Yael Dragwyla and Rich Ransdell Email: Polaris93@aol.com http://polaris93.livejournal.

com/

First North American rights 39,400 words

After the Battle: Day of the Dragons
A Tale of Post-X-Day Humanity – An Industrial Tragicomedy
By Hannah Eisenstein-Yeats

Introduction by Steve Yeats
”Day of the Dragons,” the tale that follows this introduction, which was written by my late wife Hannah Eisenstein-Yeats, the quondam Baroness of Diablo Keep, Los Angeles County, New California, has to do with certain events that transpired at Diablo Keep just before her marriage to her first husband, Aaron Montgomery Eisenstein. Let the reader be warned: it isn’t one for delicate sensibilities. At the very least, it will strike the reader as the sort of Grand Guignol grue-fest which was labeled “splatterpunk” by both detractors and aficionados back before the Two-Day War, when the public’s love of the literature and cinema of horror was at its height. At worst, it may seem to be the ravings of a madwoman. If nothing else, it is a very strange tale – and I say that from a perspective of a man who has been described in his time as the “king of horror fiction.” Some of what my darling Hannah describes about that episode in this story doesn’t tally at all with anything remembered by those involved in those parts of it, or even remotely like it. For example, she describes the Jamiesons, Rachel and Big Bill, as if they were only her employees, rather than the extremely close friends they had always been (and, of course, before the Two-Day War, she had been deeply in love with Big Bill, who had then been her lover and fiancé); no one, including the Jamiesons, can remember how she might have had the impressions of them she gives in “Day of the Dragons.” And she doesn’t even mention Liz and Andy Thorsson, who were the mainstay of Diablo Keep’s security system almost from the beginning, well before Monty ever arrived on the scene, not to mention being her close friends as well as Bill’s and Monty’s. How could she have forgotten about them? True, they weren’t at Diablo at that time, because they’d gone over to San Bernardino Keep to do something and hadn’t yet returned. But surely you’d think she’d have at least mentioned them in it – and she does not. Not once. After Hannah and I were married, she was plagued by nightmares concerning ancient horrors she’d suffered long ago at the hands of her adoptive father and others, and fell into funks during which she was terrified that she was damned to hell for things she’d done during the course of her long, long life, especially after she and Bill Jamieson founded Diablo Keep. From personal experience, I suggested she try writing her autobiography as a way of sorting out such things, getting a good look at them on a conscious level. It had helped me enormously long ago, back in Maine, when I was a relatively young man battling demons of my own, and I thought it might help her. As she always did concerning suggestions I made to her, she took this one to heart and set to the project with a will. Her first effort in that direction was “Day of the Dragons.” She might have been simply experimenting with style and story, thinking to

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present it as fiction rather than nonfiction, for whatever reason. Even so, there are a number of curious discrepancies in this story between what was supposed to have a more or less straight autobiographical account of something that really happened to Hannah, or rather in which she took part, and what other people who were there at the time recall. To be sure, when Hannah describes the manner in which she and Paul Royer, who was then about 16 years old, dispatched a young man and woman who had been the pets and/or sexual playthings of a group of bandits whom Hannah and others from Diablo Keep had confronted and done in earlier that day, her description matches Paul’s as well as that of Monty Eisenstein, who witnessed what happened, though he didn’t actually take part in it himself. Leah Royer, who was then Leah Herzog, and Jillian Dewar-O’Brien, were also present when Hannah and Paul did in the youngsters, but withdrew just before the killings were actually carried out, and didn’t see the details. Even so, the two women were able to report on the incident in almost as much detail as Paul and Monty did, and all four of them, both men as well as both women, are essentially in agreement on every point with Hannah on how the two banditti were killed, which was a gruesome business indeed. I have no reason to doubt any of the testimony of the four of them, partly because all four of them seem to me to have always been well-connected with reality, and partly because, especially in Paul’s and Monty’s cases, by telling me what they knew of the incident they implicated themselves in it. If anyone would have had any reason to lie about the incident, or even just shade the truth, in order to avoid taking any of the blame for it, surely the four of them would have, above all Paul and Monty. Yet each of them told all they knew about it, in great detail, perhaps as a way of relieving themselves of whatever burden of guilt they carried over it. And in every case, not only does the testimony of each of the four of them concerning that aspect of the incident agree with those of the others, but with Hannah’s, as well, both in her autobiographical account of it and in the things she told to me directly during the all-too short time of our marriage. But when it came to other things in that account of it – descriptions of the Jamiesons, for example, not to mention some of the more bizarre sexual goings-on among all of them, some things just don’t add up in the face of what the others who were involved in any important way that night have told me. To be sure, when it comes to sex, people often hesitate to talk to X about some of the more interesting shenanigans they’ve been up to with Y and/or Z, and that I can understand. But when it comes to accurate descriptions of the best friends you’ve ever had, and of your relationships with them, I can’t imagine why Hannah would have held anything back, or distorted the nature of her friendships and loves in the way she obviously did in “Day of the Dragons.” (Come to think of it, as frank – or even blatant – as Hannah was in her as-yet unpublished manuscript Dragon Drive and her other writings concerning her descriptions of her sexual relationships with Monty, Paul, etc., it occurs to me to ask, was she exaggerating? No, I can’t say that she was. Certainly her descriptions of her relationship with me seemed to be on the money – utterly, unashamedly, alley-cat frank, yes, but not inaccurate, and of course she never dreamed anyone would ever read her writings but me. And from everything I’ve heard of both Monty and Paul, I can’t say she exaggerated there, either. Her sexuality, and her almost egregious frankness about it, don’t seem to be indicators of mental instability in Hannah, any more than it would be in an unneutered female member of the species Felis domesticus. That was just her nature – and oh, how lovely a nature it was!) So I wonder: was my Hannah seriously deranged at the time – that is, during the time of the incident itself, or when she wrote it up in “Day of the Dragons,” or both? As emotionally fragile as she became after that incident, it may be a real possibility. That the most bizarre parts of “Day of the Dragons,” those concerning the way those two banditti died, seem to be completely accurate (which even Bill and Rachel Jamieson confirmed, from what they saw of the state of the bodies when they helped Monty take them down to Diablo Keep’s recycling department – not to mention people working in that department at the time, whom I interviewed later, in my horror at what the Jamiesons told me, trying to find out as much as I could about the incident) clearly does nothing to change that assessment. If anything, it underscores the possibility that Hannah was, shall we say, not quite herself both when she did the deed, and much later, when she wrote her account of it. Why tell the complete truth about that – and then skew, fudge, or otherwise make an inaccurate retelling of the relatively innocuous parts of the story? Something was definitely out of kilter there! The way she and Paul did in those two youngsters makes that abundantly clear, of course, but that has been written off as the result of a temporary nervous breakdown on Hannah’s part due to the terrible responsibilities she carried, all alone, for so many years, and could be excused as that. I’m wondering now if that breakdown was more than temporary, and whether it hadn’t started a good while before the events described in “Day of the Dragons.”*

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*After reading “Day of the Dragons,” the reader will, understandably, wonder what that incident has to say about Paul Royer’s mental health and moral culpability at that time and afterwards, not to mention why nothing was done to bring either him or Hannah to trial on charges of murder, or the others who were present at the time to book as their accomplices, once the incident became known to me and others in the state and county government. One might further ask why I married Hannah in spite of the fact that I knew all about that incident, why I loved her so much; why, years afterward, I happily took Paul Royer on as my business partner; and what those things have to say about me. As for the first set of questions, please remember that in 2037 e.v., when the events described in “Day of the Dragons” took place, thanks to the dreadful depredations to which homesteaders, keep outliers, and even residents of urban areas of New California had been subjected by bandits, in this state bandits had no legal status whatsoever. Legally speaking, they were fair game for anyone, a fact which I had taken great pains to make known to everyone everywhere in the American West, to encourage law-abiding citizens of this state to use any available means to defend themselves from bandits that came their way (and let us remember that often the best defense is a thoroughgoing and utterly nasty offensive) and, likewise, give every incentive to the bandits themselves to clear the hell out of the area and go elsewhere. Judge Buddy O’Banion did the same from the beginning of his tenure as Chief Justice and Commander-in-Chief of the Restored State of Nevada, as did Baron Henry Englund, Baron and Governor of Recovered State of Idaho, Baron Wainwright of Alaska, Baron Wall of Spokane, Baron Pushkin of Santa Fe, and the other great barons of the American West. We really had very little choice in the matter – it was that or let our people be subjected to raid after murderous raid by roving hordes composed of utterly desperate men and women hell-bent to acquire the means of obtaining medical supplies and care, food, and water that they believed they could get in no other way in partnership with flat-out psychopathic monsters who had by then become connoisseurs of the horror and carnage inflicted on the honest citizens who were their preferred prey by such raids. So while what Hannah and Paul did to those two hapless bandit-chicks during the course of the events described in “Day of the Dragons” certainly fall into the categories of the utterly bizarre, murderously sadistic cruelty, and even, if you will, mortal sin, it was by no means illegal. In fact, even after rumors of this incident leaked out to the public, as they had been since Diablo Keep was established, Hannah and her various lieutenants and other retainers were adulated throughout this state and far beyond it as heroes because of the way in which they had, through their diligent and successful efforts to cleanse their part of the state of bandits such as these. The fact that bandits really did not want to remain anywhere in the vicinity of Diablo Keep, especially after the rumors of that incident began to circulate, was far more important to the citizenry in the area than any tender regard for the rights or well-being of the bandits. People there had lost too many of their own to the depredations of bandits, which often exceeded whatever Hannah and Paul did to their two little toys by orders of magnitude of the sort that are normally used to describe supernova explosions in comparison with the occasional minor flare on the surface of our sun. Citizens were thus then in no mood to give a rat’s ass about the suffering of such pests, other than to urge that it be increased as far as possible in order to discourage similar monsters from attempting to prey on anyone else within several hundred miles of Los Angeles County. So in general the reaction to the rumors of the incidents described in “Day of the Dragons” was good for the Baroness and Paul Royer!” If, my friend, you’re beginning to get the idea that as far as the people in this state who heard about the incident at the time not only did not regard Hannah and Paul as monsters for what they did to those two banditti, but instead as heroes, instead, you’re right on the money. Even ministers, rabbis, and priests were less than anxious to condemn their actions – by then, most of them had had to deal with the results of some fifteen years of one horrifyingly murderous bandit-attack after another on the members of their various congregations too many times, and were so soul-sickened by it that they welcomed virtually anything that promised a decent chance of putting paid to the toll from banditraids on their people. It is only now, some forty-plus years after the Two Day-War, now that most of the gangs of bandits that once infested this state and the rest of the West are gone and the remainder are poor, sorry revenants of the ones that preceded them, that the general citizenry is beginning to change their outlook about such matters. There are even protest groups lobbying here in the state capitol for such reforms as the abolishment of capital punishment within this state, an emphasis on

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rehabilitation rather than punishment within state prisons, and similar changes in our laws and the way we handle serious crime. We can afford that, now, or at least something of a general softening in our attitudes toward such matters. Crime statistics have dropped considerably since 2037, certainly with reference to atrocities of the sort that bandits routinely committed throughout the state, save near the biggest keeps with the largest and best-trained armies of gunslingers and well-armed outliers determined to protect themselves against criminals of that sort. But back then we couldn’t. At that time there were just too many bandits, and too many unspeakably vicious crimes perpetrated on our citizens by them and the occasional roving lone psychopath, for us to consider anything other than swift and certain pest-control against the bastards, carried out as expeditiously as possible in a manner guaranteed to act as a decided deterrent against those who might otherwise think of our citizens as easy prey. So the reaction of most of those who heard about the incident was, in general, hearty approval, though that relief was tinged in some cases with a certain distaste at the lack of finesse employed by Hannah and Paul in their treatment of the two banditti – or else disappointment that the public wasn’t given the opportunity to observe the procedure. And, I must confess, I, too, must be included among those who cheered at the news. After all, I was the guy who led the Forces of Goodness and Light during the Battle of Sacramento in 2023 in a war against the throngs of utterly conscienceless sons of bitches who had taken that city within a very short time after the War. Those bastards murdered my predecessor, the last governor of Old California, one of the most courageous I’ve ever heard of, in an unspeakably cruel way, committed similar atrocities against many of the other residents of the city, and raped, looted, pillaged, and devastated the city, its environs, and its inhabitants in every imaginable and unimaginable way. When I and the people who had come with me from Vermont all the way to California after the Two-Day War finally arrived in Sacramento a year after the onset of the War and discovered what had taken place there, we descended on that city and the monsters who’d taken it like wolves on a flock of rabid sheep, and I put it to you, dear reader, to decide which of us better deserved the term “bastard” for the war that ensued between us and the bandits then, us or our opponents. We killed every one we could on the spot, in any way we could, using everything from our by-then extensive, high-quality armory to torches and rocks to do the job, then hanged the few survivors still alive at the end of that hideous battle. And I was no less guilty than anyone else with me of the perpetration of the most ghastly deeds against the enemy both during the battle and at its close and afterward. In fact, in my time I’ve committed my own share of sins against foes, in battle and after it. Some of these have never been made truly public. If my efforts to edit and then publish Hannah’s long, long account of the famous Diablo Keep Dragon Drive of 2047 e.v. are successful, those sins will finally be exposed to public view as a result. In the meantime, take my word for it: I’ve perpetrated more than a few horrors myself in my time – and none of them were condemned by those present at the scene. In view of the circumstances, those actions were considered to be only appropriate by those who knew about them (except, of course, for the poor, luckless bastards who were subjected to them). So how can I condemn Hannah for cracking under pressure and once, just once doing the same sort of thing, under very similar circumstances, to a couple of banditti? As for Paul . . . Well, he was very young at the time, so young that you may wonder why, in the face of prevailing attitudes then as well as now concerning sexual interactions between adults and children, he was sexually involved with Monty Eisenstein or Hannah in any way, shape, or form, and why I don’t condemn either of them for that involvement. The answer is simple: as Paul himself has remarked, at the age of thirteen, perhaps three years before the incidents described in “Day of the Dragons” took place, he was already “six feet tall and hung like a horse.” Three years later, when we encounter him in the story below, he was six feet, one inch tall, covered with hard muscle and strong as an ox, and – well, I really can’t say for myself how well he was hung, then or since, but it would be reasonable to assume that his equipment didn’t suffer any reversals of size in the meantime. In short, unless you had known his true age at the time, if you had encountered him then you would very likely have assumed him to be a full-grown man of at least 25 or so. Since by custom and law, beginning in the late ’20s and early ’30s, people have generally been assumed to have reached their majority and the age of consent by the time they are 16, no offense against either crime or custom had been committed with respect to the sexual involvement with Paul of either Hannah or Monty. At worst, they might have been accused of “robbing the cradle” – but as quite a few people who’ve known Paul since

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he was a boy of less than ten years old have affirmed, Paul Royer is one of those men who never truly seemed to have been a child, one of those whom the psychologist William James called “the twiceborn.” Paul had, in his childhood, undergone a long, terrible series of experiences no one should ever been subjected to, least of all an impressionable child, and these robbed him of whatever true childhood he otherwise might have had. He had both the intelligence and the outlook of a grown man by the time he was ten – those of a man who, furthermore, had been a veteran of one or another terrible war like Vietnam or the ongoing operations which the US Marines carried out in Central and South America just prior to the Two-Day War. By the time he became involved first with Monty Eisenstein and then with Hannah, save for his chronological age he was obviously no child at all, and his involvement with them was not a matter of their “robbing the cradle.” But given that, then, what measure of blame should be laid upon him for what he and Hannah did to those two banditti, as described by Hannah in such exquisitely gruesome detail in “Day of the Dragons”? Surely the same considerations should apply to him as do to Hannah – even more so, because by then, unlike Hannah, he had been the unwilling target of the attentions, amatory and otherwise, of a number of bandits on numerous occasions himself. He hated them, and he had good reason to. Furthermore, he had committed no crime in doing what he did under either local or state law, nor, for reasons cited above, did he offend the customs of the time. And if neither he nor Hannah could be held accountable by law or custom for their actions that night, how then could Monty, Jill Dewar-O’Brien, or Leah Herzog? Clearly they couldn’t. Yes, what the five of them participated in that night was revolting in the extreme, and just as clearly Hannah must have been at least temporarily mad to have been the one to initiate it, while Paul, her assistant, couldn’t have been all that stable then, himself, either, while the fact that Monty, Jill, and Leah didn’t step in to stop it before it got as far as it did is certainly no testimonial to their own mental well-being. But there was no actual crime committed then, nor anything that most of the state’s citizens wouldn’t have happily endorsed. And now, dear reader, of course you will say, yes, but what the five of them did that night was appalling – and the fact that all five of them became my good friends and remained so over the years, one of them in fact becoming my second and very beloved wife, says things about me that are equally appalling. How, you ask, could I have even endured their company for five minutes, let alone becoming the close friend and associate of all of them, making Paul my business partner and Hannah my wife? – Hey, have I ever claimed I’m a saint? If you think I was made governor of New California and have been returned to office against and again over more than four decades, without a break, because I’m some sort of saint, you’re either out of your flaming mind or else tragically ignorant of the world as it has been since the Two-Day War. To answer that second question, I am one nasty mean motherfucker, let me tell you – sterling qualifications to reclaim this state from the chaos into which it fell after the War and put it back on the road to the stars, keep it from falling back into to an everlasting Dark Age from which there could never be a recovery, and give it and its citizens one hellacious good shot at a true posterity. Saints are not qualified for that sort of job. It takes mean sons of bitches like Yrs Truly to do it right. Compared to me, my darling Hannah was an angel, God love her, and Paul Royer, Jill Dewar-O’Brien, and Leah Herzog Royer are right up there with her. And I’ll probably continue in office as Governor of New California until I die, because the citizenry have found, over the years, that this particular nasty mean motherfucker is perfectly qualified to do what they need done. So don’t sweat it, dear reader. A friend and lover of monsters, I may be a monster myself – but I’m your monster, yours and your planet’s, and if you plan to go on living in this world as it really is for any length of time and still have a life worth living, you’re going to have to depend on assholes like me to bring that about for you. As they say, those who eat meat shouldn’t sneer at the butcher – and that goes for you, too.

Something else that adds weight to that possibility has to do with Dragon Drive, Hannah’s long, long, autobiographical account of the great cattle drive of ’47 conducted by Monty Eisenstein, with the help of myself, Al Norwich, Buddy O’Banion, as well as Pat Wall and Misha Pushkin, on which she went along in

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an auxiliary capacity.** For one thing, her writing style shifts dramatically during the first few parts of it. Was her personal point of view shifting during the writing of it, as well? If so, why? While later sections of that work are much closer to the reality which everyone else remembers, the earlier ones – well, there are a number of disturbing discrepancies there. For example, early on in Dragon Drive she writes of Monty as if he were only her top employee, albeit also her lover. But later she writes of him as the Baron, Baron of Diablo Keep, herself as his consort, his beloved wife, but not the Baroness, not the top dog of the Keep as she made herself out to be in “Day of the Dragons.” In fact, right after their marriage, long before the time of the Drive of ’47, thanks to Hannah’s increasing fragility and age, of necessity Monty had to take over the management of Diablo Keep and become its true master, something to which she readily acceded and even begged him to do. From the day of her marriage on, she was wholly in love with him, adoring him with all her being, more than willing to give anything to him he wanted, do whatever he wanted, just because he wanted it. To be sure, he felt the same way about her. But when it got down to the nitty-gritty, he was able to take on all the burdens of management of Diablo Keep and she was no longer able to carry those burdens. And so, within a week or two after their marriage, Monty became not only the de facto but the de jure boss of Diablo Keep, as well, while Hannah had, with great relief, I’m sure, given up any but a token seeming of that status.

*Pat and Misha provided peripheral support in the form of intelligence-gathering and various resources, but weren’t themselves present on the Drive. In fact, it was Misha, together with “Judge” Buddy O’Banion, two of the best friends I’ve ever had, who suggested I edit and publish Hannah’s writings, to make them available at least to historians and scholars as the priceless historical documents they are (and, I dare say, to keep her alive, at least in print and memory, for they both loved her at least as much as I ever did, and took her death hard). This was one of Misha’s last wishes before his untimely death just two years after Hannah’s. I hope that, in whatever part of Heaven he now inhabits, he is pleased by the publication of Hannah’s work. **With luck, that work will appear in the bookstores somewhere in the next couple of years. Currently I am working with my long-time close friend and publisher, Carl Bedloe, who is also the publisher of this first edition of “Day of the Dragons” as one of his incomparably beautiful hardbound publications, on editing and otherwise preparing Dragon Drive for publication. It is an extremely long work, and we are not yet sure whether we will publish it as is, perhaps in several volumes, or cut it to conform to current publishing standards for commercial publication of works intended for the general public. Even so, it shouldn’t be too long before it, too, is publicly available. I hope so. When, finally, it does reach the bookstores, it, too, will do so within the gorgeous, sensuously beautiful, creamy pages cradled between the tooled-leather, gold-inlaid bindings of Carl’s “Best of the West” series of books of great historical and literary interest which he has been publishing since Gold Rush Publishing Company first began operation in 2038 e.v. Even more than her “Day of the Dragons,” Dragon Drive presents an invaluable and richly detailed account of the history, both cultural and ecological, of the history of our world not only from the Two-Day War onward, but even well before that, all the way back to the beginnings of the 20th century in catastrophes man-made and otherwise. It may well become an invaluable cultural resource for scholars, teachers, social, and biological scientists – not to mention the fact that, trust me, like “Day of the Dragon” it happens to be one hell of a good read!

Why, then, does Hannah at first write of Monty in Dragon Drive as if he, the Baron of Diablo Keep, at that time head of the Los Angeles County Commissioners, and CEO of county-state operations over much of Southern California, were of much lower effective status than he actually was then, and she, exalted above him in a way she in fact was not and did not want to be once they were married? Again, maybe she was just playing with her writing, trying to get a feel for what worked best. I know, as all of us do, how much she loved Monty, how she adored him, what he was to her – when he died it was as if light in any form had ceased to exist for her, and she came very close to death herself in the weeks after that, before I came down to Diablo Keep to propose marriage to her. The reality doesn’t match the picture she paints of

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Monty in the first few chapters of Dragon Drive – so what was she trying to do there, and why did her style, point of view, and presentation of Monty and everyone else in there change so dramatically, so quickly, after that, until the latter finally more or less matched the reality? We’ll probably never know. The question remains: was Hannah crazy? No, of course not, not in the classic sense. But certainly she could only function well as part of a strong group, dependent on it and subject to the exigencies demanded by its needs as well as her own – and even then, only as long as she was loved by the members of that group. Without that love, and without the structure such a group provided for her life, she would have fallen apart within days, perhaps hours. After all, she was then very old, of an age far beyond that which most people born in her time ever attained, and had seen so very much horror in her long, strange life. To paraphrase Johnson, you might say that the wonder wasn’t that she functioned less than optimally; it was that she still managed to function at all. – And function very well she most certainly did! Because of her, alliances were made – and kept, over all these years, even now, well after her death – that never would have come into existence if not for her. Thanks to her, Monty Eisenstein’s vision of the establishment of terrestrial life among the stars is on the way to becoming a reality. Thanks to her, I have been living out Rabbi ben Ezra’s promise: Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, The last of life, for which the first was made. . . . She gave me eight of the best years of my life – eight of the best years any man, of any age, might ever hope to dream of. Even if I had lived my whole life in material poverty, because of her I’d have been richer than Croesus, or even his latter-day and incomparably wealthier analogs, such as John D. Rockefeller, Bill Gates, and my good buddy Patrick Henry Wall (who, unlike the previous two is, thank God, still among the living), just for knowing and loving and being loved by her. She was tragically taken from us because, for whatever reason, her body rejected Berkeley Keep’s rejuvenation treatments so violently that after trying two or three of them, she dared not try any more lest they kill her. As a result, the growing fragility of the blood vessels within her skull, which could otherwise have been kept in good repair by means of Berkeley Keep’s medical miracles, finally terminated in a catastrophic cerebral accident that killed her so quickly that, mercifully, she might not even have had time to know anything of what had happened to her, or that she was dying – and, in so doing, spared her the eternities of misery that so many victims of catastrophic strokes suffer until their deaths. Still, as all the others who have known and loved her over the years have told me of themselves, I feel her presence near me constantly, comforting and guiding me every moment of my life. I cannot, therefore, count myself among the truly bereaved. And someday, somehow, I believe I will find her again, out there among the stars, my love, my joy, herself the guiding star of life since I first met her, Diablo Keep’s great lady, back in 2037, on my first full Governor’s Tour of New California. But enough of the maunderings of this old man, already! On with the show! I now present for your edification and delight: my once and forever darling, Hannah von Zealgrund Eisenstein-Yeats, and her cameo, osprey’s-eye view of our life and times! – Stephen Yeats, Fort Sacramento, New California, 2068 e.v.

Introduction to the Second Edition by Steve Yeats
There is little to add to the introduction I wrote to this story for its original incarnation as a hardback published by Gold Rush Publishing Company in 2069 e.v. other than to add the following: Yes, I’m still one mean mother, friend of mean mothers and all-around sons of bitches. In fact, as many of my detractors (and I have lots of them, dear reader, as you can imagine) have pointed out, if anything I’ve only gotten meaner and more of a mother than I was when I wrote the introduction to the first edition of “Day of the Dragons.” Also, I regret to say that Carl Bedloe is no longer the CEO of Gold Rush Publishing Company. This second, trade paperback edition of “Day of the Dragons,” which is to be published simultaneously with a new edition of Hannah’s novel Dragon Drive by Gold Rush Publishing Company Company, is, instead, being brought out under the direction of another of my very good friends, the tremendously competent Jake Paretti, formerly the General Office Manager of Gold Rush Publishing. Jake was called to step into Carl’s shoes when Carl suddenly died last year, the victim of the horrifying bacterial disease popularly known as “30 Minutes to Hell,” “Lucifer’s Gut-Shoot,” “Seventh Circle” and “The Demon of the Malebolgia” (after those locations in Dante’s Inferno), “Torquemada’s Delight,” and a host of other ugly but similarly appropriate names, one of the few almost invariably incurable ailments still in existence, against which even Berkeley Keep’s state-of-the-art medical technology is utterly impotent in all but at most one out of 10,000 cases.* As I said in my introduction to the second edition of Dragon Drive, which will hit the bookstores at the same time that this new edition of “Day of the Dragons” does, like the new edition of Day of the Dragons the latter is a product of Carol’s last will and testament. Carl had always wanted to reissue both “Day of the Dragons” and Dragon Drive in editions that the bulk of the population could easily afford, both as superb examples of the story-teller’s art and as magnificent windows on the history of our world since the Two-Day War. Carl felt that no citizen in this state should go without reading them. The first edition of Dragon Drive, which went to press in late 2070, was published in two versions, both in hardback: a limited, numbered edition of 1,000 copies in a beautiful, tooled-leather binding with title and name of the author done in gold inlay, with gorgeous illustrations by Leah Royer, at $25 per copy (and that’s in Neo-Bucks, folks, backed by gold at the Fort Sac mint); and a mass-market edition at just $10 (but that’s also in Neo-Dollars, enough to pay for having your entire house painting or expert plumbing or electrical work. “Day of the Dragons,” on the other hand, was originally published in 2069 e.v. after some delays due to problems getting paper stock and binding materials of the sort Carl wanted for it. It, too, was finally published then in two hardback versions: a limited, numbered edition of 1,000 copies in that same beautiful binding used by Carl for Dragon Drive, illustrated by Leah Royer, at $20 ND per copy; and a mass-market edition at $8. Clearly both books were thus priced well beyond what the average citizen could afford. The situation, sadly, remained that way until now, when, thanks to Carl’s generous heart and driving will to keep the public well-educated about this state and what made it what it is today, Gold Rush Publishing Company is finally bringing out a trade paperback edition of these two works. Though they are both of the high quality we have come to expect from Gold Rush Publishing, with the same illustrations by Leah Royer that graced their original editions, they are also priced such that most of the public, even in other, less fortunate areas of the world, can easily afford them, at just $0.25 ND per copy for Dragon Drive, and only $0.15 ND for “Day of the Dragon.” .1

*If anything, considering the usual course of the illness, even the popular names forit are gross understatements. Caused by an airborne mutated staphylococcus bacterium, this disease is also listed in the 2082 e.v. edition of The Merck Manual as “fast-acting peritonitis,” another horrendous understatement. 30 Minutes to Hell has to be one of the worst of all possible ways to check out, albeit a great deal shorter in duration than some. When its acute phase hits, as Hannah says in Part 10 of this novel, inside of a quarter of an hour the victim becomes a mindless, screeching, howling thing futilely clutching his guts and begging for death. The extra 15 minutes it takes from that point to actual, final, mercifully death is Hell itself, a short eternity of agony that only someone like the very late and thoroughly unlamented one-time US President William Jefferson Clinton, say, or his sidekick

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Janet Reno, would deserve. In just half an hour, according to the testimony of its victims (these are usually capable of giving such testimony for at least a few minutes before the agony reaches a crescendo and their minds check out rather than undergo any more of it), because the bacteria that cause the disease have by that point converted most of the tissues in their lower abdomens into gas and slush,, their gastrointestinal tracts suddenly seem to become filled with red-hot coals as the gases being liberated by the bacterium bloats the abdomen to at least twice its normal size, then causes it to literally explode, generally through a rupture in the perineal wall since the muscles of the lower abdomen are normally just too tough to fail under the pressure. The worst thing about it is, according to witnesses and the sufferers themselves, is that it’s rather like getting drunk on vodka or champagne, though far less pleasant: it sneaks up on you. In most cases, by the time you’re aware you’ve got it, it’s way too late to do a damned thing about it. The bacteria that cause it, having gotten into your system days before and settled down in your intestines, not doing too much for several days, suddenly begin multiplying at a fantastic rate into several pounds worth of bacteria, getting the fuel necessary for that from your own abdominal tissues. By then, as in poor Carl’s case, it’s virtually impossible to do anything to stop the progress of the disease toward its relentless, ghastly conclusion. About the best thing that can be done for the victim at that point is a quick check-out for him via a bullet – which is, in fact, the route Carl understandably took when he realized what he had. At the time he died, he was is in his office at Gold Rush Publications. When Carl came to work that morning, he had what he then thought was a mild case of indigestion, much too little to keep him from his job. He had always kept a loaded Neo-Colt .45 revolver in the top left drawer of his desk since the evening in 2058 when someone had tried to rob the office and he’d almost died then and there because the Biretta semiauto he wore in a hip-holster had jammed on him and was unable to fire (Jake Paretti, his general office manager and another of my close friends, saved Carl’s life that day, running in when he heard the commotion and blowing the would-be robber away with the 12-gauge he always kept close by for emergencies). Carl, not a man to ignore it when God tapped him on the shoulder, from then on packed heat that was guaranteed not to jam, and kept more of it in his desk drawer at work. It was God’s mercy he had that revolver there in its regular niche in his office desk drawer that last day of his life – at the time, he was all alone in the office, and it would have taken the paramedics more time to come to his aid than he would have had left before he finally died, given that the staph bacteria in his gut had finally reached critical mass. Thanks to that revolver, he was able to check out in a relatively dignified manner, before his mind went under the onslaught of the agony of the disease’s terminal stage). Quickly writing a note to let all of us know what he had done, and why, he put the muzzle of his Colt in his mouth and pulled the trigger, ending the agony with a bullet to the back of the brain. Neither I nor any of his other friends and admirers have it in us to condemn him for that, given the alternative, and I don’t think God does, either. So requiescat in pace, Carl! You were dearly loved by so very many of us, and I don’t think I’ve ever had a better publisher – or friend.

One other thing: When Hannah died, Leah Royer, who had been Hannah’s lover for many years and whom I’d never have known if not for Hannah, came to me, coaxing me back from death’s dark door, entering my bed as my lover, talking me into not only once more bringing into the world children of my own body, but also children of Hannah herself, as well as of Monty and a host of the other giants who have kept this world alive and reaching for the stars ever since the Two-Day War.* If anyone is still wondering about Hannah’s sanity and that of her friends, then if that was insanity, let us make the most of it! (He said, grinning, and no, I absolutely refuse to put a damned smiley in here! If, dear reader, whoever you may be, whether your read this tomorrow or ten thousand years from now or somewhere on the fringes of eternity, you can’t figure out when I’m in good humor, when I’m cracking a joke, and when I’m not, then nothing I could do at this point, smileys or otherwise, will ever clue you in, and fuck you and the horse you rode in on.)

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*Like my comments about Paul Royer, the nature of his actual relationship with both Hannah and Monty Eisenstein, and his early history, this information concerning my ongoing relationship with Leah Royer is tendered here with the gracious permission of both Paul and Leah Royer. To which let me add that both of them, regardless of whatever transpired on that night described in "Day of the Dragons," are today two of the kindest, most gracious, and most truly civilized beings it has ever been my pleasure to know, and you should only be so lucky to have such friends, dear reader. As for why, having never made these facts public before, I choose now to bare the nakedness of my soul to the world in this way, the conditions that kept me from doing so in the past no longer apply. For one thing, the Royers themselves, two of the most sensible and gutsy people I’ve ever known in my life, have told me to say here that they simply don’t see the point of wasting energy worrying over what the nasty little minds of nasty little souls might say about all this. Further, they are soon going to emigrate off-world to the planet Providence in the Xoth system, which was recently surveyed by me and a number of others in the first known true interstellar vessel our civilization has ever produced, the overwhelmingly successful product of years of research and development on such a means of journeying to the stars by Northkeep Industries at Northkeep, Northern New California. By the time this book comes out in the bookstores, they will have moved to an isolated staging area, one whose location won’t be made public for years, yet, where they can train for life on their new world and get ready for their move there, and won’t have to deal with anyone who would otherwise make trouble for them over any of the things revealed about them herein. In the second place, I myself feel exactly as the Royers do about what the public may or may not think about the revelations about Hannah, me, the Royers, and others given here, though for somewhat different reasons. I’m an old, old man, and while Berkeley Keep’s medical marvels have been doing wonders at keeping the spectres of illness and death at bay for me, I was born in 1969 e.v., two and a half years after Hannah was, and was already well into late middle age by the time those biomedical technologies first became available. The success of those technologies seems to work in inverse proportion to the age at which the person on whom they are used first undergoes them. On the average and in the overwhelming number of cases, the younger you are when you get your first Berkeley rejuvenation and other medical treatments, the more likely they are to keep you young and healthy for an indefinite period of time. I wasn’t young when I got my first Berkeley rejuvenation treatments, about five years after the Two-Day War. While they did give me back a great deal of the energy, vitality, and health I had enjoyed when I was, say, thirty or thirty-five, they never did restore me to the state I enjoyed in my twenties, whereas for those born since the War, those treatments can usually keep them in top condition and at a stage of life equivalent to that which a person in his twenties normally enjoys without the treatment for an indefinitely long period of time. In other words, folks, I’m finally beginning to feel my real age. I am getting old, damned near 115 years old. I am very, very tired, and in increasing pain in my joints, kidneys, bladder, and other areas of my body. I am no longer the stud I used to be even as late as about two years ago, again thanks to Berkeley’s treatments – the old tom cat has finally departed for a different alley, I guess, my works aren’t what they once were, and my sex-life, such as it is now, is damned near nonexistent. And neither the treatments provided by Berkeley nor the ones now becoming available from a new company my business partner, Paul Royer, is now putting together, Royer Life-Systems, seems to be doing me a damned bit of good. The science-fiction writer Larry Niven used to say that once you are past reproductive age, Mother Nature doesn’t give a damn about you any more – you have nothing more to contribute to the gene-pool after then. Well, that’s not strictly true. After all, loving, wise, and valorous grandparents and great-grandparents have made the difference between survival and death for countless generations of their descendants, the balance swinging in favor of survival in such cases, and those descendants do carry their ancestor’s genes forward into the future. Whatever genes are associated with being competent grandparents are thus definitely conserved and kept from falling under the ax of natural selection, albeit indirectly, through their grandchildren rather than through their children. But there seems to come a time when Mother Nature finally gets sick and tired of you and calls it quits as far as you are concerned, and it looks as if, folks, I’ve finally reached that golden stage of life myself. And as tired as I am, as long a life as I’ve had, as many deaths of loved ones – some of those horrifying in the extreme – as I’ve been through, and as much pain as I’ve been in lately, I’m just about ready to go. I know it won’t be very much longer until I’m outta here, folks, and it won’t matter

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to me at all what people think of me then, because I’ll have left this thoroughly screwed-up vale of tears and gone off to find my Hannah and all the others I’ve loved and who have loved me in well over a century of life. As for my kids, the ones I’ve had with Leah and a host of other wonderful women since Hannah died, as well as the clones of Hannah and numerous others and those gametes created, in each case, by recombinant DNA techniques using genetic material from multiple sources, which many of those same women and others have been more than willing to carry to term in their own bodies, well, the last of them was born about 2064. All of them are all grown up and, thanks to the Bujinkan combatarts training methods taught them in the dojo-system in the West now overseen by my friends Andrew and Elizabeth Thorsson as well as superb educations given to them all by the restored UC university system, the medical oversight given to them at all times by Berkeley Keep, and the great equalizers of Colt, Remington, Glock, and all their superbly effective kin, eminently capable of taking care of themselves with no help from me. Those of my old friends who are still with us, such as Judge O’Banion, Pat Wall, “Big Bill” Jamieson, and Al Norwich, are no slouches when it comes to protecting themselves from the actions of idiots. And the same is true of the resurrected old US Constitution and Bill of Rights, now the bedrock of New California constitutional law and the libertarian government I worked so hard to establish here. In other words, my friends, ain’t nobody around who has any reason to worry about what is said in either of the introductions to “Day of the Dragons” and Dragon Drive, or to those stories themselves. I don’t care and the rest – well, those who’d like to give any of them a hard time about any of this, at least those whose whereabouts are still known to the public, can go ahead and try to do so and find out the hard way just how much good it’s likely to do them. So do your worst, you sons of bitches who believe you’re better than the butchers whose meat you’ve been eating for the last 61 years or so, who’ve worked their asses off to create a reasonably safe environment and places a healthy economy for you and your kids during that time, whose courage, intelligence, integrity, and vision mark them as giants of the spirit who stand light-years taller than you, you puny-souled, petty-minded, whining assholes, can ever hope to stand. None of us particularly give a shit – and that’s the way it should be. That’s the kind of world I’ve worked harder than Hercules at his Twelve Labors to bring to birth, the kind of people I want to see populate it and the colonies we establish on worlds of other stars, however long it may be. If you can’t stand such people and such a world, well, there’s always the 5-cent cure – I suggest using either a .357 magnum or a 12-gauge shotgun. Just be sure to put the muzzle into your mouth rather than against your temple – otherwise the bullet might end up bounding its way all around the inside of your skull and then out the exit wound it makes on the other side of your skull without doing any appreciable damage to the brain. And also make sure you aim whatever gun you decide to use for this particular project so that the load goes straight back into the base of your brain instead of any higher – otherwise a lot of resources would have to be invested in caring for you for maybe decades of life because you wouldn’t be in shape to take care of yourself, ever again, thanks to the job of impromptu amateur surgery you would have performed on your cerebellum, cerebrum, or forebrain with the aid of a firearm. And frankly, friend, you just wouldn’t be worth it.

I would like to close the foregoing with the following passage which wrapped up the introduction I wrote for the second edition of Dragon Drive: For my part, I am delighted to see this second edition come out while I’m still here to enjoy it – especially now, when, thanks to my good buddy Al Norwich and his stable of wild-eyed geniuses at Northkeep Industries we can finally make sure that Dragon Drive will also see daylight on the worlds of other stars. The brave pioneers there from Earth will soon be establishing schools, universities, public libraries, and, of course, bookstores in the new cities they will be creating in the midst of the gorgeous wildernesses to which they will be emigrating within the next few years, and will be sure to have this book widely available to everyone on their new world, to keep the memory of

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Earth and the history that saw us finally reach the stars alive forever in the best and most enjoyable possible way. I am absolutely sure that Hannah would have been delighted to see this edition come out now, too – and that, wherever she is, she is making sure that Carl Bedloe isn’t lacking for laughter, joy, and (bein’ what my darling wife was, and surely still is) love. God bless and keep them both – and may they be waiting for me there when I, too, finally end the pilgrimage I’ve been making here on this battered, bloody, but unbowed, gallant living world of ours since 1967 e.v. and go on to check out the Beforelife for myself. – Stephen Yeats, Fort Sacramento, New California, 2084 e.v.

1

Since the Fort Sacramento mint first began issuing specie and bills and stamps backed by industrial, noble, and power metals in 2039 e.v., the purchasing-power of the Neo-Dollar, which has fluctuated little at all, has been the equivalent of one box of 20 machined hollow-point center-fire .357 calibre cartridges, the sort that sold for around $20 in the old USA (except for California, where you couldn’t get the things for less than your soul and your grandmother’s left eyeball – if then) in 1996. Of course, that was a year before the Clinton Administration, encouraged to do so by the United Nations, the European Union, Russia, and Communist China, ram-rodded (i.e., by extortion and liberal amounts of blackmail) a total gun-ban that applied to everyone in this country save federal agents of all kinds as well as local police forces, at which point you had to pay black-market prices for them unless you were one of the aforementioned civil (hah!) servants permitted to own and use firearms. Today, in terms of 1996 e.v. U.S. Constant Dollars, considering how changed our world is from that one, you’d have to pay around $50 for a box of such cartridges. (This and any following footnotes not by the author of this work are provided by Jacob Paretti, current CEO and editor-in-chief of Gold Rush Publishing, Fort Sacramento, New California and one of the editors of this work.).

Day of the Dragons
Midway in our life’s journey, I went astray from the straight road and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood. How shall I say what wood that was! I never saw so drear, so rank, so arduous a wilderness! Its very memory gives a shape to fear. Death could scarce be more bitter than that place! But since it came to good, I will recount all that I found revealed there by God’s grace. Dante Alighieri, Inferno I:1-6* The light was departing. The brown air drew down all the earth’s creatures, calling them to rest from their day-roving, as I, one man alone, prepared myself to face the double war of the journey and the pity, which memory shall here set down, nor hesitate, nor err. O Muses! O High Genius! Be my aid! O Memory, recorder of the vision, here shall your true nobility be displayed! Dante Alighieri, Inferno II:1-9**

*John Ciardi, the Inferno: Dante’s Immortal Drama of a Journey Through Hell. A New Translation by John Ciardi (New York: Mentor Books, 1954), p. 28. **Ibid., pp. 34-35.

Chapter 1: . . . On a Pale Horse
Farewell Angelina The bells of the crown Are being stolen by bandits I must follow the sound The triangle tingles And the trumpets play slow Farewell Angelina The sky is on fire And I must go. There’s no need for anger There’s no need for blame There’s nothing to prove Ev’rything’s still the same Just a table standing empty By the edge of the sea Farewell Angelina The sky is trembling And I must leave. The jacks and the queens Have forsaken the courtyard Fifty-two gypsies Now file past the guards In the space where the deuce And the ace once ran wild Farewell Angelina The sky is folding I’ll see you in a while. See the cross-eyed pirates sitting Perched in the sun Shooting tin cans With a sawed-off shotgun And the neighbors they clap And they cheer with each blast Farewell Angelina The sky’s changing color And I must leave fast. King Kong, little elves On the rooftops they dance Valentino-type tangos While the make-up man’s hands Shut the eyes of the dead Not to embarrass anyone Farewell Angelina The sky is embarrassed

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And I must be gone. The machine guns are roaring The puppets heave rocks The fiends nail time bombs To the hands of the clocks Call me any name you like I will never deny it Farewell Angelina The sky is erupting I must go where it’s quiet. – Bob Dylan, “Farewell Angelina” Dies irae, dies illa Solvet saeclum in favilla: Teste David cum Sibylla. Quantus tremor est futurus, Quando judex est venturus, Cuncta stricte discussurus! Chorale from Mozart’s Requiem Mass We returned at Sunset to Devil’s Keep, weary and stunned, our prisoners and booty carried on the backs of sixteen of the Percherons we’d added to our remuda over the years as living tanks, medevac units, and cargo-carriers. All of us were desperately in need of food, water, rest, medical attention – and, especially in my case, something, anything strong enough to drown out or wall away or nuke into oblivion the ghastly, clanging memories of this foul day now, thank God, just ending. Swarming before my mind’s eye like mobs of rabid bats, those memories now assaulted me with vision after urgently sickening vision: Stampeding horses, men cursing with venomous, monotonous, devout sincerity. Men screaming in agony and terror, their guts hanging out and tangling in their mounts’ tack or flailing feet as they fell among their own and our horses. Injured and dying horses adding their own weird screams to the all-encompassing pandemonium of battle. Buzzards and crows circling high overhead in that evilly beautiful, incandescent, molten-turquoise desert sky, coyotes peering warily at the carnage from behind the rocks, all anticipating the night’s feast now being so graciously laid out for their evening dining pleasure. The stench and sound of running gun-battles and mano y mano knife-fights. The deadly blast-furnace heat of that terrible August day. It was a day colored by all the paints on the Devil’s hellish palette: The evil little chartreuse-andchrome-yellow scorpions swarming across every rock and dune and open pit and gravel pan in countless hordes. The mother-of-pearl Hiroshima widows with their lovely, delicate lavender or violet abdominal trefoils, that sang like Lorelei from beneath rocks and deadfalls and overhangs, ready to inject anyone or anything that came near them with their inexorably lethal, unspeakably agonizing venoms. The desert itself, the endless, gorgeous, blasted, deadly desert, in all its badlands beauty, a chromatic symphony of Earth colors, Sun colors, Hell colors. All that horror-filled afternoon, the endless swirling dust-devils and dust-laden gusts of blistering-hot Santa Anas did their best to broil us alive. The costumes we wore only added to our misery under that Sun. But wear them we did – aside from the fact that they protected us from blindness, skin-cancer, 2.5-degree sunburn, and the clouds of venomous biting insects that often swarmed over the desert floor in search of water and whatever it was they fed on, they were our badge of terror, flaunted proudly in order to demoralize any adversaries we might face. From the custom-formed plastic face-protectors with their personalized color-schemes and logos and the built-in UV-reflecting goggles that made us look like gigantic humanoid insects, our high-tech body-armor, like the face-protectors decorated by their owners according to personal taste, and the sound-units worn just under our chins, concealed by our outer costumes, to our leather chaps and other, standard desert riding gear and the swirling red-black-gold-and-

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silver robes and burnooses we wore above all the rest, not only did they help protect us from such hazards as venomous insects, prickly-pear cactus, and flying bullets, but they also made us into a mounted army of mobile, demoniac scarecrows, emitting banshee screams and eerie howls like something out one of H. P. Lovecraft’s worst nightmares. The idea was to frighten the screaming bejayzus out of anyone or anything we encountered that was bigger than a spider and smaller than one of the Godzilla lizards we were beginning to spot here and there, roaming around the New San Bernardino Desert. Generally, it worked, too – anyone we might have to ride out against or deal with on foraging and salvage expeditions was almost invariably sick, stupid, ignorant, in despair over the Hell life had become, and at least half-crazy. Similar to the coloring of venomous spiders and reptiles, the splendidly barbaric personalized decoration of our armor, boots, and weaponry had much the same purpose: Fear us – we are the knight-defenders of Devil’s Keep! they cried, to anyone who wasn’t blind. Touch not our dependents, our outliers, our homesteaders: for we are Hell’s own guard, more demonic than even the denizens of Hell! It made no difference whatsoever to the Sun and the lovely, ruined Earth, though: they poured out their smiling hate upon us, and we baked alive in our armor. All through the day, I could hear the spiders, the scorpions, the lizards laughing at us in their naked comfort. And everywhere there was death, death, death, always death, smiling Her white, complacent smile upon us all – She wasn’t at all impatient, She would happily wait, those who were not laid on Her bloody altar today would surely come to Her later. And now we were coming through the gates of home, into the relative coolness and safety of Devil’s Keep. My keep. My castle. – It might as well have been so much air, for all the good it did to keep away the nightmares, the visions, that still haunted me from this unholy day, that would haunt me for the rest of forever. Damn, but I could sure as hell use about six bombers of the bud they’d just started growing in the keep’s below-ground indoor hydroponics farm, right about now! That was true primo bhang, stuff that would have sold at anywhere from $500 to $1,00i an ounce, back when there still was a United States of America to coin money and pay it to federal narcs to keep driving the price of good weed up higher and higher. Well, our hydroponics people had grown enough of that new crop of bud by now that at least somebody could roll me a doobie – Jim’d know. Better send Claire down to check on it, because man, I’d better have something right now, or I’d go straight out of my fuckin’ mind, thinking about what we’d just had to do . . . and why we’d had to do it. Ah, God of Akiva and Anne Frank – those poor homesteaders . . . As we came riding in through the main gates of the fortress, the rest of my people came running out to welcome us home. “Hey, Drac’!” yelled one, a long, tall, skinny drink of uisquebeatha. About 35 years old, with an engaging, gap-toothed grin (the two missing front upper teeth had been lost as a result of a pugilistic miscalculation during one of the more glorious lost weekends of his legendarily misspent youth), he was built like a stick of deer-jerky that didn’t quite know where to stop. “You get ’em, Batrix? – Lord, it’s hot! I sure don’t envy you and the other gunslingers your jaunt out in the Sun today, darlin’!” he exclaimed, wiping his high, alabaster forehead with one long-fingered hand to brush off the sweat already beginning to bead there from all of a minute or two in the afternoon Sun – such as it was, here in this sheltered courtyard with its twenty-foot high, whitewashed adobe walls and the vast canvas awning which, secured to the tops of 10’ high pipes rising at 15’ intervals from the top of the walls, provided shade for most of the courtyard, depending upon the time of day. In the process, he somehow managed to disarrange his bowl-cut mop of midnight-black hair even more than usual – its normal state was sort of a cross between a mare’s-nest and something resembling a flower-arrangement done by Discordians on a bad day. “Oh, yeah, Monty – we got ’em, all right.” My voice was rough with fatigue and disgust. “At least those mothers won’t be doing any more raiding . . .” “That’s great!” he told me. “So why the long face? Tired is tired, but you look like you just rode through Hell and out the other side. – Here,” he directed, holding his cupped hands out together. Putting one of my booted feet into them, I swung creakily down out of the saddle to the ground, where I had to angle my head well back to look up into his grinning face. One of the hostlers, a short, sturdy woman in faded jeans and an oversized, much-patched flannel shirt came running up. She had a large port-wine stain the color of dried blood obscuring the left side of her face, detracting from the beauty of her deep brown almond eyes, and two extra, useless digits tucked under the little finger of her right hand. “Let me take Bones from here, Baron,” she said.

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“Yeah, sure, Sandy,” I told her. I handed her the reins of the gigantic Clydesdale stallion who’d carried me so valorously through the heart of Hell this afternoon. I patted him; he snorted and stamped his feet, glaring at me as if betrayed. Then, with a sigh of long-suffering resignation to his fate, he surrendered, tamely going with her to be watered, fed, and bedded down. Turning back to Monty, I went on: “It’d have been a hell of a lot better if we could have brought those assholes back alive, sorted ’em out, hung the worst of the bunch as an example, and let the rest go – you know, to show our ‘wisdom, mercy, and fair judgment.’ – Yeah, yeah, I know, it wasn’t even remotely possible. We didn’t even try,” I told him as we walked back through the fortress together, toward the main hall. “We just cut the fuckers down and got it over with. The best we could do, under the circumstances . . . but oh, Moses and Aaron, you’d think there’s got to be a better ‘best’ than that . . .” “Jes’ like a woman!” he told me, grinning evilly, his teeth, so many Moon-colored tombstones, huge as time between thin, oddly sensitive-looking, pale lips. Monty was one of my biggest fans. He was also an almost frighteningly competent majordomo for the vast madhouse that was Devil’s Keep, home for me and the several hundred people under my warrant, care, and protection. “Oh, fuck you, Monty!” “Any time, honey – any time!” He leered appreciatively, then ducked as I swung at his huge eagle’sbeak of a nose, missing my target by at least a foot. “Along with the horse you rode in on, you oversized wannabe satyr! Hell, I’m twice your age, if I’m a day, dammit – where’s your fucking respect, anyway, asshole?” “Same place your ladylike manners and gracious dee-meaner went, darlin’,” he told me cheerfully, easily evading another punch. “Besides, honey, you may be old – but I’ll bet you know more great tricks than all the sweet young thangs ever born!” “Why, you –” Monty’s ritual sexist pigshit routine was an always-dependable pick-me up, a sort of verbal equivalent of smelling-salts, say, or maybe castor-oil. But even more, now, it helped distract me from my all-too recent memories of the soul-sickening slaughter of a couple of dozen land-pirates I’d just led – and what we’d seen when we finally got to the little homesteader’s hovel, to liberate their most recent prey. I could cheerfully have gone on all evening and far into the night, exchanging insult for insult and obscene suggestion for same with him until the world’s great, suppurating wounds opened once more at dawn, leaking the heart’s-blood of life across night’s gangrenous belly. Suddenly, just as he was readying himself for yet another, even riper verbal sally, his head jerked up, and he stared into the courtyard behind me, sobering instantly. Alerted, I turned to see medics coming out to meet my troupe of gunslingers, carrying stretchers, pushing gurneys ahead of them piled high with medical gear and blankets, or carrying ominous bundles of canvas sacking. We’d lost only a couple of fighting men – actually one man and one woman, the latter a born warrior, I’d miss Annie like hell, she’d been one of the best point-persons I’d ever had under me (heh – that, too!) – as far as actual deaths went. But many of those who’d ridden out with me today had come back seriously wounded, and if the medics didn’t work fast, we could still lose several more gunslingers to galloping gangrene in the next few days. (Even oxygen therapy couldn’t touch gangrene, now, without killing the patient all by itself, once the disease got fairly under way – not its demonic new mutation, the one caused by some airborne, genetailored biowar horror. Aptly nicknamed “30 Minutes to Hell”* – if you weren’t treated for it within 30 minutes with oxygen therapy and every other possible remedy for it, you were doomed to an extremely nasty form of death within a very few, eternally long days – this particular ghastly gift of the End Times was one of the lovely legacies of the abortive Two-Day War, which had taken place late in the unbelievable Black Summer of 2022 e.v., about two months after the anniversary of X-Day. Rather than surrender to UN forces, the last holdout Iraqi defenders among the various contestants in that war had turned loose on the world some interesting little virological and bacteriological goodies which the Devil Himself would have been ashamed to own up to, via missiles launched from remote sites through a bandit satellite relay system Iraq had secretly purchased from China somewhere in the first years of the new century, using a portable communication center capable of making optimal use of the always-dicey satellite links. Then they’d blown themselves either to Paradise, if their own beliefs in the matter had meant anything, or to Hell, if everyone else’s did. (The great, spreading mushroom cloud that suddenly rose up at the head of the Persian Gulf, announcing their star-bright departure from the Infidel-run mundane world, surprised the hell out of everyone – not to mention frying several hundred U.N. observers who had been unlucky enough to bivouac only a couple of miles from what would become the 10-megaton ground burst two days previous to

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it, not to mention starting the nuclear phase of the War.) After 2022, mutation from chemical as well as radiological pollutants had apparently added even more hellacious twists to the already satanic pathogens which the Iraqi fedaykin had released; the monstrous form of gangrene we – and perhaps people the world over (what was left of it) – now had to deal with was one of the more pleasant children of that unholy marriage of religious war and high-tech horror. Amputation of the limbs of those it fastened its ugly talons on might save some of them – but would leave them maimed and crippled for life . . . which, nowadays, was usually at least as bad as getting killed outright. And for those who got it in the face or torso – well, c’est la vie. Or anyway, morte.)

*Just to add to the confusion, that same monicker was given to a slightly different version of that same pathogen which was far nastier but, in a grim way, much more merciful: the victims showed no symptoms at all until it was far too late to do anything about it – and then they had at most thirty agonizing minutes to live, during which nothing could be done to stop the progress of the condition, which did its dirty work by transforming the victim’s G-I tract into so much rotten offal in a half hour or less.

“You get the Science staff working on the Supermold project?” I asked Monty quietly, as we watched the medical team working on the injured, preparing to take them down to the infirmary on sub-level 5, and others, some of them, those who had lost a friend or relative today, with tears glistening on their cheeks, gently wrapping the dead in canvas sacking so that they could be carried down to Recycling and returned to Mother Earth and the living via the vast underground hydroponics farms on sub-levels 7, 8, and 9 of the Keep. “Yeah, Batrix, they’re doin’ their damnedest to develop somethin’ that’ll at least make a fuckin’ dent in some of these new diseases runnin’ around now – but you gotta understand, honey, even the Goddamn funguses’re mutatin’! We’re as likely to get something lethal at 20 paces as we are your super-penicillin!” “Murphy and Eris save us! . . . Well, tell ’em to do what they can. – And for God’s sake, will you try not to waste my good High Church name on Pink air?! If ‘Hannah’ is good enough for me, then the rest of you can use it, too!* “– Listen, I’m going up to my suite. Have somebody bring me my dinner up there, will you? Earl and Janice can take care of things until we have our general staff-meeting tonight, and I have got to take a look at those reports before then! “Also, I’ve got to have a bath, and get this fucking stink off me, I reek like a slaughter-house! And unless I do something to relax and get some of this – this –” I waved my hand exasperatedly, grabbing for words.

*”Hannah” wasn’t the name she was given at birth. Her adoptive parents, who adopted her a few days after she was born, gave her the name “Doris Devichy ,” which she came to loathe. She changed her name to Sarah Hannah Zealgrund von Bassarab as soon as she was legally out on her own and able to do so. See DragBiog.doc.

“Got the war-horrors, Batrix?” he asked me, not without sympathy. Like everyone else did as a matter of routine, of course, as usual he completely ignored my fervent plea for some acknowledgment and recognition of my poor, neglected given name. I muttered something and looked away. “Jesus, hon’, you sure aren’t the only one! Hey – I had it up to here, myself, in that last battle in Colombia, just before the shit hit the fan and the good ol’ Yew-Ess-uv-Hay finally fell apart once and for all. I had the blue horrors for months, things some Corps medic told me were called ‘night-terrors,’ worse’n any nightmare anyone ever had!’ His voice sounded odd. I turned back to look at him, and saw that though his face was turned toward me, he didn’t really see me at all – his star-dark eyes were fixed in a

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million-parsec stare, he was gazing into some Hell I couldn’t even imagine, even with all the practice I’d had lately with the real thing, right here in River City. Almost meditatively, he added, “Ever seen children being roasted alive over a slow fire? By one of your own men, somebody set to try to get some answers out of the kids’ parents? Or one of your own men being eaten alive by army spiders, those nasty blue-andgreen jobs that started turning up all over S.A. about 2019? Can you imagine what it’s like having to hide in a hole in the ground for a week inside a stack of corpses from your own unit, in the middle of summer, when – oh, shit, you don’t need this any more’n I do, darlin’, do you?” he suddenly said, almost tenderly, focusing his bright blue-gray Weimeraner eyes on me once more. “I’m sorry, darlin’, I really am.” Taken aback by this sudden crack in the normally unbreachable fortifications of sarcasm, satire, and wiseacre verbal sexism by which Monty kept his soul shielded from the world’s all-too constant assaults and the prying minds of others, involuntarily I reached out a hand and laid it almost timidly on his arm. It was bare to the elbows because he’d rolled up the sleeves of the white shirt he wore whenever he went outside, to help shield his skin from the increasingly strong UV that poured down from the desert Sun, even at these low latitudes. I noticed that the skin there was slick from the liberal doses of our home-brewed sunblocker ointment he’d smeared on it after rolling up his sleeves. Even so, it was probably far too little, and much too late. Monty’s ancestors had included Celts, Ashkenazim Jews, Cherokees, Blackfoot Indians, and Apaches, among many others. As far as his complexion went, the Indians definitely hadn’t won – he was essentially fair-skinned to the point of morbidity, definitely a man for northern, sunless climes and indoor sports. But he’d spent all his childhood and youth growing up in various parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Southern California, Georgia, and Florida, bounced rapidly back and forth between his daddy, an officer in the United States Air Force, and his peripatetic mother, for many years a member in good standing of the shackup-of-the-month club, wandering from state to state, job to job, and boyfriend to boyfriend with all the elan and joie de vivre of don marquis’s mehitabel the cat, wotthehell! Monty’s fair skin had been exposed to ever-more potent UV radiation at those low latitudes for most of his life until he turned about seventeen, when he ran off to join up with the Corps, fed to the teeth with mommy’a eternal attempts to interfere with his life and homes that were never a home. By then, the skin over most of his body had become the color of burnt sienna, his Indian genes belatedly kicking in to give him a little protection against the ever-more deadly Sunlight he had been constantly exposed to, at work and play, all year ‘round. Once in the Corps, Monty got a lot more of the same, of course, and that might have been it for his chances of escaping galloping skin-cancer before age 40 or so. But one of the men with whom he went through Basic, a young man who had hopes of going to college on the GI Bill when he got out and becoming a naturopath-MD, turned him on to the benefits of vitamin E, vitamin C, beta carotene, sunblocker ointments, and other protections against skin-cancer at this time, whereupon Monty rapidly became a vitamin-junkie and a sucker for anything with “sunblock” or “repels UV radiation” on the label. That was probably what had kept him from developing skin-cancer all those years in the Corps and afterward, in spite of his frequent hours- or days-long exposures to the Sun, often at extremely low latitudes. God knows, something must have – but how much longer its Magick would succeed, God only knew. Since he’d started working for me, ten years ago, he’d avoided the sun like the plague it was, now, and the protective layer of melanin that had locked in for him at age 17 had gradually thinned out until, about two years ago, it had vanished completely, leaving his skin as alabastrine as it had been when he had been a boy. Without really thinking about it, almost tenderly I began gently stroking his arm along the place where a long, wicked, pink scar wound around it, a souvenir from his years in the Marine Corps, on assignment in Central and South America. I could feel the heavy cables of muscle rolling tautly under the skin, there, reminding me of the times I’d seen him crush walnuts open to get at the meat, using just one bare hand. Musingly, I let my hand slip along his arm to his hand, where a genuine blue star sapphire gave off explosions of supernova light from its mounting, a huge ring made, of all things, of lead alloy, as he’d once told me. I couldn’t see it, of course, but I knew, from times he’d showed it to me before, that inside the band was the legend, “Magister Templi, 8°=3ž.” Absently, I thought that the lead alloy of which the ring was made somehow that fit him better, and was more suitable for his enormous, bony hands, than gold, silver, or brass ever would have been. “Monty . . .” He shook his head with a shudder like a shying horse, but didn’t pull his arm back. Instead, he brought up his other hand and laid it gently over mine where it covered his arm, as if sheltering it against harm.

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“Don’t worry about it. All I wanted to say is, I do know a little bit about what you might be going through. Perfectly natural. No problem, I’ll take care of things for you . . . “So,” he said with a sudden, cheerfully sharkish grin, changing the subject, “what do you want to relax with – I mean, besides a lid or two of that new batch of sensemia they just harvested from the tanks? Anything special? Anyone?” he leered. “As a matter of fact, I do. Wipe that leer off your face, sucker – I think I’ll just finally call your bluff. I’d like you.” For once, his face lost all its animation, for all the world looking like that of an icon of one of the less expressive Greek Orthodox saints. Something behind his eyes seemed to be drawing a bow-string taut – Then he relaxed, and grinned again. “Oh, you gotta be kidding, darlin’ –” “My ass.” For once, he didn’t rise to the bait. “Hanh?” “Oh, quit lookin’ like the dog who caught the Harley-Davidson –” “Man, does that ever date you!” “Riiiggghhht – so how do you know so much about Harleys, kid? You’ve got more mouth than Hypercleats – a feat they used to think was impossible! “– So get some food into you, bathe, make yourself presentable, and come on up – and bring Jill, Leah, and los bandidos. Goddamn camp-followers we brought back with us today – you know, that big, goodlooking blond-haired bastard and the sweet little lady with him, looks to be about sixteen, right over there, see?” I pointed. Four gunslingers, two per prisoner, guns drawn, were marching a pair of sullen, bedraggled youngsters across the courtyard. Both of the prisoners were securely manacled, their arms bound to their sides with heavy chains, then secured behind their backs with old-style police handcuffs. Their guards were taking them from the main gate to the door in the side of the Keep’s main building that led down to Security, i.e., the dungeons. One of the prisoners was a tall, heavily muscled young man of a type that my generation had called “surf bums,” a blond Rambo. The other was a petite girl of maybe 16, a cloud of jet-black hair spilling over her shoulders and back, clear to the cheeks of her exquisite derriere, in a fall of midnight, a pocket, black-haired, Asian-American Artemis. The young man wore a pair of ragged jeans and homemade zoris made from the tires of some derelict car or truck, the girl a short, extremely tight, raggedy little dress that barely came down to her crotch and didn’t quite conceal her breasts, nothing else. From time to time, the girl spat a furious stream of words like raw sewage over her shoulder at her guards, who ignored them. Suddenly, the girl caught sight of me and Monty staring at her and her boyfriend. Turning to us, her Abyss-black eyes filled with seething molten plutonium, she hissed something to her boyfriend out of the side of her mouth. Both of them came to a halt before their guards were aware of it. Facing us, the two of them began erupting with a volley of cursing that could have been used to peel paint. Then their guards, roughly grabbing them by the elbows, turned them around and got them moving again. “Come on, you,” I heard one of the gunslingers tell the man, giving him a hard shove toward their destination, “get moving.” They passed on, disappearing around the back of the main building. I turned to look at Monty. He was shaking his head, his eyes basilisk-bright, his mouth curled in a snarl. “Why those? What are you gonna do with ’em – play ring-around-the-rosie? Batrix –” “Oh, yeah, and also bring along that nasty, lovely youngster, the one just became a gunslinger. Paul Royer. Please ask him to come, too.” “Those two? You want those up there?” he said, his eyes still locked on the prisoners. “A little girl maybe half my age or less, looks like a baby Betty Paige crossed with a sidewinder, why her? And that big putz they got with her, something straight out of the Hitler Jugenden – you goin’ in for cradle-robbin’, darlin’ – or maybe I should say, grave-robbin’, considerin’ what they must’ve been up to?” “Pretty, ain’t he?” I said, grinning at Monty. “Don’t worry, Monty darlin’, he’s probably got a dick like a peanut, an’ brains to match. Nothin’ at all to write home about – no competition at all. . . . But we’ll just have to see, won’t we?” I added nastily. He gave a sour Huffff!, then added, “Seriously, why the hell do you want them up there with the rest of us? – And why Royer? I mean, I realize he’s one of us, he’s a gunslinger now himself, too, an’ all that jazz, but Jesus, darlin’, he’s just a kid!” “Oh, no, he isn’t. He may be a lot of other things, but after what he’s been through – and done – in the last few years, a kid he is not. As for the other two, well, I’m not sure, yet. Bring ’em up in chains and

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under guard after they’ve been fed and bathed – preferably at gun-point, so they don’t try anything funny. Bring ’em up naked, too, as even more insurance . . . and other things . . . when I send down for them. “– But not until then. I don’t even want to think about those two assholes until after I’ve had a good, hot soak, dinner, and at least six solid hits of sensemia.” “I dig it, darlin’.” He started to turn, to go carry out my orders, then stopped. Turning back to me, he asked, “Hey, you know . . . why, after all these years of turnin’ me down – an’ me, the best man here, the best you ever knowed, darlin’! – why have you finally decided to try jumpin’ my old bones?” “Did I say that’s what I was going to do, schmuck?” He grinned archly. “Aren’t you?” “‘I respectfully refuse to testify on the grounds that I cannot be held to answer for –’” “Yeah, yeah, yeah! Sure you aren’t!” “Monty, did I ever tell you, you have the nicest smile? Just like a great white shar- –” “Quit stallin’ and answer the question, lady!” he laughed. “Okay, yeah, I do plan to make it with you, you big, smart-assed –” “Hah! I was right!” “ – dickhead, you (so if nothing else, at least you oughtta give great head!),” I said, plowing right over his laughter. “I’m not getting any younger, and you know, I’d really like to know, once and for all, what it’s like to fuck one of my very best friends (even if he is a loud-mouthed jerk!) instead of all those convivial strangers. “– Aw, shit, Monty, I can’t say anything right, can I? Am I finally getting senile?” A look of solemn concern replaced his grin. He reached out, tilted my head up with one long, spidery finger so that my eyes had to meet his. “Hey.” “What?” I sniffed, trying vainly not to sob, mortified by the tears leaking down my cheeks. “You want me?” “I – yeah, I do.” “You got me. For anything, anytime. That’s a promise. I told you that years ago, when I first took on this hellacious job. I meant it then, I mean it now.” So much I wanted to say, needed to say, to someone, to him. And I couldn’t. All the long years of practice at being the Baron of Devils’ Keep, the Dragon-Lady of the Southwest, the Best, Numera Una, hard, tough, cold, able to take anything, had been just a little too successful. All that came out from between my clenched teeth was a low, whistling moan. Finally, I got hold of my emotions, and tried again, gently pushing his finger to one side, looking away from him as I said, “Monty, you really are a beautiful man, in your own hard-assed way – I don’t think I’ve ever known any man who was more of a man, in every sense of the word. It’s just –” “Oh, I think I know . . .” he said lightly, tacitly agreeing to let my moment of weakness pass, unremarked. “What?” “You jes’ didn’t wanna fuck up a good professional re-lay-tionship – right?” “Oh, fuck your lousy, stinking puns, you big ham!” “I’m kosher as they come, an’ speakin’ of which, darlin’, I’d rather fuck thee, if’n thou don’t mind.” “That’s my dear, good friend Monty,” I said sweetly, now completely recovered, reaching up to pinch his cheek. “Age doth not stale, nor custom sour, his nasty mind and filthy mouth!” “Yeah – an’ you’ll just love it all the better for it, darlin’!” “But seriously, Monty –” “Oh, I am, I am!” “Hey, lay off, or I’ll hit you with the Ultimate Thelemic Curse!” “What on Earth would that be? – Oh, I am so scared, darlin’!” he camped, rolling his eyes wildly. “‘Unfuck you,’ dude!” “I’m scared! I’m scared!” he said, cowering away from me like Bela Lugosi from a ham-and-cheese sandwich. “Anyway, Monty, as I was about to say, I’m going to sneak up the back stairs, get the fuck out of this mob-scene! Sarah Hannah Zealgrund von Bassarab, Baron of Diablo Valley and Border-Count of Yanquí California – AKA Batrix the Impaler, Infra-Red Woman of the Lone Star Church and Pope of All Them Places Smith Don’t Want and Can’t Do Nothin’ With (answerable only to (a) that strange, dark man, King Stephen, the last governor of what’s left of California, and the psychopolitical genius almost single-

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handedly responsible for keeping what may be the last of civilization still going, anywhere; and (b) Douglas the Great, Anti-Pope and Reluctant Beast of All Earth, still directing High Church operations from Dallas, Texas, even though the place is now very little more than a ghost-town. And isn’t about time we sent both of them a shipment from our latest Death Valley Gold harvest?) – is still gonna have to go up to her study and do her thing with the accounts and a bunch of other shit I really wish I didn’t have to deal with . . . But I do, Monty,” I said, sighing wearily, “I do. There’s no getting around it. And it might as well be now. So go get the mess organized, along with whatever else needs to be done. Delegate everything you can, because you an’ I got a date, sweetheart, in about two hours from now. – Oh, an’ tell everyone that the staff-meeting is postponed to about 1 a.m. Sorry to keep everybody up so Goddamn’ late, but I need those extra few hours. Okay with you?” “Countess,” Monty said, suddenly all seriousness, at his most formal, “if it isn’t okay, then you’re out the window, and the rest of us have just lost our last, best hope for what’s left of civilization in this part of the world – and probably our lives and posterity, in the bargain.” “Oh, horseshit!” I almost screamed it. I was close to complete exhaustion, starved for food, stinking of death and horror, and had seen right through Hell’s own big bay window straight down into the Pit this afternoon. I was in no mood for flattery – or anything even remotely like it. “And even if it weren’t Grade-A fertilizer, what would you idiots do when I finally do kick off – which can’t be too Goddamn’ far off, now, can it, I’ll sure as hell never see sixty again! Anyway, you’ve always got King Steven –” I began, bracing myself for another long, stupid waste of time arguing about it. For once, however, the Gods were kind. Monty decided to short-circuit it. “Oh – git!” he told me, shooing me toward a back stairway into the mail building that nearly no one used. It would take me to an elevator, theoretically only for emergency use, run off Solar-conversion batteries that would let me out about twenty feet from my own apartments, several hundred feet above the desert floor and the courtyard where we now stood, assuming the batteries that powered it were freshly recharged and in good working order. Praying that for once Maintenance had done its job and the elevator would work the way it was supposed to, I growled, “I hereby declare this an official emergency! I’m for the elevator!”, threw Monty an extremely sloppy, sarcastic salute, and shambled tiredly off toward the emergency door into the main building. “Later, darlin’,” I heard Monty say behind me, concern uncharacteristically evident in his voice. I threw up a hand as I went in a half-assed acknowledgment, and continued on, turning a corner and heading behind the building to the door, out of the poisoned light and into blessed, tenebrous solitude and coolth.

Chapter 2: View from the Aerie
Adieu; farewell earth’s bliss, This world uncertain is: Fond are life’s lustful joys; Death proves them all but toys. None from his darts can fly: I am sick, I must die. Lord, have mercy on us! Rich men, trust not in wealth, Gold cannot buy you health; Physic himself must fade; All things to end are made; The plague full swift goes by; I am sick, I must die. Lord, have mercy on us! Beauty is but a flower, Which wrinkles will devour: Brightness falls from the air; Queens have died young and fair; Dust hath closed Helen’s eye; I am sick, I must die. Lord, have mercy on us! Strength stoops unto the grave: Worms feed on Hector brave; Swords may not fight with fate: Earth still holds ope her gate. Come, come, the bells do cry; I am sick, I must die. Lord, have mercy on us! Wit with his wantonness, Tasteth death’s bitterness. Hell’s executioner Hath no ears for to hear What vain art can reply; I am sick, I must die. Lord, have mercy on us! Haste therefore each degree To welcome destiny: Heaven is our heritage, Earth but a player’s stage. Mount we unto the sky; I am sick, I must die. Lord, have mercy on us! – Thomas Nashe , “Adieu; Farewell Earth’s Bliss” or “Summer’s Last Will and Testament” (1600)

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In my study, located hundreds of feet above the desert floor on the Southern wall of the Keep, I could look out through high, wide windows onto the land far below, still hot as the hinges of Hell in spite of the long shrouds of shadow falling across it as the Sun slowly slid down the Western sky toward the horizon. Down, down, down, down I gazed, into the canyons, valleys, and foothills that fell away and fell away softly in the twilight in smoking folds of purple-green velvet from the ramparts of the Western slopes of the Little San Bernardino Mountains, where Devil’s Keep and its outliers were well dug in. That outer wall of the Keep was actually the cliff-face of the gigantic mesa into which the Keep had been built, the Keep’s only entrance being on the North, opening into a deep canyon within the mesa that exited from it some 15 miles away, into badlands North of the mesa. It all seemed so peaceful up here now, so far above the desert floor below, surrounded on three sides by solid rock extending for miles, on the fourth by sheer empty space that fell away for what seemed a hundred miles above the world below. The fallout of our battle this afternoon with los bandidos was well hidden from view by three ranges of foothills, here. There were no real farms or other large holdings of land anywhere nearby outside our walls and the canyon containing the Keep, only a few outlier homesteads, just stone huts and shacks cobbled together out of junkwood and scrap metal. There were a couple of scientific research stations staffed and maintained by Keep personnel, well-built and as high-tech as we could afford; but these had been dug deep into the sides of the mountains, the very little of them that actually extended above ground, such as entrances, air-vents, and monitoring and communication equipment, carefully concealed among rocks and scrub-growth. There was nothing in view down there to remind me of who I was, what my duties were, what the grim exigencies of my life and the lives of my people were – nothing giving any sign of just how terrifyingly far down that proverbial Slippery Slope Earth’s biosphere was now. Here, for a little while, I could pretend that my country, along with just about all other nations on Earth, now, hadn’t preceded Gaia on Her merry way to Hell by a good margin, that we weren’t essentially completely on our own here, local as well as global economies having broken down everywhere so completely that, with only a few rare exceptions, if we couldn’t grow it or make it ourselves, out of whatever resources were available to us locally, we were simply shit out of luck. From up here, high above the world, I could only see how lovely the land below looked, wrapped in soft twilight lavender and dusky purple, blankets spun from the wool of Hades’ sheep, so quiet and peaceful. I couldn’t make out the ghastly, chemically defoliated, completely dead barrancas cutting through the foothills that lay at the foot of the mesa, far below, or the barren valleys in those foothills, the dry arroyos not likely to see more than an inch or two of water in the next decade – or the next century. I couldn’t see the poisons in the air, water, and soil, which were doubtless slowly turning us all into so many ambulatory cancers. I couldn’t see the increasingly intense cascades of Solar UV blistering the land, the damage it did to all living things unfortunate enough to be out in it, unprotected against it – the blindness, the cancers, the mutations. I couldn’t hear the agonized screams of those of my people who’d ridden out with me against the highwaymen, so full of zeal and valor, only to come back with wounds already festering, well on their way to becoming terminally gangrenous (which, inevitably, they would do, unless we still had some of the fresh garlic and the [non-venomous] maggots left) – or slung over the barrels of the horses in the medevac team, dead from the bite of spiders so venomous that within minutes of being bitten, they were convulsing, bleeding from all orifices, turning blue, gone. Up here, I couldn’t feel the smoking heat of the land below, simmering in the last of the day’s broiling heat, slowly turning into an arroyo’d, badlands version of the Sahara. I couldn’t see what was left of the local wildlife mutating into things from some unimaginably weird alternate universe, sick unto death from brand-new genetically transmitted diseases or else deadly, deadly dangerous to all that was left of “normal” life, due to all the crap which the late, great, high-energy, high-tech culture that had infested this oncebeautiful, now horribly battered land for just a little too long had shat across the lovely face of Mother Earth. I couldn’t see the people who, far less fortunate than we here at Devil’s Keep, were starving to death, or dying of horrible diseases – or who had fallen into the hands of even more horrible, two-leggèd, walking opportunistic infections, like the bunch we’d just taken down out there this afternoon . . . Well, I’d finally finished up the last of the paperwork I simply couldn’t put off any longer, after having soaked my weary bones in a tub of Solar-heated water and eaten one of Bernie the Bounce’s better dinners (filet of mutated rattlesnake, done rare, the way I liked it best, with maize-on-the-cob soaked in vegetable oil and rolled in hydroponically grown spices, a side-dish of steamed vegetables, diced cactus mixed with

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hybrid cauliflower and carrotato strips, and baked cactus-fruit with a sauce made of salvaged marmalade for dessert – not bad, not bad at all, Bern’!). Now, to get out of this tatty old robe, into something suitable for this evening’s entertainment, a smoke a doobie of the bud someone had brought up for me, courtesy of Monty, before sending for said entertainment itself . . . So I started looking around in my drawers and closets. I decided on the retired black Levi’s that had had the crotch cut out, so that even when all the rivets were secured, everything from the bottom of the fly southward was wide open to the elements, right out there in front of God and everybody (incidentally, God, better take a good look – ‘bout time You started getting Your rocks off, You been actin’ like You needed to for a long, long time! – Or has Your period been about to start all this time, maybe? Better go take a galaxy full of Mydol, God, from the looks of things, You need it!). To the Levi’s I added my russet, high-heeled, gold-inlaid, tooled-leather boots, the ones that made my ass sway like a willow in the wind when I walked, and gave such a pretty curve to my legs; and a long, thin silk scarf – yeah, that peacock’s-tail job, all that lovely aquamarine and green, with those gorgeous serpentine filaments of cerise insinuating themselves around everything like strangler julia sets – to put around my neck to set off my boobs, secured with the heavy silver tie-clasp shaped like a dragon’s head, the one with that huge turquoise set in its forehead that Monty, judging from all his smart-ass remarks about it, seemed to love. I looked at myself in the floor-length mirror in my dressing-room. Hmm . . . not too bad, looked like a perfect degenerate, but a good-looking one, even at my age! My breasts were still hard, high, and heavy, my stomach flat and trim, my thighs and upper arms hard muscle from daily workouts and training-sessions when I wasn’t range-riding or taking part in the sort of horseback warfare we’d done today, which had to be done several times a month . . . at least – operations I had to lead, as much as possible, as much for the sake of general morale as anything else. Gee, maybe I was some sort of anti-geriatric mutant, on my way to being the pin-up girl of the Alzheimer’s Set . . . Experimentally, I swung my head from side to side. Now that I had taken it out of the long, leatherbanded warrior’s braid in which I usually wore it during the day, my hair fell almost to my knees. It rippled and swung with the motion of my head, the silver-and-iron locks falling like a heavy cloak over my back, shoulders, and breasts. My flesh was still, thank God, fairly healthy. There were no age-spots or moles visible anywhere yet on its smooth, untanned, light red-amber expanse, at least where my clothing – such as it was – didn’t cover me. I seem to have been lucky in my bastardized genes – my odd skin-color, probably a heritage from Mongols somewhere ‘way back in Daddy’s Russian-Polish ancestral woodpile, functioned as a sort of home-grown sun-block.*

*That it was so light, just the same, was mostly due to my natural mother’s Celtic fairness . . . which, considering some of the world-class sunburns I’d sustained in my time, wasn’t really any more of an asset than the rest of her had been for me. – Assuming, of course, it wasn’t Indians in her ancestors’ woodpile who had provided me with what little natural protection I had against the sun, in which case, I’ll have to apologize to her someday – that is, of course, if I’m so bad that when I die, They won’t let me into the Good Place. Otherwise, I’m sure I won’t get the opportunity.

Blessedly, there was none of the pouching, bagging, or alligator-hide that signaled the beginning of old age (and, thank Aesklepios and Apollo, no signs of the skin-cancers that were rapidly killing off the ragged remnants of humanity, those that weren’t being cut down by plague, mutated animals, poisoned food due to unexpected, weird crop mutations, or fifty million other things, including the things that stalked them in human-skin disguises. – And I sure as Hell didn’t feel old – not right now, I didn’t! I felt randy as an adolescent billy-goat! What I’d be like after a few hits of ganja would probably have scared off a sexcrazed polecat – not that I’d notice or care, I’d be having more than enough to occupy my mind with Monty and the gang! The rising heat in my loins took me farther and farther away from thoughts of imminent physical deterioration, death in all its ugly forms, especially those I’d seen – and smelled – and helped perpetrate – and had instigated – earlier today, in the equal (and, in its hellish way, equally sensual) heat of an early August Southern California afternoon. Still looking myself over critically in the mirror, I dropped a hand to the base of the fly of my jeans, and teased at the increasingly sparse, silvering curls of once lushly auburn hair peeking out at the crotch of

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my pants. Experimentally I curled a finger under the cloth and touched the flesh there, finding moisture and hot tumescence, the banners of will and desire. Satisfied, I went back into the bedroom of my apartment, hit buttons on the intercom-system, which was powered by electricity generated and stored in a variety of ingenious ways for us by our scientists and technicians. “Yeah, bitch, waddaya want?” “Look, asshole – you wanna get laid or not?” “I dunno, chick – I got things I gotta do, an’ –” “Well, fuck you very much, Monty!” “Right – I said I would, din’ I?” “Oh, shit! –” “Yesss?” “Don’t be a schmuck – whatever would your rabbi say?” “He wouldn’t say one fuckin’ thing, honey – not compared to what he’d say if he knew what you an’ I were about to be up to . . .” “Good! I was beginning to wonder, there . . . Rabbi Golomb thinks I’m a necessary evil . . . at best. I don’t want him thinking I’m losing my touch! – So will you get on the ball, get a couple of the boys to herd those two Pets from Hell up here, like I asked, and ask Jill, Paul, and Leah to come along, too?” “Those three! – Damn, they’re chompin’ at the bit – I damn’ near had to threaten to shoot ’em to keep ’em from comin’ up there an’ rapin’ you, girl!” “Rape who? Those kids’re gonna be in for one fuck of a surprise, ain’t they?” “An’ you get down on me for makin’ lousy puns!” He clucked primly. “Okay, got it – bring the kids; get two of the boys – armed – to bring up the two assholes. Anything else?” “Yah, two things: One, are said assholes bathed and otherwise presentable?” “They certainly are. In fact, we got ’em oiled all over with that batch of Erzulie’s Mojo Oil which Don cooked up, an’ we’ll put those really purty chains on ’em, just like a be-lated birthday present for you, you old bitch! And what’s the second?” “Not as old as you think, squirt – er, scratch that . . .” “What’d you think, darlin’ – I’d get ol J. R. Dobbs hisself to scratch that pretty thang o’ yours? – And what’s the second?” he repeated insistently. “The second thing is, if anyone happens to have gotten their names, don’t tell me what they are! In fact, gag both of them – I don’t want them to tell me, either!” “Sure, baby,” he said uncertainly. “Er, can I ask why?” “Yeah,” I said, my mood gone very dark, “it’ll make what I do with them a lot more fun and a great deal easier, for me, anyway, if I don’t know who they are or anything about them beyond what I already know! I want a couple of pretty sex-toys I don’t have to relate to, and don’t have to worry about dinging up a little. Or a lot.” “I can’t say I disagree – from the scuttlebutt that’s come down about what they were up to when you found them out there, they –” “Stow it, Monty! I know all too well, already! I was there – remember? Just bring ’em on up.” “Yowsa! Right away, Boss Lady! Is half an hour good with you?” “Make it forty minutes – by then, I’ll have smoked enough rope to settle my nerves, and there are still a couple of things I’ve got to attend to in the meantime, as well.” “Dear God, bitch – ain’t booze gooder e-nuff fer you, like it is plain, honest, sensible folk like me?” “You mean, I should lay off the ’frop . . . so there’s more left for you! – Oh, screw it. I don’t feel like any more comedy routines tonight – I wanna fuck my brains out before I go out of my flaming mind, the sooner, the better!” “Okay, then, we’ll be up (heh!) in about forty minutes.” “Thanks.” Releasing the intercom button, I turned and went back to getting ready for my guests. I had just enough time to put on a few traces of cosmetics and some perfume, load up my pipe and begin the process of getting ripped out of my ever-lovin’ skull before they’d be here. I made for the dressing-room, where my cosmetics were kept, grudging every minute I had to spend on something other than smoking a bowl of bhang or two . . .

Chapter 3: Down the Rabbit Hole

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‘The time has come,’ the Walrus said, ‘To talk of many things: Of shoes – and ships – and sealing-wax – Of cabbages – and kings – And why the sea is boiling hot – And whether pigs have wings.’ – Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass Through a sensuously beautiful, sunset-edged mind-fog of maryjane I heard a series of sharp raps at the front door of my personal suite, which was located on the west end of the group of apartments I’d appropriated for my own use. It had its own large window opening on the south, for the deceptively lovely view it afforded. With effort, I struggled up out of the bast easy-chair I kept in my study and went out through my dressing-room to answer the door, grabbing my good indigo smoking-jacket, which I’d thrown over the back of the chair in the dressing-room before I took my bath, as I went. Hurriedly shrugging into the smoking-jacket as I crossed the living-room floor, I came up to the door, started to open it – then recovered what was left of my wits and instead looked out first through the spy-eye, just in case. But everything was copacetic: there was Monty, accompanied by the small mob of people I’d ordered him to bring with him. I threw the door open. “Hey, lady, you really got to stop makin’ so much noise – we’re tryin’a sleep down here!” Monty drawled. Then, relenting, he grinned, threw his arms around me, and leaned far down to give me the first real kiss we’d ever exchanged. We were just about to do the horizontal bop standing up when somebody tapped Monty on the shoulder and said, “Hey, will you two love-birds fucking break it up for a minute? What are we supposed to do with these two things?” Reluctantly, Monty drew back from me and turned to look at the speaker. This was a tall, rawhide-lean man dressed in Levi’s, boots, kerchief, and a light linen work-shirt, more or less the standard uniform of the gunslingers who served the community of Devil’s Keep as soldiers, guards, and range-riders. Along with all his colleagues, he alternated his tour of duty according to the constantly shifting exigencies of the day and the season, training in all of them, because sooner or later, without fail, there’d be a sudden need for an extra hand in any given capacity, and the Lord Murphy would make sure that if a hand wasn’t at least reasonably competent in a given area of expertise, there’d come the day when that set of skills would be desperately needed and that hand would have to try to fake it, because nobody else would be available for love or money for anything, and only he would be up for filling in. “Oh, yeah, Bill,” Monty mumbled, “the, uh, party-favors. Okay, let’s bring ’em on in. Where d’ya want ’em, Batrix?” Beckoning for them all to follow me, I led them into my bedroom. Bill, the tall, rangy gunslinger, and Rachel, his partner as well as his wife of twelve years and the mother of their three children, herded their two charges in ahead of the rest at gun-point. The male bandito started to bolt. Rachel cocked her .357 Magnum with a motion of her hand so rapid it was almost too quick to see; the sound of the action, clear and definitive as a rattlesnake’s rattle, was unmistakable. His narrowed eyes showing real alarm, the big young man turned his head slightly, enough to see the barrel of Rachel’s revolver close to his ribs. He flicked his sullen stare up to meet her eyes. Whatever he saw there, it made him flinch – maybe it was that not-a-smile baring of her teeth, like an angry kzin, that did it. He pulled back into line and marched on in obedience to the prodding of his kidney by the muzzle of Bill’s huge old .45 Colt, smoldering eyes staring straight ahead and a little upward, so that he wasn’t looking at any one of us. When the two banditos were finally standing more or less quietly in the center of the room under close guard by Bill and Rachel, I told the latter, “You see those two posts there, about ten feet from the foot of my bed? I want that big blond clown, there, secured between them – manacle his wrists and ankles to the rings on the posts, there” – I pointed, to indicate the rings. “Bastard looks strong as Hell – I’ll feel one fuck of a lot better with him tied up there tight with steel chains!” Monty grinned. “Do I, ah, see a joke coming on?” I asked him.

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“‘Now, here’s my plan . . .’” he quipped. “Why do I even bother? . . . Okay, now, as far as the girl goes, let’s see . . .” I pondered for a moment. “Yeah, I know what I want to do with her . . . Let’s lay her out on my bed, here, spread-eagled, and manacle her to the bed-posts. I’ve got some steel cuffs over here, lemme go get ’em . . .” While I rummaged in the drawer of a wooden night-stand next to the bed, I continued, “She looks harmless, I know – but so does a coral snake . . . unless you know what it can do.” The two gunslingers nodded. Bill, who topped Rachel’s 5’6” by at least a foot, turned to Monty and said, “You an’ the kid – uh, Paul – there, help me with this big honky bastard, will you? He’s big and bad and fast, like a fuckin’ sidewinder, an’ I don’t want no trouble with the booger, any more’n we’ve already had with him today as it is! Jill, you an’ Leah, please help my lady keep that little bitch, there, covered – I don’ expect she’ll do much o’ nothin’, she’s about as big as a minute, and not all that good at hand-to-hand, you know, but she’s feisty, she is, an’ you jes’ never know . . . She already nailed Doris earlier today, took a bite right out o’ her shoulder before Doris even knew what was happenin’, an’ you know how quick Doris is! So be careful.” Rachel turned her face to one side to hide a smile. Bill, one of my sovereign diplomats, never missed an opportunity to boost morale. Rachel, a long-time practitioner of ninjutsu, who had achieved the level of Fifth Dan a decade or more back, and who had kept up her training in that and a triple dozen other combat arts over the last twenty-five years, would have had no trouble with her female prisoner even blindfolded, totally alone and unaided, with both hands tied behind her back, her feet shackled together, and a mouth filled with hot tar, to boot! Jill and Leah, on the other hand, were just barely beginning their commando training. Unarmed, neither of them was much of a match for anything heftier than a mutant prairie-dog with a good mad on. But now, the two youngsters felt necessary, with a job to do, however small or temporary – and no feeling that it was either – and it could only do good in the long run. Of all my superior line officers, Bill was number one – which was why he was now my second-in-command, as well as Chief of Operations over all military and military-related activities here at the Keep. Would he be the one I’d settle on as my heir, to succeed me when I couldn’t do the job any more? Likely – he’d do well at it. And, something just as valuable for a potential leader here: he’d already produced several heirs of his own body, which radiation poisoning, cumulative toxicity from “normal” pollutants, and a number of other things had conspired to keep me from doing for myself. I was, at this point, stoned on my ass. Consequently, I now made a slip which, with anyone else, might have seriously jeopardized my standing among my people as their rough, tough, bloody-minded, bloodyhanded, but fair Peerless leader. “Bill – do you think this . . . what I’m doing here tonight with these – do you think it’s wrong?” He turned to look at me, his eyes two fathomless lakes of deep red umber, the odd golden flecks swimming in their depths like stars in the winter skies of some alien world. They bored deep into my fadey gray-blue ones for a moment. His face became a mahogany mask. I tensed, fearing judgment – but he was pondering, not condemning. “No, I don’t,” he finally said, slowly and thoughtfully. “I truly don’t, Batrix. You gotta do what you gotta do – an’ if I was you, after what we all did – and saw – today down there in that barranca, I’d have to do something like this, myself . . .” He grinned. “– Which, sort of, I am, later on, but not on quite this scale. Anyway, I’ve never knowed you to hurt nobody who didn’t deserve it – or spare anybody who did. “You’ve never shirked your duty, in all the time I’ve known you. God made us outta flesh an’ blood, not steel an’ oil, and the flesh calls to what it needs, when it needs it. I’d say, if anybody ever’d earned the right to do a little get-down-an’-boogie, down-an’-dirty partyin’, it’s you, lady – an’ I sure as Hell won’t ask no questions!” He mopped at his forehead where sweat had begun to bead, a quick nervous swipe of one mahogany hand, in a vain attempt to push back the long, lank black curls that always tumbled over his forehead after a long day’s work before he’d had a chance to freshen up.* Then he added, “Go have yer fun, lady – let us take care of the worries for the next few hours. You’ll be all that much more fit for duty later on – an’ that’s the way we need you, so go for it!” He smiled, then, a benison I badly needed just then. Then, without further comment, he turned to his charge – in spite of his whole-hearted conversation with me, he’d kept the muzzle of his revolver aimed straight at the younger man’s kidney, moving not a millimeter from its target, and the other man, all too aware of it, hadn’t moved a muscle during the conversation. With help from Monty and Paul, Bill began chaining the big, naked, erstwhile bandit’s leman to the two posts overlooking my bed.

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*Once, when another gunslinger, the late Dan Bullon, who at the time had been teaming up with him on patrols, had twitted him about his hair, he’d remarked primly, “You can just blame that on my maternal great-grandpappy.” “Oh?” “Yeah – because of him, I’m black Irish.” “Sure you are, dude!” “No shit!” “What kind of an Irishman are you, then, hmm?” “I’m an O’Rio, you honky asshole – from Belfast, Alabama.”

In the meantime, Rachel, Leah, and Jill attempted to lay out the bandito’s girlfriend on my bed. Immediately it became apparent, the hard way, that it wasn’t going to be an easy matter at all, in spite of the girl’s petite build. She fought like a wigged-out wolverine, all teeth and claws and spitting fury. Finally Rachel, her patience gone, drew back her fist, cocked it, and decked the girl with a hard right. With a sigh, the girl collapsed out cold on the bed. It went much more easily then. Rachel and her two assistants got the girl’s limp, nude body laid out properly on the bed and manacled her in place, securing each of her wrists by a heavy chain and a wristmanacle to one of the posts at the head of the bed, likewise chaining each of her ankles to one of the posts at the bed’s foot. Before they pulled her chains taut, I intervened briefly to slide a large, thick pillow under her lower back, so that her ass was elevated above the surface of the bed, her cunt and asshole on clear display for anyone who wanted to look. The pillow was so large that it extended far enough to support her head with its enormous mass of long, straight, blue-black hair. We all took a moment to take a breath and look admiringly on our handiwork. Then Rachel, getting back to business, adjusted the chains to make sure that they were maximally taut – the girl couldn’t have budged more than a few millimeters in any direction, and was entirely helpless, the only condition which either Rachel, as Assistant Chief of Security, or I found acceptable, under the circumstances. “Well, that’s that,” said Bill, straightening up from where he had been working on the last of Hunko the Barbarian’s leg-chains. Said hunk was now likewise spread-eagled, only vertically instead of horizontally, with both arms and legs spread wide, secured respectively at the floor and high above his head to the two posts by his manacles, which had been made fast to steel rings set into the reinforced concrete of the posts. Fortunately, said hunk was also gagged, with a nice, thick, virtually impenetrable cloth gag; otherwise, judging from the deadly rattlesnake glare he turned on us all, he’d have treated us to a symphony of billingsgate of a sort which none of us, not even Monty, in spite of our own, rather casual attitudes about language, had, up until now, been unlucky enough to run afoul of. “Need anythin’ else, Batrix?” “Ah – no, I guess not. That should just about do it, Bill.” “Well – you call, now, if there’s anythin’ else. Okay?” “I will do that. And I thank you.” “Welcome. – Come on, Rach’, darlin’, let’s go, and let them get down to it.” “Why, sure, honey – an’ I got a roun’ tuit you-all can check out, if you’ve a mind,” she drawled, sweet as honey in the high summers of my youth, a Cheshire-cat grin spreading across her beautiful dark face. Bill reached out and, throwing a wink at me over his shoulder, pseudo-surreptitiously patted her ass, making a big deal of it. “Oh, you too, hunh? Mus’ be somethin’ goin’ roun’! All you randy ladies, here – mus’ be something’ goin roun’, I tell you!” “I tol’ you, I got somethin’ roun’ – think you might want to get roun’ to it, too?” she asked him, giggling. “Oh, go on wit’ you! Come on, you horny lady, you – let’s go up to our pad, I could do with Some, too . . .” The two of them, giggling and holding hands like school-kids, left quickly, eager to be alone together.

Chapter 4: For I Have Promises to Keep
I found a dimpled spider, fat and white, On a white heal-all, holding up a moth Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth –

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Assorted characters of death and blight Mixed ready to begin the morning right, Like the ingredients of a witches’ broth – A snow-drop spider, a flower like froth, And dead wings carried like a paper kite. What had that flower to do with being white, The wayside blue and innocent heal-all? What brought the kindred spider to that height, Then steered the white moth thither in the night? What but design of darkness to appall? – If design govern in a thing so small. – Robert Frost, “Design” Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity. – William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming” “So,” said Monty to me as the door closed behind them, “what do you say we get roun’ to it, too, babe?” “Sounds like a plan . . .” “What do you want to do first?” “I already did it – now anybody else who wants to get wrecked, do it now, because otherwise, I’ll do it again myself, and smoke up the whole fucking stash!” I crowed. “Er, should we get undressed?” asked Leah, a little timidly. “Yeah, why not?” I said, shrugging out of the smoking-jacket – Peerless Leader leads in all events! “My God, honey – for an old bag, you have lovely tits!” breathed Monty. “Those are for dessert, you lech, you!” I told him archly. “Right now, let’s start with the hors d’oeuvres . . Leah, when you’ve smoked some of that shit, get out of those clothes and come over here to where I’m about to sit, in that big overstuffed chair. But please leave on your jewelry and those ridiculous, sexy little sandals – they look just fine. – You ever done this with – uh . . .?” “You mean, am I bi or gay? No – I’ve balled a couple of dudes, a couple of times. But none of them are half the man you are, Baron!” she told me, turning those great, big, long-lashed eyes on me – if I hadn’t had a life-preserver of sheer, iron-clad cynicism forged over decades of sad experience, I’d have drowned in them. I winced at the obvious, honest adoration in that voice – if we didn’t catch it now, somehow, this blood-thirsty young woman would develop into an all-out adrenaline-phreak fanatic wannabe samurai, following the warlord into anything, led around by a string of the warlord’s sexual charisma right through that pretty little clit I was planning on checking out later this evening. “Yah, well, I hope I don’t disappoint you, darlin.’ – Uh, Jill, I’d rather take requests than give orders, at least here in my bedroom. . . . So, what turns you on?” “Two joints of primo bud and Montgomery Eisenstein’s lap,” she said, characteristically wasting neither words nor time. “Gimme that stash!” “Jesus – take my arm off, girl, why don’t you!” said Paul, wincing a little over the ding she’d given his arm, grabbing my little 18-karat gold stash-box right out of his hands without bothering to ask first. “Is that all right with you, Monty?” “If she’s the salad, honey, and you’re the entree and the dessert, it sure is – A-OK and all systems go! Otherwise, she can have Leah, and I’ll have you right here and now, in the middle of the rug, there!”

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“So okay, what do you want – the other overstuffed chair, that purple job with the emerald-and-scarlet paisley and the white trim over there? Or that divan, the one over next to that wall?” “Oh, I’d like a chance to see how the rich and famous live, Batrix. . . . If you’re going to have yours in an overstuffed chair, now why shouldn’t I have mine that way, too? – Come on, Jillian, wrap that joint and another one and come over here to Papa, I’ve got a nice hot thing to put up against your cold thang and make your cold thang hot . . .” Obligingly Jill, who hated pipes and had just finished rolling two bombers with the incredible skill and efficiency of a long-time pothead, never mind that she was barely eighteen, hooked her arm through the one he offered, and they went happily off to the big purple-and-eyesore chair facing the one in which I was now preparing to make myself comfortable, about twenty feet across the room from mine. “Okay, Paul,” I continued, “I know what you want – you’ve been casting covetous eyes on the man’s dick for the last ten minutes, every time you thought I wasn’t looking! – Oh, don’t look so fucking pained, he is pretty, isn’t he? I commend you on your good taste . . . as far as sheer looks go, anyway. Whatever lives inside that pretty package isn’t real nice, but then, nobody asked you to make conversation with him . . .” Grinning broadly, he said, “Well, at least he’s all mine –” “For now, sweetbuns – for now. Later, we’re going to share.” He made a question-mark at me with one of his oddly-tufted eyebrows. Barely sixteen, Paul was already a blooded gunslinger who’d killed ten men, each at least five years his senior, two of them barehanded, one with a knife, the rest with his deadly accurate gunfighting skills. He looked like some bastard child of the Great God Pan: heavily tanned olive skin, the heritage of some randy Mediterranean rat in his ancestral woodpile, his long, tautly muscled legs, the strange, symmetrical widows’-peaks like two ghostly horns in his hair, a thick pelt of close-bunched, tightly corkscrewed locks of dark-brown fur covering him virtually everywhere but his clean-shaven face, the soles of his feet, the palms of his hands, and his dick. Having just finished stripping down to the buff, he looked more than ever the wiry adolescent satyr, all heavily scarred rawhide and whipcord and fur and sassy manners, an imp with whom everyone in this damned heap of stone was in love. (I’d heard rumors that he’d managed to seduce half the otherwise diestraight men in the Keep — not to mention Monty, but that went without saying, Monty’s soul concerns about bedmates, or so the legends had it, were that they were of age, willing, and reasonably attractive, and even “available” could go hang, he’d make them available! Looking at Paul strutting his stuff before me now, I believed it.) His moist, red, full-lipped mouth curved into a slow, sensuous smile. “Oh, we are, are we, then, my lady?” “That’s an order, mister – I am dying to know what your dick feels like!” “As long as you don’t care which hole I put it in, Boss Lady . . . I don’t really dig women, you know, but like Leah said, Baron . . .” He batted his eyelashes at me. “Oh, bullshit, Paul! It’s bad enough from Leah. Look – just one good fuck, so I can die happy?” “Just one?” he cried in mock outrage. “What if it turns out I like your cunt? Do I only get one go at it?” Plowing right over his banter and getting down to business, so we could all have a chance to start doing what we really came here for, sighing, I said, “You got your cock-rings with you?” “Yes, Batrix, ma’am, I do, that. I brought my whole friggin’ – er, my kit.” “We have really got to do something about the language everybody uses around here,” I sighed. “. . . Okay, get on with it. Later on, I may want to do a trio with you and the Incredible Hunk, here, but for now do your thing with him. Okay, Leah, would you do me a favor and bring me that box I put on that table over there?”

Chapter 5: A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread – and Thou
An old cowpuncher went riding out one dark and windy day; Upon a ridge he rested as he went along his way, When all at once a mighty herd of red-eyed cows he saw, A ploughin’ through the ragged skies And up the cloudy draw. Yi-pi-yi-ay,

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Yi-pi-yi-o, The ghost herd in the sky. Their brands were still on fire, and their hooves wuz made of steel; Their horns wuz black and shiny, and their hot breath we could feel. A bolt of fear went through him as they thundered through the sky, For he saw the riders comin’ hard, As he heard their mournful cry. Yi-pi-yi-ay, Yi-pi-yi-o, Ghost riders in the sky. Their faces gaunt, their eyes were blurred and shirts all soaked with sweat; They’re ridin’ hard to catch the herd but they ain’t caught them yet, ‘Cause they’ve got to ride forever on that range up in the sky On horses snortin’; As they ride on, hear their cry. Yi-pi-yi-ay, Yi-pi-yi-o, Ghost riders in the sky. As the riders loped on by him, he heard one call his name, “If you want to save your soul from hell a-ridin’ on our range, Then, cowboy, change your ways today or with us you will ride, A try’n to catch the devil’s herd Across these endless skies. Yi-pi-yi-ay, Yi-pi-yi-o, Ghost herd in the sky, Ghost riders in the sky. – Stan Jones, “Riders in the Sky,” by Stan Jones

All day I’ve faced a barren waste Without the taste of water, Cool water. Old Dan and I with throats burnt dry, And souls that cry for water, Cool, clear water. Keep a-movin’, Dan, Don’t you listen to him, Dan, He’s a devil, not a man, And he spreads the burning sand with water. Dan, can you see that big green tree, Where the water’s runnin’ free, And it’s waiting there for me and you? The nights are cool and I’m a fool, Each star’s a pool of water, Cool water. But with the dawn I’ll wake and yawn, And carry on to water,

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Cool, clear water. The shadows sway and seem to say, “Tonight we pray for water, Cool water.” And ‘way up there He’ll hear our pray’r, And show us where there’s water, Cool, clear water. Dan’s feet are sore, they’re yearning for Just one thing more than water, Cool water. Like me I guess he’d like to rest, Where there’s no quest for water, Cool, clear water. – Bob Nolan, “Cool Water” Leah had just finished taking her tenth or eleventh hit off a doobie so big that Harry Truman could have used it to end World War II. Looking up at me through hemp-colored glasses, she said, “‘Box,’ Baron? Don’t you want mine?” “Yeah, darlin’ – as soon as you get me that other box, the one on the table over there, next to the bed.” I pointed. “Don’t be coy. It just wastes time.” She giggled. “Okay, Batrix, let me get your box –” At which, a storm of giggling threatened to overwhelm her. Stifling it womanfully, she struggled to her feet and went to the table, swaying deliciously on those tiny, tiny, spiky-heeled excuses for footwear she wore. Picking up the box, she brought it over to me. “What’s in it, O great Battess?” “Get undressed, you pretty bitch, and when you’re done, I’ll show you. – No, turn your back on me while you take your clothes off . . . that’s it . . .” Smiling a slow, maddeningly provocative smile, she complied with my order as if it had been her idea. Virtually in one motion, turning in a lovely, graceful caracol as she did so, she shrugged out of the short, white, sleeveless shift she’d worn here, the buttons of which she’d already undone before she’d come to me with the box, presenting lovely, creamy-skinned thighs and a luscious posterior to me in the process. While she took off her brassiere and stepped out of her briefs, moving with the beautiful, artless, fluid ease of the young and healthy, I opened the box and removed the thing I wanted from it. I had to struggle hard to keep the arthritis that was already beginning to work its deadly way down into my joints from showing as clumsiness of any kind, only with great effort managing to stifle a hiss of pain that fought to erupt from me as I did so. God forbid that these youngsters should see just how stiff, sore, and clumsy I was rapidly becoming, at least until there was no way I could hide it any longer – morale, always fragile here, would drop like a bomb, something none of us needed at this point. I managed to get the thing from the box strapped on before Leah, naked and tucking an almost non-existent lock of her pixie-cap of platinumblonde hair into place behind her left ear, turned back to me. Her eyes went wide. “Is that –?” “Yup – it’s an artificial cock. Mother Nature didn’t see fit to give me one. So if you want me to fuck you, it’s got to be with this, doesn’t it?” Then I realized that that weird look on her face translated as sheer delight. Clearly, I did not have a nervous virgin on my hands – or anywhere else. “What are you doing?” she asked, intensely curious, avidly watching as I finished my preparations. “Well, the only other ways I can get this thing nicely lubricated for you, darlin’, so it won’t tear you to pieces when I drive it home in you, is to suck on it, stick it into my own cunt, or stick it into somebody else’s. “Now, I don’t fancy the taste of polyvinyl plastic, I really don’t. On the other hand, I kinda figured you’d be sensibly leery of picking up odd bugs belonging to other people. – Of course, we can cure anything you could pick up that way with ozone gas; and as far as that goes, we’ve got all the ozone

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anyone could ever want (and then some! Some days, all you have to do for an ozone treatment is go outside and breathe). but who the Hell wants to go through that, if they don’t have to? Right?” Not really giving a damn about an answer, I continued, “This stuff I’m putting on good ol’ Ralph, here, does the job. It’s sterile, it’s water-based – and, best of all, it tastes like wild strawberries. One of our foureyed young geniuses down there in the labs belowground here concocted it from some weird old recipe she had on hand, Mnemosyne alone knows from where. Claims it’s aphrodisiac, too – that is, when absorbed through the vaginal walls. “– So. Enough of talk. Come, my dear, let me make love to you –” She gasped a little at this, her breasts lifting and her nipples tightening. Eagerly, she made as if to straddle me. Gently I restrained her, putting the palms of my hands on her breasts, deliberately placing them there in order to kick her into an even higher state of arousal. “No, let’s turn you around, you lovely little whore . . .” I growled softly, my fingertips paying her the ultimate complement of trembling in the sky-kissing firestorm winds rising now so urgently in my loins and brain. My hands urged her to turn so that she had her back to me. Then, taking hold of her waist with both hands, I pulled her backward until she was indeed straddling me, about halfway between my knees and my crotch. Now, cupping her lovely little breasts in the palms of my hands, slowly caressing them, occasionally giving her nipples a cruel little twist or teasing flirt with my fingers, I asked her, “Did you choose that moonstone necklace and the matching ring to wear for me deliberately, dear? They make you look utterly ravishing – you’re a superb seductress, did you know that?” “I am?” From across the room, out of the depths of the big purple-and-paisley chair, came the first soft cries of passion consummated. Letting the sounds of sex sweep along under my consciousness the way the swell of the incoming tide sweeps a surfer up and carries him to glory, carrying me to greater and still greater heights of arousal myself, I continued, “You must surely are. Beautiful thing, aren’t you – such silken, white skin . . . those nipples, like cherries . . . Do you like this?” “Oh, yes . . . yes –” She was beginning to pant, urgency creeping into her voice. This wasn’t an act put on for the warlord’s benefit – or was it? Hmmm . . . I let my left hand drop down to her belly, cupping it, tracing the hollow of her navel with thumb and forefinger in torturously slow, deliberate circles. My right hand dropped lower still, so that my forefinger could explore the cleft hidden in the soft, fine, pale fur of her mons. She moaned, then, even as I felt those exquisite pearls of Elixir Vitae beading on my fingertip. Grinning, I probed deeper, gently gliding my fingertip along the swelling ridge of her clit, withdrawing it, probing again, drawing the fine dew of her passion down along the length of her elongating clitoris until, finally, I could slide my fingertip lightly back and forth along its full length with no resistance. In the meantime, her hips began to buck in reaction to my teasing probes, so I used my left hand, held firmly over he belly, to keep her from moving, as much as possible. Soon, however, she was so aroused that I had to pull her all the way back against my chest, holding her in place between my hand and my torso, in order to keep her from moving so frenziedly that it would have been otherwise impossible for me to continue playing with her that way, in that position. Finally, bored with that stage of things, I pushed her gently forward, off my legs, and turned her around to face me. “What do you want me to –” “Shush, you sweet bitch. Don’t say anything – don’t do anything – just stand there a moment, like that, with your legs apart, right here, just in front of my knees, while I figure this out . . .” She watched me from under heavy-lidded eyes, her chest heaving, as I cogitated. “All right,” I said, decided out what I wanted to do next, “what I want for you to do is lie in my lap, crossways, your legs over one arm of the chair, your head on the other arm, your arms down at your sides.” “Okay . . .” she said uncertainly, and began to comply. I helped her, lifting a leg here, putting an arm under her back there, making sure the dildo lay flat beneath her, so it wouldn’t get in the way. “But – how do you get any pleasure?” she asked. “I haven’t –” “Don’t worry about it, darlin’ – this is my party, you try what I tell you! Until I do, don’t worry about it, okay? Just like the friggin’ army . . .” I laughed bitterly, a dry mourning for a dead civilization, remembered best in a few pithy, undead clichés. “Now,” I told her, “here’s where you begin to give me my pleasure. What I want you to do, you sweet little bitch, is hitch yourself up just a little, so your mouth can reach my nipple easily, and start tonguing it – like this.” By way of demonstration, I leaned over and flicked my tongue across her left nipple several times. The nipple tautened, and she gasped. A slow smile

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grew on her face; she turned her face down to my left breast, and began doing for me what I had just done for her. After a few minutes of that, she reached up with her left hand and began playing with my other nipple, as well. Soon I was gasping and giving urgent little cries myself. Red embers of lust began to burn hot, deep in the abyssal, fossil-lined caverns of my body. Its fires made their slow way upward from chakra to chakra along my spine as the Hamadryad of Kundalini raised its lovely, venomous head and turned its cat’s-eye gaze toward the heart of my being, lucent nectar commingled with thermonuclear venom dripping anticipatorily from its great, wicked, curving fangs, God’s Assassin preparing to give me the unbearable, incandescent, holy sweetness of the Little Death one more time. Shy of death still, I held it away from me with deliberate effort. “Darling, dear little warrior, let me try something else . . .” She withdrew mouth and hands from my breasts and waited, expectantly, for whatever came next while I struggled with everything I had to bring my wildly surging emotions under control, beautiful untamed wild stallions not at all willing to come to harness. Finally, more or less back in command of myself for the moment, I said, “Do you think, pretty girl, that you’re up for something acrobatic?” “Like what?” “I want you to kneel with your knees on the arms of this chair, facing me. Can you do that?” Another sultry smile graced her features. “I reckon – you know I’ve been doing better at gymnastics than anyone else in my age-grade!” Not waiting for me to comment, she pulled herself up, and began to take the position I’d asked her to. Bracing one arm on the back of the chair, on one side of my head, the other hand on an arm of the chair, she levered herself up a bit at a time until she was just where I wanted her. “All right, sweet thing,” I told her, “let me do all the work. Otherwise, you’re like to fall down – and I’ll probably get one or both of your knees in some place that isn’t likely to be any better off for it. Okay?” I put my hands on her hips, instructing her to brace herself by holding on to the back of the hair. Then, leaning over, I let my tongue continue the explorations begun earlier by my questing forefinger. Soon she was not merely gasping and crying, but also moaning wonderfully, deliciously filthy phrases, endearments, imperious demands, and disjointed exhortations as I licked, sucked, and tickled her clit and the lips of her cunt with my lips and tongue. When I continued further afield, letting my randy tongue rove over her vulva and probe into her nectar-slick vagina, she became so excited that she nearly let go her hold on the back of the chair. I had to pull back for a short while, to let her get back in control of herself.

Chapter 6: O Love, Let Us Be True to One Another
Busie old foole, unruly Sunne, Why dost thou thus, Through windowes, and through curtaines call on us? Must to thy motions lovers seasons run? Sawcy pedantique wretch, goe chide Late schoole boyes, and sowre prentices, Goe tell Court-huntsmen, that the King will ride, Call countrey ants to harvest offices; Love, all alike, no season knowes, nor clyme, Nor houres, dayes, moneths, which are the rags of time. – John Donne, “The Sunne Rising”

“Hey, I know what to do,” I told her. Both of us were panting like dogs in August. “What? – Oh, God – it feels heavenly! Where have you been all my life, you beautiful, lecherous old hag?” “Out shooting bad guys, rounding up strayed stock, and overseeing stupid experiments, what else? – Look, let’s get you back down onto your own feet again.” She groaned in frustration, but I went on: “Darling, let’s have you sit in that damned chair, and I’ll kneel on the floor, between your lovely feet. Okay?”

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“Oh, yes! – But – but Bay-trix –” Then she stopped, looking a little freaked at her own temeritous lesé majesté. “That’s cool, that’s fine, it’s what everybody including God and His great-uncle Archie call me, so why shouldn’t you?” I reassured her. “– Ah, I see. I just rained on your parade, didn’t I, darlin’? You like taking risks! “– Speaking of which, how’re you doing with Konax the Klutz over there, Paul?” I asked, turning my head to look at him. “I’m not sure . . . Think this mother might have AIDS, Baron?” “So what if he does? Hydrogen peroxide and ozone, we got – tons of it! And the acidophilus, vitamin E, and vitamin C to go with them – it’s going to be a banner year for the greenhouses, turns out those mutant roses yield ten times the –” “Okay, yeah, sure, fine, professor – I just wondered if it would be safe to suck the guy a little. Now , look at him – he’s hung like a titanothere, and I got him stroked into a hard-on that that ape in the ’cubes of those old movies you fogies like to watch would have sold his soul for, he’s almost as big as Monty now! With that cock-ring on, like he has now, the guy’s damned near on the Moon, between how good it feels and how bad it hurts, and I thought, maybe if I just sucked him a little, we could see if he’d actually exceed the speed of light . . .” “Why, you little sadist! How do you know he won’t make like a quantum and tunnel right through your diode on the way outta here? – Never mind. I guess they get to that part of your physics course next quarter, don’t they? – Hey, I like you, too, Leah, but go easy on the hand, willya? I know you want it – so do I, dammit! Be patient, you little bitch, willya, hunh, please?” I begged her. Slowly, moaning in an agony of frustrated desire, she forced herself to slacken her grip on my hand, which she had almost managed to pull all the way into her uterus in one swell foop. When my fingertips once more just barely cleared the base of her cleft, I started flicking them gently in random runs up against her labia and clit. She let her ass slide forward in the chair, her shoulders sinking down against the back of it as she did so, so that she could open her thighs as widely as possible, presenting the sensitive membranes of her vulva to me with as little obstruction as possible. While I played gently with her like that, I continued talking to Paul: “So why not suck him? Give him the thrill of his misbegotten existence!” “Now, how would you know, you lez, you?” “I’m guessing, sweetbuns – wanna test the hypothesis?” “You’re on, bitch, once I’ve had my way with this big ape . . .” “Right on! Okay, junior – do your thing . . . and let me do mine here with Leah, for a while, all right?” While Paul, grinning, stooped over to take the tip of the hunk’s oversized cock between his lips, teasing it with his tongue as I had earlier teased Leah, I turned back to that lady herself, who was starting once more to pant, moan, and beg for more, more, more! in the most sweetly obscene turns of phrase I’d ever been privileged to hear. My, my – what is this younger generation coming to? . . . Leah already had her ass close to the edge of the chair. Gently withdrawing my hand from her cunt, at which she growled out an unbelievably rich obscenity and tried to forcibly restrain me from ceasing teasing her with it, I now went with the flow, putting my hands on her thighs and urging her to come even farther forward. She had to lean to one side to do so without risking a neck injury from trying to rest her head on the back of the chair with her body simultaneously nearly horizontal from the neck down. That was all right; urging her both verbally and manually, I got her to sprawl across the chair with her neck at the place where the chair’s back met its right arm, her left ankle over the chair’s left arm, and her right leg swung out in front. This left her tail-bone on the very edge of the seat, with her cunt thus completely exposed – the big easy-chair was very wide, allowing her to make the most of its geometry for what I had in mind. Once more I leaned over, and began to probe her cunt with my tongue, then pull gently on her clit with my lips even as I tongue-teased it. Soon she was panting and moaning ecstatically, crying out her wonderful barrage of filth, even more amazing for its virtuoso range and complexity than for the infernal depths of whatever sewer she’d dredged it up from. Normally, it would have turned me thoroughly off – but I began to sense that underneath all her macha-killer cool was somebody who carried some dark, hideous wounds in her soul. Small wonder, too, considering she’d first come to us stark naked out of the desert, carrying only the machete with which she’d somehow killed the monsters that had murdered her parents and raped her sisters and baby brother to death before her eyes, then started in on her before she managed to liberate the machete from one of the assholes and turn the table on them. This, at the tender age of ten years old! Leah Herzog was one tough little girl, all right – but that toughness had been

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purchased at a terrible price: nightmare memories that even now were rising up toward the light of day, threatening to overwhelm her in a flood-tide of horror as, one by one, the titanic stone-wall barriers she normally kept between her soul and the rest of the psychic universe collapsed in the face of the mounting psychospiritual chaos churned up in the ocean of her inner being by her rapidly mountain sexual frenzy. That barrage of verbal filth was a child’s way of holding evil at bay, true and real Magick, the Magick that all children can easily do before the quotidian adult world convinces them they can’t – or mustn’t. Carefully, on a hunch, even as I sucked her I reached up with one hand and began to stroke her nipples with light, gentle caresses. My hunch paid off. She did a thing which, if I hadn’t already been aware of the awful currents surging just out of sight through the dark caverns of her soul, would have seemed completely off the wall: suddenly enclosing my hand in both of hers, cupping it gently, like something precious and fragile, she leaned over and kissed it. Then she began to weep. But her hips continued to buck and grind, and between her sobs she still moaned and gasped out her ever-growing desire and need, which by now was verging on supernova strength. Without warning her, quickly I pulled my torso erect, standing before her on my knees, and, gripping her grinding hips as hard as I could with both hands, pulling her toward me, I impaled her on the damned polyethylene dick I wore, driving it up into her in one long, slow, wicked thrust that took it all the way up past her cervix. In response, she screamed like a Fury, wrapped her long legs around my back with agonizing strength, threatening to squeeze the life out of me, and bucked and heaved a long, tortuous way up to a climax which, apparently, was worth it all to her. Her last scream faded out to a whisper, to nothing, and she went limp in my arms, falling backward into the chair in fugued, exhausted satisfaction. Gently I pulled back, withdrawing the silly dildo from her body. It popped free with a wet, smacking sound. Slowly and carefully, giving myself time to get my wind back gracefully, my knees on fire from unaccustomed strain and encroaching old age, I levered myself to my feet. I stood there for awhile, looking down at her fondly. From behind me, I heard Monty exclaim, “Good God, woman – what did you do to her? It sounded like the Third Coming of the Whore of Babylon!”

Chapter 7: Island in the Sun
This land is mine, God gave this land to me, This brave and ancient land to me. And when the morning sun Reveals her hills and plains Then I see a land Where children can run free. So take my hand And walk this land with me, And walk this lovely land with me. Though I am just a man, When you are by my side, With the help of God I know I can be strong. So strong To make this land our home, If I must fight, I’ll fight to make this land our own. Until I die This land is mine! – Pat Boone, “The Exodus Song”

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“Always with the jokes, hunh, Monty?” I sighed wearily. I turned to look at Jill and Monty, who were interwoven like the components of some erotic Chinese puzzle in their chair. Jill, all warm, glowing nutbrowns, with a short, lustrous pelt of ebon hair covering her scalp, armpits, and the delta between her lovely thighs, was set off nicely by Monty’s weirdly pale skin and the sparsely scattered, long, corkscrewed blue-black hairs on his chest, belly, arms, shins, and groin. Mutt to his Jeff, she still had her strong, slender legs locked around his long, bony torso in a Yab-Yum position, even though at the moment they weren’t actively engaged in sex. “Oh, shit, lady, I’m jealous – whether of you, or Leah, I am not sure. Why don’t you come over here to Daddy, and let Daddy give you some good lovin’ yourself, hmm?” he said. The genuine love in his voice stunned me. I stared at him. Jill was lying slanchways across his lap, her long legs interwoven with his even longer ones, her head and neck pillowed on his arm. She was smiling, satisfied and relaxed, happily inhaling the fragrant smoke of yet another ICBM-sized joint pinched delicately between thumb and forefinger of one slim, dark-brown hand. Monty actually looked tender – the first time I’d ever seen such an expression on his long, grim face. He had his arms outstretched toward me, beckoning. Jill spoke up: “You gave Leah what she wanted – come over here, and we’ll give you what you want, Batrix.” I looked at her, my heart turning over. Dear, wonderful, honest, open-hearted Jill. The youngest child of Dennis O’Brien, one of my chief aides and advisors, and Alice Dewar, head of the Keep’s scientific research division, Jillian Dewar-O’Brien was one of the finest gunslingers and guerrilla warriors I’d ever known. A born strategist, with an innate gift for higher mathematics, she also had a skill for growing the beautiful roses she loved so much, an ability unmatched even by the legendary anarcho-libertarian hydroponicist of fabulous, lost Seattle, Morris Ericson (who now was almost certainly only an undistinguished random handful of quarks in the miles-wide, quarter-mile deep witches’-brew of radioactivity that was all that was left of that gorgeous, wonderful, dreadful City of Jeweled Night.) – All of which, as far as I was concerned, was secondary to the fact that, however gifted a warrior and thinker she might be, Jill was an even greater friend, one of the most generous-souled, honest, honorable people I’d ever been fortunate enough to know. Less than a third my chronological age, in some ways she was centuries ahead of me. Nearly choking on my emotions, stumbling blindly through a verbal warehouse of old, undead clichés, discarding them one by one, I failed utterly to make my feelings clear to her. Sensing my distress, she rescued me with characteristic finesse: “Hey, Batrix – what shall we do about our other little friend there, the one chained to your bed?” she asked. “Did you maybe have something special in mind to do with her?” I grinned as the memory of the plans I’d (heh!) laid earlier in the evening came back to me. I looked down at Leah, who quite clearly would be out of it for some time yet. “Yeah, I did,” I told Jill. Slowly, creaking at every step, I turned toward them. Carefully they avoided looking at that dumb dildo. I left it on – I definitely had plans for that thing somewhere in the next little while. “I want to – Jill, Monty, I want both of you to . . . do all those gross, filthy, diverted, inverted, reverted, wonderful things to me, with me that all the very best porno describes in such loving, nasty detail . . . My cunt’s on fire, my uterus is burning up, my clit feels as if it were a mile long, and I want . . .” I was gasping, as much from exhaustion as lust. I staggered, my knees still giving me hell. Regaining my balance, I walked over to them, wincing at every step. “But first things first. I had you-all bring that little slut on the bed there up here along with Hunkbo over there because I definitely do have something in mind for her . . .” Suddenly I was caught up once again in Amphitrite’s dreadful Web of Memory, locked into a replay of the afternoon just past, in all its evilly lovely power. With the others staring at me, a little concerned, I stared off into space, remembering, remembering . . . We’d come thundering down over the rocky spine of the ridge-crest, ten, twenty, thirty or more figures right out of nightmare: terrifying apparitions out of some hallucinogenic version of a Tantric purgatory, all wearing heavy white plastic masks adorned with demonic sigils and emblems in all the colors of Hell’s own rainbow, scarlet, black, gold, electric blue, algal green, high-tech plastic body-armor covered by allenveloping djellabas of white, the latter also blazoned with Qaballistic and arcane signs, riding on great, four-footed living tanks, horses which themselves wore plastic masks and all-enveloping body cloaks, emitting horrible, ear-splitting, eerie shrieks and cries, demons out a Kurosawa inferno come to terrorize the living . . .

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Of course, the wails were all electronic, issuing from battery-powered little audio units which each of us wore at our throats. Under the 12th-Century Rashid the Barbarian costumes were the very latest in (salvaged) high-tech armor, clothing, and weaponry. The horses wore rebreather gear under the masks, cooling units under their cloaks. And some of those horses were carrying enough firepower to take out a good-sized town. But our quarry didn’t see any of that. All they knew was that at one moment, they were peacefully carrying out a quiet little raid on some ’steaders and their outlier spread, ’way out beyond what they supposed was the effective range of the Keep’s protection of its vassal outliers; the next, creatures out of Hell itself were bearing down on them, riding monsters straight out of Tartaros’ own breeding-pens, screaming like a million banshees, wielding lunate scimitars that looked like something plucked from a pre-dawn night sky during a Werewolf Moon. Then we were on them, and the day became a chaos of stampeding horses, men cursing with venomous, monotonous, devout sincerity, blasting gunfire. Mortally injured men were screaming in agony and terror, their guts hanging out and tangling in their mounts’ tack or flailing feet as they fell among the horses. Injured and dying horses added their own weird screams to the all-encompassing pandemonium of battle. Buzzards and crows circled high overhead in that evilly beautiful, incandescent, molten-turquoise desert sky, coyotes peered warily at the carnage from behind the rocks, all anticipating the night’s feast now being so graciously laid out for their evening dining pleasure. The stench and sound of running gunbattles and mano y mano knife-fights, the deadly blast-furnace heat scrawled the signature of that terrible August day upon the stunned and reeling winds . . . With an effort that threatened to break the back of my mind, I pulled out of my trance and went on: “When we found these assholes,” I said, gesturing to indicate el bandido and la bandida, after we’d done in their compañeros, these two slimeworm-turds were about a mile away from the battleground, in a settler’s shack, working over the womenfolk and children. The father – well, husband, boyfriend, uncle, whatever, he was dead. Been dead for some time before we got there. They’d tied up the poor bastard to an overhead beam and worked on him for awhile – things like toasting-forks that had been heated white-hot first, then stuck into his face, needles into his eyes, great shit like that. He must’ve died of shock . . . mercifully. “They’d tied everybody else up – or probably their buddies had, for them, before leaving to scout the area, because these two have all the courage of a gut-shot amoeba and they would be about as likely to have done the job as a rabbit would have to have lead the U. S. Marine Corps charge up Mt. Suribachi or Lon Horiuchi would have to have died defending the Bill of Rights – and made them watch while they had their fun with the old man. There were the mother, two older daughters of about 16 or 17, a little girl of about six years old and a little boy of about seven or so. When they’d finished off Papa, or whoever he was, they started in on the three girls, so Mama and the boy had to watch that, too. “By the time we got there, the second oldest girl was dead from what they’d already done to her . . .” Acid filled my mouth as I remembered. I forced my gorge down and went on: “They had the oldest girl tied down, spread-eagled, and Dumbo, over there –” I gestured to indicate the thing tied up to the posts, who was being carefully massaged, caressed, teased, sucked, and rimmed into a state of frothing, incandescent sexual agony by Paul Royer and his Incredible All-Boy Orchestrated Anatomy. “That was working the girl over with his cock, fists, teeth, you name it, fucking her in every orifice – I mean, even her eyes, he’d already deliberately put one of them out that way and had fucked her in the orbit when the eye drained – while he was simultaneously beating and chewing her to death. “The worst thing, though, was what that bitch on the bed, there, that lovely, sweet-bodied little temptress, was doing to that six-year old girl, that poor little girl . . . “Oh, fuck it, I’ll tell you: this little pocket monster, here, was skinning the girl alive, in sections. After each section, she’d spray a thin layer of kerosene on the place she’d just skinned, leave it for a second so that most of it evaporated or was absorbed into the girl’s body and carried away, then touch it off with a Bic she’d liberated from somewhere. Then she’d laugh like a hyena and go on to the next section. She had that little girl a third skinned and burned, in random patches all over her body, when we busted in. “On the ride back here, the mother told us the details of what we hadn’t seen before we rode in – and the wounds on the child’s body (she died in transit) tallied. – On top of everything else, you see, in between skin-and-burn, that unspeakable slut on the bed, there, she was experimenting with various items of cutlery – shears, knives of all different sizes, a hoe-blade, a set of skewers she’d raided from the kitchen

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of the house, there, along with her Bic and some other stuff, to see what sort of artwork she could do on the child’s vagina, clit, and anus. When we autopsied the body back here, we found she’d excised the girl’s clitoris, cut long slits in the walls of her anus and colon, cut her uterus and vagina to shreds, popped her bladder through the front wall of her vagina with some of the skewers –” “Oh, gross!” Jill cried, grimacing as if she just smelled something utterly evil. “Geez’, Baron – and here I’d just had lunch!” Paul laughed – then stopped when he saw the look on Monty’s face, confirming what I’d just told said. “So,” I continued, before they could say anything else, “I thought it sure would be nice to give this bitch back a little of her own, now, and get my rocks off in the bargain, wouldn’t it? “– And if you want somebody to confirm what I just told you, why, just ask the gunslingers that rode out with me this afternoon! I’d never seen Gene Anson lose his breakfast over anything before – he nearly vomited himself into a hemorrhage after we got through dealing with . . . that. “Anyway, there are a few choice pre-versions I’ve never tried before. Why don’t I give you two a rilly good shew, folks, while I try them out on her? It isn’t as if I were going to do them to people . .” Jill smiled, a very unpleasant smile, like the look on the face of a female wolverine confronting something that had been just about to take a bite out of one of her kits. “Taffy Greely told me about the – what you-all caught those two doing out there. I’d be delighted to watch the show, ma’am!” she said in that lovely East-Texican drawl the matrix of whose rich melody contained so much room for implications and tacit suggestions. “You wouldn’t mind if I gave you some ideas on things to do with her, would you?” “Darlin’, you just go ahead and enjoy – I had to go down and sign the authorization for the autopsies on the bodies of the three kids and their daddy from that family you brought back with you,” Monty said. “I saw, Batrix. Plus half the gunslingers you went with couldn’t keep from lookin’ me up every couple of minutes to spew it all out all over again, and again, and again – Jesus love, that was bad! “But I do have one question . . .” “Oh?” “Darlin’, if that . . . thing on the bed over there did that, how the fuck can you bear to . . . to touch . . . her? Isn’t that a lot like rolling in carrion or something?” For once, he wasn’t wearing even a trace of his cocksure, smart-ass grin. In fact, he looked rather green around the gills, and his eyes had a hollow, haunted look like that I’d seen, captured in old, old b&w photos from U. S. Army archives, in the eyes of American G.I.s who’d helped liberate Belsen and Auschwitz at the end of the World War II. With a shock, I realized that the tips of his fingers were trembling. Well, why not? I told myself. True, life was hell for us all, most of the time, but I thought I’d gotten used to it, myself. – Until today, out there in the desert. Now, the very bones of my soul were shaking from what I’d witnessed earlier today – which was why I’d wanted this orgy in the first place, to drown my memories in sheer, unadulterated degeneracy, killing them and all their horrifying power with an all-out retaliatory strike of filthy dirty nasty get-down-andboogie reveling in carnal delights, a thing otherwise absolutely ridiculous at my age and in my position. So why shouldn’t Monty – or anyone else here, for that matter – be a little freaked out – or a lot – by the inferno we’d stumbled on out there today? “Darlin’, I’ve learned some terrible lessons in my long, painful fuckup of a life – one of the nastier ones being that body and soul aren’t necessarily part of each other,” I said. “The body is the Animal – born basically good, just like Kung Fu T’se says in his Analects, loving life, trying to do what Life asks of it. The soul and the spirit, now . . . Well, sometimes they’re Angels . . . and sometimes they are something I don’t even know how to describe. Devils. Pure evil. That – that thing on the bed over there, it doesn’t live in that body, it just sort of parks its luggage there, that’s all. I’d say it’s high time that that poor, lovely little body had a chance at real revenge on that unappreciative spirit that’s made such poor use of it, don’t you think?” “How will you do that, Bat’?” Monty asked me. For once, his pet nickname for me didn’t drive me into fits. In my soul’s eye, I suddenly saw my ancestor, Vlad Tsepes, looking right back at me, wearing the oddest smile: “Hm-hmmm!” – and I understood exactly why he’d done what legend said he had to the Turks and the parasitical boyars and the bandidos of his time and place, who, from all reports, were at the very least blood brothers to these two clots of filth we’d brought back with us today. “Why, I’ll make that spirit understand just how it’s sinned against the innocent Animal – by forcing it to experience what it put the Animals housing other spirits through . . . Wanna watch?”

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“Hey, Batrix – I’m for it!” crowed Paul, looking up from whatever fascinating sexual torture he was now visiting on El Dildo Grosso. The object of his frighteningly sophisticated attentions had turned a febrile, unwavering glare upon him, glittering summer-lightning eyes promising Paul Hell’s own sweet caresses in return should Hunko the Barbarian ever manage to get loose from those chains. Behind his gag, the monster groaned weirdly, the sound of a lovelorn demon. “Yeah, I’d dig it – how about you, Monty?” “Can’t hurt – an’ I might learn something useful. Go for it, darlin’!”

Chapter 8: Turn, Turn, Turn
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to turn away; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. What gain hath the worker for his toil? – Ecclesiastes 3: 1-9

Grinning, I turned and made my way over to my bed, where the bitch was laid out neatly for convenient dining, her cunt and anus on indecent display for us all, thanks to that pillow, her pert little breasts pointed straight up at the ceiling. God, I’d have killed for health, youth, and looks like that – and what had she done with it? Destroyed innocence, hope, body, mind, soul, and spirit, in ways so horrible I had no names at all for most of them, just bald clinical descriptions. I came up to the bed-stand beside the bed. On it was a small vial of Erzuli’s Oil mixed with real, honest-to-God Tabasco Sauce, the original brand. We’d managed to salvage a whole case of the stuff from a warehouse in Salinas which, for some reason, no one else had yet thought to plunder.* There were also an unusual variety of nipple-clamps, little cylinders designed to fit over the nipple lengthwise rather than clamp onto it sideways, their inner surfaces lined with velcro; sterile plastic specula salvaged from the basement of a pharmaceutical warehouse over near Pasadena;** a vial of salvaged Kama Sutra Oil; a packet of long, sharp pins with rhinestone-tipped heads; a brazier filled with a carefully arranged array of Kwik-Start™ charcoal briquettes, all ready for ignition; a tightly capped jar filled with denatured alcohol; a box of long wooden matches; several pieces of hardware, including pliers, knives, a poker, tongs, clamps, and a toasting fork; a plastic tube filled with a kilogram of Palm-Lite™ barbecue-starter – also courtesy of the Salinas salvage operation; a riding-crop; a cat-o’-nine tails, its leather thongs studded with hundreds of extremely sharp, ominously stained steel teeth; an honest-to-God rawhide mule-skinner’s whip; and a carefully folded, ominously long canvas sack. Light winked at me from the metal and glass surfaces of much of this array with demonically bright cheer.

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*Maybe that was because they’d all died around there, for hundreds of square miles in all directions, the result of the highly infectious, extremely virulent biowar plagues that had accidentally gotten loose when the Big One hit the Los Angeles Basin. Those plagues included some that had their origins in clandestine U. S. Army installations at UCLA and UCSD that “didn’t exist” – unfortunately, in spite of their official non-existence, these labs had produced all-too real and deadly artificial mega-bugs. No one had any natural immunity to most of this shit, and the vaccines against the plagues created at the same time the bugs themselves had been were gone with L. A. and a good chunk of Southern California as well, now. The plagues included beasties with such delicately poetic monickers as Mutated Black Leprosy, Creeping Non-Localized Cryptic Gangrene, the (what else?) classic Captain Tripps, and a host of others. Better living through chemistry! **That had been an especially arduous salvage operations, involving open warfare with gangs of bikers, random attacks by clotted bands of escapees from Camarillo State Mental Hospital intermixed with a wolf-pack of natural alpha leaders from Atascadero CDC Psychiatric Facility, a mass attack by a vast mob of mutated rats that swarmed up from the broken sewers below San Gabriel, and numerous other exceedingly interesting experiences.

I looked over this eclectically Discordian buffet with some care. Finally, I decided to start with the vial of Erzuli’s Oil-and-Tabasco Sauce. Holding it in one hand, I turned to the bed and its furious, gagged occupant, who was now spitting curses at me through her gag; from her expression, if we could have heard what she was trying to shriek at us, surely we would have been just horrified all unto death. Holding up the vial before her wide-open, electric-green eyes, I said to her, “You know what this is, my dear? It’s something that will give you a real kick! First, though, I’m going to get you ready . . .” I set the vial back down on the night-stand, then walked down to the foot of the bed, where I climbed up onto it and knelt between the girl’s gorgeous legs, which were held rigidly splayed out by the chains fastening her to the bed-posts. Carefully I inserted my forefinger into her cunt. She was dry as a badlands fossil. So, bending over, I inserted my tongue into her slit and began working it up and down her clit and over her vulva, occasionally teasing her labia or clit with my lips and tongue for a few seconds, then going back to licking her. Soon, in spite of her fury at me and the world in general, she was becoming increasingly well-lubricated, her own juices mingling with the copious amounts of saliva with which I was covering her cunt. It didn’t take long until, in spite of the chains that held her so rigidly tied down, she was beginning to buck and grind in response to my ministrations, as Leah had earlier, moans and gasps starting to replace the curses that still erupted like a bad hair day on Io behind her gag. So now I added another refinement: as I had done to Leah earlier in the evening, I began teasing the nipples of the girl’s exquisite breasts with one hand while I delicately caressed the flesh of her belly and inner thighs with the other. Soon the curses had ceased entirely, the moans and cries were coming through her gag almost undiminished, and her cunt was swampy with nectar and saliva. She was nearly ready, now, for the beginning of what I’d planned. I got off the bed, went over to the nightstand, and got both vials of oil, Kama Sutra and Erzuli’s-cum-essence-du-Inferno. Temporarily setting the vial of Erzuli’s Oil, still tightly capped, beside me on the sheet next to the pillow elevating the girl’s lower back, I sat down by her on the foot of the bed. Uncapping the vial of Kama Sutra oil, I poured a generous amount of it onto the cup of her navel, more into the hollow of her throat, still more in a splashing stream across her breasts and belly, and the rest into the palm of my cupped hand. Discarding the empty vial, I began to massage the girl all over, working the oil into every part of her body I could reach, paying special attention to her throat, breasts, navel, belly, cunt, anus, the cleft of her gorgeous ass, her wrists, the backs of her knees, and any other place that had a strong pulse. As I massaged her with the oil, it drew in the heat of my hands and began to radiate that heat into her flesh, setting every nerve in her body to ecstatic tingling. Soon she was writhing with lust and pleasure, straining against her bonds, trying to arch her back to raise herself to meet the hands that were giving her such bliss. I stopped when she was only seconds away from climaxing. Now I took up the other vial – the one filled with Erzuli’s Oil mixed with Louisiana’s finest incendiary condiment. Again, I poured little pools of it into the hollow of her throat, her navel, all over the body, the rest of it into my cupped hand. And I began to massage her with it in the same way I had with the Kama Sutra oil.

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Due to the massage I had just given her combined with the way I’d teased her cunt and nipples, her body was at a pitch of sensual sensitization so exquisite that she was ready to climax from a mere touch at the right place. Clearly she had no idea of what this massage was going to bring her, and was expecting only more and more of the same pleasure I’d been giving her before – so the stuff I was now rubbing into her most sensitive orifices and onto the most delicate flesh of her body must have felt like the first blooms of white phosphorus incendiaries igniting on naked skin. One second, she was moaning and writhing in sensual bliss and sexual ecstasy, completely open to any and every sensation that might come to her next – the next, she was a tetanic convulsion of agony, the strength of her spasms so great that she was close to breaking the boasts of her wrists and ankles against the manacles holding her to the bed. Real screams, hardly muffled at all, tore through her gag. Her eyes had gone huge, bugging so far out of their sockets in her shock, terror, and pain that I wouldn’t have been surprised to see them fall out onto her cheeks. Real screams tore right through her gag, hardly baffled by it at all. I sat back and watched her writhe with genuine satisfaction. Out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of Jill who, watching all of this with the avidity of a cat watching a flock of birds doing their acrobatics for the morning just overhead, had climbed out of Monty’s lap, come around the side of the chair, and leaned over the arm of the chair to take his engorged cock, which she was now eagerly sucking, into her mouth. Monty, on the other hand, reaching across Jill’s back, was fingering her anus and cunt in unbelievably intricate manipulations. Both of them were gasping and moaning like mating wolverines. I turned briefly to look at Paul. Standing next to the hunk, behind me, staring at me and the girl writhing on the bed, he was grinning fiendishly, making Ra-Ra-Raaah! noises and pumping his fists like the football fans who’d attended the season games at the colleges I’d gone to in my youth, nearly half a century ago in a long-dead, far better world. Loverboy, on the other hand, whom Paul had been driving crazy with frustrated lust, if anything seemed to be even more aroused by what I was doing to his supposed erstwhile girlfriend and accomplice than he had been by Paul’s impossibly talented teasing – dear God, that was actually a smile on the monster’s face, wasn’t it? And if he’d been hung like a titanothere before, he was hung like a fucking whale now, his cock so long and engorged with blood it looked as if it were about to explode in bloody catastrophe at any moment. The girl on the bed screamed and writhed for a long, long time. But eventually, as I had known it would, her agony was slowly transmuted into something else: an equally cruel ecstasy, arousing her as nothing I had done to her before had managed to accomplish. At that point, taking the nipple-clamps from the nearby night-stand, I slipped them onto her nipples, one at a time, carefully tightening the tiny screws that determined the diameter of their open barrels until the sensations the clamps brought about were mixtures of equal parts agony and ecstasy. Their short, cylindrical barrels, which so snugly encased her blood-engorged, exquisitely sensitized nipples, weren’t quite as long as the nipples themselves, the tips of which were still fully exposed – which was what I wanted. Now I began to work her over again with my tongue and hands, massaging her entire body with long, slow, teasing strokes, sucking and licking her cunt and her anus, fingering her, working her up to a pitch of erotic frenzy infinitely beyond anything I’d evoked from her before. Then, just before she could reach a climax, I pulled back. She writhed and glared impotently at me while I got off the bed and went back to the night-stand, to look over the goodies neatly arrayed there. I picked up the riding-crop – rejected it – the cat – naw, not that – finally settled on the rawhide whip. Carrying the whip, I took up a position about halfway between the foot of the bed and the pillars with their freight of hunk, Paul standing next to them beside his prey, grinning like a shark in anticipation of what was yet to come.

Chapter 9: O, Son of the Morning, How Thou Art Fallen!
Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place, that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it? It is changed like clay under the seal, and it is dyed like a garment. From the wicked their light is withheld,

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and their uplifted arm is broken. – Job 38 For most people, whips are something out of dominance-and-bondage porno, cheap, melodramatic symbols of power. But for a few of us, they aren’t symbols at all – because we’ve learned how to use them, to get out of them what they were made to do, as tools, as weapons. Someone who knows how to use a good rawhide whip or bullwhip can quite literally flay an animal alive with it – or visit pin-point nuclear horror on a single nerve. All depending on your skill and experience. As a kid in my teens, I spent one whole summer on a ranch in Colorado, practicing with one of the damned things after chores were all done and everybody else was off somewhere for fun ’n’ games. During one of the frequent solitary explorations of the ranch I made during free time, I’d found the thing up in a loft in the ranch’s main barn. The loft hadn’t been cleaned out since God had been a pup. Wondering what I might find up there, I made my up the one perilously rickety access ladder to the loft and began snooping around in it. I found the whip half-hidden behind and nearly covered by a pile of ancient, moldering hay in one corner of the loft by sheer accident, stumbling over it in the loft’s deep gloom, unbroken by nothing but dim afternoon sunlight filtering in through chinks in the roof, as I worked my way around in back of the hay, wondering what I’d find around the other side, if perhaps there was a secret panel there I could open and find – Well, there was no secret panel, just a knothole or two and a vast accumulation of dust from a long time past. But while trying to turn around to go back – the hay was piled solidly against the loft’s end wall, though it stood out somewhat from the rear wall, so there was no way I could get round it on the other side – I stepped on something long, thin, and hard which rolled underfoot, almost throwing me out of balance and onto the floor. Cursing a blue streak under my breath, just in case someone might otherwise hear me and land me in trouble for sneaking around in places I really had no business getting into, I reached down and pulled it out from under the sole of one Oxford. Lifting it up close to my eyes, so I could see what it was in the waning light that filtered into the tenebrous loft from the relentlessly westering afternoon sun, I found, to my astonishment and delight, that I was holding a bullwhip. Still young enough to possess the capacity for that adolescent wonder that drives adults mad because it has not yet been scoured away by endless repetitions of experience and the quotidian oppressions of spirit of the adult world, I held it in both hands and stared at it for awhile, thinking over possibilities. Should I keep it? If so, what if I got caught with it? What would happen to me? Then some part of myself I’d never even suspected I possessed before rose up and declared: Oh, why not keep it? You can always say you found it in the barn if somebody asks you – you don’t have to tell them when, or what part of the barn, stupid! And if they ask what you’re doing with it, tell them you found it lying on the floor, and were taking it over to the tack room so it wouldn’t get damaged or anything! And if you’re real careful, girl, nobody’ll know, anyway. So why not? No reason not – and on the other hand, maybe I had reason to keep it. I was a dorky, ugly, awkward girl, with no talents at all in either the physical or social realms. I had no real friends either on the ranch or elsewhere, fitting in socially anywhere about as well as a Mandelbröt Set in a 1 x 1 rectangular hole. So, for the sake of my badly eroded self-esteem, which had been suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune for my entire life without a repairman anywhere in sight all that time, I decided, yessir, I was gonna learn how to use a whip, for real, to do all those neat things with it that only Those In the Know Were Supposed to Be Able to Do. (Years later, a character in one of those old 2-D cinematic productions by Stephen Spielberg named Indiana Jones would inspire countless adolescents – all of them doubtless as painfully lonely and ill-graced as I had been in my teens – to try the same thing. But at the time I began learning how to use a whip, there was nobody around anywhere, particularly any females, God forbid!, who knew how to use one of the things in that deadly way of which, supposedly, experts at their use were masters. I had to set about learning all on my own, strictly by trial-and-error, with no one but myself for either teacher or cheering section. The idea for this dubious accomplishment was entirely sui generis . . . whatever that may say about Yrs Truly.) I sequestered the whip back in the loft, hiding it under a small wooden crate I found up there, where no one else would find it when I wasn’t using it. Whenever I had free time, I’d sneak away to the barn, get the whip, run out to one of the back pastures or into the woods that ran along the perimeter of the back half of

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the ranch, and there spend as much time as I dared practicing, practicing, practicing with it, at high noon and near sunset, in the infrequent summer rains as well as during sunny ones, every chance I got. To my vast surprise and joy, by summer’s end I was good enough with the whip to be able to take horse-tack off the barn wall with it at 15 feet and lay it on the ground exactly where I wanted it; take a fly out of the air with it (when, at least, I was able to spot the little bastard and note its position); shatter a softwood board with it. The thing that made my year for me – not to mention turning my life around and opening up a lot of doors that would otherwise have remained forever closed to me – however, was saving the life of Mister Jensen, the owner of the ranch, when he was attacked by his prize stud bull, which tried to run him down and gore him. The bull came upon him unexpectedly when, thinking it was still in the barn when in fact it was not – the idiot ranch-hand who was supposed to have put it in the barn the night before had forgotten to do so – Jensen had gone out into the pasture where it normally stayed during the day, looking for something he’d lost or mislaid somewhere around the ranch. I ended up blinding the man’s prize bull in the process of rescuing him from it, but he was so grateful for my intervention on his behalf that he didn’t give a red-hot revolving damn about the bull, just went and got his 12-gauge and put it out of its misery and distemper once and for all. Then he went on up to the house and, still in something of a state of shock, began making the phone-calls that ultimately liberated me for good from the series of hellish foster-homes that had been all I’d ever had for a home, and put me on the road that eventually culminated in my earning several graduate degrees in the biological and social sciences from UCLA, Cal Tech, and Stanford, as well as the research and teaching positions that followed which ultimately enabled me to establish and maintain Devil’s Keep. So I kept my practice up with the whip, and kept up with it, and kept up with it – and by God, by my last year as an undergrad at UCLA I could do incredible things with it: pull nails out of the wall with a flick of the whip from five or more yards away; disarm a maniac armed with a loaded AK-47 (the SWAT team that witnessed it didn’t believe it, but somebody got it with a camcorder, somehow, so it actually went on record for the City of Los Angeles for just what it was); nail a blow-fly on the rump of a roe deer – and never touch the deer. And by then, it was no trick at all for me to pick out one point on any solid object, and hit that – and nothing else. Which I now proceeded to do – the solid object in this case being the bitch chained to my bed. Craaack! She screamed behind her gag, convulsing again – I’d hit the tip of her left nipple, the lash barely grazing its surface, setting off a fiery crescendo of subcutaneous nervous reaction in its wake, almost as if by electromagnetic induction, or something like it. Craaack! The whip sang its supersonic challenge again, and she bucked and jerked and writhed, another scream tearing its way through her gag. It’d hit her other nipple, bang on. Craaack! – I nailed her clit, still peeking rosily out from between her labia, in spite of the way I’d just savaged her nipples and the tides of superadrenalized fear and horror surging through her mind and body. Craaack! – and her left earlobe. Craaack! – and her right earlobe. Craaack! – her belly. Craaack! – more precisely, the center of her exquisite navel. Craaack! – once more, her clit. Craaack! – her anus. . . . And so it went. I worked her over with that whip, nerve-end by outraged nerve-end, leaving no wounds, hardly even touching her flesh, doing what I did by hitting exactly those points on her body where her nerve-ends came to the surface, nowhere and nothing else, somehow sensing where those points were located with the eerily accurate anatomical awareness which I ordinarily develop only as a result of a long, ten-hour session or so of good sex. I guess the way I’d set her up for this, which was sex in everything but soul (and maybe even that; like everyone else ever born, I, too, have a streak of the Old Adam in me, and it’s quite possible that like was calling to like when I performed some of my finest examples of my thananterotic artwork on the bitch, though at the time I thought I was only doing it out of sheer, undiluted hate), did the same job for me as a long session of love-making normally does. No matter, I had that weird telepathy for just exactly where the pain lived in her body going for me, and I used it to call forth that pain again and again and again and again – Finally, when she was completely out of control, wracked by convulsions like a tetanus victim, tears of rage, fear, terror, hopeless horror, and exquisite agony flowing down her face in twin rivers, her vagina

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contracting and contracting again and again in mindless, purely neurological reflex reaction to the Hell I was wreaking on her, I desisted. Panting hoarsely from exertion and the effort of concentration it had taken, charged up on adrenaline like a stag in mating season, I flung the whip down on the floor and staggered over to the chair where Monty sat with Jill on the floor between his legs. Semen liberally covered his limp cock and legs. Jill didn’t look so much like the cat who’d gotten into the cream as she did the one who’d fallen into it head-first – still more semen daubed her breasts, lips, and hands, as well. Leaning against the chair, my legs shaky with reaction, I somehow managed something like a bow. “Anybody got any requests?” “Encore! Encore!” Paul cheered loudly. “Don’t let me interfere, darlin’,” Monty told me, a strange grin on his face. “You’re doin’ jes’ fine all by yourself!” “Hey, girl – what’re you doing to do with that stupid dildo?” laughed Jill. “You know how dumb that thing looks, sticking up out of your crotch like that?” “This is a request?” “Well . . . take it in the nature of incitement to riot,” she said demurely. “By God, darlin’, I think I will just do that!” Leah, who had come to at some point during the festivities, called out, “Fuck her a good one for me, Batrix!” Paul chimed in, “Yeah, ya Goddamn’ lesbo – let’s see what you can do with that thing!” Now grinning myself, I yelled at Paul, “You’ll turn green-eyed with envy, little man! Watch how Mama does it!”

Chapter 10: Timor mortis conturbat me
. . . it was clear she couldn’t go on! The door was opened and the wind appeared, The candles blew and then disappeared, The curtains flew and then he appeared, Said, “Don’t be afraid, Come on Mary,” And she had no fear And she ran to him And they started to fly . . . She had taken his hand . . . “Come on, Mary; Don’t fear the Reaper!” – Blue Öyster Cult A little steadier on my legs, now, I went back to the bed and knelt between the girl’s legs. She had become much quieter, her convulsions having apparently taken some of the starch out of her for awhile. I leaned down and began eating her out – and, once again, her clit began to stiffen. Ah-hah! I began working her up to another erotic frenzy, beginning slowly, letting her recover some of her strength before the tides of sweet fire swept over her once more. It took longer this time than it had before, but unbelievably, finally she was once again moaning in lust and need. Was she crazy? She had to know by now that however great the pleasure of the moment I might give her, something horrible was sure to follow. – But no, she didn’t seem to live beyond the bare present – she was a creature of purest whim and sensation, save for ingrained reflexes, overwhelmingly strong drives, or programmed, automatic behaviors. The moment was all – nothing else existed for her. Finally, I had her at a pinnacle of lust so high and sharp that, inserting my finger into her anus, I could feel her vagina on the other side of the muscular wall of tissues that separated the two passages rippling with wave after titanic wave of convulsions, as if she were about to give birth. As I sat up again, my thighs tensing, Paul called out from behind me, “Batrix – hold it! You’re forgetting the piece de resistance!” “Hunh?”

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“Before you start doin’ the horizontal boogie with her, go look in the bathroom – remember what you asked me to do? I did it while you and Leah were playing huggy-face-friggie-clit over there in the chair. It’s surely ready by now. I’ve snuck in to check on it every chance I’ve had – enough to make sure everything’s copacetic. So go for it!” “Oh – hey, yeah, thanks! I’ll go get it now.” “There’re two, Bat’. Bring me one, too, willya?” “That’s ‘Baron Bat’,’ weisenheimer – and you could say ‘please,’ you know. – But good thinking. Yeah, let’s do that thing.” I got off the bed and went through the dressing-room into the bathroom. There on the countertop by the basin was a much larger brazier than the one I’d put by the bed. The latter was really only there for psychological effect, anyway – wasted effort on that chick, though I had a hunch our other guest, her erstwhile partner in crime, the Incredible Gorgeous Pile of Shit, dug it. Unlike her, he still had some of his mind left, and probably appreciated all those thoughtful, extra little touches. There was a deep bed of red-hot coals glowing in the brazier on the counter-top. Tucked neatly into the coals were two steel fireplace-style pokers, both glowing incandescent crimson where they merged into the coals. Grasping them by their non-conducting wooden handles, I carried them back to the bedroom. From the doorway, I called, sotto voce, “Pssst – hey, Paul, c’mere.” He left off whatever nasty, lovely thing he was doing to El Hombre Hungo and came into the doorway. “Oh, jeez,” he said, thoughtfully looking over the red-hot pokers, a truly diabolical grin on his satyr’s face, brimstone light in his golden goat eyes. “How can we keep the two of them from seeing these until it’s too late for either of them to know what’s about to hit ’em? That awful surprise is the best part, you know . . .” “Oh, dear, and here I so much wanted to try out the pliers and a little creative moxabustion on her,” I sighed. “Well, hey, why can’t you? You could do that and try these out.” “I was just joking!” “I’m not. I got an idea. Go get Jill and Leah. – Will these things cool off too much in the meantime, do you think, Baron?” “Oh, yah, sure, they’ll be freezing-cold in no time flat. . . .Like about the temperature of the surface of Mercury at high noon in mid-summer, in a whole, what, how long are you thinking of?” “Take maybe twenty minutes, maybe thirty. Depends upon how long it takes to get the nice hot fire going in that little charcoal heater you got by the bed, there, and get the hors d’oeuvres warmed up so you can have some fun with ’em before we get to the main course.” “Shit, Paul, in twenty minutes, hell, in an hour they wouldn’t cool down any, even if we took them out of the coals – they’re damned near white-hot now!” “Well, then, there you are. – Tell you what, you go bring Leah and Jill in here and I’ll go tend to something . . .” “Ten-four, good buddy.” I put the pokers back in the brazier and went out to round up accomplices, while he got something out of the bathroom, then followed me out. I brought the two women back into the bathroom with me. “What’s up, Batrix?” asked Jill. “Paul’s up to something. He’ll be right – ah.” “Okay, it’s set up, now. Soon as the coals are hot enough, you can have your fun.” “Fun with what?” “You’ll see. Okay, Jill, Leah, you can tend the fires in here . . .” After a short, whispered conversation with them, Paul and I went back into the bedroom, while the girls took over watching the pokers, to make really sure they’d stay toasty-warm until needed. “Okay, babe, let’s go look at what I got ready in the meantime . . .” So saying, Paul, beckoning to me to follow, went back out into the bedroom again, and over to the stand by my bed. “Dig it!” he said, waving grandly at the little number he had set up on the stand, like the head chef at a Statler-Hilton in those dear, dead days of my long-gone youth showing off his masterpiece to preferred clients. The little charcoal brazier on the bed-stand was now filled with fiery coals topped with a blazing crown of yellow and blue flames. Heating in the coals were the long, long, rhinestone-tipped pins that had lain there on the stand in their fancy paper jacket earlier. So was a pair of steel blunt-nosed pliers. Next to the brazier was an asbestos glove, perfect for handling the pliers, and more long pins, still in the original

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envelope. Another, smaller pair of pliers, needle-nosed ones, lay on the stand on the other side of the brazier. I gave a low whistle of appreciation. The girl on the bed couldn’t quite see what was up – her head wouldn’t turn that far, and the pillows blocked her gaze on that side, anyway – but El Hungo, hanging from his chains on the pillars, stared at the layout with glittering eyes, whether in alarm or erotic interest it was impossible to say. Monty, still buck-naked, happily taking his ease in his chair, asked, “What’s up?” “Oh – Batrix wants a chance to practice some art-work, I thought I’d help . . .” Paul drawled, tongue jammed firmly in cheek. “Hmmm . . . maybe I can learn a few things if I watch . . . Mind, honey?” “Not at all, darlin’. – Thanks, Paul. I think I have a few ideas as to how to use these . . .” “Thought you would. Okay, you hoe your row o’ corn, an’ I’ll hoe mine –” “‘An I’ll be in Scotland a-fore ya!’” I finished loudly and off-key. “Hey, there’s a new one!” “New what?” “Torture. ‘Death of a Thousand Discords.’” “Feh! – Okay, let’s get to it . . .” Paul now returned to his client, and I turned to mine. Once more, we began working our respective marks up to perfect pitches of ecstatic sexual agony. Soon, the girl’s womb was once more contracting hard against the finger I inserted into her anus, the latter likewise convulsing in pleasure as I toyed with its delicate inner lining while I sucked her clit. Paul, on the other hand, was now kneeling on the floor in front of ol’ Goodbuddy, there, licking, sucking, and blowing on his mark’s swollen, cruelly cinctured tool, which was a deep blue-black from its heavy freight of longtrapped blood. “You beautiful whore – how’d you like a real thrill?” I hissed at the writhing girl whose sexual frenzy was once more reaching nearly unbearable heights. Sitting up and reaching carefully across the girl’s heaving body, looking as if butter wouldn’t melt in my mouth, I picked up the needle-nosed pliers lying beside the little brazier and used it to pick one of the pins lying in the brazier’s coals by its rhinestone-capped tip. Its tip glowed white. As I lowered myself back on my haunches, holding the pin carefully high in the air, away from my body, it briefly traveled across the girl’s line-of-sight, so that she could clearly see it for what it was. Her eyes went wide in sudden shock and horror as it came to her just what I planned to do – – about one nanosecond too late. Using a slow, deliberate touch, to make sure the pin went exactly where I wanted it to, holding the labia of her cunt wide with the other hand, I drove the tip of the needle right into the tip of her clit, straight down through her clit into its base. Her scream came right through her gag. She might as well not have been wearing it. It sounded like the sweetest music in the world to me, after what I’d found her up to this afternoon. With interest, I watched her straining against her bonds – I distinctly heard the snap of bone in her leg as her agonized struggles drove her against them with unbelievable strength. Finally, she settled back, shivering in her pain, weak with reaction. Now I picked up a lighter on the stand, and flicking on its flame, directed it against the head of the pin – Again I heard the sound of snapping bone. My, but she was a frisky thing! Getting tired of working that pin, I got another from the brazier, handling it with the needle-nosed pliers. This one I inserted deep in her left nipple. I ended up having to add chains to her bindings – she almost tore free at that point. With Monty’s help, I got the bitch tied down good and tight, then went back to work. Soon I had her body dotted with a small but exquisite little rock-garden of sky-blue, wine-red, seagreen, and tourmaline rhinestones, each capping a long pin that ran deep into her body at some unbearably tender point – two or three in her clit, now, one each per nipple, several inserted along the delicate inner lining of her vagina, three penetrating her bladder via her vaginal wall, more stuck in her belly, her breasts, the soles of her feet. Now I devoted myself to treating her with a thoroughgoing session of moxabustion (Damn! Wish I’d thought to have somebody make up some cones of hash ‘n’ hemp fibers for the herb! Wasn’t really moxabustion with moxa – or anyway, something like it – now, was it?), using the lighter to add heat to the pins, which had already come out of the brazier white-hot, which conducted it right down into the deep-seated nerve-beds of her dermis and the muscle below. I never kept at any one pin too long – didn’t want to have her pass out with shock, y’know . . .

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Pretty soon, I ran out of pins. Now I put on the asbestos gloves, picked up the sun-hot blunt-nosed pliers, and started in on her with those, paying particular attention to the tender flesh on the inside of her thighs, the inside of her elbows, her ear-lobes, her nipples, already nicely decorated with a rhinestone apiece . . . I hadn’t realized it, so intent was I on my work, but Paul and Monty had their gazes riveted on me and the girl as if mesmerized while I did my work and she screamed, yowled, shrieked, bucked, heaved, and convulsed in torment so vast it almost seemed to transcend pain and become ecstasy. Her eyes, though they became glassier and glassier as I went on with my work, never closed completely. I did my work well – never once did she quite lose consciousness. “Oh, you lovely, gorgeous little slut – I’d love to fuck you to death!” I purred at her, kneeling over her like some made beast of prey – the signal I’d prearranged with Leah, Jill, and Paul. Scant seconds later, someone came up behind me, gently drew one of my arms back, and carefully slipped the wooden handle of one of the pokers into my hand. And though at the time I was looking straight at the girl on the bed, all my attention riveted completely on her so that I wouldn’t alert her to what I was now about to do, and was therefore unable to see him, I knew that at the same instant, Paul was likewise receiving the other poker from one of our assistants. Whoever had handed me my poker stood between it and the dude chained up to the pillars, hiding it from him, while the one who had brought Paul his poker was doing the same, hiding the sight of it from the girl, however likely it might have been that, chained flat to the bed as she was, she could have seen it. Still somehow keeping my balance in spite of my back-thrust arm, probably because whoever was behind me was steadying my arm with an outstretched hand, I suddenly howled, “You Hellspawn bitch – I’ve wanted to do this to you ever since I first saw you!” And, thrusting my pelvis forward, I slid the dildo into her. With one long, sensuous, gliding thrust, I drove it so deeply into her body that my crotch was flush against her cunt, the tip of the eight inch long dildo far up into her womb, with no regard for the pins that lined the walls of her vagina or, sideways to its front wall, pierced her bladder. Rocking and swiveling my hips as best I could, I began to thrust in and out of her, my own excitement building higher and higher as, driven by the agony wracking her body, she bucked and strained beneath me, more and more aroused every moment by the feel and sight of that lithe, nude, lovely body writhing beneath mine in a weird, inverted ecstasy of pain and horror. We were well on the way to a simultaneous orgasm, mine of pleasure, hers of agony-driven mindless neurological reflex when, seizing the moment with iron determination, I whipped my arm around from behind my back and, not stopping to think about what I was doing, or even how I was going about it, letting my instincts do the work for me, only having to raise my ass a little higher and spread my legs just a bit wider, I rammed that fucking cherry-red poker as far as I could into her anus, until its wooden handle ran up against her buttocks and could go no farther. Beside her convulsions now, her previous efforts were no better than the languorous symbolism of a Noh play! She might as well not have been wearing a gag at all, for all the effect the one she wore had on the decibel-level of the non-stop, throat-slashing screams that erupted from her now with enough force to pulverize stone. Behind me, I heard the music of the angels: As we had decided beforehand, Paul had pulled the cock-ring off the hunk’s cock maybe a minute ago, waiting until the bastard was just about to come off into his mouth (sweet relief after all that eternity of ingeniously sadistic teasing, the monster must have been thinking as he rose to his climax. Just as the guy was finally about to pop his rocks, Paul rammed his poker up that motherfucker’s ass, the same way I had just used mine to impale his girlfriend. I kept right on fucking the writhing thing beneath me – no reason not to. When the poker finally burned through her perineal wall, into her vagina, the only thing it would encounter there would be the dildo, which might stink as it burnt but couldn’t feel a thing. In the meantime, the luscious thrusting of her hips against mine was a better counterfeit of good sex than even the real thing could have been, even though it was just a reflex reaction to the agony of being burned alive from the bowels outward, with no erotic drive behind it whatsoever. My own growing arousal was, in consequence, rapidly becoming a thermonuclear firestorm of utterly mindless lust, appalling and delicious, its savagely compulsive, driving fury blotting everything out of my mind but its writhing, screaming object and my own horrible, carrionsweet, fever-hot hunger. I continued thrusting and thrusting, in and out, driving as deep into her as I could, hard and harder, squeezing her bloody, seared, violated breasts with both hands, crushing their delicate, intricate structures of connective tissue, pinching the nipples so savagely that what was still left of their

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sweet, cherry-pink skin and the flesh beneath it shredded, tore away, now reaching down, covering her mouth with mine, sucking her tongue into my mouth, biting on it, clenching my jaws – The blood from her severed tongue filled my mouth, and I spat out its mangled tip without missing a beat of my pounding thrusts in and out of her convulsing body. Evilly sweet fires were building along the ridge of my clit, in my womb, my breasts, the palms of my hands, my throat, my – With a triumphant scream at least as loud as any which my little darling, now dying under me, had given in her death-agonies, I finally came, my womb clenching like Conan’s fist within me, my clit throbbing unbearably. Falling backward, I caught myself with one shaking hand, and then was hit with the intermingled odors of charring flesh, bone, feces, hair, and rubber, and flash-boiling urine. It was the loveliest perfume I’d ever smelled in my entire life. Like a succubus in the throes of the last stages of rabies, the bitch was foaming at nose and mouth, bright crimson, bloody froth pouring in flood-tides down both jaws, pooling on the pillow under her head, slicking her hair, neck, even her shoulders and collarbones with bloody, frothy phlegm. I looked back at Paul and his victim. Streams of blood flowed in heavy streams from the big mother’s ears, nose, eyes, and mouth. He hung limp as a soaked rag in his chains, looking very, very dead – almost certainly from a burst cerebral artery, as a result of the extremes of agony/ecstasy to which Paul had treated him tonight. Weakly, I got to my feet, tried to take a step, stumbled and collapsed on the floor. The next thing I knew, Monty had caught me up in his great, strong, reassuring embrace. “Batrix – baby, are you all right?” Sinking down into a bottomless black pool of inseparably commingled exhaustion, horror, satiated lust, self-hatred, and satisfied rage for justice, justice of some kind, any kind in this blighted, dying world of ours, I managed to croak out, “We got the mothers, didn’t we?” I thought I heard him say tenderly, “We sure did, Batrix, we sure did – you done good, darlin’,” but I’m not sure. It may have been part of one of the dreams I had during the 24 solid hours of utterly exhausted sleep that followed.

Chapter 11: Summer’s Last Will and Testament
Abide with me! Fast falls the eventide, The darkness deepens – Lord, with me abide! When other helpers Fail, and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, Oh, abide with me! Swift to its close Ebbs out life’s little day; Earth’s joys grow dim, Its glories pass away; Change and decay In all around I see; O Thou, Who changest not, Abide with me! I need Thy presence Ev’ry passing hour; What but Thy grace Can foil the Tempter’s pow’r? Who, like Thyself, My guide and stay can be? Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, Abide with me!

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– “Abide With Me,” by Henry F. Lyte (arranged for musical accompaniment by William H. Monk), circa 1860 (?)

“Hey, honey, wake up – time to rise and shine!” “What –” Shakily propping myself up on an elbow that threatened to give way at any moment, I sat up, looking around me in stupefied, groggy confusion. “Whaffuck? This ain’t my room!” “No, you unmitigated over-age J.D., it’s mine!” Monty told me in disgust. “What the – what’m I doing here, for Chrissakes? And where the fuck are my clothes!?” “You’re here because I carried you here after our little zoo on wheels last night, that’s why. – And there’s no way you’re getting up now, dammit! You sit right back down, there – you’re staying right here for awhile, and rest.” “Ohmigod – the staff meeting! – And oh, God, the girl, her boyfriend – I remember . . . Uh, what’re you gonna do with the bodies? Display them as an example, I hope.” “Shit, no – not if we don’t want all our neighbors to band together to make an example of us, darlin’! That was just a mite too exemplary, I think. No, they’re being re-cycled – probably the only honest service they’ll ever have given in their misbegotten, misspent young lives. “As for the staff meeting, Bill chaired it. He’s your second-in-command, after all – hah! I like that! Vice Vice Leader!” he snickered. Then sobering, he continued, “Anyway, it followed as a matter of course that he’d head up the meeting if you weren’t there. – As for why you weren’t there, we all felt you had to have the rest. You’ve been driving yourself into the ground for months – hell, for years, trying to do the work of twenty people, killing yourself on the installment plan! Genug ist genug!. I’m not letting my wife do this to herself any more!” “Your – what?” I roared. Only it came out more like a squeak – I was very nearly running on Empty at this point. I started to fall back down, caught myself only with Monty’s help, managed to sit up again, learning against him, my head reeling. “Oh, and by the way, darling, try not to use expressions like ‘my God’ around Rabbi Golomb, will you? It just gets him going.” “Oh, and “Bob” doesn’t?” “Of course not, darling – he’s a SubGenius in good standing, just like the rest of us nuts. Now –” “‘Wife’! – shit, Monty, in the second place, I’m half a shiksa, and the wrong half, yet, and in the first place, I’m nearly twice your ag- –” “Shaddap.” He put the palm of one hand over my mouth, effective gagging me. “Listen, do not tell me you won’t marry me. I just won’t hear it. Neither will anybody else. Hell, you’ve been in love with me for years, you dumb broad – admit it!” I started to snap out a retort – then closed my mouth again and thought about it. I lay back and, studying the ceiling, told him, “You know, you’re right. – Okay, why not? If you don’t mind that I can’t bear you a child, then fine – I have been in love with your for years, you perverted nutcase, you. So let’s get married. What the fuck – I’ve done everything else, why not that?” Dead silence. I looked at him. His jaw hung open. “What – no arguments? A miracle!” he finally managed. “Yeah, that’s right, no arguments. . . . Don’t tell me you’re gonna chicken out of it, are you?” “I – no. No way! Strike while the – well, anyway, neither of us are getting any younger, are we? Bill’s gonna need help running this meshugginer mutant termitarium if anything happens to you, and it might as well be me, and as for kids . . . shit, darling, everybody under 15 in this dump is my kid. The Goddamn’ future is my kid, what’s left of it, just like it’s always been your kid. . . .I can’t have any children either, honey. Did I ever tell you about the time I got into this stuff, it was like Agent Orange, only worse, and – oh, shit, who gives a red-hot revolving fuck, anyway?” he snarled, inexpressible weariness drawing his long face into a mask of stone. “Why – why, you’re in love with me, aren’t you?” “Yeah, I am. – Can’t think why, though, you dear, incorrigible reprobate, you,” he said tenderly, carefully brushing a wisp of iron-gray hair out of my face. Then he leaned over and kissed me, slowly and passionately.

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Finally, he pulled back – I wouldn’t have, it was heavenly – and said, “There’s just one, teensy little mutated fruit-fly in this particular batch of toxic ointment.” “What’s that?” “I never did get to lay you last night.” “My God, it was like something out of Auschwitz up there, you’re still hot for me after what I did to those two, poor –” “‘Poor’ my ass! Those two monsters – my darling, who do you think it was brought that poker over to you? Leah couldn’t go through with it at the last moment, so I brought that damned thing over to you. And when you came after that, when you were fucking that sweet little heap of industrial effluent, there, so did I – two more times. And I still had it together enough afterward to get a work-crew in there to clean the place up, chase Paul off to bed as well as the girls (I promised the little shit he’d be first in line to fuck the bride, too – not to mention doin’ the groom, too – so you’d better be prepared to pay up, or he’s gonna be in such a snit at both of us!), get you undressed and packed off to bed here in my apartment, get that staffmeeting under weigh properly with Bill chairing it, all that good-shit routine stuff that requires some kind of together to carry off – and I was that together. “So if you’re some kind of monster, you sure as hell aren’t alone, darlin’. Maybe only monsters of some kind can survive in this brave new fuckin’ world we’ve all inherited, long as they don’t get a jones for chewin’ up the next generation. “And maybe . . . maybe without some kind of monster in us to balance us out, the angel in our souls wouldn’t be worth a baby’s breath in a toxic tornado, anyway. Who needs a world full of pious, psalmspouting, candy-assed milksops, anyway! I dunno . . . but I do know one thing.” “What?” “I love you, my darling.” So saying he took me in his arms, and proceeded to wrap up the last bit of unfinished business on our agenda. His great, lovely, sweet cock slipped into me like an arrow from the quiver of St. Teresa’s angel, my body rising to meet his thrusts with a ravenous, decade-long hunger I’d never dared let myself realize I’d had for him, until now. Crying out wildly, borne up and up and out into the abysses of Deep Space and Deep Time by the bliss he gave me, for the first time in my life I . . . melted, my ego atomizing, blowing away on the winds of Heaven, leaving only my Self, inextricably commingled with the archangel of my heart, father, brother, lover, coming home at last to the home I’d never had before in all my life. And afterward, for the first time in twenty years, held safe in the Magick Circle of his long, strong, cherishing arms, I wept. Whether it was out of joy or grief or whatever I have no idea, but the water of my tears purified my soul and spirit and heart like a river in spate scouring out the stagnant ponds in its path like the Archangel Michael cleaning the fallen angels out of heaven. And then, more deeply at peace than I had been for far, far too long, I fell asleep against his breast, finally at one with my hideous, gorgeous, brave new world. When the night has come And the land is dark And the moon Is the only light we’ll see, No, I won’t be afraid, No I won’t be afraid Just as long as you stand by me. Chorus: Darling, stand by me. Won’t you stand by me. If you’re in need, Won’t you stand by me. And if the sky You look upon Should crumble and fall, And the mountains

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Should fall to the sea, No, I won’t be afraid, No I won’t shed a tear, Just as long as you stand by me. – Ben E. King, Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber, “Stand by Me”

And he [Virgil] to me: “You imagine you are still on the other side of the center where I grasped the shaggy flank of the Great Worm of Evil which bores through the world – you were while I climbed down, but when I turned myself about, you passed the point to which all gravities are drawn. You are under the other hemisphere where you stand; the sky above us is the half opposed to that which canopies the great dry land. Under the mid-point of that other sky the Man who was born sinless and who lived beyond all blemish, came to suffer and die. You have your feet upon a little sphere Which forms the other face of the Judecca. There it is evening when it is morning here. And this gross Fiend and Image of all Evil who made a stairway for us with his hide is pinched and prisoned in the ice-pack still On this side he plunged down from heaven’s height, and the land that spread here once hid in the sea and fled North to our hemisphere for fright; and it may be that moved by that same fear, the one peak that still rises on this side fled upward leaving this great cavern here. Down there, beginning at the further bound of Beelzebub’s dim tomb, there is a space not known by sight, but only by the sound of a little stream descending through the hollow it has eroded from the massive stone in its endlessly intwining lazy flow.” My Guide and I crossed over and began to mount that little known and lightless road to ascend into the shining world again.

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He first, I second, without thought of rest we climbed the dark until we reached the point where a round opening brought in sight the blest and beauteous shining of the Heavenly cars. And we walked out once more beneath the Stars. Dante Alighieri, Inferno XXXIV:106-146.*

* John Ciardi, the Inferno: Dante’s Immortal Drama of a Journey Through Hell. A New Translation by John Ciardi, op. cit., pp. 286-287.

END

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