fly balanced on its curled legs. The head consisted of big. Davey squinted one eye. Hen quickly corrected his faux pas. Hen almost tricked himself into seeing the thing revive before his eyes. At mention of a window. A very earnest look monopolized the boy's face. His grin went away and a white light flashed in his eyes. “I can count. red.” Hen said. “How ‘bout you throw it out the window?” Hen implored. Ben dug his thumb into the palm of his hand. ready to move on to number eleven. He cupped his fingers.” “I don’t care.” “You could die. Hen missed the boy's finish and tried to pick up clues from the second member of the audience. Davey was not as sure of the possibility as he was with the number of legs he knew insects were supposed to have. forming a cage. This thing was a bunch of different bugs bred together into a single blood-sucking monstrosity. Davey ignored Hen and continued to count aloud. Hen stood ready to slap the boy's hand aside. “It bit my mama. The hand that began the procession closed back into a fist. he was going to try. “Well that’s fine. Translucent wings pointed upward as if the thing was about to take flight. As Davey counted. you’ll get sick. Besides commands at breakfast. “Eight legs. Davey cupped his . don’t!” “Don’t do that. as the other shot fingers up one at a time. His shoulders stuck to his jaw after a jammed shrug. The boy contemplated the idea his new friend proposed.

His skin had grown accustomed to the weight of his clothing. “You’re out of luck.” Davey repeated.” Hen solemnly stated.” “You cracked it. toward the dock's main gate.and curious.” Davey ground his foot. The pressure from the pew felt like the flat part of a hot skillet branded his shoulder. and Ben stumbled backward then forward trying to find balance.” “We’ll help.only pain. “I’m going get some water. The pew knocked into the others. It remained intact. He even conducted short conversation with one of the workers that walked to a job on the docks. Robber and the man bid friendly farewells with smiles and . Ben hoisted a pew onto his shoulder. As Hen lifted the pew. bundled shirt and scrubbed gore from his hands. He dared rub his shoulders. “Put it outside the window.” Ben answered. Ben went mute down the hall to the kitchen.” Ben gestured to the window where he sawed at bars. Thankfully. a smudge failed to trace a path. Robber spotted the blood he still needed clean. When the dockhand asked Robber how he knew something happened. A long split ran from one end of the seat of the pew to the other. Davey followed the fall and stomped hard on the fly. The insect bounced against the floor once and rolled over on its wings.” Ben directed. Davey and Hen rushed over to Ben. while Hen and Davey carried the broken piece of furniture out through the front doors. The little pieces of chitin crunched like an eggshell. “Go on and throw it out the window. Ben held the fabric of his shirt away from his shoulder. Robber experienced no problem getting back to his car in the morning. Ben and Hen jumped at the unexpected hammer. Davey raised his arm above his head and whipped his hand down. If it gets dirty. “We just cleaned the floor.hand again. only a trail of tiny carapace shards. The bench was heavier than he expected. Ben decided the bench could still support his weight. The dockhand thanked Robber for advanced notice. Davey. Ben threw off the pew off as if he fought off a mountain lion.” Davey reported. Robber answered nonchalant but truthful. The two men parted when Robber turned south to his car and the worker went the opposite direction. Robber found dry spots on the bloodied. When Ben patted his flesh. When he shrugged off the pew. 13 Gnashing Teeth Robber put his shoes back on.” Hen suggested again. or rather the one comprehensive burn. were well on the way to healing. Hen was relieved he didn’t hear a squish. He dragged the bottom of his foot backwards across the floor. “Oh. The pew still appeared solid enough to sit on. “Just take it outside. The area grew incredibly intolerant again. “We’re in the house of the Mortal God. The boy laughed as if possessed. he realized he still was whole . The church echoed with the flat boom. “Davey. and his tendons tightened as if he resisted the urge to clench his fist. pointing at the thrown pew. raising a racket that dwarfed Davey’s stomp.” Hen said. kid. The worker was concerned about showing up late and wondered if there was any work at all to do that morning . But as soon as the hard wood pressed on his shoulder. Robber let him in on the fact that the fellow will start work late this morning because there had been an incident the night before. bloody clothes tucked under an arm. The man never asked the stranger why he left the docks or about the bundle of dark. The carcass inside was about to pop and crunch. that wasn’t good. scratching around the yard. “What are you doing? We can help. because his feet had grown cold once the concrete lost all heat absorbed the previous day. but stopped when he discovered the motion failed to relieve pain. Ben was rudely reminded of his injury. The military and a reporter or two might get in the way. Ben reached inside his shirt. Robber had just came from the docks and now headed back to his car. The burns. The dockhand walked a couple blocks with Robber. who’s going to bless it?” “Him!” Davey shot his finger at Ben. “Are you okay?” Hen asked. Hen instructed Davey not to mind the damage and help him carry the pew outside. In the spreading light of dawn. a swath of skin felt ripped from his shoulder. the wood twisted and parted slightly like open lips.

despite the wear and age of the pages. The drape remained slightly open.” “You can keep it. The new Robber always picked isolated times to visit.” Robber held his secretary in a stern stare. I want to clean up. That’s what you came to the Cap for. I got your book. Only a few places offered room for dirty clothes. the two men on the street appeared old acquaintances. “Hey!” his secretary objected. His secretary lurked inside. From the perspective of the patrol. but this summer was hot. thin legs. The heat inside the little oven melted the glue from the walls. “What if I don’t come back? How about I leave for the encampment? I thought the military doesn’t bother people leaving. He peeked out the window at nothing to see. There’s a story about a cat out for vengeance. skipping over a thick. He peeked through the window out of habit and drew the fading blue drapes.” “I’m getting sick of this arrangement. boxes. He forbid complaints from his secretary and threatened broken bones. The bottles and cans perched close to toppling off the other side.” “Go. The black ink remained solid and clear. All neighbors in the apartment building disappeared to work. “Nothing. other than the floor.” his secretary said. He stepped across the room to open the drapes. The room went dark. He heard “a book about cats” and assumed his secretary wanted to be a veterinarian. and cans around a small table. I don’t have liquor rations.” his secretary answered. I’ve been going crazy.” “I brought it with me. “It’s on me. Robber became instantly wary. “Books are banned. He refused to look at the man who took his name. especially in Capital.” “You’ll be back. just a barren courtyard surrounded by blind windows and locked doors. so no luck there. I almost know it by heart. When Robber rubbed his fingers over the scab.” Robber grunted. He paid the rent. off to work and oblivious to the murders last night. Besides. The missing cover exposed yellow pages that spoiled to rusty orange at their edges. Get out of here. He flipped a page and then another. “The money is good. stuck in here. You haven’t paid me yet.” “I don’t have any money. His secretary froze as if turned to stone by twisted Robber’s face. lightening the room drenched in shadow. A jeep with three soldiers slowly cruised past at that moment and Robber waved at the patrol too. “Hey. just as Robber expected.” . Robber’s secretary read a book. Take the keys. “Go get breakfast or lunch. The secretary stepped from the window. blending in with small chunks of dried mud and dropped crumbs.” Robber reached into his front pocket and pulled out a loose roll of bills. An off color wallpaper bubbled off the drywall. “Only a crack. so Robber came and went as he pleased. You don’t want to. The paper looked new. He used a side of his ragged book to push empty bottles. He wobbled on long. He handed a few to his secretary. The soldiers continued down the street. With two grown men living in the single-room apartment. He cleared enough space for the book to hang over the edge when he set it on the acrylic surface. Chances are pretty slim he will find a school within Capital that trained poor. “Why don’t you go out for a couple hours?” Robber suggested. I need the place for a while. already scattered with clothes and strewn with trash. illegal migrant UnChosen. After a long slog through rush hour traffic Robber entered his compact apartment. “Where did you get that?” demanded Robber. Short stories. They had grown when Robber's secretary sat stiff in one position a long time. the place appeared even more cramped.waves. it flaked off and sprinkled on a clear spot of the dusty gray carpeting. “I can’t see the pages!” The man got up. “It’s a good thing. I like cats. you don’t need to test me. Don’t take the book with you. brunch.” His secretary pulled the drapes open to allow a sliver of light to cast upon the spot he sat. “What’s it about?” Robber tossed his bundle of soiled clothes into the chair his secretary had been sitting.” “Yeah. I’ll see you later. continuous paragraph of text. really.” Robber only listened for a few keywords. a gentle jolt is all the start of an avalanche would take. Good luck to him. A dark brown crust covered one of Robber’s hands. once a paperback. His secretary didn’t look eager to go back to reading anyway. I won’t be here when you get back. just so the two men understood each other.” Robber grinned. too dark for comfortable reading.

low rent dive he found. moving faster as he neared the door. if he lived through the accident. kid. the place was partially furnished. Yes. flew off. He pulled his undershirt off over his head. Crumbs. They didn’t even have a place to throw their trash. Once Robber finished cleaning up. Robber will continue being the only Robber in the room. Neither Robber or his secretary owned proper plates or glasses. Inheriting the table. He reached for the bottle of bleach beneath the sink. undertone odors in the closed apartment.” Robber almost call his secretary by his alias. A big bottle of bleach and a wardrobe of clean and properly colored clothes were indispensable in his business. he could afford a short nap. Robber measured four overflowing capsful into the filling sink. His secretary walked across the room. Robber hoped his secretary wouldn’t get himself run over in traffic. The running water mixed with the chemical. Robber needed to keep moving. Robber liked the smell better then the unidentified. The sofa already invited him and Robber still had some time before his meeting with the priest. Robber rented the place for a makeshift safe house. “If you cleaned up around here. His secretary needed to blow off steam. Using less noxious stuff in turn meant he would not continue to ruin clothes he owned. “Darks don’t go with whites. his secretary would become an anonymous corpse if he died. The pair rinsed the plastic utensils they acquired and found second uses for everything. In the right amounts. While the sink filled. you’d have a nice little place to live. He wouldn’t need to clean them. It will help you save money for school. but had become part of Robber's wash ritual. The chair came with the apartment. but Robber was not thinking of himself. Robber locked the door. otherwise. .” His secretary looked at Robber with outrage. but forgot the name he gave him.” Robber nodded. The reality of this place was that this was not Robber's home. He didn’t have one. Robber cleared away dirty dishes. He came here today to wash up. Robber's secretary was as skinny as a fence post. among other motes. Robber went into the kitchen and cleared the sink of cans and plastic utensils. in his haste to get away. figuratively bricked into this small space during blistering days of summer. anyway. and sofa came as a pleasant surprise. “I’m going to soak those. but also ate the fabric. only-child. Robber considered any place he didn’t have to sleep on the floor or sit in corners as classy. the only cleaner in the apartment. if they need it. That last thought struck close to the facts of Robber’s own life. His parents weren’t around long enough to give him a proper name. Once Robber emptied the sink. cans or take-out containers. The whole apartment soon filled with sharp.” “What?” “I’ll see you later. button-up shirt and shook it out.“That’s what I’m afraid of. Robber grabbed the first anonymous. Robber collected his bundle of bloodstained clothes from the chair. They ate directly from boxes. Robber thought of the apartment as bachelor living. The smell must come off his secretary. His medical report might just as well say the unidentified corpse was an orphaned. He practically sprinted into then out of the empty courtyard. pointing at the bundle of clothes he tossed in the chair. He found a pastel. but furniture was not criteria when he selected the place. which accounted for all the garbage piled on the counter and table. the bleach would become less important. I like you. he stopped the drain and ran cold water into the basin. The cleaner did the job well. He turned his head to keep debris from his eyes. “I can throw in a couple of your shirts.” The secretary scanned the floor. never did. There’s blood on your clothes. Robber dropped his bundle of clothes on the black and white checkered linoleum of the kitchen floor.” “We really ought to be friendly with each other. The quantity was arbitrary. His torso appeared pale compared to the deep tan of his face and arms. The skinny lad wouldn’t have anyone to take care of him.” Robber said. there was. chairs. The stuff worked for anything. bleach served as the ultimate general purpose cleaner. Once his secretary fled out-of-sight. The man stayed cooped up too long. For better or worse. stinging perfume that made his eyes water. So many ribs were visible that Robber lost count when he glanced. If Robber avoided messy hits.

their solid shapes built a maze where every turn ended with an absence of light. Robber will become a maestro. He mumbled a quiet curse for wetting his clean clothes. the horn handle and slightly curved blade were unmistakable. Robber just did not have a lot of experience with roommates. Robber did not leave his apartment. When Robber stirred. nor inside a creepy oversized birdcage. Before Robber left. and so were the pin. Robber had not really heard the intruder. His skin appeared leathery. even though the sun climbed a clear sky. This morning will be another one. The anonymous spy crept along. Robber felt no compulsion to move. The knife belonged to Robber. Someone stood outside the door to the apartment. Robber rose. The guy may have been a past victim. not . A small. He promptly became inflamed with instinct to run and recover his stolen property. Robber wished the stranger would drive in the blade and finish himself for theft. For now. He poked at the clothes with fingers until they submerged. and antler handle. Then again. Even though the temperature was adequate. or was sucked into an intense daydream. the vision appeared vivid and rooted in the present. The color began as tendrils. His wet skin felt cool in the stagnant warmth of the apartment. The stranger raised a knife to his own outstretched neck. not even a peep. The water turned pink. His cuts last night were fast and accurate. Robber stripped off his clothes and dropped them to the floor on top of others that belonged to him and his secretary.The windows stayed shut. Even if the man helped Robber. The figure mangled a smile that may have well been a grimace. empty cardboard box skimmed across the overflow. Robber lay on the sofa naked after showering. Instead. but the apparition outside transfixed him. Robber preferred bathing in scalding water. The locked door was suddenly off its hinges and lay on the wall to one side of the opening that no longer went to the courtyard. a ghost. The figure was that of a short man. A figure appeared just as Robber about turned to find pants. dream or daydream. he stood naked and only stared. wearing matching blue pants and long sleeve shirt. The cage appeared dark. No sounds at all. so he possessed limited observations. but did not. The shared slovenly habits of the two men made their chance meeting peculiar. Robber skipped rolling up his sleeves. However. If Robber wanted. an aviary. trying to be silent. still nude. he remained attentive to covering up his imperfections. not quite touching the side of his throat. Whichever occurred. Robber pulled out his hands. seeking revenge or come to reclaim a lost name. The clothes sank into the water. having them open made the place vulnerable. he wouldn’t create any. Ideally. Outdoors was replaced with what looked like the inside of a covered garden where overgrown plants wilted black. Nobody like this belonged inside Capital. Robber wished his secretary was willing to do laundry. then darkened evenly. The flimsy arms dissolved in the swirling water. since the water heated only lukewarm. reaching to the surface and to the bottom of the enameled white sink. he watched the water turn red. as if he spent his life under the desert sun. because the humid air relaxed him. he will need to drain the sink and soak the clothes again in cleaner water. All men may live as they did. confirmed by the lack of blood. a workman’s outfit. Robber laid his favorite lockback knife on his secretary’s book. so he took the knife with him into the shower. the dark receded like a wave falling back to reveal beached jetsam. Robber may have fallen asleep. As he took off his shirt. Robber needed to take responsibility for his own mess. The stranger twisted the knife back and forth. The figure had not come forward from shadows. catch. The blade looked clean. The area resembled a big birdcage like one at a zoo. He remained lucid enough to realize he wore no clothes. Shaving seemed about all Robber accomplished in the shower. he would kill the man himself in an instant. Robber kept the blade itself sharp enough for shaving. which Robber had done on a few occasions. the assistance may not feel right. He napped while waiting to dry. Eventually. water splashed out and soaked the front of his shirt and flowed over the counter. Robber remembered leaving the knife on the bathroom sink. coincidence may not have anything to do with the encounter. Why this ordinary man was in Robber’s dream seemed curious. The cage shed dense shadows. Robber didn’t ask and didn’t care. nearly overflowing the basin. The shower needed to become a sauna. then picked it up again and opened the blade. except there were no any birds. Robber turned off the faucet. but a prickly aura pressed into him.

Robber guaranteed himself an early arrived. The lines traveled down his legs and between his toes. A wet trickle rolled off Robber’s shoulder and down his chest. Robber felt nothing. besides getting down to real business. Thanks to the unsettling dream. just where Robber left it. and he might as well be earlier than he usually was. Robber scanned the apartment.even recover his clothes. The blood oozed through Robber’s fingers. When Robber looked down. His work involved quite a bit of walking. especially so it would not follow. The floor stayed dry beneath his feet. even earlier. Robber still lay naked and damp. Robber slapped his bloodied hand to his neck and splattered blood. Robber knew he dreamed and took control. long walks were the most activity he got. Robber realized the inconsistency of events and physics became too absurd. with the blade folded back into its sheath. Robber felt he took something he didn't need or want with him. He checked them again and again for bloodstains. and tenacious. Robber dabbed at the hot and sticky dampness on his neck. The car always remained out of sight and pointed the . The figure in the courtyard vanished while panic built. Before leaving. True to habit. Robber considered the exercise a benefit. It flowed like water draining from a hole in the bottom of a bucket. Minding his own back meant he kept a client an arm’s length from prying eyes and military stings. He didn’t want the dream to follow. Robber told himself to leave before the smell became a stench. like the dream. and the low odor increased with humidity. The thought itself became a bothersome feeling. but blood still streamed down his body. Leaving the knife in the bathroom was probably a memory from his dream. Robber knew the man used Ape. Robber checked his wallet and knife before slipping them into opposite back pockets. well ahead of schedule. depending on his impression of the client. especially on his right side. Robber attributed the practice to common sense in his business. With his realization. He twisted the garrote into a front pocket. He threw on the same light-colored clothes he had just taken off. before shaving in the shower. he watched bright red blood trace branching veins outside his skin. Robber felt his chin. Robber always arrived early. forgotten. The source was nowhere seen. His quick rage snared him in nightmare. Robber did not stare through an open doorway and he was not bleeding. Shaking it off was not as simple as waking up. and determined they passed inspection each time. Sometimes Robber showed up hours before a meeting. The clothing was suitable for a daytime meeting. Robber felt easy with the meeting today with the Kanen. when Robber rolled off the sofa and dressed. He was a referral from a trusted and regular employer. He reached up with his other hand. but the fact the client was a captain in the Church raised his hackles – although. Robber had an appointment. Remembering his path was unimportant. Robber parked his car his standard couple blocks away. For this meeting. and no one had even come close to him. although the motivation actually came from paranoia. To allow this ridiculousness to continue was stupid. The apartment had grown muggy. Let his secretary deal with angry ghosts. A shaky voice over the phone meant Robber will arrive sooner. Robber wondered how long he slept and how much he actually dreamed. but he now knew he slept. Robber woke. The first thing Robber saw when he opened his eyes was his knife. The exact steps Robber took between leaving the shower and lying down seemed unusually fuzzy. Robber needed the leak to stop. The liquid felt warmer than his shower and he mistook the sensation for water dripping off wet hair. on which he lay. He hoped the threat stay locked inside. Robber arrived across the street from the meeting place. Robber looked around to find where it came from. There seemed no plausible he'd been cut. Robber considered watching out for himself a service to nervous clients. he had indeed shaved. Robber slipped outside with a quick sidestep and pulled the door shut. It sat on his secretary’s old book. A brief scan of the room confirmed everything remained in its cluttered place. but the flow came steady. Robber thought he knew the reason for the uneasy feeling. Someone who could not stay level-headed wandered off the course of caution. He looked at his fingers and saw them covered in blood. Panic took hold. The clothes in the sink soaked. but his knife now lay in his open palm.

opposite direction. That was another little details for which Robber prided himself. Robber considered his obsession a skill, if not common sense, along with his timing. The ability to navigate Capital at times when roads were least dense involved proficiency. Most people with regular jobs lacked the luxury of avoiding the rush; but one still needed to calculate when the hive will let out and swarm about during long lunches, and when the few who cut the day short became a wave of buzzing traffic hazards. Robber successfully avoided commuters. An admirable accomplishment, especially after he punched out from his shift as butcher at the docks, followed by a shower, shave and a regrettable nap. Something about last night should soon be on the radio. Robber listened to military news on his way to the apartment, and now, going to his rendezvous. So far, not a word about his crime or Robber missed the story. That thought disappointed him, as Robber enjoyed hearing about himself, even if by way of his anonymous work. The shame of Robber's sloppy evening passed. Now he was hoped the bodies were found and the murders reported. Forensics would prove the killer wielded the blade as a master. The buckets of blood were merely consequence of opened arteries. If juggling a portable radio wasn’t such a possible distraction or obstruction, Robber would listen all day for his story. Instead, Robber silently leaned between storefronts and watch for a priest to arrive at the unpretentious bistro across the street. Compact tables stood outside. Robber reasonably assumed a lone priest awaiting a guest will be seated outside. When the priest showed up, Robber decided to make him wait a little longer, just to measure his movements. The priest may inadvertently watch for someone other than whom he came to meet. Robber always walked away if he didn’t trust the look of his prospect. The same condition applied with Captain Kanen. The two men would have never met, but the advantage will go to Robber’s for making the call. Robber wished for a better place to scope the restaurant, other than standing squarely in the open. Loitering was too conspicuous in Capital. Robber paced the block to mask his lurking. He peeked inside stores under the pretense of window shopping, to catch anyone who made a mark on him. No one paid special attention to anything that happened outside. Robber appreciated that. The alternative to casing his client was to go across the street and take a table at the very place he surveyed. After a long, uncomfortable wait in the heat of late morning, boredom crept in. Robber wished he brought his secretary’s book about cats. Then again, he avoided scrutiny. Robber was in the last place he should break bans. Leaning against a public building in broad daylight with his nose in contraband, begged for trouble. The idea entertained Robber. He thought a little longer about the stares and the ensuing trouble with the military. They would nab a smuggler in name only, thanks to Robber's confiscated ID cards. The distraction stopped being amusing at the point the story will really end. Whoever took the fall will disappear to a detention camp. Being a creature of the city-states, Robber imagined the camps as literally hell-on-earth, flat and smoldering patches in unmapped regions of the Shur. As a kid, Robber heard the sun never set in the wastes. He supposed that is why the camps were built out there. Robber never saw a camp, but he had crossed the desert at night a handful of times. An amazing sky of stars existed over the waste, barely visible above city lights. Every time Robber saw the night sky in the desert, his awe compared to looking upon the ocean for the first time. But even in rapture, Robber wanted nothing more than to go back to the throngs of civilization. The arrival of Robber's client amazingly coincided with a parking space, large enough for the vehicle, opening the second he arrived. The priest pulled up, right outside the bistro, in a white limousine. Robber kicked off the corner he leaned against and took a short walk, watching what happened next. The bistro hostess escorted the clergyman to the anticipated table. The priest appeared average in most respects. Captain Kanen wore the standard uniform of black slacks and white collarless shirt. This priest also wore a suit coat. Not really unusual, but a hot spell simmered all summer long. The priest did not seem to suffer, other than flushed in his cheeks. The extra weight the man lugged around may have reddened in his face. The clumsy manner the priest dropped into the chair suggested his stuffed girth caused the blush.

Robber hoped the man had not planned to have lunch at the meeting. Taking a meal now not only demonstrated disrespect, but implied casualness, grudgingly afforded only to wellpaying clients. Robber had an angry quirk about seeing fat old men eat. The image typified a lifetime of gluttony available for the least deserving. Robber waited to see if the priest requested a menu. If he did, Robber will leave. When the waitress arrived, the priest ordered a drink and nothing more. Business will be conducted today. Robber strolled up the street again, so when he approached, he would come from behind. Only parked and passing cars screened him from the eyes of the priest. Kanen could easily spot Robber if he bothered to look around, but he didn’t. The priest occupied himself watching women at the bistro and counting the cash meant for an assassin. The two were related activities; while the priest held the big wad of bills, he might as well impress some working class girls. The drink Kanen ordered arrived in a tall glass with more ice than tea. The priest fail to produce a ration ticket, so the tea was obviously non-alcoholic. Kanen flashed his cash and made a coarse innuendo to the waitress. Robber could not hear what the priest said, but saw the woman recoil. The priest called her back with a wave and curt apology. Robber stepped in and told the waitress neither customer wanted anything more. She relaxed her tiny, sloped shoulders and retreated inside. Robber sat opposite the priest. “You’re Kanen, right?” Robber asked. He already knew he had the right priest. “Reverend,” the man remarked, aghast. He put the money back into his jacket. “You’re not my daddy,” Robber snapped. Josiah realized the person he spoke with floated in the sea beyond law-abiding society, but still expected the respect that his position and rank demanded. A long time passed since Kanen put up with lack of grace, other than from his nephew Judah and that bastard, Ishkott. Josiah retorted with the core of the meeting. “I am the one paying you,” he uttered with mustered snobbishness. “I haven’t said I would do anything for you, yet.” Robber’s stomach burned. The inside of his mouth tasted bitter. He wanted to spit, but sucked back the acidic juice. He refused to give even that much of himself to this priest. “Listen,” Robber said. “You probably think you know who you’re dealing with, but you better think again. I don’t have a rank pinned to my shirt. I’m not like you in so many ways. I don’t play by your rules.” “All right,” Josiah stated. He did not agree, only forced room for a reply. “All I meant was, that you’re looking for a job, and I’m the one who is paying.” This meeting could not possibly go smoothly. Robber knew it when he arranged the encounter. The meeting may even end with a dead priest, the outcome Robber looked forward to. He would merrily kill the fat priest in front of witnesses there at the bistro, and expected an ovation. Oddly enough, Josiah Kanen hoped for a dead priest, too. He just didn’t know Robber currently sat across his own prospective target. “Get this straight, priest.” Robber leaned over the table and dropped his voice. His close face and low tone sounded deliberately menacing. “I’m not a migrant. I don’t have to beg for work. I like what I do. I’d do it for charity, for fun.” Robber sat back. The priest huffed and swallowed an ice cube with a nervous gulp of tea. Kanen swallowed again to encourage the frozen chunk to slide down his throat. The cold hurt his mouth and made his temples ache. He squinted and pushed back the pain. Robber felt satisfied he shook the priest’s comfort. The captain's arrogance needed a few bites taken out. “Let’s try this again,” Robber said. “Tell me what I need to know. If I have other questions, I’ll ask you. If you open your mouth with anything other than an answer to my question, there is a good chance you’ll say something I won’t like. I won’t stand for sermons or lectures on moral responsibilities. Where will that get us? Your religion won’t get the job done.” Kanen sat mute and appalled. He carefully measured his response. “Do you think I’d tell you this is part of some crusade? What are you talking about?” spouted the priest. “Hey, I said I’d ask what I need to know. It won't be the only crusade I waged. Anyway, the price is already been negotiated. I see you got the down payment.” Robber indicated the cash the priest flashed earlier. Josiah reached for the wad. He instantly forgot the affronts and everything else Robber

told him. The killer’s thinking sounded distorted. The man was probably insane. To do the things he did for money, he had to be a regular psychopath. In any case, the end of Josiah’s desperation was now within reach. Excitement made the captain giddy. “Does that mean you’re going to do it?” The priest felt grounded again when Robber waved him to put away the money. Josiah hoped to ask for something else. If this piece of business was concluded, he planned talk a little more. Kanen had emergency money available, currently not in his possession, but Josiah planned to skim petty expenses from the money he received conducting a funeral for which he will soon be responsible. Josiah slouched. “Who is this priest, Benedict Ishkott?” Robber asked. “The name sounds familiar.” “You want to know how I know him?” “No. I want to know who he is. I recognize the name. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t care less.” “He’s from Gomorrah, but he never lasted at any parish for long. He’s just a leech, a real cock.” “That is quite an animal, when you put those two together. I bet he fits right in at that zoo of yours,” Robber quipped. “He’s alone?” “Yes. At his parish in the slum.” “Where? Be specific.” “Saint Erasmus. L99 and F66. It was an old barrack, a warehouse made of red brick.” Robber softly chanted the address aloud. He asked the priest to confirm before committing it to memory. The address was all he needed. “That’s not too far from here, right?” Robber queried. “Regrettably so. Too close for comfort.” “What about the neighborhood? Don’t people visit and tithe like good little lambs?” A long silence swelled between the question and Josiah’s reply. The priest was not quite sure how to respond. The lowbrow sarcasm was difficult to forgive. Josiah decided to ignore the part he didn’t like. “No. The church needs refurbishing. Another priest was murdered inside.” “After this one, people think the clergy dropped like flies. You aren’t establishing a pattern, are you?” Robber hinted in sarcasm. “I didn’t have anything to do with the first one. If we weren’t inside the Wall, I’d blame heathens.” “I bet you would, as if they didn’t have bigger plans.” “What are you saying?” Josiah asked. The captain knew he wasn’t making friends. Neither man wanted any sort of relationship, but Josiah felt allowed to make rules of his own, for the sake of remaining polite. If Kanen tolerated disparages about the Church, he wanted to be clear on his position. “You think I know something?” Robber stared at the priest, studying the man's face for suspicion. The talk of murder made discerning the nature of the question impossible “Why don’t you ask the military?” Josiah refused to bicker over something he assumed a misunderstanding. “I just want to solve my own problem.” “And that is the only reason we’re here, two men with business,” Robber suggested. “Not a priest. Not a, what you might call, independent contractor. Just a deal.” “If you say so. I think that’s a good way to put it.” Robber’s thinking became slanted. The priest’s garb perturbed him. If Kanen pulled out one of those tacky key chains with a cross, Robber will jump on the table and finish the priest for the sake of heathens and good taste. Robber reached for a mechanism of control and fell back on the concept of business. “Give me the money,” Robber said. “If you talk to Judah, tell him I was right by you. Downright civil.” Josiah pulled the wad from his jacket pocket. His red cheeks flared like beacons. He coo'd like an idiot. The sound made Robber mad. He reached over the table. When he took the money, he slapped the priest’s wrinkled forehead. Just then, Robber glimpsed a blue blur across the street. The color flashed between storefronts he leaned between a few minutes ago. The cash brushed against Robber’s aimless palm and brought his attention back to the transaction.

real two-legged leeches. but the priest knew him too. Robber rocked back and stretched his leg from beneath the table. The loss of chemical joy. His fierce reaction was simply reflex to shake off vermin. His hands quivered. Josiah wanted security. Addicts were the worst. “I was hoping there was something else you could do for me. “That’s why you want the priest dead. The Batheirre family lived in Gomorrah. The family would not tolerate a member of their clan using their product. At first. His practical use in the Church may be his salvation.” Robber tore his arm from the weak grip of the priest. The priest snatched Robber’s forearm. They controlled the city-state. and no obvious shops of interest appeared along the workman’s path. A workman came out of one of the shops. unsuspecting warm body and stole life. “I don’t have anyone here. except the Sabbath?” Josiah sat shaking with his mouth open. Robber didn’t mingle with pushers or users. waving a stack of bills. As he did. Judah performed that role. Robber spotted the blue again. The situation was too surreal. he was astonished the priest asked for drugs. to threaten Robber in dreams. if one knew to observe.” That somebody whom Robber knew was Judah Batheirre. Kanen's flushed cheeks and the jacket betrayed addiction. the same from Robber’s dream. Robber imagined he contracted a fast rotting disease that gnawed his skin. ruin or an exploded heart all posed final ends. rubbing his stung head with his other hand. This priest was lucky the Bathierres had not already disowned the man. The priest's assumption was desperate and depraved. When Robber realized the priest touched him. Josiah listened to the same revolt from Judah and still had not manufactured a reply. infuriated him. and physical. Even if supply of Ape was unlimited. To stash the money. I can’t go back to Gomorrah. Robber thought he hallucinated. preventing him from walking away. “Wait. Robber though the stranger passed them all by. The workman was a small man. His touch felt like a rodent scrambling up Robber's limb. If this meeting was not wrapped up now. an addict in the Bathierre family appeared catastrophic to people involved in underground and legitimate dealings alike. His skin appeared as thick and dark as oiled leather.” Robber proclaimed. Kanen will just turn to deeper devotion in the Church. other than take work from Judah.” Josiah begged.” Robber fell stone silent. What Robber heard was true after all. Still. Use by family hurt business. Distracted from his chase angered Robber. “I wonder if you have any meth you can sell me. For a moment. For a second. Robber failed to react. Kanen just wanted to get past this piece of dirty work with Ishkott and put off agonizing days when he quit Ape. He expected to score Ape so badly. He brushed the sleeve of his shirt. If he couldn’t have any from Judah. He still felt the priest’s hand clamped around his wrist. He only wanted to stave off that day until ready and without symptoms of withdrawal. Robber's flagrant. Robber took the cash and deftly filled his only empty pants pocket. Robber got up to follow. The reason behind the priest’s request suddenly became evident. These people were lazy thieves and opportunists. the gall this stranger had. “Don’t touch me. Eventually. Robber looked down on Josiah. disrespect stunned the captain helpless. “I don’t deal trash.” Robber growled. and better than most. and I don’t deal with it. the pain will come. and shopping! A paper bag knocked against the man’s blue slacks as he strolled away. he would lose the dream interloper.” the priest rushed. He lost sight of the man.The priest sat dumbfounded. before tripping into the real world to buy a new suit. Family was often the first and easiest mark. Josiah failed to realize he had been struck. Robber's hand drifted into the pocket with his garrote. he ground his teeth and scowled. “Or if you know somebody. but the apparition really appeared across the street. isn’t it? Things aren’t going your way? Bad deal? Are all you priests Aped every day. No art or skill was practiced in any part of lechery. but that would not help him today. but the . If anyone allowed people coming and going. The man from Robber’s dream faded away. Scavenging and desperation disgusted Robber. They latched onto the closest. Time wasted and Robber needed his composure to successfully trail the workman. They people weren’t in his class. Until then.

A message that arrived after the fact seemed unlikely and futile. Robber felt appropriate the shop became the first place he checked. where Robber became distracted and lost the slippery interloper. More troubling. Robber wondered what the message could mean – maybe a warning? Bleeding profusely from the neck carried definite interpretations. Robber can . Robber did have that instinct the first instant he spotted the man across the street. the message communicated an abrupt and messy death. The only place the workman could only have gone forward. Robber entertained predictions of his undoing. The apparition might have materialized in waking life. but a problem they brought will go away. I do. Listen to the radio. If the dream was a sign. Robber raised his hand in apology to the ladies. so the image formed a fixture in his visual library. When Robber left his apartment. Robber never liked puzzles. The man became a phantom. Scouting never a forte of Robber to begin with. Robber walked away without another word. You won’t see me until I’m done. Robber ruled out the minute possibility the man escaped being tracked. Robber stopped at the intersection at the end of the block. So. Robber only tailed prey he pursued in cities. especially when clerks and customers stopped and gazed back. The apparition warned of retribution for something done or something Robber will do.workman did pop into places where he didn’t belong. he too willing forgot the vision. whatever will come. but never dismissed omens. Once Robber found the stranger. The bees were loose and buzzing. “Are we going to meet again? I’ll bring it then. Regardless. At the apartment. he would find the meaning then and there. The streets began to fill. Robber considered the deal was a truce for the sake of business.” “I’ll be in touch when I’m ready to collect. As visions went. The store is the last place pursuit would reasonably lead.” Josiah unfolded the paper napkin arrived with the tea and dragged it over his face. Robber could spend the rest of the day fruitlessly searching for a living. Robber felt ashamed with his overt ogle into a women's clothing store. Beliefs and principles still applied. he didn’t exactly know what to do. Tall trucks prevented vision more than a few blocks. He peered in all four directions. he happily took the message. spending just enough time at each window to confirm the absence of his prey. you’ll get the news. Today looked like that case. He gave up without luck. More diffuse when the air stirred. Before then. the vision diffuse became. A priest will die regardless. Now he chased a blue apparition down the block and peek through windows as he went. He then moved on to the next store. The workman was not inside. He followed the workman's steps and soon reached the place the man stood. If the future offered any clue to what lay ahead. especially one so personal as his dream.” Robber glanced the opposite direction he last spotted the workman. The phantom workman will vanish entirely. required allowances. He may not get drugs today. Don’t be so eager. Disbelief the meeting even occurred drifted into his thoughts. Robber exercised the grim fate on others. Like smoke. No matter how deeply Robber studied the vision. Robber stepped away from the priest when he remembered an important item. Robber assumed his hunt hindered. and very recently. the addition of a tout bag was a subconscious addition to help the figment stick to the physical world. The lunch hour scramble came late and rushed to make up for lost time. Robber moved from one shop to the next. they only shifted given the circumstances. Josiah felt relieved to offer assurance instead of empty excuses and justification for addiction. but the bulge of cash in his pocket anchored the fact in reality. Tracking across the concrete paths of a city was typically impossible anyway. chasing the dream was futile. Making a living in this world. breathing stranger or he could wade through traffic back to his apartment. The pace of Robber’s walk quickened once he left the bistro. “You better have the rest of my money. He jogged and sidestepped down the block. The workman vanished. or he might always have been no more solid than the apparition in Robber’s dream. The irony did not escape him. When the phantom appeared. Target easily disappeared for good if line of sight became broken.” “Oh. Robber cupped his hands against the shop window before him and looked long inside. lay in the future.

Mark asked Margot to stay in his car. His advantage didn't so much matter before Margot slept with Mark. He tolerated the frequent starts and stops. The strewn remains of tires curled in on themselves like flattened animals racked with a pain that followed the poor creatures to death. After inflicting damage. Margot didn’t need to ask why. Early morning accidents plugged the flow of traffic. If he knew she was in the building. misshapen. An occasional sweeper and winter rain eventually carried the debris to the gutter and down the ramps. even if Mark introduced Margot as a colleague. her position changed. The lost fat and paws became sacrifices to a sadistic freeway . They were fortunate. the sharp debris often found itself back onto the road. A friendly exchange between strangers might actually damage trust and much man-made road kill. Drivers took chances circumventing the usual flow. back onto the road to reset the trap. The slow moving official lanes remained safest. yet a swinger at his core. Margot felt general envy and a gender-shared distaste for his chauvinism. Ignoring the power of that happenstance seemed impossible. Granted. Now Margot wished she went into military headquarters with Mark. Luck blessed Mark and Margot. Insinuating verbal slips and a guarded posture were dangerously unmanageable. For appearances. Most hazardous were the small metal caltrops caught in tire treads. Margot might have made rendezvous difficult if Mark knew Margot watch him. Once the two reporters reached military headquarters. Robber picked the direction he believed the most logical to slip away with ease. often just a screw. she might even waited a minute after the door closed behind Mark before going inside. Walking into military headquarters with another woman might complicate the situation. The debris glittered and threatened passing motorists. the man he saw bore a striking resemblance to the figure in his dream. Mark did whatever was necessary to bring success. and malicious ornaments became established decoration on the freeway. When a tire blew. torn from carcasses by claws disinterested in the meat. alone with time to think over expectations. Mark best offered a fickle friendship and a little risqué fun. at least until sharp debris punctured holes in tires. Mark was wise. One screw claimed victim after victim. If Robber continued his hunt. misgivings and envy. causing automobiles to block the alternative route. Although unspoken. She convinced herself Mark went to see his contact and other lover. where the piles were easier and safer to remove. In the meantime. Their remains resembled big chunks of flesh. Margot agreed to skirt awkward suspicion.collect his thoughts and weigh the murder undertook for a priest. intuition exposed unspoken realities. Plenty of open doors existed where someone could duck into at the beginning of an afternoon. What bothered Margot was the fact he obviously enjoyed manipulating women. When accidents occurred. The autos following Mark's silver convertible were smitten with predicted flat tires. colorful. He lived . but the military converted the emergency lane on the freeway into an additional traffic route. Anything would have been better than sitting outside. since his looks and personality disarmed every woman he assailed. He possessed the assets for the job. the spinning rim shredded flat and threw the debris. 14 Sabbath Eve On any other day. right down to the common blue work clothes. No matter how brief or casual the introduction. This morning. She constantly reminded herself Mark was married. Regrets and worries seemed pains Mark never suffered. Motorists moved again. Margot needed to get over her growing jealousy. They twisted and pushed through the rubber skin of tires. Privileges came so easily to him. wrecker crews brushed shrapnel to the road shoulders. Prior to last night. Margot could have lied and said she looked for another story. rather than chance a flat tire during rush hour. the trip downtown to military headquarters would have stymied Mark and Margot. He took too long. Margot needed to act more like Mark. he had to resume immediately. He was not the kind of man with whom a relationship of trust was ever possible. he may be inclined to rush his illicit business. Plenty of janitor closets offered rooms for a speedy romp with his contact.

“Our story. especially given the vast amount of blood on the docks. “Let me see the summary. so she thanked him. The sheet failed to provide an estimated time of disappearance. A second summary sheet. Mark carried a pale green folder and a steaming floral patterned paper cup. even relief when her sour rumination ended. That step would save quite a bit of wasted running around. One the second summary sheet . She still boiled a little over fabricated details of a meeting Mark may have had with an anonymous contact.” Mark patronized. She wondered how much of herself she would lose to adopt his lifestyle.” Mark handed the folder to Margot.once after the standard “Authorized” stamp and again next to the new “Assigned. “Not too long ago I couldn’t get you out of bed. The list of perks an established reporter enjoyed continued to grow.” Mark smirked at Margot. the folder displayed additional stamps.” Margot punched Mark’s thick bicep. recycled from a story last night. Margot was about to look for him. Margot spotted Mark emerge from the reinforced glass doors of the cinder block building. packed parking lot outside military headquarters. An oily curl floated on the surface of the liquid. thinking over the two signatures. now you’re pushing me around. She refused to settle for a lower profile substitute story. Someone privy to secrets and minutia seemed Mark’s contact at headquarters.” Margot paused. Together.” Mark confirmed. The premise sounded like foul play. and signed. Mark took the comment in a context of his own. Lack of caffeine had not started driving needles through her forehead. good or poor. Flirtation with “causing a scene” would have released pent-up energy. The big one. Mark only raised his brow. “How could I forget? It was magical. She and Mark would not need a closet. Margot smirked. Margot thought he withheld details she cared not hear first thing in the morning. a twist of blinds provided instant privacy. but frugal sentences amplified the depth of the unreported background. The momentum of her mind made Margot anxious. did you know that the soldier’s organs were removed?” “You mean his guts were cut out?” . stamped. “You took me to bed. Just in time. Margot will ask Mark about the stamps later.” Mark started his car and drove from the large. The way Mark behaved made Margot wonder if he exercised any level judgment at without fear of repercussion. Margot recognized a summary gathered inside the thick folder. “You bet. Mark didn’t appear rumpled. appended the latest. He handed the floral cup to Margot. She wondered if someone like a proxy could sign out stories for assignees. right?” Margot had to ask to believe. A slit throat and ensuing blood loss was listed as cause of death. Nothing Mark told Margot about the soldiers showed up in the folder.” appeared below Mark’s name. they reached for a goal. Margot stopped right there.” Mark’s thoughtfulness impressed Margot. This contact probably had an office. Margot leaned over and opened the driver-side door for Mark. Damn the sake of appearances. Thankfully. “What are you waiting for? Let’s go. The next shift arrived and found nobody to relieve. Actually. Margot appreciated his consideration to an extent. Margot either implied something or just let out a puff of steam. Mark saved Margot. The words “Priority” and “Assigned. with the keys already in the ignition. stapled beneath the first. They gained the assignment. She supposed the information did not belong in the story. It was filled with black coffee. Margot’s excitement drowned all other thoughts and emotions. “That’s what I think it is. The report included evisceration and facial mutilation. his name was written twice . but this story was important. “Mark. The blow bounced off harmlessly. “Shut up. remember?” Margot thought about her remark after she let it loose. Mark cautioned her the coffee was hot. Paranoia sabotaged good intentions. Margot couldn’t handle his pandering in the state she worked herself into. She needed all the facts. reported one of the soldiers found in the water not far from the dock. The top sheet listed names and ranks of the two missing soldiers. Flaunting and risk-taking paid off. Besides being thick. After more endless minutes. The information was more than Mark conveyed.

She liked how the sun . He pointed out the windshield with strained fingers. Lost of a tailgated car usually meant losing a hard-won position in the rolling parking lot. No single model held special appeal. The taste was less so. Margot wrote whole stories driving in busy traffic like this. Both molded curves and acute angles fascinated her. Once Margot tapped them into a neat pile. “The only thing you probably didn’t know is the condition of the body. Margot swore she counted back all the years of her life just noting model years other automobiles were built. “What else is there?” Margot assumed Mark did not play along. Focus helped an ambition traveler jump into a lane that moved faster or close a sudden gap. Her objection served to avoid an accidental glance at the photos. and I already told you what’s here.” Mark waited in line to climb the freeway ramp. Then at least she had some entertainment before becoming acquainted with the case. There are the photos in the envelope. Some handsome and beautiful automobiles dragged along the freeway. Margot gasped. Mark waited with his extended hand held up. Vehicles never interested Margot.” Margot opened the folder again and pulled out the envelope. I did not. A showroom of makes and models surrounded Mark and Margot. She also ate lunch at the same time. No other driver scanned the exterior of their automobile either. sentence fragments. The source material was ripe with double meaning and missing details. He and Margot went to the docks. embellished news story. Any time Margot found herself stuck in traffic. I can screen them for you.” “Anything on the second soldier? If they found him. They fanned out in his careless grip.” Margot complained. looking for difficult to find keywords. She peeked inside just enough to find which side of the photos faced up. Style didn’t matter. “It’s in the summary. Everyone focused attention on opportunity. and as any travel in the city-state. “Tell me more.but she never looked. economical Mariposa.” Mark said. Still. She needed more time to ready herself to look at gore. and back up again. “I have always hated these things. isn’t it?” “Well.” “But you’re driving. If Margot achieved success. since they crawled along. The rest of the story will be left to us. Margot scanned them top to bottom. Mark rested his wrists on top of the steering wheel. The new automobile will be red. Being a passenger allowed behavior like a tourist. she will buy a beautiful car. it should be noted there.” Margot hoped for a reaction.” Mark said. Reporters were left plenty of gaps for imagination to fill. and generally bad grammar.” “Then we got what we need and a little more. Mark might betray details about his other lover. Censors refined each skill to create a confusing and cryptic propaganda template.” The protest was worthless. That would be great. Her mindset was geared toward function and affordability. The docks lay on the far side of Capital. She chewed her bottom lip and folded back the first sheet again.” “No. but color did. the trip involved a great deal of patience. he took the photos . At the moment. all right. The hot hue appealed to Margot. she could do some sightseeing . “Oh.” “Sound like your connection at headquarters doesn't know everything after all. Margot had the whole trip from headquarters to prepare for black and white photos of a scarred dead face. Margot didn't even know names of most cars. Margot wished she heard the original. “I forgot you don’t like that kind of thing. The coffee Mark gave her lost just enough heat to make drinking bearable.“Grossly. The page contained nothing of use. like Mark's Corbeta. Margot took any source available. yes. but she needed caffeine. Margot flipped the envelope and pulled out the pictures face down. She turned away and watched other motorists. seeing a good-looking car in the wild planted seeds for a change of heart. She thumbed between the two sheets. With luck.” “No.” Margot closed the folder. The military must provide a special course in summary writing: how to precisely execute spelling mistakes. displaying his best mockery of indignation. “Give them to me. where they will view the crime scene and gather minor details entailing good journalism. just like her current.

too. “I should have thought of that a long time ago. Margot wanted to be a reporter. “Hey.” “We’ll give them what they want. He kept the image right side down.” Mark nodded. Maybe they forgot they stopped looking. she filled herself with depressing philosophy. Of course. He’s sloppy. They unknowingly abandoned lifelong quests. “I think it was personal. dead ahead. One moment. “What does it matter? I expect the murderer was in a hurry and it was dark. “The cut on the soldier’s face. The look suggested someone who searched for a long time and then gave up. Margot turned to the faces of drivers. She made a concerted effort to look Mark directly in his wonderful brown eyes. more dented and scarred antiques appeared and broke down in Capital every year. His intestines might still be on the . “I don’t think heathens committed the murders.reflected in the gloss.” “Mmm-hmm.” Margot harden herself. A test accompanied this opportunity for her big break. professionally. “It’s like a badge. She put the envelope into the green folder. Mark seemed so successful and had not picked up these little habits of the trade. All the while.” Mark casually replied. she daydreamed of a new car and the next. Good points. Everyone stared. Missing breakfast this morning actually resulted in a good turn of events. When people see you coming with a green folder.” “Really? You can tell that by looking at those lousy photos? I don’t think the military wants that story. doesn’t it?” Margot asked.” The hopeless no longer bothered to look at all. “The soldier might just have been cut up really bad. For a chilling moment. He learned another new thing.” “What about the organs? That sounds like something a heathen would do. will pass before her prize became marred. “The guy is an amateur. I wish you wouldn’t say that. “Who?” Margot turned.” “It’s not a star?” “Well. Margot’s enthusiasm for a new automobile sank when she realized only a matter of days. beaten boxes on wheels also crowded the roads. they simply forgot to pursue the misplaced “something. Margot stopping thinking such morbid thoughts. Margot thought she recognized what these people lost. Don’t show me!” Mark deftly placed the pictures in his lap.” “I know you do. in this career. She quickly stacked and slipped them back into the envelope. “Or a crazy guy with a grudge. One day. Each day blended into the next. Beautiful and ugly cars shared common scratches and dents. His guts could have fallen out in the water. or even hours. Margot stopped averting her gaze once she hid the photos. maybe a vendetta.” “Yeah. impressed.” Mark looked pleased for learning a new trick. Success appeared to require only good looks and personality.” “Mark. They probably did not see further than the inside of their skulls. It looks like something from a kindergarten class. Believe me. a bad one. She accepted the gauntlet. she stared straight ahead in case the photos curled over and the sight petrified her. Oddly. It’s a pain taking the package wherever you go.” “I really doubt that. His voice brought Margot back to the present. Equally unpleasant conversations and images will certainly fill the rest of the day. “Wait. Driving a red car was like divining with fire. That’s not a problem. Margot shivered.” Mark declared. they suddenly don’t want to talk to you. It’s all wrong. They lost their souls and now sat upright in coffins. Everything nice was hard to come by and more difficult to keep. unmoving. what everyone on the planet discovered was missing. Small tasks and diversions held dejection at bay. I’m just afraid we might head into another dead end. In fact. every person behind a wheel seemed to have lost something. despite the hot coffee. I could use a good story. Margot doubted they could repeat the license plate on the car in front of them.” Mark handed the pictures back to Margot. but she didn’t want to freak herself out again. Of all kinds of work she tried. I really need this.” Mark stated. His lack of tricks surprised Margot. she came furthest.” Margot agreed. Then the folder disappeared under her seat. that’s a smart place for that.

They were all as inexperienced as Margot. Piled and scattered cargo filled every open space. He asked if anyone will help provide details. even though most dockhands waved greetings and called the soldiers by name. Military personnel were experience rushing nonsensical.” Mark licked his lips. but ignored their scary stories.” Mark decided. “Margot.” “Could be. As the military oversaw the operation. A wide and straight stretch of blacktop pointed the way. please.” The two reached the docks after a couple hours of wrangling other stuck drivers. Although. The dockyard plunged to chaos. He believed people living in the neighborhood all worked the docks. A swayed rifle barrel hastened them past the fence. An accident cleared and they were first at the gate.” “So is killing a priest. Instead. so we’ll check it out. an armed soldier watched every truck. Mark said they came to cover a story about two dead guards. Trucks were unloaded. somewhere. The motion was not meant to threaten. The yard bustled. “Those trucks dockhands unloaded looked ready to go. The military checked ID cards at the gate. Mark theorized locals purposely punished people who lived in better parts of Capital. That operation made sense after all.” “There was a breach. Those folks like to call the shots.” Mark’s tone returned to patronizing. “I imagine dead and missing soldiers are cause enough to believe anything might have been smuggled in or out. the military was flexible. Margot couldn’t see any. Mark spoke with the two guards. If a system existed to separate loads. Insane. scouting for a place to pull over. Mark drove by the yard. Now the same discouragement came from someone with reputation and success. The fumigation at Saint Erasmus saved her the first time Margot thought herself ready. She heard the same from friends and fellow reporters. Margot hoped her creativity landed her recognition. Margot agreed. Let's spin the idea to the military and see if the murders on the dock match your story. she decided she preferred not to see evidence of carnage. “Good sense and insanity are rarely roommates. The gates recently opened and workers filed into the dockyard. “Do you think the same person who killed that priest committed these murders? The murderer might just be some random guy with a knife. Mark and Margot parked and walked from a residential area blocks away. The soldier swung his rifle in habit. Signs restricted parking on the streets outside the docks.” explained Margot. Because the military kept the docks secure.bottom of bay.” Margot recalled the story she wrote about the priest’s murder at Saint Erasmus. Tickets and fines were often dismissed in lieu of immediate detainment. disorganized tasks. “Except.” “Sounds like as good a plan as any.” “You could be right. Margot poured the remainder of her bitter coffee on the ground. but that idea was hamstrung if she failed to bring an unassigned story to . violations were not tolerated on the street outside. That random murderer is a really stupid psychopath. They drove the short distance just to fill every nearby parking spot.” “I would appreciate less colorful conjecture.” Mark and Margot sauntered toward the sea. Now that she was close. If not for her own inconvenience. The Church mandates it. she might have readily dismissed Mark’s flippant cynicism. one demanded identification. Mark made idle conversation. feeding crabs. looking for open doors and anyone alone after curfew. Reporter credentials gained Mark and Margot admission to the dockyard. We can talk with him.” Mark answered. She really didn’t want to see the crime scene. Mark explained he and Margot were reporters.” Margot wondered aloud. When the reporters reached the dockyard gate. inspected and loaded again.” “Maybe we should cover the story from that angle. An officer should be there. “I guess we should go to the dock. I have to tell you… breaking news is not going to make friends at military headquarters. Neither guard answered.” Margot’s mouth dropped open. “That’s not our story. A small miracle blessed them when the road suddenly opened. “What’s going on?” Margot asked Mark. he killed two soldiers behind a fence. “The summary said the murder was on the waterfront. Both carried rifles. She stood floral cup over the evaporating puddle.

older soldier behind a row of crates jumped up and down. “I was at the beach when those giant squids washed up. I thought you finally gave it up and retired.” Margot said. “Sergeant Meshonne.” the sergeant said.” “It's still hot.” “Sure. As expected.” Sergeant Meshonne ushered Mark and Margot on a short walk. “That’s why I’m here.” “What. not a pantywaist punk like this one. John. “I know why you’re here. Soft.” The sergeant met the pair halfway. What do you think ma’am? I would appreciate the opinion of a woman. “Well.” A short. The trio moved parallel along the water. I didn’t think I would see you again. Mark may have accepted rumors as fact and dutifully passed along fibs. But you can’t trust a reporter as far as you can throw them. Gulls chuckled and chastised each other. “Sergeant Meshonne!” Mark exclaimed.military radio. The docks were very close. someone interrupted the reporters.” “Nothing personal.” the sergeant said.” “We just got luckier. “I’m John Meshonne. I said lose it. the mustache? I’m not trying to look pretty for you. he never told Margot about failure. but no quotes. Sergeant Meshonne squeezed Mark’s arm as they shook hands. The sergeant stood a full head and shoulders shorter than Mark. Sergeant Meshonne ignored her comment and continued talking.” “You know how it is. The commander told me to take it or lose it. We go back to the days I started reporting. This job would have been a slice of heaven during the heat wave. I had some overdue leave.” Mark shook his fingers after the sergeant released his grip. “Come over here.” “I’ve put on a few pounds. “I hoped you would turn up sometime.” Mark said. Thank the Mortal God the military needed a hand on the docks. Did you hear about that? What a . He said fifteen years without a vacation was too long. He took her by the elbow and hustled her across the blacktop and around the crates. but forged of folded steel. Margot could not tell if he played with Mark. I was going out of my mind. “Especially since it’s been so flaming hot. “It’s been a long time. The broad little man grabbed Mark’s hand. I owe him a lot. John.” “Damned to the Shur! Now I know I’m getting old. Sure.” the sergeant shouted. even though I can toss your scrawny butt halfway across this yard. “Mark Adut. I think he adopted me as a son and drinking buddy. will you? I’m trying to make acquaintances. too.” The sergeant brushed at his whiskers. “He doesn’t get any more charming with a couple beers in him. You ought to know me better than that.” “It’s good to see you. Margot saw Mark wince. behind a second row of crates. You’re here about those soldiers. “Mark! Over here.” called a gruff voice filled with excited surprise. Before Margot could refute his claim.” “Margot and I are working together. rolling crashes of waves hinted at the proximity of the shore. “Why? Who is that?” Margot asked.” The sergeant turned back to Margot. “I like being down by the sea.” Margot clarified. “Can you help us out?” “I’d head the other direction if any reporter but you came down here. He used to lead squads deployed to crime scenes. She was impressed. I’m Margot Sebash. you understand me?” “Never. John. The rumbling sound of the sea rose above the ruckus of trucks and dockhands.” Mark whispered to Margot. “After you went to the Wall. I’ll show you around. right?” “You got us. “I thought you might know him. Mark might have never tried writing his own story.” “You didn’t have that hairbrush under your nose the last time I saw you. so much for stealing your girlfriend. Margot pointed him out to Mark before the sergeant climbed the crates. Nothing like knowing a sergeant to help you skirt curfew and find free booze.” “Hello.” “Shut your mouth a minute.” “Retire?” The sergeant appeared outraged. Censors can make life harder than it needs to be. The mustache is very distinctive. boy.” Mark interjected. I don’t want you to hurt your back. The patch on his arm identified him a sergeant.

We fished most of the soldier out before he could sink again.” Margot squirmed and covered her ears. Just out there. She glanced up to see the same face drawn on Mark. you should squeeze those things in. The clearing seemed out-of-place. I for one can tell you nothing will get through the Wall.” the sergeant giggled.” . if your story won’t include heathens. I supposed. but I’m not going to answer.” the sergeant reminded. As far as I’m concerned. Neither Margot or Mark paid much attention. Margot found relief difficult to hide.way to start a vacation. He got lucky something stirred the corpse from the bottom.” Sergeant Meshonne stepped into the middle of the soaked perimeter. “Hey. chiefly because the news was uniquely different from the barrage of Church and military propaganda. the body bobbed like a cork just when someone was there to see it. Margot just had let go and accept life as handed to her. He was assigned oversight of cargo being cleared from the area.” Margot sighed with a grunt. “I don’t think big fish bother to carve stars on their dinner. The point was obvious.” “Sergeant. They might have been spines. Frustration with the sergeant's distraction prompted Mark to clear his throat. He pressed his knuckles into his hips and hooked his thumbs into the black nylon belt. You can say these guys were yanked off the dock by sea monsters and eaten alive. inspired he freaked the woman reporter.” Mark said. row after row of them! I couldn't tell if they came out the top or bottom of the they're. John.” Mark replied. uh. Where was the body found?” “Not far from the dock. Her career may yet survive. but they looked like shark teeth to me – no jaws. the military should have burned the monsters along with those weird flies. Do you think they were involved with smuggling or bribes?” “I don’t know what you think you might do with that kind of information.” “I do what I’m told. The dead animals made quite an impression on people at the beach. “As luck would have it. Events on the shore became the biggest story of the week.” “Don’t we all? And the Church.” The sergeant shot Margot a hardened look.” Margot stated. Margot bet the flies were the same as those at Saint Erasmus. Mark felt empathy for his friend.” Sergeant Meshonne stopped. I couldn’t count how many in that tangled mess. “Here we are. “I heard the victims had problems.” “Just leave that part about mutilation out. Meshonne got the hint. “What got me was the teeth. Your idea is a tough sell.” “Most?” Margot missed the implication. “We appreciate that. “I just work for the military. “Dock hands already washed down the perimeter. given the high stacks of crates at either side. “No guts. and now with Mark. looking across water instead of paying attention to duty. as if recently hosed down. heads. What do you think about that?” “I think we better stick to the heathen angle. He pointed toward the fence across the yard. Margot just needed faith and learn to avoid becoming overwhelmed. This heathen crap in the Cap has run its course.” Mark and Margot recalled tidbits about prehistoric squids and a swarm of biting flies. “I didn’t want to hang around long enough to sort it out. The perimeter was wet. Margot stopped herself from laughing out loud. She wasted energy going back and forth investigating crime scenes. A private saw the body.” The sergeant pointed opposite the path to the fence. but she did not appreciate disapproval from her friend as well. “Thanks.” the sergeant continued. Spared again. The teeth were all on one side. “But a blood trail runs straight through the scrub. The rank stench of bleach replaced the ubiquitous salty smell from the sea. Bugs and monsters were not part of their myopic picture of current events. Nobody cares anyway. “The dead soldier was doing his impression of the Mortal God. Those things stunk worse than any dead heathen I smelled. “Those squids were huge and looked strange. Sergeant Meshonne grew animated. For the sake of her nerves. I’m sure you saw the photos. I don’t know what he was thinking. “How about we stick to me showing you around?” the sergeant added.” They stood in a large open area. Now that would be something worth listening to.” Mark said. “Tentacles ran up and down the body. This is the spot.

After a patrol found his abandoned vehicle in the Shur. “Nope.” commented Margot. but sometimes soldiers shake up the pattern – so the route doesn't get predictable and boring. We know he has enough sense to avoid that trick.” “That's a death sentence in the waste. “Go with this lady’s ideas. “Well. “The patrol circuit usually runs northward.” “Or he slipped into the home of a sympathizer. The soldiers had their throats cut.” the sergeant said. ” “I sure do!” Sergeant Meshonne enthusiastically answered. “So what happened last night after the second shift informed their superior?” Mark asked Sergeant Meshonne. the search of the yard turned up that trail I pointed out. Reverend Ishkott. but it will work. “The search expanded outside the yard. “Turns out. If the trawler hasn’t found him by now. Officially. That’s typical. “We should use that. the story could have easily been riveted together with fabricated facts. They were secured with the first pass. Anyway. I’m surprised those two soldiers even left the guardhouse. then left for the next shift to find.” “What’s to the north?” Margot inquired. but we’re not going to find it. “Now that’s thinking. If both soldiers were found. They might still be alive if they skipped doing their jobs completely. The guy must have come from somewhere close. They thought heathens got him coming through the desert.” the sergeant smiled. but the whiskers went askew. The best guess is the killer followed a patrol on foot and went north. You can see it out there with patrol boats.” Margot suggested. “Private warehouses and indigo mills. A break and entry would have given away the killer’s hiding place. They'll liven up those radio stories!” “Yeah. but curfew was in effect. A trawler is now in the harbor. That last part is off the record. The hair stayed pointed after he took his hand away. I suspect the killer got in and out a lot quicker than reported.“Any news on the second soldier?” deflected Mark. the body is gone. including both soldiers. the Church gave him up for dead.” Mark nodded. “The sea monster story is better radio. he had free reign. “A little dry. His lips stayed hidden beneath the gray mustache. Wrote him off.” Mark said.” Margot abruptly changed the line of questioning. happy her earlier question had not banned Margot from the conversation. was in bad shape. We had a couple divers in this area. nobody knew anything before patrols knocked on doors and woke everybody up. Mark. but he just had car trouble. that’s good.” Mark summarized how the story will read.” Mark hoped the military found other body before he and Margot arrived. Good reporters also made censors happy when contradictions were already flattened out. He probably came in that way. I believe it’s still out there. That's where the killer jumped the fence. The sergeant continued his exposition.” “How’s the search in the harbor going? Do you think the military will find the other soldier this morning?” Sergeant Meshonne scratched through the bristles of his crew cut. They gave Ishkott a ride to Capital.” Mark commented. “It’s funny you bring that up. Margot.” “So that’s pretty much it. “Let’s say the guards were outnumbered two to one. . Everyone’s job would be easier if new discoveries were not continually appended to the original story. She ventured another. instead of half-ass. “Do you remember that murdered priest at Saint Erasmus? That happened not long ago. then. Patrols missed his entrance and exit. “Are there any civilian witnesses? Someone who saw anything or smelled something fishy?” “Nope.” Margot smiled. he left no trace. I was on duty at the Wall when his replacement arrived from Gomorrah.” “In a perfect world. They were carved and guts cut out. not a single civilian came forward. That new priest.” “Any thought about where the killer went after he jumped the fence?” Mark asked. a couple UnChosen brothers found him. Sergeant Meshonne nodded and continued his explanation. once inside. “Nope. Soft wrinkles folded his cheeks.

“That’s up to the Church.” Sergeant Meshonne warmly said. If the Church does put the crimes together.” Mark agreed and looked at Margot. looking proud.” Sergeant Meshonne apologized. Heathens claim the deaths were a small measure of God’s vengeance. You’ll have a blast!” “I don’t doubt it. “Then that will do.” Margot beamed. Mark didn’t feel exploring the bloody trail as necessary. Miss. “Dozens. The sergeant deserved consideration.” “They're coming up short. Because. “Do you think the person who committed the murders here is the person who killed the old priest?” “I don’t know about that. when do you think the military will open that road on the top of the Wall?” Margot asked. Those boys were a goofy pair. Does the Church want to link the two incidents?” “Not right now.” Margot replied. Military investigators would have scoured away evidence. Personally I’d like to see it stay pristine. She couldn’t help but smile at the sergeant’s profane slip and subsequent blush. You should come.” Margot replied. She clenched her teeth expecting every bone in her own hand to snap in the sergeant’s grip. too. it will be as overrun as the freeways. you could learn something about hard work from this one. Anything is possible.” Margot refrained from announcing she wrote the story. Mark was probably right. This sort of friend made Mark fortunate in countless ways. sir. for her own selfish reasons. The only hard parts of his clasp were thick calluses on his palm and the shanks of his fingers.” “That is strange. “I didn’t follow the Saint Erasmus further that radio broadcast. “One for every year the Mortal God lived on Earth.” Margot added. we have the jump on the story!” Margot stood at attention.” “Sergeant. genuinely curious. it was good to see you again. “Well. They said they looked for Drystani. When we . you should come over to my place. but there could be a connection. Margot agreed.probably expecting reward. once the public gets access.” Mark replied. A lot of blood went into that Wall. Can you believe that shit? Pardon me. Margot decided she liked Sergeant Meshonne. “Mark. “So after this.” the sergeant stated. after all.” Mark said. ma’am. Margot returned to her question for Sergeant Meshonne. but he was very gentle. aren’t you ambitious.” Sergeant Meshonne volunteered. He lived longer than that. But then. who's to really say?" the sergeant theorized. An idle silence signaled the awkward time for friendly goodbyes arrived. Margot. Mark adhered to the outline he provided to Sergeant Meshonne. Let’s write the draft and get the story back to headquarters. are you going back to the Wall?” Mark asked Sergeant Meshonne. “Close enough. After saying their farewells. Chosen and UnChosen alike lost lives in accidents and to terrorist heathens. “You’re right about a connection. always a safe and sure road. Give the military news only what they expected. “I think that is as much as we need. “Yes.” “Sounds fine to me. and hoped the conversation would not meander into gratuitous detail. Miss. “I can’t help you. “If you got the time. “Hey Mark. He and Mark were friends.” Margot exacted. We should have gone back to Saint Erasmus. The wrinkles in his curved cheeks came again. He wanted to end the conversation on a note less business-like. Mark recognized she itched to brag. Can you believe that? They wanted to collect the bounty. We’ll show you what life is like after curfew. Mark and Margot returned the way they came. “Thirty-two. Mark surprised Margot as he pulled from the curb and cut a tight u-turn. "I believe you're right. She shook the sergeant’s hand. Do you know how many workers died?” “I've heard the stories.” the sergeant surrendered. Mark and Margot discussed details of their story during the walk to the silver convertible. Margot.

" Ben shouted for Hen again. That fact is obvious just looking at her. . but he ignored the summons. Margot is in a voraciously amorous mood. The bench proved solid enough. but did not damage her enthusiasm. The center console barred her way." Tamara continued. Tamara rushed through a list other mundane details of her day. Besides the rattling refrigerator in the kitchen and unrelenting knock. I still could not dust that shelf at the liquor market. The warmth began in her bosom and spread upward until radiating from her cheeks. He did not want to get caught in her bed when her old school buddies visited. Saint Erasmus sounded vacant. This summons cracked like a whip. Tamara Stoughnt pushed open the doors and strolled inside. But. But you know that. Sawing bars from the windows in the nave of Saint Erasmus fully engrossed his attention. Her warm feeling made her bold. “I can cancel. Because Ben made progress on a third window.turn our story in. He rested and admired the unobstructed view of a plain block wall. I’ll talk to some people at headquarters. A gentle knock on the front doors interrupted Ben. He swerved and recovered. My shops closed early tonight because the Sabbath is tomorrow. She wanted Mark to do something else. He may even know a one or two. A man could climb out without having to contort sideways through an impossible angle. Margot leaned over and kissed Mark hard on his lips. The finished work pleased Ben. "Everybody is racing to get home. Ben left the cracked pew outside. “When are your friends coming over?” Mark remembered Margot’s weekly gatherings. three times this afternoon! Oh. I think the murderer is a serial killer. Keeping coy was essential to his image. but rather the unguarded opening.” Margot squealed and tried to jump into Mark’s lap. The bars from two adjacent windows lay where they fell in the breezeway. She wore an apron missing from her outfit this morning. When done. “See what you get when you listen to your wiser friends?” “I don’t think wise is a word I would use to describe Sergeant John Meshonne. Thank you. They can meet at somewhere else. and another tryst seemed feasible.” “Just the same.” “Is that a yes?” Mark’s face relaxed. Mark's wife could only accept his lies. They will definitely have fun tonight. I’ll tell them what you think and if they bite we’ll go the front of the line. Ben only wanted to finish cutting bars. Mark always said he wanted to do just that. The pieces fit. The seat split again when Ben shimmied up the leaning pew. stay with me tonight. all the windows will be peacefully unhindered. Ben. Ben lost track of Hen and Davey. He reluctantly put down the saw blade and went to open the doors. Mark wanted to sleep with her again too. No one answered.” Margot could not stop herself from smiling. 15 Blind Wanderer The afternoon faded away. he will need the bench for elevation again. Tamara Stoughnt came to take her son home. He knew spending the night with Margot will make his wife would be furious. Ben called Hen Cortras in a low voice that reverberated through the church. he’s stuck on spreading stories about monsters. He committed himself to the finish of the monotonous task. You know that place. leaving Tamara to wait here with Ben. uncovering perfect teeth. Ben failed to notice the light outside dim. but held. "Hello.” Margot blushed. The chance meeting with John Meshonne offered a handy excuse for Sarah. “Mark. The jolt bruised her hip. right? It's right around the corner" Ben nodded his head and searched for the serrated blade he set down. I like him. of course. Once Ben unlatched the lock. A devilish grin spread. from discourteous drivers to other shelves she would never reach. Tomorrow is the Sabbath no work is possible anyway. The view was not the inspiring part.” “Hmm. "I was almost killed crossing the street. After all.” Mark clicked his tongue and squinted. “That’s a yes. The lack of bars made Ben feel secure. The soft rap rose to echoed thunder inside the serene nave. He had an idea who waited outside the locked doors. He hoped Hen and Davey had not slipped out altogether again.

Tamara had not shut the door behind her. “In bed. One of the double doors was swung open. Hearing the voice again discouraged him.” Ben grumbled to Tamara. She then examined her own hands. Davey!” Tamara demanded. “Sightseeing. besides the fading pink welts. He looked able to balance as long as he stood still.he sought nothingness. Tamara missed Ben's mutter. invisible contamination distressed the woman. Ben shrugged. Dil's new shoes were leather. “Where’s Hen?” Ben asked the boy. He could not recall anything they ate that day. So I got new rags myself. She looked disappointed.” Ben set the saw blade on the windowsill and turned around. Ben almost heard the thumps against Dil’s skull. I can bring canned soup tomorrow. What he ate later. Davey jumped up and down in place to amplify affirmation. but Ben imagined vile. a single person answered Ben's boomed summons. Dil raised his arms outward. Davey! Not those feathers!” Tamara yanked them out as soon as her son stepped within reach. Ben didn't care to remember and was not hungry.” scolded Tamara. but submitted without struggle. Vibration from the saw filled Ben's ears. “Where have you been?” Ben asked the hitchhiker. He jogged in place while he spoke to his mother.” Tamara volunteered before saying good night to the masquerading priest. . This altogether new ensemble consisted of black slacks and a white long sleeve shirt . then right. Dil smiled and tapped his forehead with a stiff middle finger. Davey’s head rocked back and forth as if shaken. Ben felt spared her insipid parade of small talk . It’s wide open. I’m busted. tiny ear. He wore new clothes.” Davey still seemed full of energy. We ate beans. The old woman checked her son for blood. Davey whined the whole time. Dil staggered toward Ben. Ben smelled the grape and alcohol signature of the cheap wine the Cortras brothers enjoyed. "The kid's mother is in a hurry!" A pair of bowling bowls pounded down the stairwell that went to the second floor. I need more money. Like mama gets. “Oh. Retrieving her son was the lone task she came to do and the last errand of her tiring day. almost poisonous. “Let's eat a big supper.” Tamara commented. Ben. “I had a tuna sandwich and green salad for lunch. Before coming close. He picked up the saw blade and found the unfinished bar. when she checked behind his ears. “I’m hungry. “Yeah!” exclaimed the boy. replacing the old denim outfit.” the voice inside Dil said. Davey appeared alone. Ben stood his ground. Ben was interrupted again. but the voice was the one from the desert. with factory black polish. Dil stood in the entranceway. This time the interruption was a real voice missing the past day and a half. He didn't hear the woman or voice from the desert. causing himself to stumble backward. and plainly rude. the rhythm of the saw filled the nave with numbing hum. Davey cheered. “If you’re staging a prison escape."Hen!" Ben bellowed. Tamara gasped. Dil’s exhalation was potent. “Thank you. When Tamara and Davey were gone. He’s not sleeping. Unimportant details simply slipped his mind. He’s just tired. “That's a proper meal!” “Do you want what your mother ate?” Ben asked Davey. “I liked your look. Did you cash that check?” Dil stumbled forward. would not matter either. Even though the hint was obvious. Tamara feared her son exposed to the same malevolent germs as those on those dusty top shelves. She escorted Davey home only because curfew pended. However much time passed. if he felt like eating. “Visiting some people we really don’t want to know. “You can get into so much trouble. They appeared clean. Long black feathers jut from behind each round. They sank straight to the floor as if pulled by a magnet. Tamara turned Davey’s face left. Dil leaned unsteady against the closed door. Ben only blamed himself for not returning to throw the latch shut. unlike Ben's priest uniform.” This was Dil’s shape.” “Is that all?” Tamara asked Ben and her son.which bore a collar. “Go home and feed him. Despite the intense volume. you should at least check the front door first. Tamara rushed home.

“I’m happy to see ya’. and did not feel comfortable sitting at the moment. testing his sanity. Hen? What have you been up to with that boy?” “Davey?” Hen asked. The new clothes and wine suggested that the trip entailed a little corporeal hedonism. The two personalities inside Dil Cortras must have agreed to share the same head simultaneously. I have been on my feet since yesterday. That is some incredible wine.” Dil said. Ben is left to his own devices. the Cortras brothers had each other. asked his younger brother.” Dil judged. He’s harmless. He kept showing me his hand. as a family. However.” Dil groaned and closed his eyes. “I believe I need to sit down. “What have you been doing.” “That's just inane.” “It looks like you made a close friend. He lost enthusiasm seeing Dil again upon recognizing his older brother drunk. He liked the simple clothes he wore. The weariness of the younger Cortras had miraculously shaken off. He didn’t know what his brother meant.” The pew in which Dil collapsed rocked and nearly toppled backwards. standing. I will be disappointed if you haven’t used the other. Dil?” Hen asked cautiously.” Dil laughed. I see you have been busy with one. Ben joined the brothers. the sound of pounding on the stairs in the back reverberated again.” Hen answered with reservation. His mother asked Ben to watch him.” “But we don’t know anyone in the Cap. I think we should start looking the part.” Dil pointed at Hen and winked. sure. “You have any more money?” Dil. Whatever came next. I tried to teach him how to play cards today.” Hen said with a nervous shuffle. Ben hurried and lock the front doors. Ben did not care where the voice went. while you were gone. and a guest. The streets outside filled with long shadows as the orange . and fat people should marry skinny people. Just keep an eye on him and his mother.” “Thank you. The sound rumbled from deep inside his belly. That shows he thinks. I like him. “I like your clothes. breathing heavy. The motion escaped Dil's notice. as long as it was not following him around anymore. seeing his brother relieved Hen's worry. We will all have something to do tomorrow. "Because he's retarded!" “No.” Hen agreed. “Keep him around if it makes you happy. just out of arm’s reach.” Ben heard enough.” “That trip is only a few blocks. at the entrance of the hallway beside the altar. not expecting an answer. the voice met someone with whom the Cortras brothers were not acquainted. and a little slow. Besides the voice inside Dil’s shape. and he wanted it that way. He kneeled and squatted all day. “That’s his name. disembodied. tall people should marry short people.He stopped and struck a lopsided pose. He sat in the pew in front of his brother. Before anything else was said. not from the usual place in his throat. but didn’t think so. He only cared to rest his exhausted and inebriated body. At least. “Why don’t you go and find yourself a new image?” “Yeah. He’s not very good at the game.” Hen’s intended his comment to defend his brother. but the voice now warned for caution. And he likes me too. “Let’s say we make a point to have no more unexpected visitors. “If you say so. Whatever the arrangement the voice made with the older Cortras.” “No concern. What have you been doing. “Ben didn’t cash the check. “I brought the saw and refreshments. Do you think that’s a good idea?” “Davey’s a good kid. Something of Dil still existed in his speech. Hen heard his older brother downstairs. he's not.” Ben challenged. Ben wondered if alcohol caused the phenomenon. The feeling was mutual.” Hen vehemently retorted. then burped. Hen appeared. “That’s right. So I did. The rolled cuffs of his pants made his personal style. it took Dil somewhere. It makes no difference to me.” Dil replied. Dil. Ben witnessed Dil drink when the voice still lingered over Ben’s own left shoulder. or the voice. “You said you visited people. I guess we waited for you. Not that Ben needed to be told. You know what he said today? He said rich people should marry poor people. “The exception is our neighbors. Ben felt normalcy restored. “He is just a kid. It was about time we became metropolitan.

Sarah was not concerned for his safety. A prolonged snore vibrated windows. She knew Mark will not come home again tonight. Ben felt strangely calm. Hen reached over the back of the pew before Dil. With a grunt. was undisturbed. “Let's take him upstairs. Hen hoisted his brother’s legs up so Dil lay flat. or anything at all. Ben turned around. He didn’t see Dil come back either. with the man she married seemed questionable. heartache never stopped. Sarah inevitably sealed herself from pain in suspended animation. Last night. Sarah watched the clock in the kitchen of the big house she shared with her husband. wooden holders. arrived earlier than she wished. Still.orb of the sun slowly dropped behind buildings in the west. After locking the doors. The most terrible days of Sarah's life returned. exactly as her rigid posture twenty-four hours artifice only. Sitting on the same hard metal chair. Mark survived infidelity unscathed. He hooked Dil's pant legs with his fingers. She sealed all those overused passages long ago. In childhood. When . Sarah folded her hands in her lap and crossed her ankles beneath her. The churn of confused emotions returned too soon. Anyone who spied her pose before and visited again will swear nothing changed. Unusually overcast skies glowed rich pink in the sunset. When Sarah satisfied herself. Sunset. Only one reason prevented him from returning home. only waited the moment devastation will strike most severe. Sharing the home. As much as Sarah wanted to spill a torrent of shame and disgrace. The timing could have been worse. but these demons were impatient. Sarah then rearranged and restored the tabletop yet again. His lack of attentiveness disturbed Ben. He now only wielded silence against his wife. back to the way everything appeared two days ago. and consequently meditated. Hen felt glad his brother came back and will not lose him again. Dil had strewn himself across the pew. long after curfew and closer to dawn. Sarah changed herself into a bereft living statue. They could not resist tormenting the sad woman again. Ben faced toward an open window during hours shadows crept in. tipped over and now slumbered where he fell. and the feeling Ben belonged at Saint Erasmus grew intense once more. Hen slept in the pew next to his brother. Mark won't even use a phone. Urgency and need receded. came and passed. seeming too exaggerated to be genuine. Sarah re-enacted every minute of the night before. Hen still sat in the pew he selected and gazed where his brother lay. 16 Sorrowful Birth Sarah Adut passed the long evening in desperation. His lies became too frequent and ridiculous. Sarah expected future misfortune. she returned to her frozen state. Those lingering demon-days might have sprung on Sarah when she or someone in her family fell ill. The woven reed place mats lay carefully arranged parallel and close to the edge of the table . and curfew. Sarah supposed they never really vanished. He refused to endure the ordeal again. Even the scene around her froze in time. The napkins on the table were folded and slipped back into machined.” Hen suggested. Not a muscle moved and each hair stayed in place. There will be no wandering off without Hen knowing. when she needed the semblance of a man in her life. He missed seeing thick darkness fill the nave. The late hour Mark returned the night before. and silken nightgown beneath. Sarah refined the arrangement on the table dozens of time to guarantee everything perfectly fit in their customary place. Those unforgotten days embodied fear and lament. she could not find a path to relief.but could not. despite craving nothing. Mark no longer made excuses. Every wrinkle of Sarah's sheer pink robe. “No. The streetlights flickered on one at a time.” Ben flatly rejected. The pew was fine tonight. Night seemed to be come early for a summer day. To keep tabs on Dil. but even that failed to explain the compressed day. compared to his earlier determination to make solid plans today. She fought endless battles to build a wall. defend the barrier and seal ruptures. Now she urgently wanted to cry for the sake of sanity . Ben lost track of time while he worked.

Sarah still possessed the gifted beauty she had the day she fell in love with Mark. but her restless mind refused her. The fantastic moment of their first encounter remained in memory forever. The brightness of that glorious initial minute washed out everything before and after. Mark's morbid interest in death and destruction persisted since boyhood. but hoped seemed distant. and had a wonderful shape. most of all. the thought of never having a child. She did not expect sleep. nearly the height of her husband. Only the wealthy or privileged owned actual houses in Capital. following him into adulthood and career. Upon meeting Mark. she would never hold conversation with the opposite sex. By professional accounts. Too much time passed without him. Grief was not the future Sarah intended – the reality simply could not be. he bumbled he believed Sarah the sexiest woman alive. therapy might not have helped. Sarah preferred her big. They were perfect for each other. Demons painted Sarah's marriage falling apart and loss of her handsome husband. attraction. Those were the first words he spoke. Sarah seemed ageless. family. Sarah wanted escape. Her brooding will continue relentless on the spot she fell. and friends masked impatient vigil. Each strand glowed. Sarah became speechless. She lost her wonderful home. The future might still bring a baby. Mark majored in journalism and wanted to be a reporter. the wealthy patriarch of the family. Sarah will collapse if she didn’t lie down. This man surrounded her in an embrace she could never escape. Sarah would have been offended then if she did not already know the impact she made on men. Sadness remained a constant state. that very hour became the worst imaginable. The Mortal God only once granted respite. whatever the old man . She wanted a little boy most dear in life. Anyway. When Mark entered her. He delivered Mark as her husband. even in unhappiness. such as members of the Church or officers in the military. Sarah was tall. The fact Mark became so enthralled as a child should have prompted sessions with a therapist. His grandfather spun frightful tales about life before the Wall. His blond hair held the sun captive. Mark harbored an adolescent fascination with heathen terrorism. caught in time. Sarah planned so much more than barren unfaithfulness. empty bed. Mark swaggered shoulders so thick and wide. Mark's commitment bordered on festering psychosis. strong arms. Shortly after their embrace. Sarah realized life wasted until that moment. smitten with the same shallow. If his grandson appreciated quality time with an old man. Having lain on the floor before. yet overpowering. but not the first time she heard the same praise. imagined possibilities. Demons beset Sarah with horrible. Mark's grandfather. the only husband she took until death. When Sarah met Mark. Men could say little else to when struck. Her almond-shaped green eyes sparkled. then or today. The Mortal God would not dare forsake their love. Luck graced Sarah and her husband with a rare two-story. exposed and encouraged the boy. Sarah agonized. Sarah used every bit of her demure dignity to prevent diving straight into Mark. no amount of protest or care would clean away taint. Her marriage with Mark and their beautiful home remained. Just before dawn this morning. Her long brunette hair ward off the gray of age. Much like a good cry denied. The life Sarah wanted began the day she graduated with Mark from school. Sarah visited Mark's bed. Once seized in his long. The hectic pace of school. Still. When the gorgeous man approached. Her sullen mood continued there without distraction. Sarah realized a lifetime of anxious wait. Sarah refused to allow these anguishes to cripple her.the torture arrived. She boasted generous a bosom and waist so slender a man could wrap both hands around. She demanded a good life from the Mortal God and everything fell into place. What followed a clumsy introduction faded to vague bliss. Everything Sarah wanted amounted to nothing compared against the man who stood before her on the dead college lawn between lecture halls. malign thoughts robbed Sarah strength and will. two-bath home on a small lot. Sarah suffered these nights before. The baby had not marred her body. that much was exacted and destined. At the same time. Sarah took a turn becoming dumbstruck. Sarah resigned herself to perpetual darkness in her bedroom. spreading a halo around his handsome face. If Sarah could not forgive men idiocy she obviously caused. When they made love. Sarah could not see around him standing close.

Eventually. Churning out icons for the Church and religious trinkets passed time as tediously as accounting and paid less money. At gatherings with friends and family. No question. or both. To continue financial assistance from her parents. review of the first few pages exhausted her and she just could not continue browsing . If she heard a gasp or revolted grunt before entering the room Mark held audience. Her family also influence Sarah under hindering pressure. Sarah learned to exit the room when a story loomed. no one guessed his riches. Sarah encouraged her husband. Anyway. Sarah heard the horrible tales hundreds of times. Sarah supposed Mark feared being taken advantage of. She stopped at nothing to make a life together possible. and careless. followed by Art. Sarah saw nothing other than a job than the grate of accounting. as much as she cared. Even if Sarah could draw. when Sarah glanced around her classes. Sarah performed merely mediocre in them all. In any case. The pregnancy sealed Mark and Sarah’s future together and love paved the road ahead. Mark hid his resources. She finished her accounting courses with unimpressive. Sarah could not imagine being shackled to a desk. Sarah thought of becoming a reporter. Up until that moment. The baby revealed truth. Sarah knew the duration of tellings well enough to guess the moment of conclusion. For some inescapable reason. The old man’s money became godsend when Sarah found herself pregnant. Their pudgy bodies. In college. Sarah turned around and her sensitive charges herded back in the kitchen again. surrounded by these silent trolls the rest of her professional life. no one but the instructor spoke to her. were slim to unrealistic. a single person often found the unreliable pay inadequate. Chances of gaining a genuine career. Besides. someone became disfigured. Sarah failed to apply the same logic when she joined the accounting classes required for her degree. Physically. cast Sarah a mythical visage of perfection. Obvious superiority felt uncomfortable. their life. Sarah didn’t fit. she was very different from her classmates. and his family probably warned him not to flaunt his wealth. Sarah discretely solicited any people she knew would be offended. writing for military news. she had no wish to work in a factory of painters and sculptors. At school. he lured Sarah. Mark opened his war chest when conversations turned to spars of one-up-man-ship. but because Mark pursued her secret dream. As it happened. Mark got by on his handsome looks alone . Her general interest classes were generally uninteresting. That sort of constant shift work never held appeal and offered no freedom. Her mother and closest girlfriend typically joined everyone too familiar with the sickening stories. Her classmates were so awed. The accounting classes were listed first in the coursework pamphlet. unflattering clothes. she realized she could never become an accountant. Sarah imagined herself better than this loutish breed. The money from Mark's grandfather lifted mundane worry and both dreams became possible. Sarah would support his struggle to make a name for himself. but did not care to learn them.not an unreasonable assumption. She refused to remember details. but decided against the career when common sense prevailed. but passing scores. lives were lost. Sarah expected Mark to abandon the elusive calling and find something more rewarding for his life. Sarah remembered every time she opened the pamphlet. her dreams may have remained relatively docile. Sarah hated the person these low people reflected. Sarah could vicariously live the life she idealized with and through Mark. The dream made them both happy. The small group of women huddled in the kitchen until the horror tales finished. Marriage with a reporter typically degraded to poor decision. In the meantime. Mark can begin his career as a reporter and she will birth a family while they were both still young. Everyone else was the proverbial sore thumb. In each of Mark's old stories. wealth solved problems. whether real or imagined. she chose the profession at random. Sarah felt graced. to accompany her to another room. inevitably some reason arose to impart dozens of now legendary stories again and again. no questions allowed. If necessary. The terrible stories of rape and torture Mark's grandfather passed and Mark repeated were themselves torture.demanded was granted. If Sarah never heard about past atrocities. Mark did not need help because of his extraordinarily generous grandfather. Originally. They may all be UnChosen. Sarah settled for learning a practical skill. Fate need not offer Sarah more clues to destiny. Years spent captivated by horrible stories paid off.

she really promised herself. but that never really mattered. Sarah wanted the destiny of marriage and motherhood with all her heart. but she could no longer deny the fact. She promised to take more care and this one will live As Mark’s wife. A significance day came. She never humbled herself and begged into the crowded workforce of Capital. Mark’s grandfather was truly happiest with the news. Mark revealed the car incentive to stay married and try for another baby. Mark's grandfather made the down payment on the vehicle. Days dragged endless while time slowly moved from the tragedy. To end a thorny discussion. She expected they would have married sooner if the pressures and preparations of senior year did not take precedence. Sarah believed she would eventually marry Mark and have children. Sarah amazed herself with the warnings she later remembered. Hunting down the prerequisite classes occupied most of her time spent flipping through pages.kill their child! His baby lived and grew inside her for over two months before Sarah told him. Sarah convinced herself Mark was happy. She once believed everything soured with the death of their child. their life together will work out. Once the baby arrived.selections. The Chosen were blessed. Mark was apparently so grief-stricken. there was prayer. All his excuses revolved around terrible traffic. She refused to admit the pregnancy to herself after the first month. but in truth. with her beauty and arrogant charisma. Sarah wanted to visit the grave of their son and Mark did not. the poor little boy failed to take his first breath. Regardless of timing. Sarah expected no difficulty. He went cold and pale. Yet. Sarah lied. Sarah didn’t need to see a calendar. Mark wept openly. Mark and Sarah married soon after graduation. The real happiness only lasted through the wedding day. Sarah naively believed Mark will feel the same. In one of many arguments that ensued. He claimed having a child was not prudent as they still paid for the vehicle. The contents of the last few pages forever remained a mystery Sarah had no desire to discover. Mark explained finding the upholstery almost became impossible. When Sarah finally confirmed her suspicions. Then one morning the dull pain stirred and spun into a sharp point. If that was not enough. and asked what she wanted him to do. On the anniversary of their child’s death. In the happy end. Sarah begged for another child. At the moment. he hesitated. She cursed the Mortal God and doubled her prayers. She hoped Mark as ecstatic with their child as she was learning of her pregnancy. The Mortal God did provide Mark. she promised not to disappoint him. She could not believe she ignored his proposal for their baby. Sarah found an eternity of powerless and infinite heartache. Sarah had no need to pursue certification after college. Mark simply did not want children. Mark promised they would go the Saturday after the date. She was not without charms. that was not entirely true. The happy ending came and went. Expectations blinded Sarah. Time had come to act like responsible adults. and if she told her family. Some gnawing and undefined doubt delayed her telling Mark until then. but disappeared that entire weekend. Signs of a troubled relationship plagued her pregnancy. The circumstance of the marriage was not exactly ideal. No matter what corner of . Mark said they would do just that. The young couple could not always rely on his grandfather’s money. His grandfather arranged the marriage and provided a house for their new family. Sarah believed Mark was content doing the right thing. That became devastatingly obvious in the long months Sarah recovered from childbirth. she embraced the news with joyfulness. Sarah desperately wanted to marry and have the child. Pregnancy delivered Sarah. she recalled Mark suggested they abort the pregnancy . But. After ending. Sarah still did not know Mark came from an upper class family. For a long time. All these things Sarah told Mark. Despite the impracticalities. When Sarah told Mark she will have his child. The gory old man wanted a great-grandchild and will now have one. if she wanted. She said she already told her mother Mark was the father. Although. but never really want the child. Mark returned just after curfew on the Sabbath with a new lambskin cover for his car. He ignored the boy bore the name of his grandfather. a brand new Corbeta. he bought a silver sports car. but every day grew more numb. he said nothing.

Sarah slept and dreamed. . Sarah found long and short strands of hair in his car. Sarah remembered emotions. Sarah could take no more. manifested by Mark's absence. Mark crept in and bent over his wife. Of course.Capital traveled. In reality. a hushed voice waited on the phone and the unknown caller then hung up. She knew something shimmered beneath the surface and could even guess the its direction. and certainly no apology. Sarah emptied and offered no more tears for their dead son. even if only fights arose when they spoke to each other. but rather feeling and knowing. Their smell constantly fouled Mark’s clothes. ate the dinner she prepared and slept next to his wife in the bed they shared. and sex. Regardless the forgone grace this morning. where her tears eventually dried. Sarah now sought to remain numb and sheltered herself in comforts. The phone calls infuriated Sarah most. Those common things were vespers of her dead dream. Most of the time. rotting and fermented fruit. Mark quietly slipped into the room. as is the hair color of most women of the Shur. a vile combination of perfume. But the dream was not about seeing. Sarah preferred darkness. she did not want to awake until rested completely. Sarah held his return most precious and worshiped her husband. shifting outline of a fish swimming out to sea. like her bedroom. Despite the terrible way Mark treated her. her dream. neither he nor Sarah spoke about missing the visit to their son's grave. She felt crushed Mark rather purchase lingerie for his sports car than grief his child. Sarah wanted to be strong. He spent the night before at the home of a friend. For the briefest moment. She tired of hopeless fighting. Light was not required for thought and feeling. Sarah still loved him. hope to catch detail faded. However. Sarah might pretend they still loved each other. Sarah heard her greeting returned. They grew numerous when she finally returned to her home with her husband. The bedroom shut out all light. especially when comfort and love visited to console her aching heart. Sarah forgot most details of the vague dream upon waking. The stench almost shocked Sarah awake. a sergeant in the military. Mark explained he stayed his “friend” to hook up with someone the sergeant knew in the morning. but all Sarah had left. Sarah only grew weaker. Mark needed to come home every night. sweat. He smelled rank . She assumed Mark had been sick after drinking. Her parents took her humid. Sarah rarely used the single lamp on the dresser. Sarah believed she defended her home with her vigilance and confronted Mark with every discovered offense. but she knew their spoor. Mark always dressed in the light that drifted from the hall. On rare occasion. so she could not be certain her husband returned. Her own husband outclassed Sarah. She never met any of Mark's strays. Mark could do nothing to change that. Sarah braved indignation her husband’s adultery inflicted. She loved her home and wanted to stay a housewife. Recalling the dream was like chasing the sleek. She rolled the deep blue comforter to the foot of the bed and pulled the top satin sheet over her. One night the timing will be right. at least fourteen hours. but occasionally found bleached blond. Sarah never opened her eyes. In Sarah's vague dream. her volition burned away. When Mark finally came home. Mark offered no excuse. Sleepless nights still plagued Sarah. Contrary to what Sarah expected when she went to bed this morning. The dream spoke to her essence and promised hope and deliverance. Mark met disappointment. Mark still had an occasional appetite for his wife. but she did not know. Sarah expected Mark and accepted the presence of her husband. The sun came up. because wakefulness chased the dream further away. Despite his philandering. If Sarah managed to fall asleep during one of many troubled nights. she felt his warm breath upon her cheek. Eventually Sarah stopped becoming upset. Still. she fell asleep. At least when Mark was home. Sarah could tell her family Mark came home to her. Anyone might have slipped into the room. Sarah thought her dream lacked light. Sarah felt her husband owed her that much for the suffering he caused. The unhappy couple was destined for each other. and once a clownish red. She sobbed for herself and could not stop. especially when Mark continued cheating so effortlessly. Most locks were black. she never fell asleep. She wanted children and hoped Mark may yet provide them.

The dream offered direction. Life stopped being easy since Sarah married Mark. The room appeared soft and gentle in the light of morning. She failed Mark the overflowing love he deserved. Wherever Mark spent the night. Sarah felt as if she suffocated. Keeping her husband by her side will remain a challenge.Before Sarah opened her eyes. the kiss. She assumed the morning had long passed. Any argument Sarah harbored with Mark ended today. The dream revealed Sarah failed to fight hard enough for her marriage. Sarah used the evidence when she made accusations. breath lingered and conjured clear feelings. She learned giving up allowed the worst. The fact her husband never came home made no difference to Sarah. They now served a different purpose and will lead her to Mark. Sarah will show Mark she loved him. Dreams never left Sarah with such certainty. just uncorked. Her heart sank to remember the loving touch of her husband as only a dream. Sarah was selfish. Had so much time passed since he had collapsed into her? The weight of Sarah's husband pressed the air from her lungs. from trashy to mysterious. His affirmation renewed her strength. His words convinced Sarah she dreamed. She could never expect her husband to atone and take all the blame. Sarah fantasized her husband will bid her good-morning with another affectionate kiss but Mark was not there. Sarah wanted to turn around and wrap her arms around Mark. to pull him to her. strong hands gripped her arms. The similarity may have attracted Mark and Sarah to each other. A body pressed down on Sarah. Mark's weight felt greater than Sarah remembered. In his heart. Sarah fought to preserve her . They shared a dream together. The visit was not just her imagination. Women will always tempt Mark. She forgot how comforting the beginning of a new day can be. There could be no other for either of them. The glow was a rare sight for Sarah. and his few words fled away. but hours remained. instead of retreat behind her wall. Sarah went downstairs full of expectations. The smell of his bitter. Mark came home. Mark knew he belonged with Sarah. Mark and Sarah may have made love. The mood to make love instantly overwhelmed her. A successful seductress simply offered the latest flavor of fantasy. They will also lead to the latest Jezebel tempting her husband. She immediately gave up the exception things will change without her intervention. Mark said he desired and loved Sarah. then sweet. Sarah's husband spoke to her. She remembered the careless trails and clues her husband left behind. Everything but the pressure. but the despair seemed unreal. Sarah now resolved to combat advances and fend off temptation. Her shoulders cramped. Time could not be stopped and wound back. Mark said and did more. Sarah could not remember the last time her husband touched her with such affection. A full spectrum of seduction spread open for women. She heard his voice inside her head. She lay motionless except for her drifting smile. The slut deserved Sarah's wholly unleashed wrath. doing whatever necessary to gain his attention. Sarah knew what to do. Sarah still did not open her eyes. Sarah hoped the dream last night was real and Mark sat in the kitchen drinking coffee. Mark was just like Sarah That should have been evident from the beginning of their relationship. Mark said he waited for Sarah and told his wife to look for him. Once Sarah confronted the threat. In the past. They are the same inside and Sarah is his true love. Gravity then suddenly lost hold and they floated. The firm hands pinned her to the bed. accustomed to the suffering her past lovers endured wasting romance in pursuit of her affections. he called to his loving wife. No man can resist a woman that desired him. pushing her further into the mattress. Mark then kissed Sarah on her cheek. They turned Sarah over on her belly and pressed her into the bed. everything will change. but Sarah woke and forgot. She stopped wishing the terrible past never happened. Expectation of repentance only caused hopelessness. Foulness curdled in her nostrils. Now was the moment she will take action. Sarah will search for Mark. Sarah now recognized her fault. but turned sweet and smelled like wine. Sarah still felt her husband's hands on her arms. The kitchen preserved its rigid state from the night before.

The whore will remember scorn of the Mortal God. The old well-exercised habits Sarah used to track Mark's unfaithfulness came back naturally. She found coins. Sarah acted immediately and found her car keys. . but still suspicious. the only thing that will remain is unconditional love. Someone of her inferior heritage had no right to threaten Sarah’s life. matchbook covers or other clues. but the chore will wait until Sarah fended off the skank. Her first irrational instinct called to wash the bedding. especially because of the long heat wave. trash. Many UnChosen lived in the Saint Erasmus parish. Mark looked like he was slumming. scrawled with numbers and addresses. Sarah felt ill her husband lowered himself and slept with a woman of so low status. The thought Sarah touched her husband after he spent the night with an UnChosen woman was disgusting. The wadded tissue appeared old and stale. All righteousness will bear down ruthlessly on her rival. She knew the signs.until Sarah found the napkin. Sarah could spot these things. When Sarah straightened the napkin. When Sarah finished. Sarah will use the low class of this hussy for advantage. This small piece of information gave her everything she needed. Mark never used it this summer. There is a price to pay if this woman tried to better herself sleeping with a Chosen. Sarah saved plenty for her foes. If not in the jacket. She had no claim to Sarah’s husband. Every note appeared related to his work and all were written in his looping handwriting . and hope for a child. she instantly knew she found what she looked for: an address. in a woman’s handwriting. The address belonged in a bad part of Capital. Sarah will put the UnChosen woman in place. and scraps of paper. Sarah checked the inside pockets and then those outside. Mark always emptied his pants pockets into the jacket he hung on the rack by the front door. reserved only for Mark. to preserve love. Sarah's very life is in jeopardy. The brown canvas jacket hung on its hook all summer.marriage and home. She will visit woe upon all who threatened her. Some scraps carried story notes for military news. napkins. her wonderful house. This woman will regret the day she seduced Mark. were forgotten on the desk in the front hall. details of crimes that enthused Mark to write.

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