Pazuzu - Manifestation Matthew Sawyer Sixth Revision The first book in the Pazuzu Trilogy.

Pazuzu – Manifestation is the first book in the trilogy. Pazuzu – Emergence is the second book. Pazuzu – Abeyance is the final book in the trilogy. Published by Matthew Sawyer at Smashwords Copyright 2011 Matthew Sawyer Discover other titles by Matthew Sawyer at “Pazuzu – Manifestation” is a fictional story. All characters, names and locations are the creations of Matthew Sawyer. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is unintentional and coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing form from the copyright owner. Please contact the author for permission to make copies of any part of this work. Preface Outrage, because Captain Kanen had become the victim of extortion, or the lack of amphetamine caused the priest's fat hands to quiver. The UnChosen caste called the drug “Ape;” the street name for the stuff that typically turned users into anxious, howling gorillas. Such consequence could never happen to a priest, the upper echelon of the Chosen caste. All the pomp and dignity granted to Kanen’s position guarded against that base lunacy. The unquiet phases of the chemically grown monkey won't drive Josiah Kanen to madness. The Church had promoted the middle-aged priest to the rank of captain because of his genetically endowed discipline. Captain Josiah Kanen was, after all, born a Chosen and granted authority over the Mortal God. Even so, the responsibility of rank crushed Kanen under stones. The pressure the Church applied to Captain Kanen had driven him to use the damned drug in the first place. The problem with Ape wasn't the use of the drug, but the lack of using any once addicted. Sobrietysharpened nails now pressed into Kanen's chest and head. Being clean took away the magic of knowing exactly what to do in any situation, and making sense of other people. Nobody listened to Kanen when he went without Ape, they just babbled and interrupted as he spoke. Sobriety compromised Kanen's ability to control his god and the forsaken UnChosen that dwelt within his squalid quarter by the Wall. Reverend Arnett, whom Kanen had assigned the custodianship of the Saint Erasmus parish, had recently been murdered in its church. The crime was unheard within the walled city of Capital, the Promised Land. The Wall protected the city from the ravages of heathen terrorists. No one passed through the Wall without the approval of the Church or its military. The Chosen exercised exclusive entrance to Capital The UnChosen permitted to stay behind the Wall lived in forsaken parishes like Saint Erasmus - a suitable place for spineless degenerates. Still, the status of the murdered victim raised the severity of the crime to an act of terrorism. The Church and its military's censors

debated if news of the crime should be made public, but had never come to a decision. One thing was certain, the presence of pagan tablets on the altar at Saint Erasmus will never be reported to the public. The Church had immediately confiscated and destroyed the sacrilegious objects. Whatever the dead Reverend Arnett had planned to do with them was better left unknown. The blasphemous controversy went to death with him. Reverend Arnett had brought the awful fate upon himself. The phone rang in the midst of Kanen’s dealing with his lack of Ape, and the murder of a priest too curious with an archaic and forbidden religion. Reverend Benedict Ishkott called, again. The Aper was a non-commissioned ass from the city of Gomorrah. Captain Kanen had just hung up on the irreverent extortionist. “Why do you keep calling here?” Kanen shouted into the phone inside his private, casual office at the Church. “Stop calling me.” “Captain - Kanen,” Reverend Ishkott addressed with the aggravated squall of an addict. “I know you don't know me from Adam, but you have something I want.” “A demotion?” threatened Kanen. “Why, in the name of the Mortal God, do you dare speak to me with such lack of respect?” The two priests shared an addiction to Ape, with a difference. Ape caused Reverend Ishkott to lose respect for superior officers, sending him out-of-the-way to Gomorrah. The drug gave Ishkott arrogant hopes and ambitions – whereas Kanen had already gladly reached his own pinnacle. “Listen, I know you're related to Judah Batheirre, the crime-lord in this city,” Ishkott said, uncovering his hand. Hopefully, Ishkott didn't know how complicated the relationship between Captain Kanen and Judah Batheirre had become. The crime-lord used the captain as his connection to the Church, although Judah's patience had grown thin with Josiah, resulting in Ape becoming difficult to find in Capital and impossible to obtain. “That is a sad coincidence,” Kanen claimed. “I know you keep the military away from Gomorrah,” Ishkott stated. “And I know Batheirre is your Ape connection.” “I know you are a dead man, Ishkott!” Kanen shouted over the phone. “How dare you call me with your crazy accusations!” “Listen!” Ishkott shouted back. “Military patrols will come to this city whether you like it or not. Ilu Drystani is in these parts of the Shur. Colonel Taclale himself is coming here.” Colonel Taclale's trip to Gomorrah presented a bigger problem. Captain Kanen reported to the colonel, as would Ishkott when the bishop arrived at Gomorrah. Ishkott, the tattling Aper, may tell their superior officer anything. “What do you want?” Kanen capitulated. “An assignment away from Gomorrah and heathens,” Ishkott bartered. “This city will be the next to fall to terrorists. Drystani is here!” “Let me think,” Kanen replied. The solution came to him with a staggered breath. The situation seemed to work itself out. A custodian position had recently opened at Saint Erasmus and a priest materialized who would shut his mouth if invited into Capital. Josiah didn't think ahead when he offered the position to Ishkott, as the wretched blackmailer might one day twist Josiah's arm again. Yet the treacherous possibility failed to stop Josiah from asking if Reverend Ishkott would bring Ape into Capital. “No, of course not,” declined Ishkott with a strained snort. The request to bring drugs to his promotion sounded as if his supervisor plotted to trap him. Captain Kanen could not be trusted with the truth. “That's unfortunate,” answered Kanen before hanging up. Josiah looked forward to securing another batch of Ape for himself. 1 The Wilderness This morning, the colors of the sky possessed weight. At the faraway horizon, they were luminous gases - layers of yellow, orange and pink, pressed together by the nothingness of the previous night. A wide, blue bruise was caught between dark and light. The rising sun pushed

warm colors upward, burning them away, and bled sore purple from the sky. Watching the sunrise was like looking down a well, until the sun rose overhead and the desert lit up. The shirtless, stumbling man fell into morning. He knew where he was, but could not remember who he might be. His own shoulders bore down on the man with a foreign weight he wanted to throw off. The extra fleshy padding around his waist only added to the burden. The gain had crept upon the smoldering man with stealth, over years of denial and moments of complacent acceptance. Growing fat seemed a natural process of age. The extra weight had introduced itself like a hobo trespassing the rails, a sneaky hanger-on who refused to be shaken off. The tired posture and swollen, blistered gut of the man made him a forlorn caricature. His arms swung like pendulums knocked from their paths. The broiled devil lumbered across a desolate, alien world — the only living thing exiled to Hell. Desperate thirst came without warning. The dirt caking his chest and back flaked off with each heavy step. His torso resembled an antique table dusted with careless brush strokes. The man appeared overall red and covered with angry pustules. He felt his insides bake and imagined his already bulging belly will bloat until the skin burst and juices bubbled out. The very last of his fluids would evaporate even before dripping to the ground. Such was not the death the empty man desired. He would not die, sizzling in his own fluids. Instead, he preferred to dry up, disintegrate, become part of the dust - red dust. “You have certainly wandered enough.” A clear voice spoke into his left ear. It sounded like his own, but with finer clarity, absent of the muffled hesitation he struggled to overcome in ordinary conversation. This voice sounded rehearsed and confident, far from his own verbal fumbling. His voice, like a nasally monologue recorded on an answering machine, seemed an amputation, separate from the concept he believed of himself; whatever that could be now. The better voice resonated as if echoed in an empty room. Just as abrupt, the voice vanished and a second of stillness filled the void. Leaded footfalls on packed dirt and a muffled ring in his head dispelled the silence; much like listening to a radio station when the announcer missed his or her timing - until a burst of sound jolted the dead air. Yet the voice was not accompanied with the static heard on a radio. The voice, and his plod across the dry waste, remained exclusive and opposite each other. The wandering man did not bother to look around, because the sporadic company of the invisible voice was his only companion. It had joined him earlier that day, or maybe the day before. Time passed as fleeting as the voice. The sun had traveled only a quarter of its path through the sky when the day became unbearably hot and bright. The previous night had been sweltering. The man had stumbled through the darkness, unsure when one day ended and another began. The endless expanse of dirt and suspended days disoriented him. He needed to walk, find his way or die. The desert had never appeared so large from the road. He would have easily spotted scant landmarks if he rode in a car or truck. Regardless, the man thought he could recover his bearings. His sense of direction had always been amazing, or so he believed. Though he could not recall why he found himself in the middle of nowhere, he suspected he had a destination when the dangerous trek began. The “when” was now long ago, hidden beneath hours and unending dunes of sand. If he had brought any water, it was now gone. He did not know what supplies he had packed for this journey, as he now lacked a pack and even a shirt. All he apparently owned were a pair of scuffed laced boots and crusted khaki pants with empty pockets. “Hey, wouldn’t a tall glass of cool water be great?” The voice, barely noticeable beneath hot winds, teased like some subtle siren. Whirlpools had transformed to sandstorms. The thought of a gulp of water lit in the mind of the man, but he deliberately quashed it; none was to be found here and he would not torture himself. Entertaining pleasant fantasies seemed more conducive to survival. The wanderer dreamed he found that siren and lay down with her. She took this poor, baked fiend to her dune. Her bare skin felt as cool as the ocean in which she was birthed; her eyes, green as kelp, competed for admiration against flirting lips that glistened with the sheen of pearls. Rescued and transformed, he tired of the colorless desert and traveled back to her sea. He would never be thirsty again, never care to recall how or why he discovered himself alone in the desert. Finding the bliss of love and the sea was the answer, and she was the reason for his journey.

The wind . Ben dropped back to his hands and knees. but he stood on his feet. A mighty hand polished away the waves and ripples. His name would be forgotten. He planted a palm flat in the dirt as he went into a runner’s three-point stance. He saw the orange cauldron of the sun over his toes. and felt as if choked. As he attempted to stand.” Ben realized he was disoriented and hallucinating. Ben agreed there would be no running today. not unlike an ocean wave slowly rolling over the shore then retreating. He was already lost and dead. “Benedict. The ringing in his head receded after a few minutes. Ben also heard far off rumbling. Stumbling on his feet was just a pretense. Ben responded to the reproach in the voice and rolled onto his right. Still. to creep upon him unawares. The high-pitched sound was constant. but disguised itself to imitate an internal conversation. He grunted and stood up. A fluke of gravity held him upright. He should put a little more effort into survival. The ringing reminded him he was awake and painfully alive. Ben determined he would be the last living thing ever to cross this particular piece of desolation. “Ben. but the familiar sound of civilization again evaded him. This land might also be called Ben. The rumble seemed to come from a road. misplaced specks relocated from one part of the desert to another. He stopped sweating. All the exertion became even harder. His shoulders remained hunched as he lay face down. Ben dug shallow furrows in the sand with the toes of his boots. Where this reserve of energy came from. If he had any gorge. Each step caught him from falling on his face again. The voice was clearly not his own.Dehydration had set in a long time ago. The Mortal God was gone. but still part of the whole. because the voice reminded him. He would rather have his bones found in a cool lake or inside an air-conditioned car. Ben flipped himself over. With his ear pressed against the ground. Ben avoided focus on the noise entirely. He recalled it now. He raised his other shaking leg and pushed himself backwards. he was merely a piece of desert. The sun now hung directly overhead. His name was Ben. but he was disappointed. His breath became the hot breeze. He heard his own thoughts and shallow breaths. He felt stuck to the ground. Ben considered standing. The fossil of this creature would not be found here in the Shur desert. He lay in a fetal position a few more minutes. but he lacked will to worry. Ben lay still and listened to the ringing in the back of his head. but still. the starter and the other runners had gone home. Ben spent a feeble hour pulling his knees to his chest. much like setting an egg on its end during the vernal equinox. which was not a good sign. Now where is that road? Behind him lay a temporary path carved by his shuffle. a marionette thrown into a clumsy pirouette by an amateur puppeteer. unlike the voice when it decided to speak and demanded to be heard. The temperature was much too hot to compete. He needed leverage to lift his leg from the ground. He grunted with the exertion.” Ben jerked leftward with so much violence. like a white whirlpool in a smooth blue ocean. The particles will eventually settle back down and rejoin the suffering man. the voice called. although the man already suspected. if ever really known. dreaming. Apparently. Ben leaned forward and let momentum carry him. seemed unfathomable. Standing almost took the last of his strength. After a few minutes of posing motionless. The momentum pulled Ben off his feet. unless he fell back to the ground or dried up alone. as if a part of it. Ben continued listening. while flashes of the sea above taunted him. He closed his eyes and pictured rippling waves drift up from his body. He fell forward as if his strings were cut. with hard breaths that rose in crescendo and then climaxed when he pushed himself to his knees. Ben wobbled uncontrolled. With a huff and small cloud of dust. He hoped the difficult part passed. as if waiting for a starting gun to fire. “Ben. he twisted completely around. not God’s hand. Ben panted slowly. His head swam and he felt nauseous. Heat exhaustion was near.” it called him. with his feet spread wide. you’re wasting the day. but did not demand attention. The voice told him. beneath an afternoon sun. This time the voice shut out every thought. Fear of the voice scolding him for such fanciful ideas brought him back to the reality that he lay in the desert. the race called due to extreme weather. He exhaled a gust that singed the inside of his gaped mouth. it would have bubbled up his throat. Ben opened his eyes. like the dust stirred by his steps.

then choked with amusement. The car sat further behind the truck. The belief he possessed an acute internal sense of direction could have been merely delusional thinking. “Help me! No. The hoarse voice came from inside. The folds in the metal retained the color thickest and brightest. its bald tires molded to the pavement. The approach of the two men obscured whoever had actually issued the warning. heathens! Do you know who I am? Stay away.” Ben did not raise his face from his discovery. the one with the bump on his . their hands raised before them. Another voice came from the direction of the distressed shouts. until Ben grew dimly aware a black line stretched in front of him. They wore coarse denim work shirts and pants. “Who are you?” demanded a nervous new voice. “Now. Another man sat in a white Bourdon sedan. Ben stumbled and nearly fell. then laughed aloud. if that were possible in the daytime heat. When he realized the road lay flat instead of vertical. The yellow coat of paint looked like it had been added after the apparent accident. Two men cautiously shuffled toward Ben. The shrill voice sounded again. Ben swore the quip was a thought hidden in his head. The men were accustomed to the heat and glare and took no precaution.had already begun sandblasting it away. Ben stopped walking. and all the worse for wear. given he now heard voices. shadowy shapes. such as hats. Sand drifted over the surface in sheets. The chuckle began as a cough. he would get there quickly. He walked parallel to a road. maybe brothers. but his feet still swung forward and faster now. It looked dirty. Other noises also filled the air. saw seas in the sky and possessed generally grandiose ideas about himself. A couple years had passed since that particular model appeared on the market. The truck stood parked in the middle of the road. on the shoulder of the road. already pitted by blown sand. as that leg became heavier than the right.” the voice said. man. damn you!” Ben raised his eyes. The engine ticked as it cooled. With the sun directly overhead. a compass point seemed impossible to find. stay way from me! All of you! Away. Ben did not recall where or even when he became lost. Their deeply tanned and unshaven faces testified work and life outside had carved undeserved age into them. Chances were that he had confused his direction long ago. he’s gonna die too?” This voice sounded shrill and scared. a popular car for Church fleets.” Ben thought. One man came from the rear of an old truck . “Oh. as if freshly coated. “Rationalization and losing one’s mind shouldn’t go together. They bared their necks with open collars. He snorted. but not wiry. haphazardly painted pastel yellow. thin. even after he noted the sun always rose in the east. Crust had nearly glued the lids shut. No matter how Ben tried to step unto the line. but in good condition. His misconception seemed a perfectly rational diagnosis. The man from the sedan. he leaned to the left. Labored calls barked from a hoarse throat. The sidestep-dance continued another twenty or thirty meters. then cracked his harsh voice with a noise he had not made since the age of thirteen. Ben veered to his left. Scratches scarred the crude brushwork. The mirrors and back window were missing and the bed of the truck had crumpled toward the cab. The two men looked alike. it dropped and dragged. The line reached from horizon to horizon and an invisible glass wall rose from it. “You have certainly wandered around long enough. The thin black line magically stretched into a thick ribbon of cracked asphalt. His right foot crossed his left. Only the right eye opened enough to see more than white light and blocked. This voice could not be more real than the first. A road! The voice became more than a hallucination and hailed him from the direction he followed. The only reply came from the hoarse throat. The smell of their musky sweat reached Ben before the two unrecognized men. The sound of the wind had not deadened when the new voice asked his identity. Wherever he was going. and now painfully tore away. The one with cuffed pant legs sported a small bump in the middle of his forehead. deliriously. as if stepping over the carcass of an animal that stewed in the sun beyond recognition. The mismatched boots and cuffed pant legs on one of the men dispelled the impression they wore military uniforms. The sound made him laugh harder. He deliberately continued walking to his left. Ben steered himself onto the asphalt.really just a moving assemblage of scrapped parts. here we are.

The man with the bump emphatically squeezed Ben’s arm. Dil?” The shrill noise disappeared from the voice of the man with the bump. The sick man was a priest. He sucked short. The meager spittle fell across his chin in long clear threads. than let you spiteful heathens cut my throat. His other hand gripped the stunted collar of his white shirt. “You’re him. within the blessed shade of the sedan. He ventured to say something. The man had a herald of gray hair. born by these strangers. “Shut up.” the other man ordered.” the priest demanded. Ben peered through the partially open door.won’t even let us touch him. At the sound of the latch. “There can’t even be any blood left in him. The priest scowled.” “Sure. Up close. speaking about Ben. He won’t let us help him . His skin felt scalded where the men touched him. Ben watched the panting man grow calm. temporarily. “He’s heavy for being all dried up. The outburst caused him to gasp and wince in pain. but his lips thinner. spoke. More pain gripped him. The trip to the sedan was short.” Hen’s voice warbled. He made a desperate lunge for the lock. An unseen weight immediately pressed each breath back out. pulling it from his neck. and consequently one of the Mortal God's Chosen. His head became a weight he could no longer bear. The two men eased Ben onto the passenger seat.” “I'd rather die out here.which accounted for his threats and recalcitrance. Ben staggered toward them as they approached. he was a better man for the absence. huh?” the man with the rolled pant cuffs asked Ben as they walked around to the passenger side of the Bourdon. The hoarse yelling started again as the three men approached. but only by a small degree. His lips curled back over short white nubs of teeth. His voice stayed low and conspiratorial. At his age. “Give me back my keys. He saw a lap clad in black slacks on the reclined seat.” He had fallen against the driver’s side door and now hung from the open vehicle. Anyway. When they neared the driver’s side. “Take him around to the other side. Their hands wrapped around his arms. Dil and the one with the bump carried Ben around the front of the Bourdon to the passenger side. “Sure. Dil already swung the door wide open. you know. huh. Through the glass and semi-circles of grime.head. He buried his right hand into his left armpit. by myself. “Damn each of you. It lolled as if tethered by a heavy invisible chain jerked from side to side by the sadistic puppeteer. We were going to help. the priest stirred from his brief respite. “Tall…glass…water.” Ben fell forward into the pair.” “Get him to the car. The lack of rank and his presence in the desert were connected. Wrinkles curved over his nose and below his eyes as he looked closer at Ben. we found him like this.” Dil directed his smaller twin. Only the seat belt saved the priest from spilling out entirely. Panting came from within. His mouth was larger than that of the man with the bump. “Get away. He did not respond to either as Dil reached for the door handle. Ben felt lighter. the attempt came too late. but could not lift himself from his seat. The priest obviously did not have a rank because no insignia appeared pinned to the short upright collar of his white shirt. “Hey. “He’s having a heart attack. The priest's hands returned to his chest. I mean it. Still. The windshield was covered in sand.” the man spat. because he had been badly burned by the sun.” Dil warned with toothed sharpness. pawing his neck. shallow draws of air through his mouth. except where wiper fluid had turned the dirt to bluish mud. A pink elbow rested on a rotund gut that made Ben feel less concerned about his own. people expected he would have gained some achievement in the Church. Yeah. Ben saw the other man had narrower eyes. Ben hissed in pain. born of the elite caste . The man he called Dil did not reply. Three words crackled like smoldering leaves. lay sprawled in the sedan. Only heathens wandered the wastes of this desert. heathens! I will command the Mortal God down upon you all!” A pale man. . Hen. The immediate threat had dissipated. man” the thin-lipped man replied. which rubber wiper blades had pushed aside and left to cake. You’re not doing all right. That is what people believed in Capital and other cities where the Chosen lived. Both the question and command floated past Ben like a conversation drifting on the wind from far away. not much older than Ben. The man closed his eyes and rested his head against the window at his side.

but he had no strength or presence to do more than suck the tiny portions as they were offered. We believe in the Mortal God. “You learned some truth today. The brown leather upholstery burned like a griddle on Ben’s bare injured back. became worse.” The sound of the air conditioner wavered and then quit abrupt. He has a suitcase . It ran down the interior of the slanted windshield in short rivulets and evaporated before any pooled. to the middle console on the dashboard. “I think he’s dead. The glare made Hen squint as he put idle hands on his hips. her touch was the only sensation that did not burn. now carefully. Dil soon returned and handed him a clear plastic bottle of warm water. Ben choked. Dil rummaged through the crooks of the folded bed and Hen shut his mouth with a clack of teeth. but Ben did not move. His voice shook again. The air conditioning burst forth with a roar. “You’re filling up again. Hen fumbled. The water was gone . “You look about the same size as the priest. before disappearing around the back of the sedan. Suddenly. She straddled Ben’s lap and pressed her cool. He slowly surrendered to exhaustion and would soon follow her into secret fathoms.” it said. Shelter from the direct glare of the sun was worth the pain. Hen gave him several more gulps. “You know.” he exhaled and grew rigid as his mouth fell open. Hen held the bottle at the bottom and carelessly dumped the contents into Ben’s open mouth. The stream reached for Ben like a caress. The air from the vents instantly cooled the interior of the car. knowing Ben could not answer. smiling through slightly parted. as well as the space just outside the open doors.Mercifully. the voice added another word.” the priest denied. Ben drank his siren a little at a time. just not so fast. “Don’t touch me when I’m dead. “Hey!” Hen exclaimed. gleaming as white as the sun above. Her hair drifted into his face as she leaned forward. Hen gave Ben another sip of water. night fell early.” Hen said. He grimaced and looked over at the truck. “We didn’t kill him. the voice returned and all other sounds vanished.” The coughing and sputtering continued a few seconds more.” “What happened to your clothes?” Hen wondered aloud. Terrorist!” The priest emphasized the last point with another dry spat. Dil let Hen lift Ben’s feet inside.the only important news he cared about. Hen’s rationing of the water taunted Ben. as firmly as the priest had sunk into his own. only slightly quenched. When she kissed his open mouth. Her golden hair floated about her face as if underwater. Right?” Ben did not hear him. back the way they had come. The priest added a long and low “…oooooooo…” trailed by a longer. rattling exhalation. . The priest looked away as he softly spoke.” “Liar. You’re going to remember that later. if any intelligible comment followed. “I condemn you . The siren’s hands raised goose flesh as she stroked his face and shoulders. “We’re UnChosen. The touch of her skin made him forget pain. “Give it to him. “Just a little. but he endured. before roaring back solid. but the burned wanderer was too weak to protest. The siren had finally arrived. You can have more.” Dil said. Within the pause. bare breasts against him. The sound of the air conditioner covered whatever the priest said next.” Ben disregarded the cryptic statements.” Hen stepped out of the car and straightened up. The siren drifted away and he still thirsted. “You were empty. Ben remained unaware of the dead man next to him. Hen reached over Ben. . shining lips. The water streamed down his dirt-crusted chin and heat-radiating chest. “You're going to peel the skin from my living skull. Hen’s shirt felt like sandpaper dragged over Ben’s bare torso.” Hen guessed. Her smile. “Transformed. Exhaustion planted him in his seat. We need to keep your revelation in mind. The water Hen gave him sprayed against the dash. When the scorched stranger looked like he could handle the fluid. lest she drown him. just the right place to store something for later use. was the only thing Ben clearly saw beneath her hovering yellow tresses. The thin-lipped man passed in front of the car. cold air flowed into Ben. The cool caress filled his lungs with unbearable frost.

Dil carried a small gas canister in his right hand. so there was never a cool respite. or they would be stopped and harassed by the same military. and the landscape and everything in it slowly baked. Dil hoped the car was abandoned. Just as the priest passed on. Light passed through the canister. They both loved the interaction. he hoped to find something to scavenge. A quest to the city where the Mortal God made his dwelling must be lucky. trying to protect his older brother. Even more so. especially at the seams. A dreamless sleep claimed him completely.” Hen stretched his neck as he peered into the back seat. Hen. Summer was the wrong season to cross the Shur. The object appeared a small key ring adorned with a charm shaped like an elongated “X. Ben remained conscious long enough to watch Dil return. making it appear to glow from within. The sands oozed hoarded heat through its pores throughout the night. The encampment outside the Cap would probably be their final destination. they could reach the encampment the following sundown. The lack of cash wouldn’t matter. known as the Cap by outsiders. he recited the dogma that claimed Capital was where the Mortal God once lived with the Chosen. Dil expected to drive until the fuel burned away or the old truck overheated and the engine permanently seized. 2 Samaritans “Come on. Both brothers knew the trip from Gomorrah to Capital took a whole day. Getting past the Wall was an entirely different problem. if the brothers reached the Cap. Dil passed something to Hen.” Dil shouted. Dil spotted the priest slumped in the driver’s seat. only with his little brother. When the Cortras brothers got out of their battered. they had no means or purpose to get into the city. He sounded eager to scavenge the vehicle. by three years. Peeved impatience was his first display of real emotion since the Cortras brothers had spotted the Bourdon at the road’s shoulder.” Dil ordered Hen. Hen was too excitable. Hen often overstepped his bounds. Heathens lived in the waste. Nobody stopped in the Shur. because the days stretched too long. Dil liked when Hen talked like that. there was no choice . Hen always remained more hopeful than his older brother. One silver key clearly belonged to the sedan. Religion was a little too emotional for Dil’s taste. Hen. although he would never let his little brother know the truth. There were moments when Dil could relax. endlessly tried to impress Dil. so did Hen’s fear. but strangely enough. “And don’t get it stuck or you’ll dig it outta the sand yourself!” **** Dil was the older of the two Cortras brothers. His younger brother. especially fuel. but they had to try. so Dil remained burdened to stay level-headed and stoic. The Cortras brothers took their chances when they decided to cross the Shur desert into Capital. The black spout looked gnawed. They stopped to investigate. yellow pickup truck. empty waste of the Shur. They lacked enough gas or money to make the trip. Ben closed his eyes. They only had each other. a shared emblem of the Chosen and UnChosen faiths. Hen’s assumption of both roles of older and younger siblings grew frustrating for Dil. Relaxation consisted of bossing Hen around and generally giving him a hard time. As far as Dil was concerned. If they started early and drove westward through the night. That was many years ago.back here. or castes. and truthfully no great loss. Their mother and her rotation of substitute stepfathers had never provided a childhood worth mentioning.they needed to leave. The sad reality was that patrols would probably find them broken down far from their destination.” The shape was actually a cross. When their trip began. as there was no place to fill the tank along the way through the flat. the Promised Land. They were as close as any family either had ever known. as he accomplished neither very well. They then would be sent back to Gomorrah or escorted to the encampment outside the Cap and its Wall. Driving as fast as they could with the . “Get it off the road. since being thrown out of their home as teenage delinquents. Besides. The red plastic had faded to pink. He paused and automatically assumed the man was dead. both were born to the UnChosen caste. and the effort was always half-cocked.

Dil and Hen had recently arrived in the city of Gomorrah. he would never be seen again. Hen drove the truck to an empty lot. The witnesses would have run too. it was a miracle the place had not burned to the ground already. unbidden. When this desperate man came banging on doors after dark. Dil gathered all the money he could by yelling threats in alleys and smashing back windows. and was carried home unconscious and bleeding. Hen had also brought along a couple liters of yellow house paint he had found discarded on a corner along the way to the lot. none of which he intended of ever repaying. as the truck had always been crumpled. Hen saw Batheirre's convertible race up behind them. In the beginning.if he could. Dil collected debts from strangers and made a few of his own. to escape and take his rattled brother with him. In the end. As always. Dil and Hen fled. The game was a matter of self-preservation. chasing the man away was often easier and safer than giving him anything that could be spared – which usually amounted to nothing anyway. The broken window had occurred during the accident which ultimately drove the brothers into the desert. They needed to flee Gomorrah before word spread. In the absence of the Church or its appointees. The head of the Batheirre family reveled in delusional righteousness of himself and the countless members of his family. The young Batheirre was plainly at fault. True to the nature of the UnChosen caste. Hen reasoned the truck was fine. Despite the sparse cover of skeletal branches and chaparral. went unrewarded. if only day labor. the accident got the engine started again because Hen popped the clutch as the truck rolled. Honest work was still available. local crime lords assumed the down was the only way they were going to stay in any moderation of comfort. Once most of the glass was gone. Hen balanced on the crumpled folds of the truck bed. instinct was Hen’s counsel. but blame would not make a difference. short. Hen drew a curious audience. he opened the paint using the long stem of a broken screwdriver with a . His attempts to stomp the buckles into their old shapes. Before their flight across an inhospitable domain. whether Dil was caught or got away. Hen recognized the driver and was very much aware of the vehicle’s owner. he might avoid being shanghaied into the heathen’s holy war.handled broom he had brought with him. if they were involved and not just convenient bystanders. by himself. An idea struck him when he spotted the paint. because they were able to drive away from the accident. The crash was followed by an aftermath filled with threat to life and limb. The victim’s uncle put a bounty on the Cortras brothers. people tried to chase him away. in labs hidden inside garages and crawlspace basements. the back window of their truck was missing. In either case. In fact. Hen decided. too fast and unaware. Dil had instructed Hen to look over the smashed truck. With frequent explosions. the glass chunks sparkled like thick chunks of ice as they clinked to the ground. Without options. Dil wouldn’t have thought twice about lying either. If a man or boy did not attract attention. Plenty of witnesses saw the young man barrel his uncle’s prized convertible into the stalled blue truck. The UnChosen were alone to administer to their spiritual needs and police themselves. Meanwhile. a big city seemed the best place to earn some money. In the setting sun. which was also self-preservation. The lenders knew their loans were futile. The faster this marked man vanished. The brothers planned to leave before dawn and the vehicle had to be ready. every window and doorway facing the lot had an open view. They had very recently lost the glass on a rare occasion when Dil allowed Hen to drive. and fix anything that needed repair . Stealthy gawkers peeked through slightly parted drapes and cracked doors. frail trees along the way. the better. as no real skill or resources were present for exploitation. and maybe even save a little. His older brother flew against the dash without injury. quickly. The Batheirre family had won that mantle in Gomorrah and ran the trade in Ape. Anyway. Hen swept out the cubes of glass from the truck bed with a ragged. and remained secreted away from the streets at night. So when his nephew rear-ended the Cortras brothers. no one in Gomorrah would hesitate to tell a story other than the truth they witnessed. All Hen could do was brace himself for the impact. The Church of the Chosen did not have an interest in the area. parting dead bushes and short. Before his head had jerked forward in the collision and snapped off the rear view mirror. The city had since disintegrated into a haven for amphetamine production and served as a heathen induction outpost. After dropping Dil off at their squat. Dil wished fire had consumed Gomorrah long before the brothers found themselves in the city. because most people had already heard the news. just citizens eking out existence.

The rush of the wind through the cab and the thrum of the engine made the broadcast impossible to hear. Hen laughed aloud anyway. Hen sighed in exasperation at his crude camouflage.” Hen sighed. His back felt prickly and his shirt stuck to the vinyl seat. It is assumed he retreated into the desert outside Gomorrah. Once the city was out of sight and the sun rose behind them. You can sleep some more. those two stations were the only choices available: one was reserved for the Church and the other was military news and propaganda. His brother smiled. a flash appeared far up the road. “There goes our air conditioning. soaked with sweat. The truck slowed. they wouldn't stop if it could be helped. He backed the truck out of the lot along the path of squashed scrub. That was blood money and only a loan. Go ahead. it was time to trade places. feed in a copy of censored propaganda and get a mechanical voice to match the message. like every other female announcer. He is wanted for heresy.” “We could really use that money. but undisclosed. the head and the arm. The paint went on fast with thick. as did the wind whipping through the cab. It would be paid back by the flesh of anyone stupid enough to succumb to the temptation. This was just the kind of half-ass effort that made Dil angry. Hen got out and ran around the back of the truck as Dil slid over. It was a shame only a couple of stations were broadcasting. He couldn’t wait to see his brother’s face. But then. There is a substantial.” Dil turned down the radio as he squinted into the distance. The leader has been tentatively identified as Ilu Drystani. A woman’s voice announced events from the other night. All of the radio announcers could have easily been replaced with a machine that rearranged audio clips. Hen added the empty paint cans and broom to the clutter of junk discarded in the dry grass. It was definitely a car and off the road. “Slow down. they slept in their truck until they found work and money. He had been tortured and murdered. but he was too fatigued to figure out even the obvious. “No. Hen dipped the broom into the paint and brushed it across the molded metal of the truck. Their new plan entailed getting a little sleep before starting the trip. He grew so tired that he had no choice but to let Hen drive again. Hen listened to the news. Dil reached across and turned up the volume. his appearance would be the third sighting in the area this month. Both broadcast twenty-four hours a day. Let’s check it out. He half-expected the reward would actually be handed to him. He instantly fixed his eyes on the spot where he had glimpsed the bright reflection. “… Military patrols from four desert sectors joined to conduct the operation. The desert made radio reception excellent. Compared to the strung-out homeless. rendezvousing at a train yard where they once made a temporary home. If Drystani was at the raid. The only music that ever played was carefully crafted non-rhythmic chants. broad and textured strokes and the truck was soon covered. . It is suspected a high-ranking leader in the heathen terrorist network was present. because the other station would make his older brother mad. and crimes against the Chosen people. The brothers met again just after midnight. the brothers lived in luxury. Dil did not answer. Before Dil crafted an appropriate put-down.” Dil replied. Dil turned the driving over to Hen. usually recordings. Hen creased his brow as he took a quick glance at his brother. The missing scout was located. Patrols have been alerted and a search operation has been ordered. Months ago. Hen listened for the radio as it softly played noise. camping beneath sheet metal overhangs.” Hen offered merrily. Dil was vaguely aware something was different with the color of the vehicle. maybe a car. “You see something?” “Yeah. flattened when Hen arrived. News was just as generic. if he had anything useful to offer. Dil dozed off after sufficiently scolding his younger brother for grinding gears. Now that they were safe.missing handle. but they both were restless. They were the same entity. Her voice sounded artificial. Military forces did not suffer casualties. huh?” Hen said wistful. but could not be accounted for. The day was going to be terribly hot. reward for information leading to his arrest or proof of death. murder. scratching the wet paint and leaving a trail of pastel twigs and branches. Fourteen heathen fighters were killed. Dil soon suddenly woke. “I’m fine.” Dil ordered. The Cortras brothers left Gomorrah before dawn with the clothes on their backs and whatever had been left in the truck. Enough daylight remained to allow Hen an assessment his work. Dil never tolerated anyone who preached to him.

“They haven’t found us. Hen was right. He felt he should extend some kind of help. Dil looked into the distance. His brother’s jaw finally dropped. The brothers then stalked the still figure. The sound and motion brought Dil back to his senses. from side to side.” “What am I going to do?” Hen pleaded. sticky pavement. uncertain. His heart was succumbing to the drugs. but that was Hen.” Dil stepped onto the road. but lost that too. “I think that’s him. Friendly introductions were obviously out-of-the-question. his face wrenched with disbelief. If he stood in one place long enough. “I think that’s Drystani. but Hen had made an attempt.” Dil stared at the apparition. even if there was anything you could do. so they drew closer with caution. Dil had four fillings and a missing back tooth. “He won’t let you. from previous experience with drug addicts and the clergy. Hen followed his brother. “How did he get up here?” He considered the thought further. “What?” Hen finally asked. “What in the name of the Mortal God have you done to my truck?” Hen had waited all morning in anticipation of this moment. suddenly appearing on the opposite side of the road. they spotted a bloated body slumped deep in the seat on the driver’s side. hovering over the priest’s mouth. The door was ajar. but quickly forgot the vain task. Dil did a double take. Evidence suggested that speed. The apparition tottered to its left as the priest yelled at Hen again. Judging by the black clothes.” Dil replied. The brothers coasted past a white Bourdon sedan.” Dil opened the door further to discover the inside the automobile was just as hot as standing under the sun outside. His brother repeated the motion. “I don’t think so. The engine clanked and quit a few seconds after he pulled the keys from the ignition. The priest resurrected at that moment. The priest cursed Hen and howled. As he called out to the stranger. He screamed and kicked himself upright. Hen handed the keyring to his brother. Hen may have said something aloud. “Let’s take a look. the heat would eventually work its way through the leather soles of his second-hand boots. “Who?” cried the priest. He thought he heard himself yell in surprise. A bitter-sweet chemical smell wafted from the skin of the unconscious man. who are you?” Hen asked the dying man. He had seen this sort of masochistic death before. the sedan looked abandoned. Hen stopped the truck in the middle of the road. had killed him. “I’m still gonna take the gas. The door swung against the girth of the priest. “Nothing. The younger Cortras had tried to calm the priest. The priest continued screaming with his arms wrapped around his chest. Hen whipped around. Dil?” Hen whispered to no one but himself. Hen raised his arms in surrender and dropped them to his sides with a thump. confirming that the three men were completely alone. He rushed over to Dil while the priest continued his tirade. From their vantage point. “You stay with him.“It wasn’t working anyway. of the narcotic kind. Dil yanked his head out of the car. sewn together with the skin of some gruesome ripe fruit. Dil headed back to the truck. He hooted the laugh he had saved for the occasion. startled Dil. “What is it.” Dil quipped. “Hey. tangling himself in the seat belt. Dil stooped forward. Both Dil and this new figure remained staked to their posts. have they?” “Not yet.” As the brothers neared the sedan.” Dil pointed at the groaning priest. Out of habit. preventing the door from latching shut. The Ape had probably come straight from Gomorrah. A red apparition. The figure looked like a chubby scarecrow. The priest would not live long.” Hen confided to Dil. the man was a priest.” Hen timidly shuffled toward the dying priest. Still listening. skipping around the side of the truck as if he were barefoot on the hot. They couldn’t let the poor man suffer. Hen was familiar with the landscape. Dil deftly snatched the keys from the man’s lap.” Dil thought about the suspicion for a moment. A loud ring numbed Dil’s left ear. Hen . The older Cortras thought he had been careful to guarantee their privacy. The horizon was far away and empty. “You think he’s dead? I think he’s a priest. “Heathens! Get away from me!” The brothers stood paralyzed.

Shut that door and give me a hand. The sedan was not theirs and won't be. “Think about it. There was little to claim. He crawled out and slammed the trunk shut. Having a corpse to work with. The priest was dead. “We’re not taking it? Come on. so the priest would stay with the car. The whole scenario required careful thought. Dil would not have necessarily noticed it. He’s probably got orders . holding his face back. Dil assumed his little brother vented stress with the constant racket. the same new color as the truck. featureless desert. and this car. he could enjoy the air conditioning a little longer. The sedan had to be removed from sight before taking the gas. Fewer opinions made the situation less complicated. but there would be no protest from either man. A hose. He returned briefly to hand Hen a bottle of water he had fetched from the truck and then purposefully approached the trunk of the sedan. Straight out. Dil searched through the junk in the crumpled bed of his truck. to siphon the gas tank could not be found. Patrols will look for him. overstuffed rag doll. After a while. Dil leaned all the way into the trunk to retrieve the canister. The smell of Aped people was bearable. He did the majority of his thinking while Hen yammered. The luxury of cold air wasn’t one he counted on but now added it to his list of expectations.some place he’s gotta be. but Dil was deep in concentration. A priest alone. “Take it into the desert. As the strap snapped back. “Tall…glass…water…” The broken words crackled in the dry throat of the stranger. It was empty. Hen held his breath while drawing closer to unbuckle the seat belt. The man collapsed into the arms of the brothers and they carried him to the sedan. The muscles in the neck of his older brother contracted. He lay nearly flat before he managed to right the can with his fingertips and grasp its handle. but the sight made Hen shiver. The cross on the key chain flashed in the light. out here in the middle of summer. A beaten plastic gas canister had rolled onto its side against the back seat. it snagged Hen’s arm and trapped his hand against the priest’s slimy forehead. He pretended to sulk on his walk back to the driver’s side. or tube of sorts. He shook his head and reconsidered the situation. The dead man looked like an over-sized. The dead man was snared by the belt as the clothe strap crawled across the body of the corpse. Hen. dulled by hours of traveling.” Hen capped the empty plastic bottle from which he rationed water to the stranger while Dil held the keys out to his brother. instead of a drug-addled priest. His small chin disappeared into the wrinkles at his neck. Dil calculated that if he and his brother took the car far enough off the road. even to a dying priest and living. He untangled the priest’s head from the belt. Now that he shut the cool breeze from the air conditioner inside. an impossible scenario in a flat. Hen talked mostly to himself. for good or ill. anyway. made no sense not just to get Aped on speed. Hen now had to touch the priest again. there may be some change of luck to be seized. His fingers had become pleasantly numb. Dil agreed that the request was reasonable. but the priest had also soiled himself when he died. Regardless. unless he had an assignment somewhere like Capital. If the car had not appeared directly in their path. but Dil put an end to Hen’s questions before they continued.” Dil sounded logical. Hen began to ask the stranger what both brothers suspected. “Hen. as the emergency road kit was missing most of its essentials. If this was Drystani. Dil left Hen to watch over the priest and stranger as the older Cortras attended to his original plan. ignoring Hen’s gibberish became as natural as farting. which is what Dil had expected. He took another breath and stretched forward. toting the gas canister. it might escape bleary eyes. He went back to the passenger side of the sedan. Cooling him down became their top priority. filled him with morbid relief. Tipping one's hand was unwise. Hen pulled the driver’s door open and hunched over the dead man.continued babbling. until you see me waving. Hen realized how much he enjoyed the rare comfort. As a concession. but Dil did not worry. The stench replaced the chilled air inside the sedan. if and when he doesn’t show. in a dead man’s car – a priest no less. Us. Dil used the priest’s keys to open the trunk and looked inside. draped over a clothesline by its neck to dry. Dil!” Hen protested and slammed the door. Hen’s fingers slipped into the moist tangle of the dead man's . The flare and an empty aerosol can of flat tire repair remained. Hen nodded. Dil instructed Hen to put the burned man in the car with the priest. Dil couldn’t figure out what to do with the man anyway.” Dil instructed Hen. Hen backed out and exhaled. sunburned mummy. Dil discovered the long stem of a screwdriver covered in yellow paint.

The walk took longer than what Dil wanted. planted on the passenger’s side. The seat and its back were streaked with a film of oily sweat. “I’m looking for some paper. waving his arms wildly over his head. Hen fretted over sitting in something embarrassing and disagreeable. but it wouldn’t be long before he reached the sedan. Once he sat down. The body of the priest crushed the unconscious stranger. due to the car’s position on the shoulder of the road. The billfold disappeared without inspection into the same pocket from which Hen had originally pulled the sedan's keys. He pulled the steering wheel hard to the left and tried the accelerator again.” Hen answered as he rummaged. He repeated his deep breath. his chest swelled and remained inflated while he drove into the priest’s body. Dil became impatient. Every muscle slackened and he moaned with a pitch not dissimilar to his earlier shrill. The idea couldn’t possibly be mistaken for a good one. Hen took his foot off the gas pedal entirely and let the vehicle roll. painted the truck with crap and then came up with an idea of a suicide note for a dead priest. as Hen's delay drove the older Cortras mad. You know. against the opposite door. Hen made an effort not to look. The luggage was heavier than it looked. This was the sensation he looked forward to. He relished being at the wheel of the chilled Bourdon with leather seats.” Dil glared at Hen. The case contained only clothing. The interior of the sedan became considerably less appealing by the moment. The buckle whipped back to its bracket with a sharp clank. and inclined downward. Hen! And you’re illiterate. To make matters worse. perturbed by the broiling walk.” . but Hen still took a moment to roll down the door’s window before getting in. he adjusted the vents to point toward his face. entirely due to where Hen took the sedan. Hen shoved the priest’s head into the car. Dil must stop his little brother before Hen went any further. The front seat was a bench. Hen slowed as his brother skipped off the road. then remembered it won't make a difference. watching the splotches shrink now that air and light touched them. The sedan didn’t go far. For a second. A great wall of dust rose as the car left the shoulder and headed into the emptiness. “What are you doing?” Dil asked. “I’m gonna write a suicide note. The twin latches of the suitcase popped open as Dil reached the back of the sedan. Despite the rough ride. Neither had moved much with the jostling. He fished the keys from his pocket but paused before taking the priest’s place behind the wheel. Hen left the air running after shutting off the engine. but Hen couldn’t hear the rumbling engine over the fast howl of the air conditioning. The frustration was evident in his voice. When Hen exhaled this time. Hen felt better until he realized he had completed only the first step. He then reached over the seat and retrieved the suitcase lying in the back. “Why?” Dil had to ask.” Dil was dumbfounded. The upper body of the priest followed its head inside. then he shifted into drive and stepped heavy on the accelerator. Getting out of the sun allowed escape from the desert for a few seconds. but a fact of life in this climate. but he couldn’t resist the wallet that had spilled out of the dead man's pants pocket. The soiled backside of the priest was turned toward Hen. Hen felt a pang of fear for having dented the metal. he did so with a contented exclamation. for the priest. priest clothes. Less ginger action was required. He kicked the door open and assessed his passengers. The distance really wasn't a problem but further from the road seemed better. and neither seemed in any condition to be disturbed. Hen didn’t even notice the smell the priest and turned the ignition. The car lurched forward and rocked over the uneven dirt. Dil performed a crazy dance in the rear-view mirror. Hen did hear the screech of the starter and whipped his hand off the key. Dil yelled at his brother to get moving. Hen started to whistle tunelessly. The instrument panel lit up. The priest slid easily across the seat while the stranger remained oblivious to the dead man’s weight. Hen had to get accustomed to the way the sedan drove. Twenty-four hours had not passed since his brother started them on this exodus. even for a few brief minutes. following Hen even before the car had stopped. “Damn your brain. The Bourdon was the best thing he had ever possessed. He frowned and squinted against the meaty texture. he wished they did not abandon the vehicle. Hen hauled the suitcase to the front of the car and slapped it on the hood. this feel of still-warm flesh. Hen freed his arm at the same time. “Forget that and come over here. Hen still paused.

He clawed at the dirt with his hands. pencils or paper anyway . “At least we can make it to the Cap. he hoped to deal with the stranger as he had with the priest.” Hen was not sure his brother joked with him. bent drugs either. Dil pulled out the painted screwdriver shank again. “Put your finger in it. they weren’t heathens. It fit perfectly. he would have dragged the stranger much closer to the truck. Hen straddled the stick shift on the floor and sat far back into the seat. This was a stranger in the desert who needed help. He withdrew the shank slowly. “Stop it up while I put this in the truck. Let’s not make any more problems than we have to. The process of draining the tank and filling the truck took several trips before all possible fuel was transferred. The last time Dil returned. since all strength had left the man and his movement required the energy of the Cortras brothers. the truth would naturally come out. Just as they started back to the truck. Irritated. The brothers would take him with them. stabbed in its belly. the brothers might gain dissuasion against Batheirre's wrath. constant stream. until the can filled and fuel spilled over the sides. Dil reached between his . In the back of Dil’s mind. with the opening of the can just below the bottom of the tank. Let the stranger pass away so they could leave him behind. Dil walked back to the road with the filled canister of gas and Hen did as he was told. He did not look for an answer. The unexpected weight nearly pulled Dil to the ground. “What goes on in your head? Can you even tell me?” Dil continued with the chiding. The brothers got the sun-scorched man back to the truck more quickly than they thought possible. So far. The older Cortras didn’t stop until he had dug a hole beneath the tank large enough for the bottom of the gas canister. The brothers went opposite directions around the truck.There were no pens.” Dil went down on his knees behind the back bumper. as rescue would be a big debt to repay. All the life in Hen’s grandest. Hen watched on his knees. “Wait a second. although about a third as much went squandered into the dirt. The brothers pulled the stranger out of the car. Hen stopped and flung the stranger’s arm from his shoulders. Meanwhile. as the Cortras brothers had enough everyday anxiety to keep them tossing at night. If this was Drystani. After all.” Dil yanked the can out of its ditch and replaced the nozzle. forgotten.” Dil drove the screwdriver into the tank with a blind and awkward thrust. The complaint was like the pain of a living machine. There would be time later to sort through the items he had poached. now that the source was plugged. Propping himself with one foot against the seat. “Go on! You’re wasting it!” Dil shouted in anger. luxurious moment would soon die away. Hen did find a folded manila envelope and crammed it into his pocket as quickly as the wallet. He reached into the sedan and grabbed the body of the priest with both hands. he yanked the priest over to the driver’s side and dropped him over the steering wheel. “We need as much as we can get. the small hole filled with fuel. if the dead man had not smoked the drugs already. with a long groan of metal. However. uh…” Dil was lost. He was harder to carry this time. Hen grabbed the suitcase from the hood when his brother stopped paying attention. If a patrol stopped them before they reached the Cap. with his finger in his version of a dike as Dil walked back and forth between the vehicles. grisly fate worked in their favor.” Hen ran back to the driver’s side. The Ape might be on the priest or hidden in the car. The ground sucked up the spilled gas. Hen assumed his position again at the right side of the stranger. Dil watched in discouraged resignation before turning away. If he could have done so on his own. The result was precise enough and wasn’t the first time he stole gasoline. and Hen entered the driver’s side before Dil. Both men were soaked in sweat and it was time to move on. there were larger matters to think about and the stranger was still alive. The Cortras brothers placed the stranger on the passenger side. The blast of the air conditioning grew weaker. Hen winced at the noise.” “With what?” “Well. and the Cortras brothers simply did the right thing when they picked him up. Ape was not what Hen wanted though. “It’s best no one ever finds out about this. he was empty handed. only ranted. Gas flowed into the can in a thin. He had placed the can in the truck’s rumpled bed and came back to watch the last of the fuel drain into the ground.

The dead man appeared non-commissioned. “He’s burned to a crisp. “Nothing. He can go right up to the Wall and order the guards to let us pass.” Dil gestured at the sleeping stranger with a hooked thumb. right? Cover. but he started the truck and sped down the road before he asked what now went through Hen’s head. don’t even kid about things like that.” Suddenly. “He needs clothes. just clothes. His foot tangled with the scuffed boots of the unconscious man. Hen smiled and nodded toward the stranger. money. Put yours in your pocket. Curiosity compelled him to wish he had special vision to see through the leather case.” But it was not going to be easy.” Dil repeated. anyway?” Dil divided his attention between the suitcase and his driving. more important. like. . you know…” The conversation ended and both brothers thought about the challenges Dil had listed. “What’s in it?” Dil asked. “It says he’s going to the Cap. How can you be so stupid?” The last part sounded more like a statement than a question.” Hen raised his brow and spoke more quickly as he finished his thought. Cuz. Saint Erasmus. They’ll fit. officers in the chain of command. .” Dil diagnosed. What are you doing with it. immediately after directing Hen to lose the loot. The suitcase on Hen’s lap didn’t escape Dil’s notice.” Dil felt compelled to paint the complete picture for his brother. “And a priest can get into the Cap. with its top seam split and frayed. Dil went pale.” “Saint who? How can you rub out a name like that?” “Dil. Hen. . It’s the command center of the Church and military headquarters. The status was more honorary and carried little power. but it also might be amusing. other than corking a gas tank and huffing the fumes. “He’s going to need clothes. “It’s that easy.” Hen had spent some time thinking out an idea and insisted on being heard. right? And we’re not going to hand him over.” Hen continued.” “Unless we’re stopped. especially priests without rank. It had already been opened properly with something like a letter opener. “This guy can wear the clothes we got. “That better not be what I think it is. “You need to get rid of that suitcase. Dil was sure Hen hadn’t thought about their obstacle with getting past the Wall.” “Then throw it out the window. Dil.” “Priest clothes? You have lost it. believing he made an indisputable point. even if we have a choice.” Hen’s last statement intrigued his older brother.” Dil interjected. “There’s a parish he’s supposed to take over. Dil scanned ahead and glanced over his shoulder twice as he watched for patrols and more apparitions. despite being. “How much money is in that?” Any hurt Hen felt at Dil’s judgment was quickly forgotten when Hen opened the wallet and discovered identification cards without photos and.” “Split it and give me half. “It doesn’t work that’s knees to change gears. Priests need orders. Hen drew out creased papers and found photocopied orders in triplicate. The straight. Hen stabbed his leg straight out to retrieve the wallet and manila envelope he had taken from the dead priest. “How do you think this guy will pull off being a priest?” “Listen. That’s why I brought it along. Those guys at the Wall aren’t a local militia. He prompted Hen to continue. “We’re not putting our necks out for him. you’ll see. Hen shuffled the two items as he decided which to thumb through first. “About two hundred. “And look at him. empty road didn’t demand much focus.” “But if we’re not stopped. The Cap is the most secure city of them all.” Hen relayed.” Hen divvied the cash and let the wallet drop into his lap. Dil leaned over to read them with Hen. he’s going to need clothes. An uncomfortable silence formed like skin on stagnant milk until Hen poked a hole in it. The plan may have been ill-conceived. The manila envelope remained unfolded. “Everyone needs a pass or a good reason to get into the Cap. Hen had obviously experienced too much time with nothing to do. How do you explain that?” Dejection filled Hen as his older brother continued. Priests didn’t just order soldiers around.

Then there was the stranger to consider. although that fact had not been established yet. the Cortras brothers assessed their plan between themselves. Hen neglected to take the priest’s shoes. As luck would have it. There were no other clues in his body language. The drive through the desert passed without event. missing the obvious was typical for the younger Cortras. Ben swallowed and spit in reflex. Now that the wilderness behind the brothers fell into darkness. awake or not. Dil got what he hoped for . Apparently. “He could get us into the Cap. and trying to talk him into the suicidal scheme may be a waste of time. We could give him the IDs. The twenty-four hour service ran for its own security. Hen mentally kicked himself enough for the both of them. During the ride. they could implement Hen’s plan. “What’s the name on the ID?” Hen plucked the wallet from his crotch. The brothers were exhausted. We’re Dil and Hen Cortras. The military boots Ben wore worked against his upcoming assumed identity. the stranger looked like a Ben. “Okay.” Dil almost gasped and he felt sick to his stomach. He needed a constant supply of water to bring him back to the world of the living. A young man in a loose t-shirt and cut-off jeans sold Dil three tall plastic bottles of water. but Hen couldn’t tell. if he accepted the scheme the Cortras brothers hastily planned to get into the Cap. He may not go along with their idea. “Benedict Ishkott. although his own guts fluttered with butterflies. The military secured the gates through the Wall from sunset to sunrise. as three battered tin walls and a canvas flap were all that stood between the merchandise and a world of unrepentant thieves. Hen fell asleep a few hours after the Cortras brothers had rescued the bare-chested stranger from certain death. He had to say it aloud to convince himself of the possibility.” Dil finally said. Time stretched long and thin in the emptiness. Hen had passed part of the trip dripping the last of their water into Ben’s open mouth. before Hen fell asleep. so they didn't need to fight over the stranger's boots until later. and probably would. Hen told his brother he had heard from migrants about nursing badly dehydrated people who had crossed the desert on foot in the winter. Dil found a liquor store at the outskirts of the encampment and stopped the truck before entering the squatter settlement. The oversight was certainly not his first. Nothing could be done about the mistake now. and rebuked himself for overlooking the small detail. which also indicated something bad could.” Hen confrontation with suspicious patrols or more desert wanderers. The Shur remained dry and inhospitable. This man could also be Drystani. They tried the name on him for size and it fit. no matter the season. “Hello. rather than convenience. as Dil usually just remained stiff. The only taboo subject was the heathen. especially Ben. happen in a detention camp. I’m Hen and this is my brother Dil. completely locking down entrance and exit to and from Capital. Their new friend. but snapped back with the first sign of civilization. The only task now was to stay under the radar. and then some. the Cortras brothers had appropriated enough fuel to cover the stretch. The Cap could not be entered before dawn. Ben. underneath Ben’s knees. needed briefing. as if they were the only souls stranded on a blasted world. He verified that the name on the orders matched the IDs and grinned triumphant. He looked at the stranger. The place looked like it never closed. The travelers needed hydration. the trip became substantially cooler. although the brothers must have rubbed . and he’d get it. The plan might not work. They could win their escape from worry and the lasting heat through sleep. But the situation could change again.“He could have the orders. so he didn’t concern his brother with the error. That would mean arrest and permanent detainment. Ben. That is. The trio reached the encampment after midnight. The Cortras brothers called him Ben. The stranger appeared semi-conscious at the time.” 3 Trespass Night had arrived by the time the Cortras brothers crawled from the low desert. In fact. The lack of verbal dissent from Dil implied affirmation. The owner didn’t have a choice. The inherited suitcase full of clothes lay on the floor. There was no reason he should.” Hen stated. back to Dil’s hope for cashing in on a favor owed them. The brothers had plenty of opportunity to talk to migrants during their frequent rotation of day jobs.

The container was heavy in his parched and weakened state.” The younger Cortras brother wrangled the wallet from his front pocket. His nose was filled and pinched shut.” Ben accepted the wallet and the envelope. “The encampment. “I’m hungry. “Where are we?” Hen slurred. He pulled his dozing brother off Ben with his free hand. The brothers opened their bottles. with no evidence an entrance had ever existed. Back then. go ahead and give him the wallet. and quietly observed their surroundings while Hen shook off the haze of slumber.” Ben took the bottle. He tried his best to sound friendly and tough at the same time. The yelps of the wild canines and hum from an electrical generator powering the liquor shack made the only sounds. Hen had rolled on top of him during his sleep.” “Yeah!” Hen exclaimed. Hen twisted in his seat. He was…he couldn’t remember. in person. Before the desert. but the blockage didn’t clear. As the older Cortras moved. he remembered mundane events. The identical names were maybe an odd coincidence. They got nothing at the store. placing his hands against the door and leaning forward. only caution. They believed minding their own business kept them alive. “A priest?” Benedict Ishkott was his name and here it was. “Okay. Dil. Dil broke the stare and turned to his focus the waking stranger. such as shaving. Dil handed his brother a bottle of water. he remembered where he'd been. The relative peace was a welcome change from the whistling wind the trio experienced as they sped through the desert. “Who?” he asked.” Hen slid over and dangled his legs out the open door on the driver’s side. while Dil slowly strolled around the truck to the passenger side window. My brother’s name is Dil. The younger Cortras woke after being righted. wasn’t a priest. a suspicious gaze locked him and the young store clerk together. Scattered memories of the desert and a priest in a white sedan floated in a sparse sea. But Ben couldn’t remember the years that led him to whatever role he now played.” The statement sounded as empty as Hen's belly. but stayed drowsy. no malice. The snap eventually echoed through the stillness. They watched each other out of familiarity with the kind of folks that met at the edge of towns in the middle of the night. Coyotes yipped their questions in the near distance. shitting. We need to talk about that. because his parents lacked money for a doctor. but his throat still felt dry. “Hey. Despite the heat still radiating from the stranger. “Hen. Ben forced himself to sip the water carefully before he finally spoke. Ben wound up in intensive care after he stopped breathing and spent two weeks in a hospital on Church charity. He snorted. His voice didn’t crackle this time. “Ben. but neither looked familiar. Dil returned to the truck with the water. He pulled them out and tilted the cards into the dim light from the liquor shack. The lack of memories was like walking through the home in which he grew up and looking through the rooms. We can wait until the sun comes up.shoulders with more heathens and their sympathizers than they cared to know. Ben strained to break the seal of the plastic cap.” Dil said.” Ben groaned. “I asked you first. but a room was missing. “I’m Hen. The empty wallet only contained ID cards. The Cortras brothers couldn't see much at night. he had caught pneumonia that went untreated. along with the envelope. he wasn’t sure how to proceed. A wall existed where once hung a door. He handed the items to Ben. He smiled through his brother’s disapproving gaze. A purple lump on Hen’s forehead momentarily distracted the rescued wanderer. .” Dil said. The shout reverberated into the distance. Dil held out the last bottle to the stranger. but he needed water – a lot of water. “Yeah. “Are you waking up?” Ben’s head hurt and his face was swollen. Now that the moment had arrived. He hoped the stranger would take the initiative. bouncing off unseen walls. He recalled a childhood memory from the time he was five years old. but Ben. Because of the demanding thirst. drank. and an occasional shower. printed on foreign IDs. The complaint made the brothers jump.

Pilfering IDs and sneaking past checkpoints seemed ordinary. They were bound to fall apart. We can stay in the encampment. as was the ringing.” Dil said. but still did not know. Hen exclaimed “Oh!” and pointed as if he noticed the . “Where are we?” Ben repeated Hen’s question. so reaching for the case was out of the question. “Let me think about it. “Okay. “The encampment. “Why not? That’s where he’s supposed to be. he was curiously concerned by his disregard. He would wait for morning to open the case. The Cortras brothers had put a lot of thought into the construction of their plan. where else are we going to go? We never went to the Cap before. Self-reliance may have led him into the desert in the first place. but Ben wouldn’t make up his mind yet. and face cast downward.” “But his superiors might. “These will get me in. Ben needed more information before he agreed with the pending decision. but he had no other place to go and felt a strange compulsion to try.” Ben observed aloud. The brothers finished their water. Ben leaned forward to see a suitcase that he also did not recognize. Now that Ben had them. Ben strung events together and deduced the IDs belonged to the priest in the white car. Ben remembered always being alone. The plan grew less viable with each step. “What would we do if we get in? Why do we want to?” These were genuine questions. “Hen.” Dil said. Ben turned to see Dil disapprove. This Benedict Ishkott had been ordered to a parish in Capital. This was as anonymous and hassle-free as someone could get with a false identity. Yet he may have also wanted that.” Ben looked down at his bare and raw chest.” Hen answered. Dil and Hen. “My clothes. Yet he could still afford to trust them. He couldn’t think of a reason he would want inside Capital. before events had turned for the worse. Only thirst remained. “So what do you think?” “Think about what?” “We thought you would take us into the Cap. Check it out. The voice was gone now. He had played the same game with his brother since they were kids. They had saved his life. Hen assumed a neutral posture. hands on hips. Getting through the Wall would be a big risk.Ben opened the folded envelope with more mystery stuffed inside. which was the way the younger Cortras brother’s schemes usually went. Dil caught the obtuse gesture and shot his brother a smoldering glance.” Hen made the obvious and valid point. we would take you and you’d get us in.” Dil attempted to quiet his brother. At the last moment. a priest of no importance.” Ben closed his eyes.” “At your feet. “Here’s what we’ll do. “We can go to the parish. The brother named Dil didn’t offer more. ain’t it? It’s not like that other guy is going to come knocking on the door and want his stuff back. “Well.” Dil countered.” Hen had not stopped smiling since giving Ben his name. We go in and check it out. we’ll leave before sunset. before Hen twisted the idea with his lack of forethought. All the same. His body screamed and pushed him back. feeling privileged for having been the very latest informed. How did that belief go? Various cultures mangled the saying but it went something like the Cortras brothers were now responsible for him. after some of the stiffness receded. His chiming-in was merely a matter of time. delirium could have driven him to the road – or the voice pushed him. The wanderer moved slowly. including Ben in the plan. All his muscles were still too tired and sore. and purposely so. this time raising his open palms skyward. an implied bound existed. The smile grew wider each time he got to say something. Curfew also needed consideration. “We thought you might have a reason. More like. things must not have turned out well for the man. He wanted to tell it straight. Many of the pieces went into the right places. although Ben still felt he was about to fall back into the dirt. Dil crossed his arms as Hen shrugged his shoulders. but the bottle emptied too quickly.” Dil contributed. as every rigid muscle ached. even comfortable. He was still exhausted and had a lot of missing pieces of his own to find. The IDs didn’t bear a picture or rank.” Hen said. Ben recalled something about a heart attack. Ben looked at the brothers. The idea sat with bony knees and elbows in his throat. Ben might. If it looks bad and we can’t find a place to stay. Either way. Hen shrugged his shoulders again. due to myopic vision. or Ben owed them some equal service.

The young man had seen enough of the likes of the Cortras brothers and their friend when he worked late. Dil returned with a cheap bottle of wine. Dil then gave Ben another bottle of water instead. He attempted a conversation with the young man in the t-shirt. He then passed the bottle to Hen. Dil. “You know. favors are expected. out there. Interaction only entailed making sales. He wanted more. Trouble must have caught up to most. Dil thought he understood the motion. there was a heathen camp outside Gomorrah that got hit by the military. “We’re looking at what we brought with us. he had a tendency to go too far with his taunts and teasing. Dil better stop while his comments were still broad and optionally unanswered. Fluids and thought needed to flow again.” The wine tasted like grape-flavored cat piss. If this man was Drystani. They jostled him while rummaging through the cab of the truck. Dil liked the arrangement.” “Aw. The remainder of the night passed in short time. only a compulsion. “How about we get something . When Dil drank. but we gotta make our money last. There was no hope or expectation. The inexpensive wine was their preferred juice. Dil was accustomed to the lack of banter. who shook his head and refused.” Dil couldn’t argue with the desire. just listening. He wasn’t pointing out a specific location. The older Cortras went back to Ben. You don’t have anything. Dil recognized the thin disguise of spontaneity. Hen apologized for the disturbance. Swallowing felt like drinking marbles.” Dil retained enough discretion to avoid asking what he really wanted to know. Hen used the tactic when he wanted to make a proposal and couldn’t find the appropriate time or words. The decision resulted from a nagging in the back of Ben’s mind. “You want something? More water?” “Yes. The liquor shack stood closer to the encampment’s jumble of ramshackle huts and adobe walls than expected. “Ben. The arc of his limb seemed to indicate a path to nowhere. Hen grew quiet. and Dil became more adventurous. but Ben nodded. They slowed their drinking when their stomachs burned and the grape acid crept back up their throats. The alcohol did its work. Usually. while scattered waking sounds punctured the quiet. Much of the slum still slept. People never felt like talking when he did.” Dil clarified. when a man is generous.” Dil realized his excess. Ben felt better when he woke soon after the Cortras brothers. including the young storekeeper. Car engines idled or sputtered to death. not friends. it had strange affects on the pair. the older Cortras just turned mean. Ben shook his celebrate. no talking back. He pushed his luck. “All right. Give me some of yours. which was fine with Ben. He needed his organs to soak up the moisture like a sponge in a bucket.” Hen explained. The Cortras brothers quoted the suicidal proof and pledged the alcohol content made up for the taste. never opening his eyes. Loose and wild dogs barked at random distractions. “And for contraband. totally lacking any essential vitamins.” Hen said grudgingly and handed over a few bills. Ben gulped half his water immediately and then capped the bottle. only from the inside out. They were going into Capital. Dil screwed off the metal cap and offered the first swig to Ben. straight from a feline with a yeast infection. knowing he may have reached for too much. At dawn. “It wasn’t long after that when we found you. Often. but the clerk silently brushed aside Dil’s animated monologue about shoplifting. Hen learned to sit quietly when the drinking began and avoid Dil after a certain point of intoxication.” Dil made a wide gesture with his arm. “You know. or at least when he drank. “What were you doing out there without a pack?” Dil asked.liquor shack for the first time. Hen sat on the running board at the driver’s side. The Cortras brothers finished the wine within the hour.” Ben answered. like saving somebody. but saved the remainder until he felt like relieving himself. bearing the label “Yowling Cat. When Dil took a long drink of Yowling Cat his face twisted into a pucker. making the adobe look furry. since he never saw passing strangers again. a pink light bathed the slum.” Dil called. trouble chased strangers to drink on the fringes of the shack’s pathetic fluorescent glow. do you?” . None of the men slept for more than a few hours. holding the empty wine bottle. “We’ll probably be searched at the Wall.

The stones around the spigot were slippery hazards. Ben gathered the excess waist in a bunch. He carried the empty bottle with him to the water pump. and the fluorescent light was off. and do so quickly. The movement rocked him back and forth on his perch. The young man might have hid just inside the blackness. but the inseam length fit. Ben relieved himself absentmindedly. lurking or snoozing. Even with the shirt tucked in. The pant legs weren’t cut for them. He anticipated the younger Cortras brother had already confiscated any valuables. Dil. drunk its contents. but he eventually would show the prize to Dil. A piece of graffiti on a tin wall of the liquor shack caught his eye. A belt with strained notches had been packed in the suitcase. He pulled off his boots and banged them together to knock off the dirt. Ben put on his ragged boots and laced them up. Ben primed the pump half a dozen times before he was done drinking and bathing. which lay unlatched on the seat beside him. Mud surrounded the mound like a newly drained moat. The polyester blend stung his damaged skin and made Ben sucked in his breath through clenched teeth. “Nothing except clothes. He began to think he would never satisfy the thirst. and filled it again before going back to the truck. He suspected Hen was the sort of fellow who wouldn’t. Ben looked at the suitcase. He felt sore. with the shirt and pants tucked under his arm. These were the everyday attire of priests. his cooked mug would have disguised him well. and presumably the storekeeper. At the pump. knowing he smuggled nothing inside them. Ben debated with himself about pulling the clothes on while he sat in the truck. He would have to make due with what was available. he wouldn’t recommend his spa. The interior of the shack was dark. or both. modesty demanded he quickly pull on the black slacks. Still. The only waking souls around were the Cortras brothers. the waist still hung loose. uniformity had that advantage. The taste was coppery. Ben stretched out his hands. but he levered the pump again to drink more. and left his old khaki pants where he dropped them.” Dil suggested to Ben. but Ben still sorted through the case. If there had been pictures on the stolen IDs. with no one around to object. Although. he pulled on the white button-up shirt. even though He shivered a little from the cold water. The chill was glorious. but could move. He filled the plastic bottle. He bent them and his knees popped aloud. Ben drained the remainder of the water from the plastic bottle given him last night and still craved more. as he could have bathed naked. It didn’t matter. He splashed handful after handful of water over himself. The new Benedict Ishkott had lost a little weight and got an overcooked tan. Ben caught himself scrutinizing shadows. He didn’t know what he watched for. The clothing didn’t offer variety. He assumed Dil meant weapons. but drying fast due to the stark lack of humidity. now that the sun had risen. He placed them on the ground and dropped the loosely folded clothes on top. but whether he shared them with his brother or not was something Ben did not know. maybe you ought to put ’em on. A sense of urgency radiated from the brothers. The water soon flowed and Ben drank until the stream slowed to a trickle and stopped. away from his body. bright gloves. A complement of motion and thinking played between the two. Bathing never felt as good as it did this morning. The clothe felt like pushing through a patch of nettles. At least the long sleeves would protect his arms from further burning. He imagined the impression his face made. which was simple. Ben peeled off his soaked pants. considering the lack of choice. at first. He decided to find the belt.” Hen reported.Ben patted his pockets. but felt compelled to check anyway. the redness and swelling made them look like thick. Ben made his selection. However. He dropped awkwardly to the ground and stretched. Ben balanced on them with bare feet as he jerked the pump’s handle. but then spied a water spigot set in a flat pile of stones. just black slacks and white collarless shirts. For a moment.” “Speaking of which. A cross had been spray . and the shirt hung loose. When Ben finished. like I said. The two looked and acted like brothers. drugs. he liked the idea of lying on the stones and letting the water shower over him. Stepping out of the truck. only the tail of his shirt left him unexposed. like those in the shack. Ben could stand at the spigot to wash the dirt off. so Ben rolled the legs over the tops. Still wet. he shook the droplets from his feet before hopping over the mud moat onto dry sand. “I already looked through the suitcase. Ben felt as if the joints in his legs would snap.

the flow of traffic became crippled when someone decided the best place to park was just where he or she happened to be at that moment. “Hen. Hunger fed his annoyance. Ben didn’t understand why the cross caught his eye. salt. but didn’t like the idea of turning his back while the engine ran and the streets began to fill. Then again. Pubescent vandals were more apt to scrawl the corrupted cross than heathens. “It’s just that we have never seen a priest in the encampment. What have you got here?” Hen already peeled money from the tight wad of bills he pulled from his pocket. “Sorry. “Plenty of patrols. Dil. A mobile open grill stood in the middle of road. Two-way streets suddenly became one way. “What?” Hen stated in disbelief.painted on the building.” the woman explained.” Hen pointed. but after a few more attempts. “There. right?” Hen asked Ben. The younger Cortras forced a quizzical frown. and at the couple again. but we have spices.” The man pointed at a metal rack hanging over the smoking grill. I’ll stay with the truck. as he’d seen them hundreds of times in places just like these. Few vehicles traversed the maze so early in the morning. Dil let the truck run while they all got out. Already. even though the cart presented an obstacle ahead. Hen couldn’t tell what was in the containers. but that would soon changed. Life in the encampment offered the experience of passive-aggressive dueling. “I know. Dil tried turning the engine. What better place? The Cortras brothers waited in the truck. Dil thrummed his fingers against the dash while Ben fastened his new belt and climbed inside. Ben nodded. “What’s the matter?” “Oh. preparing to order. looking around.” “You’re hungry. at this early hour. He wasn’t. He called over to Dil. just not priests. The three entered the encampment proper. she did the cutting and breaking eggs. “Just put some beans and eggs into tortillas.” the man reiterated. . The lack of traffic signs created havoc. get me something. Exploration included a lot of back tracking.” Dil could have shouted his order to the couple. the truck came alive. horizontal. sorry. one vertical and the other. The mark defiled and rejected Church icons. “Alright. No salsa.” Two additional. “Yeah. The old couple prepared his order. “Never mind that. a road instantly continued. The cart rested on hard. They claimed the hieroglyphic was a heathen symbol. Thankfully. He was also afraid to the turn off the ignition. expecting to see it here was perfectly natural. and when a denizen decided to erect a shanty in the middle of the street. a mobile business. There was no guarantee the route taken the day before would exist tomorrow. cracked rubber wheels. at Ben. The assortment included ground peppers.” the man answered. That’s where we’re going. There were no roads. just worn paths weaving around makeshift dwellings and temporary walls. Ben and Hen approached the couple. five of ‘em.” Hen instructed. Visitors and natives alike were forced to slowly peck their way through the sordidness to wherever they were going. The Chosen called the mark the Star of Lucifer. The graffiti wasn't important. but knew some food would do him good. and other unlabeled shakers of colored dust. the three men were spared battles over right of way. a new twist was added to the path or it simply came to a dead end. long lines ran through the vertex. The brothers couldn’t risk becoming stranded if the truck didn’t want to start again. The city survived in this respect. He didn’t accept the excuse for the lack of prompt and friendly service. accentuated by curses. At first nothing happened. He stared back at the couple.” Hen commented. He remembered frequenting many slums. a red lopsided “X. but the fact that the Star of Lucifer shown so close to Capital struck him as ironic. although the extent of his travels was still unclear. but Ben knew the actual meaning. The smell of cooking meat and beans greeted them after a few turns into the city. An older couple worked together preparing meat and eggs. “What you see and tortillas. while he cooked.” Hen said in agreement. “How about breakfast burritos?” Dil curled his thumb and forefinger into an “OK” sign. Where a building had been leveled.” the woman instantly replied. The elderly man and woman stopped cooking and stared at Ben.

“Wait, how many do you want?” Hen asked Ben. “One.” “Five,” Hen said, holding up splayed fingers, his thumb tucked into the palm of his hand. The man poured broken eggs into a skillet and scrambled them. The woman spoke to Ben as the man tended the frying. “Are you alright?” the woman asked, noting Ben’s face and hands. “We found him broke down in the Shur. He’d be dead if we didn’t save him,” Hen practiced their story. “We’re taking him to the Cap.” “All right, Hen,” Dil interrupted. The old man handed the burritos to Hen in nothing but their tortillas. “They’re free. It’s for the priest,” the woman said. The man had reached for the money Hen offered but let his hand drop, smiling close-lipped, yet agreeable. “Thanks!” Hen smiled back, bouncing as he turned to his brother. “Reverend, will you command the Mortal God for us?” the woman asked Ben. He waited in silence. “Have him send us money and health. Oh, and a car.” Ben felt loathing stir in his heart. These were common prayers of the UnChosen, and the Church of the Chosen encouraged such selfish requests. Something felt fundamentally wrong and Ben couldn’t justify his revulsion. The idea of a wish-fulfilling god in the flesh, killed by people in a show of preeminence, was warped. He then remembered that his new disguise promoted this horrid theology, so he only nodded. “Are we ready to go?” Dil asserted. Hen already finished eating his first burrito and started chewing his second. The other three formed a stack in his free hand. Ben stepped into the truck and took his breakfast. Both he and Dil nibbled as the group began driving again and hunted for the other side of the encampment and the Wall. “We’re all doing this, right?” Dil garnered agreement. “Yeah,” Hen answered then turned to Ben. Dil had actually directed the question to the stranger. “Right?” “Yeah.” “You’ll vouch for us, if it comes to that. We get into the Cap and you can even go your own way.” Ben’s way was their way until more memory of the recent past returned to him. Part of his brain must have fried in the desert during his transitory bout of insanity. This was it. Past the northern edge of the encampment, behind curled rolls of razor wire fences, stood a sign. 'You are now approaching Capital,' the notice read. 'Admittance through verification only. Identification must be presented at gate.' Travelers were subject to the posting with its smaller print the second they passed the wire fence. Turning back attracted attention and a patrol would be dispatched. All radial roads to Capital were clearly visible from the Wall. The empty plain of sand sloped gently downward and away from the shining white emblem for a mile. The Wall literally looked down upon the encampment. The Wall itself looked more like a dam in appearance and performed the same function. The thick base tapered to a two-lane road at the top. The barrier incorporated the hills that originally wrapped Capital, though less completely. The hillsides facing from the Cap had been sheered away and the construction used the mined limestone. The Wall was circular. No matter which gate was approached, that section of the barrier bowed outward. An ocean in the West prevented the Wall from completely encircling Capital. Ben had never seen a body of water larger than a pond in an oasis. He had never been out of the desert. People said the ocean was as large as the Shur and deeper than the sky. A strange agoraphobia frightened Ben from curiosity. The fear seemed recently formed, and the vastness of the desert still felt safe. The Shur is where he had lived all his life. The desert provided ground to stand on. A quarter way up the Wall, at about three or four stories, observation windows and machine gun nests cut evenly spaced, narrow slats in the smooth surface. A soldier undoubtedly

trained a pair of binoculars on the lone, shoddy yellow truck rumbling at the fence. The direction the vehicle faced distinguished the truck from the motley tangle of the encampment. Dil tossed his second burrito out the window. He didn’t feel like eating any more. “No turning back now,” Dil proclaimed. The Cortras brothers moved into the perimeter, taking Ben with them. The packed dirt road rolled up to pavement and the truck bumped over the transition. Shocks creaked as the truck rocked. Waist-high signs stood like sentinels just off the road. “Danger. Mines.” Hen gazed across the plain. Seeing only leveled dirt, Hen still looked. The straight road in the featureless terrain echoed the trip through the desert, except in one respect. An uneasy feeling the identities of the passengers were being scrutinized replaced the comfortable sense of anonymity. The drive lasted shorter than Dil liked and arrival at the gate couldn't be postponed. As much as the older Cortras wanted otherwise, he was not going to slow down and attract undue attention. “Hey,” Hen said halfway to the gate. “What if they know what the priest or Drystani looks like?” Dil suppressed his nervousness reasonably well - leave it to his little brother to find a way to rattle him. “Hen, we can’t go back. Stick to the plan and shut your mouth.” Ben recognized the name Drystani. He tilted unconsciously toward Hen when he heard it spoken. Did these two think he was a heathen terrorist? Ben knew he was Ben Ishkott, just not the one ordered to Saint Erasmus in Capital. The brothers were truly in a desperate spot if they played games with someone they believed was Ilu Drystani. Ben hoped the Cortras brothers did not entertain hidden agendas. He would have a horrible turn of luck if he were passed off as a terrorist in exchange for reward. Ben would have fared just as well stranded in the desert. Wearing the clothes of a priest certainly would not help. Without choice, Ben held the brothers at their word. The time to turn back had passed. The Cortras brothers couldn’t possibly think taking someone they thought was Drystani straight to the gates of Capital could work, even in hope of collecting a handsome reward. They had to know that was suicide. If the military didn’t shoot them all outright, the heathens would mark the brothers in vengeance for their martyr. Dil was correct on the one account; the near future was set. Waiting for it was like a falling man holding out hope against death the moment before meeting the ground. A solitary stop sign loomed a few steps from a lowered gate; a long metal arm locked between two concrete columns. Dil stopped the truck before the double yellow lines on the road. A single armed soldier came out of the Wall to meet the petitioners. He wasn’t alone with his folding stock H830 automatic rifle. Within the tunnel, from which the soldier sprang, a number of similarly equipped shadows shifted. Obvious gun nests were carved into the Wall near the gate. The nests at either side pointed barrels of monstrous guns in their direction. The design of the weapons made seeing if the nests were manned impossible, until the target was in sight of the gun's operator. Still, the soldiers hiding in the tunnel would cut the truck to shrapnel at any sign of trouble. “Stop the vehicle and get out,” the soldier instructed. He trained his rifle on Dil. Dil took the keys from the ignition and swung open his door. “We were taking . . .” “Shut up. Get out. Put your hands on your heads.” All three men slid out of the truck and followed the soldier’s instructions. The soldier scanned the inside of the cab. He looked at Ben. “Is that yours?” he pointed at the suitcase with his rifle. “What’s in it?” “Clothes.” “Do you have anything else?” “We weren’t planning on staying,” Dil answered the soldier. The rifle snapped to Dil’s face. Obviously, the solider did not ask Dil. The soldier twirled his hand in the air. Three more soldiers marched forward. Like the first, they wore brown field uniforms with the requisite black and white name and rank patches. A stylized 'X' appeared burned on the shoulders of each uniform. The boots of the soldiers were polished and in much better condition than Ben’s. When the soldiers moved, telling them apart became difficult. Duty at the Wall must call for a strict physique, and specific hair and eye color, which were actually common in the Shur.

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

Dil laughed aloud. traffic moved slowly if at all.” The brothers were relieved. This piece of crap is too easy to miss. The likes of them might retreat no further than the encampment.” “Well.“And these two rescued you?” The sergeant tossed his thumb at the brothers. Ben was a lottery ticket that they just cashed. and packed with vehicles.” The sergeant paced between the Cortras brothers. The Cortras brothers now hid in the province of the Chosen. Batheirre would never suspect the Cortras brothers had stolen a way inside. As he passed the orders to Hen. The arm of the gate then tilted up from the West. The soldiers copied the names from the IDs before returning them. “L99 and F66. The brothers welcomed Batheirre to look all he might. Maybe the man wasn’t dead and only left stranded. The Cap was a real city. Still. The stranger hadn’t returned the orders to the envelope and the younger Cortras wanted a part in the action. Admittance to Capital was perhaps the grandest scheme of their lives. factory-fabricated dwellings in Gomorrah were only a grade above the handmade assemblages teetering in the encampment outside of Capital. Law governed this place. had been plotted on a grid. The buildings appeared nothing like the brothers had ever seen before. The narrow tunnel and sharp corners made quick navigation impossible. like most other cities in the Shur.” Whoever had taken the car parts also took the priest. “Yes. Tales of cannibalism and obscene rituals practiced among heathens and migrants spooked the Chosen the UnChosen castes alike. The Cortras brothers were lucky. or perhaps he wandered off and met the fate Ben escaped. “I’ll tell you what. the Cortras brothers and Ben emerged from the Wall and found themselves inside Capital. and Hen even smiled.” The sergeant saluted Ben again and signaled the three travelers through the gate. I’m sure they’ll be happy to see him. “I guess we have to find the parish. the UnChosen huddled outside the Wall. We will know when you go. The brothers were now safe from Judah Batheirre. “Take the Reverend to his parish. Hen joined him with a whoop. 4 Promised Land The world changed upon leaving the tunnel that cut through the Wall. on both. but even he had no entrance to the Cap. although. The trio drove down a passage through the Wall shaped like a tilted “Z”. the promise of opportunity beamed like the relentless sun. Freeways provided alternatives to paved surface streets.” Dil said. but never behind the Wall. no matter how harmless you seem. millions of Chosen living within its barricaded borders. In the glare of sudden daylight. Until the Cortras brothers came to Capital. I hope the Church insured it for you. The single-storied. My men will take your names from your IDs and put them in the logs. The military had overseen planning and development of the city at the deference of the Church. The pretender-priest absently held the paper and IDs in his lap. Looks like someone stripped it. Ben still waited for what came next. But be out of Capital before sundown. sensing possibilities hidden within the Promised Land. Gomorrah amounted to nothing more than a collection of kit shacks enforced by building codes. sir. the body of the dead priest appeared to have gone missing.” Hen happily conveyed. Inside Capital. The design was simple yet effective. “Crazy” and “bastard” were terms of endearment to him. The Cap. The brothers were excited they had gained entrance. You crazy bastards belong on the outside. The two Bens had literally traded places. assuming the role before the Renovation. but that was so much propaganda and urban legend. Shards from an exploded bomb smuggled inside would have negligible impact between the twists. Meanwhile. Gutters spilled through grates into functioning sewers. He wanted to get away as fast as possible. And we’ll look for this shitty vehicle if you’re not gone. Addresses were actually coordinates. they had never seen a city larger than Gomorrah. His family may be the top of the food chain in Gomorrah. “What do the orders say?” Hen wiggled his fingers at Ben. Dil scanned numbers on . the car is back on the road outside Gomorrah. The streets were wide and paved. Dil felt even better when the truck started right up. the younger brother plucked them out of Ben’s moving hand. “You have a good day.

” The presumed church sported ornate ironwork over the windows. “You guys hiring?” Hen asked a pair of workers flattening the canvas. This was Saint Erasmus. “These folks don’t know what bad is. because Dil drove passed double digit letters like “UU. The three trespassers arrived at the church to which the priest. A couple hours wasted away while the Cortras brothers and Ben crept closer to their destination. The words “Gas-M” floated over a silhouette of an overturned spider. Paved sidewalks and colorful storefront awnings. Despite the confidence of people living in the Cap. Today was going to be another warm day. Soldiers always patrolled cities to both prevent and cause trouble. the buildings looked the same. Fewer vehicles crowded the road in this part of the city and the trip accelerated. The men could have sworn they continued going in circles.” The complaint went unheard. “We’ll have to see how it goes. “That’s a real job with a regular paycheck. is this your church?” . had been appointed. the brothers noted the absence of bars on doors and windows. never got closer. The only military presence they observed remained posted at the Wall. “If this is the bad part. those with four stories.” The Cortras brothers and Ben traveled northward on L99 and came to the Saint Erasmus parish. we got nothing to worry about. at least they maintained some momentum. most waited in automobiles on busy streets. He insisted to drive surface streets. Hen protested. Along the drive.” Hen observed. The numbering must have started at the sea. but he would never admit his fear. “Reverend. mostly green. until all openings featured metal bars. Ramps rolled up from dark caves from which an occasional large. He turned east and then west to gain insight as to where they were and a bearing on where they needed to go.” Dil answered. The Cap appeared to have its share of vermin. if not for the diminishing numbers and the fact Dil hadn't turn a corner. metal groundhog poked out its nose and moved on to the day’s toil. Even the windows on parked cars were left rolled down. Tracking the addresses as they went progressed like a count down. “I think this it. The towers appeared to move with the trio. like the moon on a long evening drive. One of the workers walked over to Ben. the Cortras brothers soon saw that some doors and garages bore gates. they noticed more.” A crew of men in white overalls pulled striped canvas off a two-story.” The trio traveled in a circle for almost a half hour before Dil found the way. except for additional stories and a lack of name placards. “I think we’re in the bad part of town. Dil had never driven on any within a city before. “Nobody needs to learn to kill bugs. The three men drove beneath an overpass resembling a parking lot. Many buildings incorporated underground parking. On the other side. Few people walked outside. The letters and expired arachnid were blue. “You think we can get those jobs?” Anticipation filled Hen. Hen spotted the address over a pair of front doors once enough canvas had been pulled away. The logo on the back of the overalls of the crew and on the doors of their long.” Dil observed. The freeways intimidated him. The neighborhood they entered resembled Gomorrah. red brick building. Dil parked behind the exterminator’s truck. The military apparently didn't see a need for their presence in Capital past the Wall. but nothing like the heat of the recent week in the desert. residential buildings became indistinguishable from neighboring shops. The general feeling of security was completely foreign to them. He spared the workers plenty of room to roll and fold the canvas before they packed it on the bed. Dil slowed down. After a dozen or so blocks.buildings. now Ben. The taller buildings. The brick and lattice set the place apart from other buildings on the street.” Dil repeated. decorated Capital. “Do you have your apprenticeship?” “What?” “Real jobs. Ben and the two brothers got out of the truck and loitered as the exterminators finished. Hen felt glad his older brother didn’t want to practice driving on the freeway today. flat bed truck indicated that they were exterminators – actually fumigators. As they continued into the Promised Land of the Chosen.

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

and priests sometimes felt compelled to cite the story in sermons. Hen tried the drawers. Ben ran water in the sink. He leaned into the sink and gulped directly from the faucet.” Dil said. After all. The window in the office looked over the small. No matter how much Ben drank. helmets of marching soldiers. Only the tops of the images were preserved. let’s not push it. As he did. The older Cortras would certainly take his share of any found wealth. “I don’t know. It was open. “It’s almost a thousand dollars! We’ll split it three ways. The glass depicted battles the Chosen had allegedly waged during claims for the Promised Land. He lingered long enough to draw the attention of the brothers. or for the merry-go-round. Everyone knew the mythology. Enough bits and pieces of the remaining scenes suggested the subject of the art.” Dil smirked. As the brothers explored.” Hen put the tickets in his pocket. “There’s gotta be a key. Lottery tickets. Spear tips. Ben and the Cortras brothers hadn’t noticed when they were outside. the priest is right here. Ben held the keys in his open palm a long time before placing them in his pocket. “It looks like a check’s inside. “I suppose these belong to you. and got it right on the first try. A crucifixion and evisceration culminated a parade of . He tossed the container into the lidless trashcan next to the refrigerator. he shut the off water and turned around. When Ben eventually felt his gut would burst. Dil kept on eye on his little brother. The pipe spit out rusty brown water.” Dil took the envelope. Dil tried the door to the office.” he said and handed the chain to Ben. maybe. he could not satisfy the squealing brat.” Dil tore the envelope open on one side and pulled out a check. The ornamentation threw broad swatches of color to the floor. but the top thirds of the rectangular windows were composed of stained glass. closet. Ben still wanted to open the window. with straight iron bars outside.” “You’re not supposed to eat the stuff left in a house that's been fumigated. which welled like spilled wine. He wiped water from his chin with the sleeve of his sweatdampened shirt. Hen tossed the key chain to his brother. He opened this one himself and discovered tickets or coupons inside. sucking in his cheeks. He tried the keys that looked like good matches for the lock. then cleared. Ben pushed away from the desk. I suppose. The affect of the artwork seemed unbalanced. The bottom two-thirds of each scene had been replaced with clear glass. The lessons were intended to convey what the Chosen were capable of doing and willing to do. The mind struggled to paint the absent parts. “Food. They get these every month. The Cortras brothers and Ben moved as a group through the hallway running along the rear of the church. Hen rattled a locked drawer.” “In that case. anyway.” “Let me see it. With the window open. “Maybe.” Dil was right. Light spilled into the breezeways outside and through the long windows flanking a large room. “What are these?” he asked. “Give those here. The fact that somebody had saved them made the tickets important enough to keep on his person. They stopped exploring to watch their thirsty friend. Hen pulled out a sealed envelope. The back door is bad enough. probably because the door had stayed closed while the fumigators worked. The smell was not so intense in the office. The tour led past a closed office.“Ugh!” Hen exclaimed. Anything else in there?” Hen dug deeper into the drawer and found another envelope. and the feet of a sacrificed god were the only clear images. “Looks like we need to get some food. Slow down. Things not on the Church tab. “We don’t have to rush it.” Hen eagerly suggested. “You still got that screwdriver. “This looks like the fund from the Church to this parish. so none of his lock picking skills were required. barren yard.” Dil informed his brother. Red dominated the other colors in ornate glass. Ben reached over a small metal desk to get to the sill. and other stuff that comes up. let’s say this one got lost and get another one. Dil turned the keys over. The three left the room and followed the small hall into the church proper. Hen pulled open the next drawer to find a key chain with keys of various sizes. Dil?” Hen asked. and stairwell before the hall turned right into the nave.” “What do parishes get checks for?” Hen asked. Ben's damnable thirst demanded attention like a child throwing a tantrum. you know. more so with the missing details.

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

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

During the gatherings. few of her stories were ever selected at all. “I don’t know. I’ll start on that. Hen will still have plenty of work when he returned. Nothing. and slammed the door. We’ll cash that check when you come back.” 5 The Assailed Rock The day before last.” Dil said. leaving brown smears. the smell of the gas should have diminished considerably. most everything she submitted became tragically delayed by the process. Ben. The covert audience included more than just the priest. and dust pan knocked inside the can. You heard what the priest told Ben. insects. By now. Consequently. and goop with the dustpan.” Hen scratched his head. Benedict. Ben would not be surprised to hear the man begin to whistle. The experience in the desert must have disconnected a bit of himself to observe from outside and lend rational advice. “Who was that?” Hen asked. The car accelerated with a screech. their focus remained .handle. as he scooped up a pile of feathers.” “You’re always coming up with the crazy ideas. Ben listened for the voice before answering. “Tell you what. and the lowly commissions for those stories that were approved for broadcast. Pick up some Yowling Cat while you’re out. you either blow it or chicken out. It’s a stop-in. mop. “You know. Margot certainly had not spend so much time and money in school just to “get-by.” Dil observed. even though he could only make out a rotund shape behind the car’s tinted glass. Go get the tarp.” Every Sunday afternoon.” His brother’s perspective and stubborn stand didn't appease Hen. “I don’t know about you. the place talks to me. Ben turned around and watched Dil set to work. she and her friends always rehashed complaints and whined about the lack of work for reporters. Another panful of gore plopped into the can. An errand away from the church and a few hundred dollars in his pocket were incentive enough for him. As Ben thought about the entity haunting him. but he liked the building wide open. We just got a free ride. The glop slid off into the trashcan like molasses.” Dil quipped. but this place is growing on me.” Dil pointed to the mess in the sanctuary. the priest shut off the alarm and unlocked the doors with a single button. slowing only to make the turn. Dil. like I told you. Otherwise. It did not offer more answers. The Cortras brothers at the back of the church counted among the spectators. He rustled through his jacket pocket for the key chain. Ben felt he was still watched. but when the chance comes. If these were the only tools supplied. “Maybe we should go. so he went to the truck without protest. Dil dragged the uncovered trashcan from the kitchen. None of the dozens of stories she wrote made their way to military news radio without heavy editing. “Everyone gets what they came for. scraping noise and the voice of the older Cortras broke the peace. started the car.” “I think he’s your boss. and they would empty their rations of liquor. Ben stood in open the doorway with his hands on his hips. He dropped behind the wheel. He listened for the voice. A broom.” “I don’t like it. The calm within the church spread to the street. alumni from the Journalism university in Capital. Luckily. she made her living doing transcription work. and then sped away. Ben had not noticed Dil leave and return until a snarling. and the voice over Ben's left shoulder. The older Cortras never seemed more inspired. slowed.. “It feels like we’re supposed to be here. she would be forever relegated to the status of an irresponsible hack. “That didn’t sound good. In fact.” “Don’t be stupid. The captain turned the front wheels from the curb slowly. You are a generous man. Margot Sebash needed to meet her deadline. but that part-time job had no future.. The brothers came out of hiding. Upon finding it. Margot would gather her friends. We’re staying. he convinced himself the voice was his own process of thought. Still. Hen reluctantly agreed.” the voice said as the car rolled through a stop sign and disappeared around block. This place doesn’t even sound like a real church. accelerated again.

Margot dreamed of the possibilities opened by the re-introduction of the written word. they had better keep moving. but in reality.” The encampment was once a flat piece of ground covered with tents huddled around a naturally fed cistern. At one time. With the last generous coins from the Church. The Wall had. despite the end of construction years ago and avaricious reins on Church money. The terrorist attacks were impossible to stop because of their desperation and daring. Once the Wall was completed. The Wall was under construction when her grandmother was still a little girl. As the encampment expanded. The practice helped avoid unrest and uprising among fringe elements . The classes Margot took in journalism defined juggling facts and Church agenda as a hard line of discretion. and books were once found in people’s homes and for sale in legitimate shops. but grew as more people came to find work. Still. originally a temporary home for migrant construction workers during the “Renovation. The stories of Margot's grandmother particularly interested Margot. Poverty and squalor cried in stark contrast to the wealth of the Chosen's city. libraries held more than technical manuals. The encampment became a way point for the destitute and UnChosen pilgrims seeking entrance to Capital. Margot’s grandmother told Margot stories from the past. They were certainly a miserable bunch. For her. so the encampment spread like a weed sending out runners outside the gates of Capital. Long ago. The clergy became the only authority on the Mortal God. and archived recordings of sermons and military news. to date. People still arrived today. not yet. and even then. those possibilities were primarily additional opportunities to sell stories. everyone else did. so a barrier between the Promised Land and the uncivilized world was the only solution. The trick to writing today required an intuitive understanding of the balance between public perception and Church propaganda. Margot and her friends consoled themselves with the fact they were still young. the Chosen's military pushed it from the Wall. and all had a hard time earning a living in their chosen field. such as the Wall. the debt for higher education smothered Margot and there was no turning back. The approach to Capital and its great white wall must convey reverence and awe. straight out of Capital. The projects were mainly defensive measures. did not constrain writing. carefully worded textbooks. They especially avoided criticism of the Church itself. the fact that independent publications ever existed inspired Margot to write. UnChosen workers bulldozed their own shacks and strung barbed wire fences between their home and the barren minefield before the Wall. The scrutiny of the military. That liberty vanished before Margot learned to read. The expression “misery loves company” suited them. The freedom sounded ideal. newspapers. fulfilled the promise to keep out the heathens and became the pride of the military. the Chosen lived within the barricaded city. but covertly. only a couple years out of school. Magazines. had not survived. The military justified the action with concern over securing the perimeter.solely on the climate and nature of reporting. The mile-wide space between Capital and the encampment became a restricted zone. Capital was different two or three generations ago. Only travelers with reasonable business during daylight were allowed to approach the gates. Few were admitted in those past times and none were admitted today. Her grandmother talked about the existence of free print. All printed materials that had not been scrutinized were deemed potentially subversive and systematically collected through books-for-cash programs. When the practical side of life conflicted with the naivety of youth. while most of the UnChosen found their families rooted in the despicable slum outside called the encampment. the functional arm of the Church. there were aesthetics to consider. so the northern section of the encampment came down. Corrugated steel buildings and hastily erected networks of phone and power lines could not be allowed to creep up the Wall’s pristine face. The Church called the period the “Great Social Renovation” when Church-financed construction projects fed and clothed families of the Chosen and UnChosen castes alike. which could put an end to a fledgling career. A newspaper meant that a level of restriction on information dissemination was lifted. by outright confiscation. no more walking a tightrope for the grace of the Church. which meant opinion and commentary may even be possible. The Church and military did not use the term propaganda. Even bibles and hymnals printed before an exaggerated prehistoric date. and later. heathen terrorists had escalated their attacks to suicide bombings and kidnapping highly ranked priests.

beyond unimaginative bullet points. If Unchosen were quoted. probably a botched robbery. but the practice often backfired once the story reached the fact-checkers of the military censors. Margot never accepted the censors as prejudiced. Margot was a Chosen. but they were few. burying the new leader in controversy. of course. She was too creative. A fellow reporter. The story resurfaced every few months. Margot currently covered another story. The issue always convoluted facts. Instructions were included. Chosen and UnChosen shared the same beliefs. the Church called the communion a sacrament of penance. Public use of the roads would alleviate traffic congestion dramatically and the inner-city highways sorely needed relief. Margot needed to break free of the mire.also typical. Censors lacked tact and were often intimidating. but for now. All she had to do was flesh out the details. depending on how information was presented and if the public got their blood. Free speech was never entirely revoked. the clerk provided an additional cover sheet. A priest had been murdered in his parish. Their comments were considered uninformed and unreliable. where most fortunate UnChosen within the city lived. If and when the military called to verify a source. People could still express themselves and voice dissatisfaction. A four-lane road system rested on top and gated ramps rose up to the Wall from myriad points within Capital. Exceptions always existed among millions of people crammed together in any small place. an old friend from school. caused problems. the censors automatically struck those quotes from stories. The military wanted to use the event for a very specific broadcast. She never solicited permission because she wrote for military news. People should not be afraid to have their names read over the air if they told the truth. because sensational stories paid a lot of bills. at first. namely covert heathen sympathizers. and she used quotes. tipped off Margot with a phone call. but the planners failed to anticipate growing families would swell the population. and provided a request form to retrieve the crime summary and photos. The military had prepared an outline for Margot. stood in lines. stating the . An age-old forum provided the outlet. Stories of the sort provided his revenue for the past year and he would likely return to them. Innocence and truth were subjective anyway. frightened witnesses typically denied anything had ever been said. he claimed to take a sabbatical. He wanted to clear his head and Margot was grateful. who then languished in everlasting obscurity. No one wanted his or her name finding its way onto a list. Meeting the deadline for those stories guaranteed a steady stream of work. and her presence in Capital and her degree were testaments to the fact. with new proposals from aspiring community leaders. Margot followed her friend’s steps to navigate the typical bureaucratic maze. They should be grateful for recognition. even in mundane matters. truth had never been the goal in reporting. The only things separating the two castes were a matter of birth and a parable about God playing favorites. The Church or military assigned sensitive and high profile stories to experienced reporters directly. UnChosen with college educations lived in Capital. On a few occasions. When a particularly vocal leader gathered inordinate support. Rookies and hacks handled ordinary current events and fought over the stories like they were scraps thrown to scrawny dogs.influenced by heathens and other malcontents. After the normal delay. Story investigation required clearance from military. Margot’s exposition in her stories. but the story was quick work. For Margot and her friends. She hoped to find an angle with recurrent activists that petitioned to open the Wall for transit. Information control was paramount for public safety. Her friend claimed he grew sick of tales of murder and suicide and didn’t want the story. presented credentials. Confession vaccinated against civil disturbance. Anonymity reigned as a valued trait among Capital residents. Urgent expediency excused the lack of foresight when the military built the Wall. The Saint Erasmus parish encompassed the ghetto of Capital. the Church used the issue to weed out potential threats to their complete sovereignty. the Church revealed an embroiling scandal. She went to military headquarters. flagging the case for censorship . like everyone else in Capital. but now lacking anonymity. She felt repulsed. The Wall served as more than a barrier against heathen terrorists. The undeniable truth was that the Chosen lived behind a wall because of terrible hatred and fear. The Church supported the military’s desire to maintain possession. or nothing at all about the incident would be reported.

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

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

Stoughnt was going to try her patience, so Margot went straight to the point. “Yes. I want some details. You found the body of the priest, is that right?” The old woman nodded and waved for Margot to step back. Tamara turned and looked into her dark apartment. “Baby, stay inside and don’t lock your mother out. I’m going to talk to our friend.” The bars swung out with a slow creak. Margot sighed. The hottest part of the afternoon crept upon them, so if the old woman wanted privacy, she would get it. On wilting days like these, people stayed shut inside their shadowed hovels. The street had emptied except for an occasional car coasting by with the windows up and air conditioner blowing. Afternoon commuters wandered lost, looking for shortcuts around busy main routes. Margot asked if the old woman would like to sit in Margot’s car, which also had air conditioning. Margot’s little red compact, nicknamed ‘Mariposa’ after the Mariposa Lily, waited up the block. The old woman graciously declined. “I can’t go far without someone looking after my baby. He gets into trouble if he’s not watched.” Mrs. Stoughnt brought a scarf to drape over her head. The floral patterned cloth partially covered her eyes, although she still used her hand to shield her face against blistering light. The afternoon was too bright, even though Margot wore her sunglasses. The pair took a short walk to the curb. “Do you mind if I ask you what happened?” Margot asked, unable to restrain herself any longer. “It looks like you were bitten - a lot.” The old woman “tsk’d” her hands as she held them out before her and rotated her wrists. “I’ll tell you, it happened when I found Reverend Arnett.” A second minor mystery pended; the objects or marks on the floor and now the bites. None of these miscellaneous facts would find their way into Margot’s story. These were superfluous details, outside the bounds of the censors, therefore automatically struck from any submission. The story was already written, but Margot had grown curious. Before she prompted the old woman to continue, Mrs. Stoughnt went on with the story. “I was coming back from work down the street - I dust a few of the shops for cash. I can’t work at the factory because I have to be home most of the time with Davey. The owners at the strip mall are nice. They don’t really need me, but the shelves do get dusty.” “Mrs. Stoughnt,” Margot intervened. “It’s warm out here.” The old woman took the interruption in stride. She may not have even heard Margot's complaint. Tamara used Margot’s prodding as a convenient spot to pause and inhale. “Well, it was after curfew and I had to sneak back home. The church is on my way to our place. I thought I would stop there to catch my breath and wait for the patrol to pass before I came home to Davey. Sometimes they can be so mean to an old woman. My neighbors will watch Davey sometimes, if I fix us all dinner.” A smile spread across the old woman’s face. She enjoyed living in this neighborhood, but Margot only wanted to get back to Mariposa, for fear of her transportation being stolen - as much as for the cool air. Still, questions had to be asked. This time she did rudely interrupt the old woman with a question, interjecting the query amid Tamara's blathering about kind neighbors. “Where is the church? I thought you lived close by.” “Oh, it’s right there.” The old woman pointed across the street. A tent, or rather, a tented building, sat between two large, low concrete warehouses. The building underneath the plastic covering appeared two stories tall, although the distorting, thick, vertical blue and white stripes on the canvas made accuracy difficult to judge. Saint Erasmus was a flat, rectangular box. There weren’t steeples or buttresses as Margot was accustomed to seeing on the mediocre churches where she had lived and gone to school. “They covered Saint Erasmus when the fumigators started working. They had to kill the flies.” Margot’s curiosity twisted to confusion. She opened her mouth but got her answer before asking the question. “They came out of nowhere, after Father Arnett died. They were nasty and biting, and big. I’ve never seen flies like them. They must live in the desert with the heathens, eating carrion.” “Please, start at the beginning,” Margot insisted. She felt a timeline needed to be

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

Margot returned to her car, started the engine, and cranked the air. The instant coolness felt wonderful. She sat back, relished the air, and flapped the collar of her blouse. As she turned from the curb, she looked back to see Mrs. Stoughnt trying the handle and rapping on her apartment door. The old woman had been locked out, despite her instructions to Davey. Margot was certain the retarded boy thought the trick was the funniest thing since the last time he had locked his mother outside. Enough time in the day remained to type the story and return to military headquarters for submission. Reporting for the military progressed much like transcription work, reporters translated the handwritten scribbles of summaries to typed pages, which were later read on the radio. The summary and photos were required to be returned in the same condition they were presented, or the submitted story would face rejection. If Margot failed at the small task, she would be subjected to a prying investigation into her personal affairs, followed by an extensive audit of previously submitted work. The process crippled reporters, and must not happen to Margot again. Putting aside the old woman’s assumption the devil had murdered the priest, the culprit was still unknown. The summary reported nothing had been taken and Margot expected the meager donations and ornamentation inside typical churches were untouched. Evidently, no proclamation or threat associated with heathen sympathizers was left at the scene; yet there were feathers. This may be some crazy killer with an unconventional calling card. Margot flirted with the idea to follow up similar incidents. If a serial killer committed the murder, someone who hated priests, and not an opportunist who had stolen in through an open door, looking for valuables, the story could mean real opportunity. The censors would not twist facts into sugary nonsense if a manhunt ensued. That would be counterproductive to finding the perpetrator. Margot now became the ideal candidate for the assignment. She had staked her claim for being there first. Margot only had to identify a trend and play by the rules. She grew so excited, she planned to skip her pile of transcription work. Although, the typed forms were due tomorrow morning. Missing their deadline would cause trouble. Some serious thought needed to go into her hopeful plan. 6 Uncovered Nakedness The telephone in Margot's single-bedroom apartment rang immediately after her story aired. Margot turned off the radio and answered the call. Mark, the friend who had tipped Margot about the murder, called to congratulate his old college buddy. A couple uneventful days had passed since Margot visited the parish where the priest was killed. She needed to redouble her effort to meet her transcription work quota, so she would get paid and make the rent. The military news service was notoriously slow to write checks and issued them on a strict biweekly basis. Margot could not count on payment before the first of next month. Still, a pending check excited Margot. She was very appreciative of her friend, Mark. He did not hang out on Sundays with her other friends. He had married soon after graduation and adopted “grown-up” responsibilities. The realization made Margot a little sad. At times, she and Mark seemed like friends since grade school, despite having met at a college party when, at the time, the only thing they had in common were their majors in journalism. One circumstance or another had always prevented the pair from getting closer than infrequent phone calls. Today, Mark called to congratulate Margot and proposed something more. He asked if he could take the lucky reporter to dinner. Margot jumped at the chance. She grew elated after listening to her story on the radio, even in the monotone of the woman announcer, and felt celebratory. That and the transcription had her working hermit-like around the clock. Margot needed a break. She accepted without thinking anything more of paying responsibilities. A tenacious craving for pasta salad with feta came upon her. Mark and Margot met in the late afternoon at a modest trattoria close to Mark’s residence. Neither had ever seen each other’s homes,. In fact, they had not seen each other in the flesh for years. Despite the passed time, they recognized each other instantly. Now that Margot saw Mark again, she remembered why she was so fond of him. He was tall and naturally blond, a rare sight in any city. Margot soaked her hair in peroxide, like many of the women in Capital. Mark looked taller, as if working out made him grow.

thank you. Margot. He glanced at the menu and set it down again when the waitress came to the table.” “And a fine one. “Maybe you just forget how good I looked to begin with. The girl turned to Mark and he winked. “No. “Margot?” Mark asked. Since she was older now. Margot watched the curious man through the plate glass window at the front of the trattoria. but she still liked to be reminded of the time when she was trim and full of energy.” The waitress bounced as she wrote out the whole order.” Margot sighed. “We just have pasta.” she replied with a sheepish groan. She had not bothered to learn item numbers or short hand. did they?” Mark queried. The censors flagged the story for censorship. it put you on the air. and seemed oblivious to the awkward wait her lack of skills caused as she scrawled. I’m a journalist.” Humility was not a weakness Mark suffered. and able to reign herself with some efficiency. I liked what you wrote. please. It’s just a pleasure to see you. More exposure means more writing. Life was not wasting time breaking her down. She pushed the self-conscious thought away. A man is expected to have a little paunch. But.” The waitress checked the menu and confirmed Margot's suspicion.” “Nah. including herself and her other friends. There really wasn’t much to the story. I notice these things. “Still.Most reporters Margot knew sported thin arms and began to permanently slouch. again. Margot knew for a fact that her butt had grown a little bigger. Despite having read every word waiting for her friend.” the teenage waitress shook her head.” “It has.” Marked winked at the young waitress and she trotted back inside. Judging by the way the waitress twisted her face. so I just followed the outline.” “Nonsense. Most of the time.” “One and the same.” “I wouldn’t let you. She cleared her throat. Congratulations. “What d’ya want?” Mark looked amused and pointed to Margot. “Just an ice tea. I know. She was young and resembled the thin man who periodically peeked from the doorway to the kitchen. to the kitchen. in feigned surprise. She found Mark much . “Well. and thank you again. “You haven’t changed a bit!” Margot blushed. you know. She had asked for two when she arrived. “I should buy you dinner. Margot assumed the girl had trouble spelling. most likely the word “fettuccine. You earn the trust of the military and the Church. I’ve been in your shoes. She caught whatever afflicted him and returned an exaggerated grin. “Aren’t you having dinner?” asked Margot. The acknowledgment popped the girl’s tongue between her teeth and she gently bit. she saw Mark’s charm didn’t affect just her. she perused the menu again. “I can see you’ve been working those pecs. Margot blinked and drew a tolerant breath.” Mark waved her off. It’s how a woman knows he’s taking care of his loved ones and not thinking about himself. Margot noted Mark's talent for inspiring immediate giddiness in women.” Margot handed a menu to Mark. The waitress was probably his daughter. Margot heard enough whining on Sundays. sweetie.” “Then I’ll have the fettuccine and green salad. they read the story verbatim. This conversation was not going to start with complaints about finding oneself fat and flabby. They didn’t censor you. “And you get more handsome every time I see you. The girl's etiquette cinched the suspicion. She realized his looks and flattery helped overcome just how annoying someone could be when that person enjoyed flaunting their own laurels. Mark smiled wide when he saw her sitting at a table outside the restaurant he had suggested. Civil outrage would only come off as envy for the girl’s youth. “To tell you the truth. Margot had difficultly figuring out if her old friend was truly arrogant or just enjoyed playing with the trait. the check hasn’t even been cut yet and I’m short of cash. I have to watch my weight. Her partially braided hair dragged over each shoulder as her head turned. and then losing will and interest to do something about the slow entropy. Time has really flown.” Mark pulled a chair from the table and sat down.” Margot lied. “Do you have pasta salad? I see only green salad here.

“All right. “I am curious. The marriage elevated the man above the caste of UnChosen. then it’s really good to see you. “I just wonder if there is any real connection between the murder and the heathens. She had always found him attractive. the day Margot investigated the death of the priest at Saint Erasmus. but happened in places outside the Shur. Why are you so interested in this one?” Mark shifted in his chair and thrummed the water glass with his fingers.” “And that’s why I like talking to you.more attractive with bulging muscles and a straight she didn’t.” Mark's smile returned. He must have married a Chosen with family in Capital. “Flies?” Margot relived the conversation she had shared with the old woman.” “Thank you.” The girl brought the ice tea and Margot then asked her to also bring water. When the ambulance arrived and the patrol took photos. The scene sounded too gruesome. prompted by a missing scout and reports about Ilu Drystani in the area. whether real or not. waiting for Mark to notice her again. like a foreigner. The sound of her stomps were as if she wore combat boots instead of her ankle-strap sandals. Tamara Stoughnt. too. “We never do. “I don’t know. I don’t really know.” “Margot. biting flies. I saw the feathers in the crime photos. “How is your wife?” “Oh. maybe by a maniac. nothing I’ve ever heard. Was there anything at the scene like a star. But.” “What are you talking about?” “The military conducted a raid outside Gomorrah three or four days ago. “Do feathers mean something to the heathens?” “No. His daughter would be viewed more kindly.” Margot sighed again. Such unions were rare. “What about the feathers?” Mark resumed. Having been in the flurry of confusion before. this time exaggerated and frustrated. his blood must have attracted flies. It doesn’t sound like the tactics of heathens.” Margot sipped her water. I have to connect all the dots. The girl's name sounded like Sadie. but didn’t want to pull away .” Margot sat back and folded her hands in her lap. you covered enough murders pinned on heathen sympathizers. The conversation between Mark and Margot lulled while the waitress lingered. A phone inside the restaurant rang and the girl's father called her to the kitchen. “What do you think happened in that church? Is there any truth to the story that heathen sympathizers were involved?” “To tell you the truth.” Margot became suspicious. “Are we going to talk about the details of a murder? I am about to have dinner.” . The attack was so bad the military just carted the priest away and fumigated Saint Erasmus.” Mark suddenly became flustered. That’s why I didn’t go into the church. a big asterisk? You said feathers. “Time for confession. “I didn’t actually go inside Saint Erasmus.” Mark said. either. The young waitress brought a couple glasses of water. or Sally. She was surprised. Margot deserved a little untoward flirting. It was a murder. but forever outside the bloodline. The military didn’t take very many because of the flies. she knew how to stop the tumbling spiral. I don’t think I would have. even though I’m sure they wouldn’t be upset over the death of a priest. That’s why I thought some crazy killer murdered the priest. no.” “You didn’t go into the church?” Mark sounded incredulous. The waitress turned with a frown and went back the way she came.” “I heard about that. maniac?” “There were feathers all around the body. let’s not talk about her. He laid his hands upon Margot’s.” Mark consoled her. but remain tainted. the flies attacked everybody.” Mark drained half his glass of ice tea as Margot spoke.” “What do you mean. I have no clue where they came from or what they mean. Her father had the twang of a northern accent. “Mark. “After the priest was killed. She changed the subject before losing herself in a familiar daydream she had held captive since school.

the shackles came immediately after graduation with the only woman who ever stirred guilt in his heart.” Mark said. Mark felt sad. the cave-like opening filled with flame. as if played out before her on film and in slow motion. The Church and military had built the Wall as a shield against such frightful paranoia.” “Why did you really ask me to dinner?” Mark shuffled again. Margot required work. The trouble could be that the two had known each other for years. but did not want to look like the bad guy. “The whole Drystani thing is just a rumor. During the enchantment. for that matter. For now. where the alternative was a hopeless marriage? Despite growing from the seed of a missed conquest. “I don’t. smashing through the front window. The resumption of his flagrant philandering had no impact on their marriage. accompanied by the realization of an unfulfilled love affair. He was in school and commitment came later in life. or Margot knew he was married. Margot spotted the uncomfortable squirming through the glass tabletop. For him. He wondered if his charms were lost on older women. but at Mark. There is probably no relation. Mark was too. Mark’s family warned him against his callous behavior toward his wife. Still. but maybe it was about time someone challenged him. not toward the heathens. This is big. “I wanted to see you.” Margot’s anger dissipated like the failing resonance of a bell. but there are rumors he's in Capital. an old friend from school turned up. He had known as much since school. He melted the waitress easily enough. Who could scoff at such a romantic destiny. Mark acted especially bold this afternoon. Margot was the genuine love of his life.” Mark shuffled his feet. His hands remained on the table where Margot left them and he interlocked his fingers. She pulled her clenched fists to her sides. but Margot resisted. her grandmother shopped across the street from a cafe no bigger than the restaurant Margot now sat outside. As Margot recalled the story. the driver veered into the cafe. but Mark could see Margot wanted to succumb. Yet her flushed face refueled with hot blood. the salad arrived. Mark just could not get Sarah to leave him. and the restaurant had so few patrons. He’s a sadist and a cold-blooded killer. this is my story. but she had always been with someone else. although he suspected age only enhanced his appearance. but her grandmother recalled the terrorist attack clearly. He gazed contented at Margot’s face a little too long. This time. Margot's grandmother said she saw people thrown into the air by the impact. despite his resisting her pleas for another child.“Yeah. Anyway. Of course. Mark relaxed and leaned back. After Margot’s first nibble. That’s all. I wanted to see if you still looked sexy when you got angry. The image terrified Margot as a little girl and still made her ill today. but that didn’t stop him from having fun. Tales from before the Wall were among the stories her grandmother repeated. and also relieved. There were far fewer people and automobiles back when Capital opened on the Shur. and an unplanned pregnancy. The stare sustained her blush. He would have walked out a long time ago. the story of true love held some truth. Margot looked around. One day. the place couldn’t possibly be a feasible target.” Margot shivered. “So why do the heathens want to hurt people?” Mark sighed. “Shut up. and disappeared inside. but the child died at birth. Before the falling people hit the ground. He probably became a heathen so he could hide his crimes under a cause. You know heathens say those things just to rattle the military. There must have been a bomb in the car. Margot felt sudden ire. “If there is a connection.” “So what makes you think Drystani is connected to the priest’s murder?” Margot jumped to a grandiose conclusion. she felt compelled to start another conversation. before the constant tangle of automobiles. a driver raced down the street. He could always use new tools. babble on the airways. You can’t just take it over after I’ve done the legwork. his wife would not let him go free. you know. he . No reckless drivers today. which was possible decades ago. The crash and the whoosh of fire were instantaneous. Missing scouts and Drystani resurfacing go hand in hand.” was the only reply Margot managed. “I’m not doing that at all. as did a refill for Mark’s ice tea.

“Well. He shared his idea.” Mark replied without embellishment. The teenager snubbed Margot with a sour wince and abrupt twirl. “Great. Then we have a partnership. but the pasta had already grown cold. Margot tasted the fettuccine. what can be long days. you want to discover their plots and land the assignment from military news. she'd get in the way. And we look good together.” Margot gloated over the attention she received in preference over the young waitress.” Mark proposed. a messiah will come and wipe the Church and all its graven images from the face of the earth. I know the difference between crimes of passion.” he critiqued. “She doesn’t need to know. I still owe you a dinner. you would think they worshiped a cat god. But. But you’re still a reporter and I know you prefer investigation over writing sensational propaganda. chances were the assignment would go to a trusted. “Oh. a unique way of thinking or an invisible source. “Seriously. But neither of us have a lead. “That sounds a lot more fair than letting you steal my story.” Mark continued. She has always been jealous. and terrorism. with an old school flame?” Margot read Mark’s mind or had some thoughts of her own. there is the story about the prophet in the den.” Mark answered. what will Sarah think about you working. Mark could also inspire jealousy in women he had just met. The plate fettuccine dropped to the table with a clank that almost cracked the glass surface. although he had a couple laps on her.” “Well. “I should always call you. either. Despite the taste. Apparently. She now held the long gaze and Mark’s eyes grew wild. sure I do. Margot still offered Mark a sample.” Margot shared. “I think it’s politics. “Let’s work together. the Chosen and the Church. They don’t accept that human beings can overcome a god.” Mark leaned forward again.set aside his game of peek-a-boo with Margot to rethink his strategy.” “They know that. trying her best to sound unconvinced. “The last thing we need is her getting the wrong idea. Margot liked the attention. This time she put her hands over his.” Mark had a valid point. he is their lion. “Thank you. this isn’t very good. “That’s what heathens don’t like about us. lunatics.” Margot emphasized the possessive aspect of her comment. “And?” Margot asked.” Mark returned to flirting. Still. They ran the same race. They want a theocracy of their own.” “And Drystani would be a dictator?” “He’s only a captain in a heathen militia. “One day. “And so would you. heathens talk a lot about lions and tigers. Margot and Mark finished the chalky noodles together and talked a little more about where they would .” “And if they have.” Margot said. And if you need to call me.” “But we don’t worship the cross. “We’re iconoclasts. I don’t think he has ambitions other than murder and mayhem.” “So tell me.” Margot doubted there was ever a time Mark's wife didn’t have a reason to be upset. If you didn’t know better. That wouldn’t be Mark. more experienced reporter. we wouldn’t want to give your wife any ideas.” “Well. “That pit is now Capital. They needed some angle to make either of them indispensable. even when there wasn’t anything to be mad about. No doubt the lukewarm dish was the deliberate fault of the waitress. In fact.” The idea of a clandestine adventure tempted Margot.” Mark ventured. if you believe heathens have infiltrated the Promised Land. Making themselves essential reporters required far-fetched thinking and luck. Margot. “I have always thought we would make a great team.” “Honestly?” Margot had eaten enough of her salad and pushed the unfinished portion aside. heathens hold to strict. The secrecy absorbed her. do we?” “Besides feathers in a church that have nothing to do with Drystani and the heathens. They think it’s the other way around. Even if she did find a lead. literal interpretations of the scriptures. hang up if my wife answers. or god serves man. You work part-time copying illegible handwriting to stacks of mundane forms. or break a story. I made a career of crime scene reporting.” “Let’s be realistic.

He expected his brother to be mad about him having been gone so long.” “I suppose it’s better than nothing at all. . An animated Dil was unsettling. especially for Margot. The sun threatened to set by the time the younger Cortras finally returned through the front doors. “I made a point of saving some. Instead. Hen was late. and Margot had always known. The carved furrows in the wood floor resembled scars between the blackened smears. No priest means the facility is absent a caretaker. Dil led his brother and Ben down the back hall to the kitchen. Ben joined Dil in the grisly task of cleaning the sanctuary. Ben crouched as he pushed the dustpan through the red jelly. 7 Leviathan The older Cortras brother worked up a sweat. They found a rake in the breezeway opposite the one they had followed upon arrival at Saint Erasmus. “Besides. The old friends. Hen had managed to find pizza and more ‘Yowling Cat. Hen would have preferred him angry.” Hen noticed something different. Dil Cortras went straight to scrapping gelatinous blood and feathers from the floor of Saint Erasmus. ah.” Dil said to Hen. as if an angry spider skittered through Dil’s left ear. Tackling the remaining work wouldn’t fill a morning. Just give me the address today. you don’t know what I’m looking for. This man was bold and smooth. rolling dead insects into a mound like fruit suspended in an opaque desert. but he saw Ben and Dil had made admirable progress. Saint Erasmus. stroking downward until his hand rested in the small of Margot’s back.” Margot acquiesced. Perhaps the older Cortras had found and drained a bottle of liquor while Hen was absent. his brother acted oddly cheerful.” Margot announced. The place is in the ghetto. Hen entertained using the altar as a dinner table.” “Why? Everything is probably cleaned up by now. the waitress provided only one napkin. and new partners. even if Hen worked alone. Mark leaned down. especially if what happened already made the circuit. “There was talk about prohibition in the Cap before our time. “I’ll take a look if I get a chance. The scraping of the pan and rake against the wooden floor bit painfully. With the sun so low. unsurprised with Hen. “Give me the address of the church.” warned Mark. only the top portions of the stained glass allowed light to splay into the nave. “You can only buy as much liquor as you have tickets. “Hey. “Those weren’t lottery tickets. right? The Church will have a tough time ordering a new assignment on short notice. hugged. As the work progressed. They both plainly required a change of scenery if they were going to enjoy a meal. Dil raked feathers like leaves on a lawn while doing yard work at the end of a warm autumn afternoon. yeah.” “Maybe it isn’t. leaving Dil to the unpleasant work. once the partially eaten burrito had turned to vapor and steam. Chances of either of them getting down to the parish in the coming days were slim. they’re rations. We can go together.” Hen reported. Shades of Fall dabbled room. He scouted the pews before the image of blood and feathers turned his stomach.” “I can go. After finishing their early dinner. right?” Mark instructed. She swooned at the strength of his arms and the solid feel of his abdomen. Come to think of it. later.’ the alcoholic cough syrup the Cortras brothers called wine. scratches and stains damaged the floor. His grip lifted his friend to her toes. although he secretly hoped the work would have been finished before he returned.” Saving work for the young Cortras and Dil's instruction sounded a little better to Hen. I guess they came to a compromise. can we eat this in the kitchen?” Dil and Ben eagerly put aside their work. waving a string of paper tickets.” “Uh. She retrieved a pen from her purse and wrote the address of Saint Erasmus on the paper napkin that came with the ice tea. “There will be that mess you don’t want to look at. but decided the act would constitute some sort of sacrilege. as well as an appetite.look for clues. I don’t think anyone would volunteer for that kind of work. “There’s plenty left for you.” Dil said. Mark left an undeserved and overly generous tip on the table.

He had never heard his brother talk this way. “Ben. Hen hoped Ben had caused Dil’s transformation. Ben?” Hen didn’t know what his brother talked about and Ben didn’t seem to care. but they remained wet. “I know where those bugs came from. right!” Dil added. and I even parked the truck down the street with a couple other wrecks. The other Dil took a couple big swigs of wine. He left the water running so he could take another long drink without the copper flavor. The flies started biting people on the beach and the military brought flame throwers to fry 'em out of the sky. Hen rescued the uneaten portions of pizza. “Dil? Are you on something?” Hen asked. Hen leaned over the pizza boxes and breathed in deep. He reached for a bottle of wine. but only if it lasted temporarily.” “So the military news talks about events other than heathens and body counts. but a rotten scent lingered. The sunbaked stranger the Cortras brothers had found in the desert betrayed no interest in Dil's rhetorical gamble. swarms of them. He wiped his hands on his clothes. Ben also ate greedily. The aroma of cheese and tomato sauce filling his nose masked the other. odor. He lathered with a crusted bottle of dish soap he found in the cupboard below. preoccupied.” Hen’s audience continued eating.. Chewed crust spilled out and bounced off the edge of the table on a trajectory to the floor. His goose flesh went cold. Hen opened the pizza boxes.” Dil mumbled.” “You said you knew where the bugs came from. “Did you get a tarp?” Dil asked sliding a couple chairs from the table. “There were some prehistoric squids that washed up on the beach. dead rat recently removed from a trap. The sweat from Dil's arms had liquefied the jellied blood again. “Damn. “Damn!” Dil exclaimed. “I was getting to that.” Dil shoved half a slice into his mouth and his eyes rolled back. The smell of pizza drove home Hen’s hunger more than the promise of a fine culinary experience. While waiting. This must be their golden age of radio. A huge. as if somebody else had slipped into his skin. His arms spread wide as one fist gripped the bottle. so creating dinner conversation fell to the younger Cortras alone.” Dil observed. “It needed a little something to spruce it up anyway. Hen silently wondered what his brother and Ben talked about. the stranger never really did speak. one in each hand. he shook his hands. Dil was going to retch.” Dil took a huge gulp of wine straight from the bottle. but did not protest the attempt at discourse. The burden could not be more light. The next moment. Something more seemed different about his brother. I heard it on the radio. Hen always felt compelled to talk. heavy with sauce and stingy with cheese. staining his denim shirt and the crotch of his jeans. Hen? My money is on the ass of Beelzebub. They were huge. “And fire in the sky!” Hen sat cemented to his seat. he swallowed hard and clenched his teeth. But they weren’t really squids.” Hen’s skin crawled. “The yard. but their bodies were like snakes.” Ben said backing away from the table. like a ripe.” Dil answered. “Plague. Sausage and mushrooms topped both pies. Long red pin stripes were drawn down the front of his shirt. Ben didn’t say anything.“What are you doing with the feathers?” Hen asked. The Cortras brothers had gone without pizza for a long time. This time. “They were on the dead squids. The false priest sat eating. have I told you that my brother is a crack-up?” Dil spat crumbs as he spoke. he bowed over the table and jutted out his tongue. His older brother was never much of a connoisseur of anything. offensive.” Dil laughed with his mouth wide open. Come to think of it. “Did it work?” . they had the arms. if anything at all. His voice echoed in the hallway. “Where did the flies come from.” Dil said. The other hand wielded a folded slice of pizza. “Cuz’ I wouldn’t mind. The change would be okay. Any wager. mushy wad of pizza muffled his speech. The older Cortras recovered. “Well. Dil didn’t bother washing. but the food was never in real danger. “Yeah. but Hen couldn’t imagine the pie tasted as good as Dil expressed.. Ben washed his bloodied hands in the sink. The smell of fumigation gas had faded. The biggest squids ever found. Hen didn't notice as he busied himself making a selection among the irregular pizza slices.

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

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

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

Signs did not bode well. Hen saw it. armoire. even as he fought against waking. Once he removed the boots. even larger than the wrinkled clothes he presently wore. great things. Poor Hen was like a man who wouldn’t unlace a comfortable boot caught in the tracks of a train barreling down on him. Even if Ben was an impostor. The older brother displayed a stoic and contemplative impression. upholstered in faux brown leather. Drowsiness made the whimper of thirst softer. The music of activity could have sung Ben to slumber. He still felt lethargic. However. The combination of scrubbing and water flowed together into a rhythm. That personality started changing even before the man drank. He realized he squeezed his eyes shut more tightly as the intensity of the morning light grew and his struggle caused pain. The armoire also held a pair of black polished shoes that looked like they would fit if he wore a couple pairs of the black socks. blank spot in his memory might not have anything to do with the inexplicable feeling. In a strange way. just a little brighter than the streetlight that had shone through the night. At first the glow was soft and feathery. the thirst will take precedence and needed satisfaction soon. Ben explored his new bedroom. eventually. The big. Ben bore the intruding light when he finally opened his eyes. A large bed. A latticed window overlooked the street. indicating something terrible had happened to the previous priest. increased intensity adjusted his vision. The difference between them and his still swollen red hands made him muse that he looked as if he had been stitched together from two different people. The armoire and table he spotted last night were made of pine and stained dark chocolate. so Ben allowed himself to drift back to sleep. This must have been the priest’s room. He knew what to expect of Hen. He decided to continue living out of the . Ben needed to wake and plan his next step. but now that he gave up going back to sleep. the glare pounded through his closed eyelids and Ben’s face ached. The Cortras brothers might leave today. His dreams were still and deaf. intangible images. Hen would not leave Dil. Just as Ben decided to start the day. The armoire was shut. knowing already he would stay. but Dil was a different matter. He decided he would do that. and there were no better judges than a brother. if shortsighted. Yet he had gained entrance to the Cap and specifically came to Saint Erasmus for something. A chair. The soft ringing in the back of his head returned and the steady whistle lulled him to sleep and into dreams. Ben came with a job to do. Only the strands held back the bulging stuffing. that didn't guarantee he wouldn't be the next victim. He could not describe any of the frozen. Ben assessed his wardrobe options again. Ben left Hen and walked to the furthest room. The struggle against daybreak was clearly a battle he would not win. if Hen talked his brother Dil into the idea. Ben realized he really was tired.were the blood and feathers. His toes looked bony and shriveled. Their shapes and colors were not exact in the low light. For now. but he noted the absence of sound. he enjoyed the air on his feet too much to smother them away again. and table lent the space a lived-in appearance. but he would ignore the craving for now. However. inspired directive felt more comfortable than believing everything the result of ghoulish coincidences. The slow introduction of daylight and steady.” Ben said. 8 Wantonness The noise of scrubbing and running water woke Ben. Ben pulled out one of each. The ache at the front of his head vanished instantly. within minutes. Ben looked at his stark white feet. A human. Ben pulled the doors open by their thin brass rings. except daylight became a rude guest. The arms and back of the chair were worn down to the thick string mesh. not merely for celebration or honor. The closet contained an identical wardrobe as discovered in the suitcase Ben brought to Saint Erasmus .more white collarless shirts and black slacks. sat next to a bare table. then became a steady drip. the running water stopped. but did not have a lock. The shirt and pants were too big. armchair. He pulled off his boots and lay down. Ben felt better to know the character of the younger Cortras brother. All the color had been worn off during his walk through the Shur. “Let’s see what happens tomorrow. The Cortras brothers would too. The latter sound reignited his thirst. Ben had to assume the nothingness did. Ben dreaded the idea of putting on his beaten boots again. otherwise fully clothed.

just when Ben expected to hear nothing more than a footfall. eaten down to the last colored band. Dil reached over and gripped the mattress again. but cool enough. the younger Cortras brother. Toward the bottom of the stairs. Dil cursed and hammered the floor once. He solved his quandary with a quick scan of the room. The older Cortras must have missed the last step just where the path became darkest in the expiring morning. Ben began opening the case on the floor. Dil grabbed the mattress and flipped it up. The older Cortras bent over a bare mattress. leaving raw flesh beneath. filled the tiled bath. because need drove him. He hurt evenly all over. The wide shower head offered a torrent of cool liquid. Dry. tossed it on the rumpled bed. to bring back life. from the pump at the edge of the encampment. but first. With the mattress turned over and back on the frame. Ben had just stepped into the flow of water when he turned his open mouth upward. The dinner of pizza last night tricked Ben's stomach to expect regular meals again. His head was too large to fit in the basin under the faucet. Doubles of every fixture. He jerked it back up and then over. He stood on his toes to catch as much of the rain as possible and drank with restrained swallows. Dil stood erect. or perhaps the sight of puke triggered some hidden olfactory memory. he decided to wear the same clothing he wore the day before. Without reason to prepare for anything formal. Ben still tried. then instead. Ben felt gritty from his work yesterday afternoon and his skin stung because of his extensive sunburn. Ben followed the dripping sound. Ben turned to the second shower stall and started the flow of water. He had nearly grown accustomed to the pain. Ben hoped Hen hunted breakfast. white suds splattered the wall besides the bed. rubbing spirals in a large soapy circle. yellow vomit coated the front of his blue denim shirt. Ben then became aware of a rank smell. Ben stepped into the shower. Nothing. including sinks. The water was not as cold as yesterday. He lost his grip and the mattress slipped to the floor on the other side of the frame. The drip echoed from the nearest shower stall where a soapy puddle obscured the tiles and slowly drained through an unguarded opening in the floor. Most of the blisters on his arms and shoulders burst during the night. In either case. toilets. The bristles had splayed from abuse. He captured a painfully small amount of water this way and realized slurping repeatedly from his hands was not going to be enough. The mattress leaned upright against the it. he took hold of the spigot and held . Dil was still in the room where Ben and Hen had left him last night. stained rings. Looking down. Ben almost forgot to turn the water off in the sink. Ben needed to keep the fluid running down his throat and throughout his body. Some plunging may be required if he and the Cortras brothers stayed at Saint Erasmus very long. He spotted the suitcase just inside his bedroom door.suitcase. he moved on. well enough to expect some greeting for Dil. Frustrated. The scrubbing noise intrigued Ben enough to investigate the source. He resembled a living peppermint candy cane. and showers. Hen must be gone. he would get a long drink of water.” Dil evoked and tossed the brush. Ben discovered where his two halves were sewn together. He knew Hen. joined at his waist. barefoot. Ben heard Dil lumber downstairs. The open wounds were not any more painful than the rest of the top half of his body.not a sign of a stitch. He stripped off his clothes and piled them into the dry sink. The basin had filled. When his legs grew tired. He ignored the criss-crossed wrinkles in his shirt and pants and walked into the hall. Neither man acknowledged each other and continued their mornings as if they had not seen one another. because the fit of those clothes was less conspicuous. His skin immediately felt soothed again. filled his cupped hand and brought the contents to his mouth. All his pressing problems were solved with a shower. The work appeared masterful . The plaster sucked up the moisture. and banish the emptiness of memory and the past. He tried to remember where someone placed the suitcase. leaving small. Ben listened a little longer for conversation. Every living thing within him depended on water and its motion. The older Cortras brother held an oval-shaped toilet brush. He imagined his insides like the bed of a stream. Ben ran water in one of the sinks. The water must fill the grotto of his belly and then overflow. wet side down. “To hell with this. As the dripping bristles sailed through the air and struck the floor. which led him to the large bathroom on the second floor.

He took a prolonged look at each window. Ben decided to stay barefoot a little while longer. The two men nearly reached the knave before Dil said more. wringing his shirt in the sink. like decoration. he would not leave with them. Ben drank until his hands slipped. The older Cortras held up his shirt. “I don’t like the bars. Hen must have filled the trash can and poured out the water. He had nothing good to say about his chores. The wood was now dyed maroon. He didn’t bother to dry off. His back was pale. Grumpiness soaked the voice as wet as either Dil or Ben. Empty pizza boxes were tossed on top -they wouldn't quite fit inside the can. if he was to use the semblance of democracy to convince Hen against instinct. “You don’t look too bad. forming shapes like diamonds. The vague feeling Ben had a purpose in Capital to fulfill nagged him. The dispute had to work itself out between the brothers.” Dil smirked. He looked for soap. priest?” Ben had heard Dil talk to his little brother with the same sarcastic scorn. Even then. but did not button it up. Dil didn’t really need consensus for his little brother. If the man today was the original Dil. He watched his shuffling feet. The boxes were tilted up on their sides. Ben suspected he knew what Dil wanted. locking his fingers together over the copper pipe. Shaking his limbs didn’t help much. Ben stepped out of the stall and dressed. but if the brothers were to go. No more bugs. “If the sun weren’t shining. the older Cortras would not say anything else. but only at times. but Ben enjoyed staying wet. Either Dil got comfortable with Ben or the hang-over made the man irritable. He retrieved the shoes with two pairs of socks before going downstairs. to hear Ben outraged at the thought of leaving Saint Erasmus. “Now you’re a doctor. Ben waited for Dil to say more. as there wasn't a towel in the bath. “Yes. or feathers littered the damp wood floor. yet the burned stranger was still the blank paper he was since rescue from the desert.” Ben observed. sopping wet. Ben assumed the older Cortras tried to read him. The personality change came and went like the voice that followed Ben the desert. but again. It wasn't as strong as Dil’s odd enlightenment of having found a place to call home. but the feeling was not wise to dismiss. “I sent him to cash that check. Ben followed Dil. the man did not have that chemical smell. sir. but it served to quiet Hen more quickly and gently than the effort normally took. The water alone sufficed. It dripped from the shirttail and loose cuffs. Dil stood in the kitchen. He didn’t object to company. Dil said nothing more. in spite of the can having been rinsed.” Dil punctuated. Ben was merely meant to stay here at the moment. Besides. Ben would have to continue the conversation. people would think the two of us got caught in a downpour. last night and this place. but could not find any. The older Cortras brother looked for a majority vote. The deep scratches and gouges from yesterday’s work hinted at the original color of the grain. Dil turned away. Contrary to Hen’s suspicion. Dil was rarely alone.himself up. Ben noticed the trash can they had used yesterday was back in the kitchen. The light from the window streamed through the coarse fabric. Bloody stains and streaks covered the surface. the wash carried a diluted stain into most of the scars. All Ben currently had was his own instinct. The smell had finally left the shirt and Ben’s nose. He didn’t answer until he turned back around. Between Hen and Ben.” The tone sounded far from subservient. Ben took the meaning of the comment and made no further comments about Dil’s condition. Dil’s red band was thick and permanent. clots.” Ben stated. A good deal of water had recently been dumped over the wood. Only then did he take a few minutes to bathe the rest of his body. Something was different about him. not like Ben’s. considering last night. so he abstained. “So are you finished with the mess?” Ben asked. all were still .” The two men surveyed Hen’s handiwork in the nave. like a leather collar that never came off.” Dil looked at Ben again. The back of Dil’s neck was red. but not as white as Ben’s lower half. Dil glanced over his shoulder. “Hen finished it up this morning. He walked past Ben and into the hall. Dil turned around and acted as if he saw Ben for the first time that morning. The laundering seemed satisfactory and he put the shirt back on. The fingerprints of Dil and Ben were clearly pressed on the metal. Ben did not have a particular inclination to stay or go. “Yeah. He needed to know which personality prevailed this morning. He got up early. drugs did not change his brother's behavior.

“I never had much expectation.” “That was all it was about?” Ben hoped for more revelation. The subject was obviously a sore spot. he saw he stood barefoot in the discoloration. He didn’t speak again until he finished with the third button from the collar.” Ben changed the subject. Someone. Dil possessed a more complete picture of events that led him to this point and place in time. “I’ll even help you.” Dil took the time to button up his shirt. I meant. like the back door. what business would a couple of UnChosen transients have in a church. Dil scowled. They should probably talk about it. Other than money and a safe place to hide from whoever looked for the brothers. but Ben didn’t bother correcting the position before sitting down. He stepped into a clear patch off the low dais. It was just a dream. But this was different. He had no qualms about letting it go. In the meantime. their pasts may not be so different. was mine. probably Hen. The . I don’t talk about ’em. had pushed back nearest pew. “Hen said I talked about some crazy stuff. there seemed another. “Yeah. I got a handle on it. “Why do you think we’re here?” “I had a dream about that last night. Ben felt the sensation turn clammy. The iron bars outside appeared black and two-dimensional with the morning light behind them. The plan really hinged on Ben's continued masquerade as a priest.” Dil replied. The older Cortras wanted to stay. uncertain if evasiveness was in order. “What did you mean last night?” Ben queried. He put on the socks and shoes he carried with him. and the feeling of belonging haunted them. like a storyteller who had just lost an audience.” Dil volunteered. Without a priest.” “What’s going to happen if you stay?” “I don’t know. there would be something else. if the effort made a difference to Ben's decision. “I wasn’t drunk. I didn’t even have to ask for it. He scuffed the stained floor with the toe of his boot.” Dil added. I didn’t even think I talked about it at all. but expressing his feelings was difficult. The wood felt soft and cool. “You feel it the things you thought we could do. You always get disappointed if you wish too much. After Dil dropped those words. And I mean everything. if the Cortras brothers were clever. Then this slaughter house. even one in the ghetto of the Cap? As long as the Cortras brothers stayed at Saint Erasmus. the pretense existed they repaired the floor.” “And the wine. For Dil and Ben to arrive at the same destiny. It was the desert.” “You talked at dinner yesterday. It just made me feel. hope. exactly. Sun and heat. Dil blanched at the question. Dil looked disappointed. alone. but Ben was the key. Dil would take on the task all by himself. but also like someone or something else controlled his situation. uh. I even had the stuff I wanted when I was a kid.” As Dil spoke. he drifted to the middle of the stain.” Dil offered. The hint at making improvements to the place cheered him. hidden reason. Hen could be cowed and distracted.” Ben nodded. An investment of energy meant a longer stay. Certainly the amount of damage required a long time to fix. replacing the floor looked like a lot of work. Restoring the wood required a little more friction than offered by the leather of a sole. Realizing where he stood. “I didn’t think I told anybody. don't cha?” Dil observed.” Ben handed the excuse to him. He started at the bottom. Nonsense.” Dil looked astonished. When that was done. everything I told myself I could live without. but to any average eye. He did feel hopeful. Ben and Dil shared a wish. “You were out there. I only had to stay here at the church. “No water. Dil made an uneducated guess. I don’t believe much in dreams. But the dream I had last night. “So cut ‘em off. Looking down. near the altar on the dais. The dream was a promise. his mood instantly lifted. if I remember any. Ben followed.” “You might think I’m crazy. The statement was vague and made before you passed out. “Me?” Ben asked. “I don’t remember what I said. the brothers could even learn something about fixing floors.” “You didn’t tell me. Excuses could run indefinitely. The very wet cloth stuck to his shoulders like a second skin. The barrier made Ben restless. but I don’t expect anything.

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

Why was the priest killed?” “I don’t know. Ben took a clue from Tamara and ignored the boy.” answered his imposing visitor.“Yes. “I think because of what he did for Davey. He did not want to tell lies to someone specialized in asking questions. You can ask the reporter. He wasn’t injured in the least. Tamara smiled.” “Yes. Davey was determined to push his way into the conversation. They were smooth and dry. weaving between the pews. but I heard Reverend Arnett die.” There was. I know you saw them. Still.” she whispered. but I have work to do. Her name was Margot. If the old woman's son didn’t constantly distract her. He threw his head against his mother’s head by accident. “Ow!” Tamara cried. She might want to look at the church. The boy’s howl of protest almost drowned her statement. listen to your mother. “Oh. She rubbed the bludgeoned side of her head and stomped her foot. It was so terrible. Over there. what is your name?” “I’m Davey!” The boy raised his arms over his head. “Yes. That means you’re friendly. “I like that you're not so formal. Tamara spoke to Ben. Davey. He already expected an explanation. and the blood. Did they tell you what happened to him?” “No. “But you were so quick to clean up. I want Davey to be a normal boy. Meanwhile. although Dil would not want Hen to know. Ben would at least try to learn from the woman why reporters had such an interest in this parish. The boy didn’t have the wits to know better and the result was a thud of skulls. keeping her voice low.” Tamara showed Ben her bitten hands.” “Reverend.” “Who?” Ben asked.” Ben would not argue the woman’s beliefs.” “A reporter came here?” The news worried Ben. nothing more to see. Hen didn't need more reasons to pick up stakes and move on. It was being gassed when she came to visit. “I know. except an impostor priest and a couple squatters on the lam. Davey stuck out his bottom lip. His mouth fell open and his tongue protruded. The story was even on the radio.” “What do you mean?” “I asked Reverend Arnett to command a miracle from the Mortal God. “What did they say about Saint Erasmus on the radio?” “They said heathen sympathizers killed Reverend Arnett. He stared at the stained floor. “There were black feathers and big flies. she may answer her own questions. just like Reverend Arnett. Please. The Cortras brothers would agree.” he sheepishly apologized. I told her everything I heard and saw. Davey echoed him.” “Is she coming back?” “Oh. He felt satisfied the reporter had dispensed the . She gently nudged her son’s head away when he attempted to join the huddle. I don’t know about that. mottled with fading purple circles. “He was murdered.” Ben replied. Still.” Tamara crossed herself. He didn’t like the idea of more people showing up and asking questions. because of the flies. She practiced her timing and volume. The sergeant at the Wall and an addict captain in the Church were enough trial for Ben. but realized he was too hopeful to expect a substantial answer from this woman. there’s really nothing to see. You’re being bad. going from one end to the other of each row.” Davey furiously rubbed his head.” Davey did as he was told. “Ben. First. Tamara leaned close. baby. The reverend was just unlucky to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. “They didn’t tell you? Reverend Arnett was the priest here before you. until he reached the spot his mother pointed at. a visit by a reporter was only a possibility. “Uhk!” “Shh.” His mother said. Just sit down. The old woman might have planned the commotion. Davey. truthfully. I think the devil did it. “So you didn’t see the murder?” “No. The motion was empathetic. I don’t know.” Ben felt disappointed. I told you to sit down. She was very pretty and young. “Sorry. Missing secrets made him assertive.

“Since Reverend Arnett is gone. and she must cope or perish.” Hen then turned back to Davey. This is the same god now gone. “I love kids. He liked the ribbing a lot. I’m Davey.” Davey continued giggling. Chance resembled miracles and luck substituted for divine intervention. but still uncertain of each other. Hen fixated on the teenage boy and Davey returned the stare. But Davey is just a baby. Hen used his knee to help find a new grip on the groceries. The woman must have sensed his disapproval “Please.” “No. “I’m Hen. Lack of either opened a person up to exploitation by the Church. Ben would not abash himself and pray for worldly comforts.” She grasped Ben’s forearm. I know I was irresponsible and had a child when I was too old. even after Hen vanished down the hall. Mrs…. and the subject of prayers and an explanation for Hen’s presence went forgotten.” “No!” Hen laughed with a shrill. another demand on an eviscerated god. He froze. One who so loved his creation. it was fun to meet you. Hen was his nickname.” Hen agreed and immediately followed the direction. Dil had christened him when they were kids. I’m not. “You’re a chicken!” The comment took Hen off-guard.” he declared. “Put those in the kitchen. but that sort of miracle. . “I’m Davey!” the boy shouted. “This kid is great.” That sounded fair.” Ben said in obvious rescue.” Ben paused. His meandering steps mirrored his disarray. Hen strode up the center aisle. so the name stuck. The church isn’t ready. You should go now. you’re funny. nothing but a hacked story for a paycheck. Hen remembered being teased with the name by his older brother. “Davey.“Brawk!” Davey roared back in laughter and Hen joined him. Ben chose to believe as the heathens. “Sorry. but he still winced from the sudden pressure on his damaged skin.” The boy let loose a rollicking laugh. “Tamara. Light followed him inside. Hen plainly saw the old woman and boy. Tamara failed to notice and even squeezed a little harder. Now. Ben guessed by that criteria. This woman had been visited with hardship. The old woman was engaged with the scene. I gotta put this stuff down. Every one of his small teeth was visible and shining. like innocence. “Hey. A booted toe tapped the front doors the rest of the way open so he would not have to squeeze through. The selfish wants of an overgrown and merciless species of lemur had driven away the deity. They behaved like two young dogs eager to make friends. can you pray for Davey? Please.standard propaganda. but she and the false priest were interrupted. make him normal. Ben allowed the younger Cortras his joy. Hen grinned.” “Yes.” Here it was again. He carried a couple full. I know I am a low UnChosen. He shouldn’t have to pay for my indulgence. dumbstruck.” He opened his hand toward the doors. he subjected himself to crucifixion and an everlasting life of servitude.” he managed to say and glanced from side to side.” The boy grew soundly sober. brown paper bags in his arms. you are. prayer would only be for naught. You can call me Tamara. “I need to go with him. yeah. He is innocent.” Hen informed nobody in particular. or military patrols for that matter. like his panicked voice in the desert. but the comment firmed the recollection. He did not anticipate seeing any other reporters. They still stood partly open after Tamara and her son had entered. The restrained impulse to run over and sniff each other burst. did not exist. he had been blessed the past couple of days. but Davey lunged first. Hen strode closer.” Ben said. “All right.” “And you’re funny. They had never been afforded him and he never asked. “Ben. “Uh. no one listened. Ben. Her touch was light. This world was godless. Besides. just like most. The young Cortras looked at Ben.” “Mrs…. “I couldn’t cash that check. Tamara continued her plea for intervention in her fate. The sight of Davey summoned back Hen’s too-soon-relinquished boyhood. but lacked the chafed helplessness.?” “Stoughnt. “No.

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

” Hen thought about spending an afternoon with the boy.” was not one of those passing impulsive urges. gold watches. and even a swimming pool in the back yard were mere trinkets compared to this marvelous machine. thrilled. “That would be fine. just for a few hours.” “Good!” The old woman lit-up. Jimmy thought it a shame the car sat beneath a cloth cover in his mother’s garage. Ben stared speechless when he saw the boy enter the back door after the younger Cortras. Youthful whim drove most of his desires. I’ll take him to Ben. I wonder if I can leave him here. I’m late. At seventeen. the boy would sneak into the garage and remove the thick cotton cover.” Hen said. The car maintained its pristine condition under cover and locked in a dark garage.a symbol of wealth and class. Hen led Davey down the breezeway and into the kitchen.” “Ben wouldn’t mind?” “Not at all. Standards were dismally low in Gomorrah.” “Um. “He’s around. and the car surpassed any token the peasants presented. “Sure. Jimmy would sit . barely perceptible scratches.” “Oh. you know. Everything on the automobile was original with not so much as a scratch in the paint. Shiny leather shoes. Davey cheered for Hen and had to be hushed.” The old woman looked anxious. “You mean babysit?” “Yes. Sometimes. I need to dust shops at the strip mall. “Thank you. “I really need to leave.” the old woman settled. despite Uncle Judah inheriting the family's fortune from his UnChosen father. “Can you find Ben for me? I need to ask him something.” Hen said. I can ask him. at the church. He gets into trouble. The family consensus agreed the car appeared tacky. just like Ben. We’re just doing some work. He often spent a good part of an hour gazing at the beautiful monster.door locked?” “Don’t worry about that. The red. on the floor. 9 Pride Jimmy Batheirre lived a very short life.” “Don’t you have work to do?” The old woman sounded confused. Arroyo symbolized the blessing demanded of the Mortal God. Money bought respect. “Arroyo. and a liberal amount of chrome was applied inside and out. when Jimmy's mother left him home alone. Caution and risk evidently took a back seat to impulsiveness and luck. the jewelry had made those first. You don’t know how much I appreciate this. except for the few tiny blemishes Jimmy caused and hoped no one would notice. won’t we. but I can’t find someone to look after Davey. “I’ll be back soon.” Hen lit up. A few hours with Davey before leaving the church and the Cap might be something Hen needed for his own mental health. “I mean. Thank you. The Church and Chosen caste did not intimidate the Batheirres. The vehicle belonged to his uncle Judah. Arroyo was a real work of art. Playing with a kid would be a welcome change to all his recent stress and fright.” “I suppose that would be fine. Jimmy had dreamed of the automobile since the age of thirteen. Dil was no where to be seen. A long time had passed since he could relax. which were typically forgotten once appeased. “We’ll have fun. Arroyo was a fine example of mechanical sculpture. but to Jimmy and his uncle. Part of Jimmy's ritual included slipping off his sneakers and stuffing his rings into a pocket. This jewel was meant to parade around town . “I’m going to babysit Davey!” Hen bragged. I can’t leave Davey alone.” Hen said and smiled. I’ll look after Davey. He and the boy laughed. newly-antique convertible. he got everything he wanted when he wanted it. Davey?” Davey squealed his affirmation. You’re so nice.” “No problem.” Tamara Stoughnt hurried down the street to some unseen strip mall. Glossy white leather slicked the interior.

the boys were family. instantly killing Jimmy’s father and the other driver. a demand persisted. Nate foolishly outlined the history of the Batheirre family for young Jimmy. Jimmy always believed that. Despite the technicality of being UnChosen.behind the steering wheel. The car cruised as fast as it could with the white vinyl top folded down and Jimmy’s foot planted heavy on the accelerator. Jimmy believed he didn’t need his family to pave his entrance to school or land a job. the wooden garage doors melted away and he was instantly transported to an empty road in the desert. Going to the university was still a year away. That someone could be less interested in the longevity of customers and the safety of the city. Jimmy would never dare lower the top while Arroyo sat in the garage. The vices of common people made the Batheirre family rich. Cancer took the patriarch before Jimmy was old enough to remember. The Batheirre held the solidarity of family as a core value. Rumors that the heathens had engineered the drug for addiction only stimulated craving. Some Aped loser had failed to yield at an interaction. Jimmy had merits. but temptation to escape the drudgery would have been insurmountable. Jimmy would not turn his back on fortune or luck. He bet his uncle felt the same thrill the first time he sat in the driver’s seat. Who were the Batheirres to tell people how to live their lives? They certainly were not responsible if customers got hooked. Jimmy sat closer to the brutal center of . He had not heard otherwise. especially with relief so readily available. Jimmy’s mother left the keys on the kitchen table instead of immediately secreting them back into her purse for safekeeping. Why not? Jimmy saw what Gomorrah offered the less privileged. and if he could do something about them. If people wanted to spend less fortunate existences Aped. The trade was passed from generation to generation. Uncle Judah and Jimmy’s father were brothers who learned the ropes of the family business from his grandfather. if Jimmy finished school and actually attended the university in Capital. the car would become a gift to the boy. In truth. The Batheirres were not bad people. Terrified. Nate was older and wiser by a few years. Still. Eventually. which supposedly caused a problem between his father and grandfather. The diluted Chosen blood in his veins made him an intelligent and ambitious kid. but Jimmy's uncle decided the boy would major in business and then graduate. somebody else would. At fifteen. as he occasionally would. A car accident had killed Jimmy’s father soon after the death of his grandfather. wealth put Jimmy and his family above most Chosen and now Jimmy dreamed to craft his own destiny. although his wisdom did need more time to cure. He nearly panicked when exhaust filled the small space. The Batheirre family provided a service and held civic responsibility in high esteem. If he were not a Batheirre. and a few other choice drugs for which the family was less known. were illegal. His uncle wanted to see the car one afternoon. Jimmy couldn’t resist starting up the convertible. Ape became especially popular. Apparently. the little adventure went undiscovered. When she and Uncle Judah went to lunch. Besides. the Batheirre family happily provided the goods. Nate told a new variation of the story. A young Judah took over the business while Jimmy’s father forbid an ill word about his wife and new son. The unexpected death of his grandparent soon solved the schism. Luckily. if his family didn't provide the wants of the population. Union kept the operation of their business tight. Jimmy and Nate were related. Jimmy found the keys. not so much as a shudder as the automobile rocketed through sunlight and solitude. until he spoke to his cousin one recent summer day. smart enough to know life handed him a free ride. he too would probably be an addict. he would. to which his large family bought admission. Nate belonged squarely in the UnChosen caste. The plentiful buyers and sellers in the family business smoothed the sketchy morality of drug use. distribution and selling of methamphetamine. That was never a question. In Jimmy’s imagination. Caretaking was good business. He never touched the dials and buttons on the console either. The scratches were the only evidence Jimmy dared leave. He threw open the garage door and waved an old blanket through the air for twenty minutes to help dissipate the fumes. Jimmy also knew he'd been conceived before his parents married. Even though the production. he restored the cover and keys. As Jimmy had always known. but many times removed and rarely saw each other.

then. but disagreements would not matter if Judah made all the decisions for the Batheirres. Jimmy’s uncle said as much. solely due to the happenstance order of birth. The dealings with the heathens started at establishing lines of demarcation. In either case. he undoubtedly would come back to Gomorrah. a good five or six years from now. but that was not a problem. so by tradition. Judah might have gone too far and owed too much to back out. Yet a subtle tension existed between his mother and uncle. Jimmy never witnessed Uncle Judah say or do anything to coerce his mother. The couple was indeed young and unmarried. She never spoke of her misgivings. His mother never disagreed. everyone expected the boy to do wonderful things for the family name. Jimmy didn’t want to hear more. tradition held firmly in place and Jimmy’s father assumed control with enthusiasm. He grew up without a real . Nate revealed the development did not sit well with Judah. or two in this case. not like a genuine partnership. or he firmly coupled his dark desire with heathen strategy. but Jimmy formed the impression she wanted to put distance between her son and the Batheirres. The family disapproved of the interaction and had harassed Judah ever since. They visited relatives only when Uncle Judah showed up at their door and dragged them to holiday affairs or other special events. Maybe Jimmy's mother sought to avoid the memory of her dead husband. swelled with money. Judah fostered an uncomfortable relationship with heathens around the time of his brother’s death. Nate said Jimmy’s grandfather was thrilled to have a grandchild. either. As Nate told the story. He did not think his plight fair. Jimmy’s father married his mother. The arrangement became tit for tat. and he wouldn’t have received the plentiful gifts and cash throughout childhood. and whatever Jimmy picked up in school. his grandfather passed away. Judah landed in second place. Most of what Jimmy knew about his paternal father and his grandfather came from Uncle Judah. Jimmy’s father became an obstacle to be removed. No time at all was wasted ushering the girl into the family tree. so he had engineered the death of his older brother. He thought about being mercilessly stripped of a father. Both sides benefited as long as their activities remained separated. but life would have been very different without the support of Uncle Judah and the rest of the Batheirre family.power than he realized. He even occasionally spoke well of Jimmy’s dead father. but favors were exchanged. Uncle Judah was the only extended family who came to visit. Throughout youth. he inherited the family empire. especially a woman one-quarter Chosen. Uncle Judah would then teach Jimmy how business worked in the real world. The tailor shop Jimmy’s mother owned would have failed miserably a long time ago. but she did insist Jimmy express what he wanted for a future that belonged to him and was his alone. and maybe even bring it some legitimacy outside the ragged borders of Gomorrah. With that knowledge. the head of the family. Nate had no reason to spin lies and other circumstances cast Uncle Judah in suspicion. He ran straight home as Nate called after him to solicit silence. The Batheirre lovingly welcomed another leaf. Jimmy didn’t know how to deal with that. The family insisted on an immediate cremation because the body of the fledgling Batheirre heir was so horribly mangled in the fatal accident. who felt envious. Trouble in one camp never touched the other. Jimmy’s father was the oldest brother. Uncle Judah had always been kind and generous to Jimmy. of course. The Batheirres were a close family. Nate's revelation had a bellyache of truth. The relationship between Judah and his brother. he was also the only true heir to the family business. In addition to the plan for Jimmy to attend school and earn a degree. had grown complicated before the death of Jimmy's father. However. but Judah remained committed to the path he had taken. A whole other life had been denied him. but she always looked reluctant and pressured. Jimmy tried to comprehended the idea through difficult feelings of loyalty and revenge. and typically arrived unannounced. Jimmy would not have the money to go to the university after passing entrance exams. Their father preached the importance in guarding against apathy. Nate said Jimmy’s father demanded the dealings with heathens come to an end and an ultimatum tantamount to excommunication was delivered. Judah and Jimmy’s father were overfed competition between each other. Uncle Judah had never married and fathered no children of his own. When Jimmy graduated from college. The loss was the only thought going through his head all the way home. That kind of activity could not stay hidden from a family the size of the Batheirres. Jimmy did. The business was to go to hungry sons. Jimmy didn’t know what to do.

The small trauma glared in a new light impossible to ignore. The fight left his mother crying and bruised. He turned the knob on the radio. What more did little things like twisting knobs matter compare to that? The day arrived when Jimmy did what he had wanted to do for years. Jimmy raced the car down the street a second later. and feel of the wheel in his hands stoked Jimmy’s daring. Jimmy unfastened the latches of the top. The reflection flowed across the hood as the car tentatively crept forward. The feel for the car came naturally to the boy. When bad memories bubbled up to his consciousness. When done. His shaggy black hair danced the whirl of a dervish as greasy strands whipped across his vision. A wonderful exhilaration made his heart beat faster. Between the wind and the thundering engine. Jimmy sat dumb and amazed as metal struts folded back the top. Her purse sat in its usual place on the vanity in her bedroom. fast and far. The garage door raised with loud twangs of un-worked springs and fear gripped Jimmy. People would either be at work or be busy finding shade. ever. open to the sky . although Uncle Judah attempted the role every once in a while. His uncle insisted upon being involved to the point of imposing on Jimmy’s mother. tasted sweeter than any fulfilled desire . The convertible awakened when Arroyo stretched its mechanical arms after a long hibernation. The twirling locks brushed away tears the wind blew from his eyes. he backed out of the room. After he slipped the key off the keyring. Jimmy wanted to hear sound from the dashboard speaker. Jimmy forgot to open the garage door. No doubt. That was all the convincing he needed. despite lack of experience. The boy lowered the top the first time.father. He hopped out of the car and dashed to the door. Everything Nate said now flew away to become the furthest thoughts from Jimmy’s mind. People raced out of his path anyway. His mother had stepped out. Both channels droned and bored Jimmy. the comment resulted in a terrible argument between Jimmy’s mother and Uncle Judah. sun. She must have stepped out to make a rare call on a neighbor. The speed. but that was far enough. Jimmy couldn’t hear himself laugh and yell. The car wanted to go. Once in the garage. Jimmy snatched the key to Arroyo. he built up enough speed to whistle the wind past his ears. Jimmy jumped back into Arroyo and rolled the vehicle from its cramped cell. The convertible in the garage always served the best distraction. His mother’s beating was a long time ago. Uncle Judah even said he had chosen Jimmy’s given name. Jimmy pushed the recollection of that day beneath more pleasant memories. but Nate’s story dusted and polished the unpleasant memory. The sun glistened like a bead of molten glass in the red paint. The car evolved into what the vehicle was meant to be. news of Jimmy’s adventure would soon reach his mother and uncle . today. but he restrained himself long enough to lower the garage door again. The transformation was like watching a flower bloom or a bride lift her veil. He wanted to blast the radio over the noise of the wind and the car. Jimmy returned to the idling car. Playing with the radio was really just a matter of exploration. The timing couldn’t have been more convenient. He would take Arroyo for a drive. Whether the claim was true or not. He almost expected to see his mother and Uncle Judah standing in the driveway or on the corner at the end of the block. In his haste. climbed inside and started the car. Jimmy distracted himself. because everyone recognized the boy. The tires screeched with the slightest touch of the gas pedal. shifted into “Drive” again and gently dropped his foot on the accelerator. Jimmy wanted nothing more than to drive away. to restore his oblivious happiness of just a few hours before. probably not far. Jimmy grasped a desperate idea to make himself feel better. He felt thirst from the machine. but Jimmy didn’t care. after wanting the convertible so long. coughing out fumes as he went. the only thing not given to him the moment he asked. Sermons from the Church and military news never catered to teenage boys. he deftly removed the convertible's cover and tossed it into the broad back seat. On long empty streets.the drawback of fame.but not quite yet. Being the only nephew of the most powerful man in Gomorrah automatically granted Jimmy fame and status. Taking the Arroyo was the only thing he was forbidden. subconsciously retracing his steps. Jimmy listened to the growling engine. The street looked empty in the middle of a hot day. Jimmy believed himself a good driver. The biggest risk was to take the convertible in the first place. Having Arroyo now. Jimmy scouted the area in three long-legged paces. which had nothing worth listening-to.

Everyone knew Jimmy Batheirre lay in the crushed convertible. His foot pressed more heavily on the accelerator as he forgot to watch where he went. **** The following morning. Jimmy caught himself minding the radio rather than attending to the road. Jimmy drowned in a lungful of blood. Before nightfall. The perspective and sudden upward glance tricked him.given the vehicle's momentum before stopping. Jimmy’s blood fell in thick drops across the white interior and shattered glass like big pearls of rain at the beginning of a summer storm. a dozen people looked for the squashed truck because the Batheirres offered a reward for the vehicle’s owners. The little orange bar behind the floating white numbers moved to the right as Jimmy continued to turn the knob. The convertible folded like an empty soda can. Neither happened. the summoned doctor pronounced the boy dead. that part of her home didn’t belong to her. “He's at Judah's. Judah. especially because last night was the first time Jimmy had not been home in the evening. The doctor suffered fractures all over his face during the knock-out blows. Her focus had immediately narrowed on her child and she lost recognition of all else. Five minutes after expiration. Judah exploded and he beat the unsuspecting doctor. The sight of the displaced chunk of cast metal rushed back the anxiety of breaking something on his uncle's car with fury. As he did. Instead. She had spent the night worrying where the boy had gone. he told himself he had not even come close to the other vehicle. only oblivion. directly or indirectly. even though the vehicle was relatively new to Gomorrah. technically. while the crumpled car skidded an impossibly short distance . the knob popped off its metal stem and slipped between his fingers. after an . “I'm sorry. No more thought or desire.” He commanded the murderers come here to see what they had done. He instinctively and immediately reached down and retrieved the dial. depending if he fell on a station during his clueless dial twisting. The truck pulled away as if nothing happened. They would make amends with tears and their lives. but Judah now knew who was responsible. The feeling made him more bold. She failed to notice the missing convertible. His nose and jaw pressed unevenly to the right side of his face. He was taken there yesterday. whether they knew or not. the boy sealed his doom. As far as Annette was concerned. As he passed. Annette. Jimmy watched the knob flip through the air in front of him. but the boy never recovered. wrapped Jimmy’s limp body in a blanket and rushed him to Judah Batheirre’s home. and emphasized the word “son. A few people recognized the truck belonged to the migrant Cortras brothers. It bounced off the steering column then rolled on the floor between the gas pedal and brake. Jimmy tugged the steering wheel to the left to avoid sideswiping a parked car. Someone who worked for Judah. hoping the silence would change to shower of voices or static. The other knob did nothing at all. Still. At the last moment. as she had not even bothered to look. She didn't know who spoke on the phone. He grasped the first dial between his thumb and forefinger. “Jimmy's dead. before the cowards fled.” the summoned doctor told the stunned and silent family. He ordered everyone to find the unlucky bastard who killed his son. Judah sobbed and raised fractured fingers on his right hand before his face. The Cortras brothers escaped. Jimmy returned to discovering how to operate the radio. as half of Gomorrah did. The radio was not cackling. Gurgling came from his throat. Judah had taken over the territory for his brassy car. Loud cracks accentuated Judah’s flourish of curses until both men lay on the floor. He felt the knob give a little and pulled harder. Sudden fear gripped the boy. The concussive collision drew witnesses after the fact. Within fifteen minutes after being placed on a leather sofa in Judah’s den. However.he ever had.” The news struck Annette dumb and unthinking. The truck rolled forward.” a random relative said when Annette picked up the phone. Jimmy could easily fit the knob back into place. the woman caller delivered details. The voice sounded urgent and edgy. the guilty party was not found. “Annette. Jimmy still lived. Regardless. Jimmy’s mother woke to an early phone call. as did the bed of the stalled pick-up truck Jimmy rear-ended. He snickered at his momentary loss of confidence. Months often went by without her going into the garage.

She captivated him so many years ago. all lived in Gomorrah. **** Judah and Annette held visitation a couple days after Jimmy’s death. That evening. He argued a valid point about space. By that time. Judah opened the coffin to show whoever passed nearest. he allowed the mother her quirks in her grief. but the pressure of time and defending poor taste were too great for Judah to overcome. but the selfish assertion wasn't good enough for the grieving mother. The black dresses worn by women reflected the sorrowful mood. Judah!” Annette screamed at her brother-in-law when they met at his front door. Judah had successfully demanded the viewing take place at his home. the day Judah discovered his deceased older brother had met this lovely girl. “Annette. Judah will find them. the immediate members of the family followed the coffin and gathered at Annette’s home.” “Who?” Annette asked mindlessly. The lid remained closed during visitation. the one who didn’t scare her. No amount of creativity on the part of the mortician restored Jimmy’s cheeks to the same shape they held in life. she had harbored long in her bosom. Likewise. Whenever Annette stepped out of the room. She didn't recognize her automatic questions. Annette refused to be grateful. Both mother and child possessed sharp chins and noses and clear. even though Judah demanded everyone see what lowly migrants did to a member of his family. and word spread quickly. An open casket would have been cruel to the mother. more than obligated. The crime-lord's fingers were bandaged and she spied her advantage. “Let me see my baby. She had not forgotten her lesson in how effective violence came to winning. since the boy’s face had been turned to pulp in his fatal accident. Now. “He was driving Judah's car and had an accident. With a grudge. The ceremony passed quietly. especially because the body of the boy was being senselessly shuttled between houses. pink skin. He felt justified. Jimmy was no longer a human being. She demanded Jimmy be taken back her house and spend one more night at home before his funeral. Judah took care of everything. Witnesses to the work of cowards volunteered and Judah got his way.” “What?” Annette managed after breathless seconds. “Bring him home. for the most part.” Today was an infrequent occasion when her will dominated the arrogance of Judah. the bitterness toward Judah. “The other driver ran away with somebody else. Gathering the Batheirre family together was a simple matter. Judah once felt he regained from Jimmy the passion he lost with Annette. Annette eventually found herself unable to decide between the loves of two brothers.” When Annette finally understood the convertible had become the instrument of her son’s death. like the demolished convertible. Ultimately she chose the elder and rational brother. The dull. I'll take of this. Don't worry. The coffin was originally going to be red. She left the caller hanging and rushed to Judah's home to see her dead son. our boy will stay here. Annette. ordinary suits of men increased the somber tone. Judah and Jimmy’s mother sat furthest from each other at opposite ends of a burgundy casket. he saw so much of the boy’s features in her face. Annette snatched his bandaged hand before an argument ensued and bent his broken fingers.” Judah promised.accident. Despite his tenuous relationship with Jimmy’s mother. and he missed seeing that beauty now. Though there were many members to contact. As inconvenient and unorthodox as the request sounded. and certainly did not look like one anymore. he could only conjure the mauled . They'll see what they've done and Judah will make them answer. Judah remembered the beauty of Jimmy’s mother. burst and inflamed her. Judah invited himself. The boy shared the same almond-shaped brown eyes and high cheeks as Annette. to take proper care of him. bring him home!” “Not yet. instead of allowing the body of her child to be treated like muck in which to rub the noses offending dogs. there were way too many details to wrangle over. Annette. Annette. and shock made Annette too tired to dispute. Judah granted the wish. just as he always had before.

Judah regressed to the weeks of tumbling romance when he tried to win Annette’s heart from another man . he grabbed Annette’s arm.” Annette pleaded. “Like I said.” “And that is why you tore it all away. Annette might see the affection in Judah now. the day Judah staked his claimed. You thought you fucked money. even as her voice shook. Judah caught the motion in the corner of his eye. Judah crossed the room and stood squarely before Annette. but thought better than to strike the woman in return. but Judah refused to heed the warning. When the last back turned. Judah still pulled her along as she skidded on heels. “Annette. He thought Annette’s suspicion about the death of his brother. Or is it some kind of sick joke. “This is not what I wanted for us. She righted herself long enough to firmly plant her feet.” she screamed.” Judah fumbled with the latch.” Annette spat. The sound of his voice took him back to youth and rekindled the excitement felt the first time he had made love to his brother’s girlfriend. as he worked the latch. Judah yanked Annette off balance and pulled her.” A dilemma arose. You don’t know what you’re talking about. He tasted the sulfurous smoke curling from his open mouth. This woman dragged a bag of bones out in front of the family at the very worst time. She lingering near the coffin. Judah still stood speechless. like the past and Jimmy. Judah raised his bandaged hand. “There is so much I want to go back and change. please. “What’s going to happen to you now?” Judah asked.” Judah said. He was the only friend she had. in vain. she would undoubtedly bolt. The time for renewal arrived. I don’t want to see my baby like this. “No!” Annette sobbed in protest. The topic was off limits.image of the boy in death. Judah surprised himself. Judah? Did Jimmy remind you a little too much of Paul? Did you think he came back for revenge?” That was enough. “Please.” Annette glared at Judah. Sleeping with you was the stupidest thing I ever did. The booze or the pain pills Judah consumed throughout the day played no part in the insight. The corner of the room cleared when the two met. given the circumstances. Annette's fingertips tingled and turned purple while Judah's knuckles turned white. but a matchstick was struck in his chest. stumbling.” “Judah. Judah finally saw Annette again. Injury had taught restraint.” “Marrying the wrong man was the stupidest thing you ever did. The renewed charge was unfair and flatly inappropriate. She felt the muscles in her neck and shoulders tighten as if she coiled. After such tragedy. I’ll make sure of that.” Annette slapped Judah. constricted Judah’s grip automatically. “Jimmy is Paul’s son.tragically. had been buried ages ago. The subject had not come up since the argument over Jimmy’s real father. He didn’t expect to hear accusations tonight. Annette tugged at her captured arm. that you killed Paul and his son in the same way?” Judah reeled. with venom in her eyes. His voice carried the inflection of reverence it had not offered in years. “Jimmy is my boy!” Judah yelled. “You lack imagination.” “Bitch. A purple imprint of his fingers would swell the following morning. Judah. The reminiscent affection for the woman burned away. Do I have to point out the resemblance?” Judah fired. “Let me show you why Jimmy is mine. with every movement. I just don’t understand why you’re not fucking me now. The family still in the room attempted inconspicuous retreat. Annette grew louder. not Paul’s. “What is it. He recognized what he loved in Jimmy and realized he loved Annette all along. He’s been dead for a long time. “You would have nothing without me. her husband. If he let go of Annette. I don’t want to see my baby. I’ll take it all away. and a new beginning. We have wasted so much time. He and Annette had made Jimmy into the boy he was. toward the coffin. Judah was not a man who gave up easily. Judah couldn’t possibly unlock the casket with his bandaged hand. The family prepared for confrontation. Even . Struggling. You will be nothing without me. “Let go of me. an affirmation of life. Jimmy is my boy. but he’s dead. He swam in rediscovered memories of love and lust. His broken fingers made the task difficult. Instead. Judah decided their game of avoiding each other for the past day and a half came to an end tonight. Judah again went for the latch on the coffin's lid.

trying to gain their attention. stunned and wobbling. Truman would be the only person so obtuse not to realize Judah desired rage. Judah’s uncle on his mother’s side. but closer to the center of power than Judah preferred. Despite the Batheirres’ money paving Josiah’s rise through ranks. Judah didn’t like touching the man. He didn’t have the vision or temperament. “Think about what you do next. But the manipulation was out of Judah’s scope of abilities. Judah needed something else to do and was at an immediate loss for anything. Once he let go. Too many “hanger-ons” and charity cases dropped from that branch of the family. Annette had managed to slip away. She ran past Truman. Judah had reached the final seconds of his silent countdown when a mourning guest disturbed him. “Bitch. The connection could prove useful. a Chosen priest.” As Judah watched her go.” Judah muttered again. Killing family was much too complicated and perilous. The flight made Judah more angry.” The ringing phone was something else Judah and Annette had missed. Losses had to be cut.” Another pause . the investment amounted to pearls for swine. “What does your Aped brother really want?” For a moment. Think about how good you’ve had things. “What do you want?” The caller paused then replied with a keen inhale. Most of the family had already left Annette's house. Judah went to the kitchen where the phone hung on the wall. he would have to lunge forward and deliver a backhand to Annette’s face. Truman and Josiah would instantly become residents. He stood alone in the room with his unpalatable uncle and dead nephew. performed the ceremony. When it was obvious the man was not going. The Batheirres were introduced to him when Annette and Judah’s brother. He was nobody of consequence. he couldn’t believe he had allowed her escape. She must have been a changeling. Judah said nothing and waited for Truman to leave. Judah. “It’s Josiah. The Church and heathens could have been unwitting tools. “He wants to express his sympathies. turned to maintaining status quo. What other than a mythical explanation sufficed? “Judah?” Truman asked. he let go of Annette. Judah decided no more money or drugs would go to Josiah. Judah had learned that lesson when he was young and more rash. he could have played both sides. all thanks to Judah. It was Truman. Judah mused over finding an island and creating some kind of leper colony for his mother’s side of the family. always getting his hands dirty.” Truman answered. Her looks certainly had earned her a grand share of undeserved favors for her rodent-like siblings. but then remembered his prey had escaped him. “He’s on the phone. “Hello. He called after the fleeing woman. Annette stayed out of his sight. but also assigned to a position inside Capital. Not only was Josiah a priest. Bribes and payoffs that once bought position and promises. he timed his next motion. and Annette would follow out of principle. and he couldn’t take a clue from everyone else. Judah's mother was fortunate to have preserved her natural beauty well into middle age. Annette. Judah behaved more like a rolled-shirtsleeve overlord. The far-fetched solution seemed he only practical one. Josiah.” Judah said into the phone. but the few who remained went back to the room with Jimmy’s casket. but Judah disagreed. Judah’s father said a connection inside the Church was unfortunate. Judah was not going to take the call. He resembled a plump rat. The Batheirres wasted too many resources keeping secrets. The priest experimented with the family’s product and liked it. His addiction became a liability. grateful Truman stepped to one side and cleared the doorway. kidnapped at birth by a pack of half-rat creatures. He stomped across the floor. If Judah was more ingenious. Judah often felt lucky the fire in his father’s blood made up for the meekness and beggary that cursed his mother’s side. Josiah Kanen once showed potential. “What is it?” The fire still burned as Judah shouted at his uncle. Meanwhile. Paul. just like his brothers and sisters. An eye for an eye served as his motto. Judah’s continued insistence for privacy was evident. He personalized the saying by making his retribution hurt much more. “Joe. were married.” “To me?” Judah was incredulous. Neither Judah nor Annette had heard the man clear his throat.

” Judah made a concession. the gangrenous Josiah. why did you call?” “I need a favor” “I knew it. Nothing more could be said. The man was a regular and he knew all the players.” Judah accused. What would happen is that particular finger in Capital. Without the resources of the Batheirres. He can walk straight into the Church complex here at Capital. “All right. “You’re right Judah. That is exactly what Judah thought Josiah did with this other non-commissioned priest. The fact the compromising position would happen again seemed inevitable.” “In the name of the Mortal God.” “It’s that priest. Joe. The accomplishment made him wonder if his stepped in-law had held out against his obligations to the Batheirre family all these years. Judah finished this detour in his tumultuous evening.” This was an old threat. even if Josiah managed to kick his drug habit.the best for everybody.” Josiah blamed. His fucking brain came out his nose. “Handle it yourself. The Church had so many addicts. The Church just shuffled addicts from one low profile assignment to another. a catch to Josiah’s temporary solution. Josiah pulled frayed strings and got lucky. As it was. This other priest took advantage of the discovery. dealers. That’s what you do.” Judah said. you didn’t even know he was dead until you called. and I get none. Nothing will happen to the Batheirre family. right? I’m supposed to ask you for favors.” “But what am I supposed to do?” Josiah implored. Now the priest wanted his mess cleaned up for him all over again. Josiah had fallen out of favor with the Batheirres. What is the matter with you? You’re a captain now. The extortion was not the first time someone blackmailed Josiah. and other buyers.” That was the simple solution. Judah refused Josiah's request. that’s not fair. The sound of desperation made Judah feel ill. but that time. Another pay-off. Judah. everyone knew why Captain Josiah Kanen crawled the alleys in Gomorrah. That knowledge is what the upstart priest had on Josiah. “So what are you going to do about it?” “I don’t know. Judah would not bail out this sorry excuse of a man.punctuated the insincere greeting. there was no such thing as a pink slip. I did. Jimmy is dead. producers. it should be obvious the theocracy had an epidemic of Apers. I don’t know what to do. with word on the street. right?” “He can’t stay here. You handle your problem yourself. and they would have to be put into perspective. and I truly am sorry. “I wanted to say I’m sorry about James. This other priest got his Ape from the gutters of Gomorrah. I’m looking for the cunts that killed him. He’s here. “Let me remind you. and blindly wandered the streets of Gomorrah looking for a hook-up. what has happened here. I wish this guy dead. That a captain in the Church sunk so low looked bad. but Josiah still needed help. “What if the Church finds out the Batheirre family has their fingers in the affairs of the Church? This priest could tell them that. It’s done. but once an initiate became ordained. He had bigger concerns.” “You better not ask me for anything. I don’t have time for your shit. would be sliced off . “I thought that’s what you wanted.” “This isn’t just my problem. The day came for Josiah to handle his own problems. Your fake sympathy isn’t going to change that. He’s got to go. another addict. An opening arose at a parish in the Cap.” Josiah pleaded. Gomorrah was of no consequence to the Church. You handled it.” Judah knew it. The hard part was figuring out how to kill him and getting . “No. The priest always was a terrible gambler. You know that. “Yeah.” “You know I cut you off. “It’s not why I called.” Judah remembered. please.” “Judah. At least his pitiful in-law distracted Judah from Jimmy and the dead boy’s mother. Josiah got stupid. Josiah genuinely impressed Judah when the priest brought an outsider into Capital.” Judah called Josiah’s bluff. He wished Judah would just tell him what to do and he would do it. Judah refused to fall for the empty menace again. actually.

More opportunities will undoubtedly abound as plans progressed. but Robber had to eat. The faith the population of Capital placed on the ability of the military to keep out smart and lucky immigrants and heathens proved laughable. driven by paranoid dreams. Robber marked his target and followed the young man. “So you want him dead?” Judah asked. Robber received his payment like a reporter . He would make calls the next morning and offer a bounty. but asking just looks amateurish. Judah Batheirre. his stories were undeniable facts of death. Robber supplemented his sporadic income. luck never had much say in the matter. But then. A stranger without a place to go in the Cap was as good as caught come nightfall. but had no place to hide. as did his ‘secretary. but the death served only as an appetizer. he had played his part. Rent required payment. Crime lords in Church-forsaken cities often needed his specialized services. constantly broke open. In the Batheirre family business. Sleep was a rough sea and insomnia was a notorious hazard in Robber's business. for the most part. so Robber freelanced. The only traits actually required for success were need and desperation. You better have the money up front. a heritage. The military had a purpose when they had planned the layout of Capital. and knew he possessed just enough talent to realize he could always use improvement. Robber's secretary had found a route into the Cap. however. The risk remained the bane of interlopers. “Or you might as well fuck it up yourself.” “Thank you. He imagined himself an artist. An ingenious scheme. one day his signature will be recognized. who disregarded thought as to what to do or where to go once inside the Wall. No place will be safe. Judah went home without talking to anyone else. He took vicarious solace in the fact someone will die. When night . Judah respected Robber's need for continued anonymity. wide enough to crawl through. Judah still wanted the Cortras brothers. They now pinpointed and patrolled every obvious and documented hiding place inside the Promised Land. All you’re going to get from me is a phone number. Josiah grew hopeful.” “But…” “Shut up.” Judah snubbed Josiah. As far as his position on the payroll of heathens. That was another exception to his job. Robber’s current engagement for the heathens brought him into Capital. Instead of writing stories. In the meantime. specifically. Any improvised tool to smooth nights was not beyond experimentation.per assignment.” Judah provided an avenue and Josiah already steered the wrong direction. The Batheirre family in Gomorrah proved a reliable and secure source of work. not even the Cap. Robber then simply waited until the approach of night brought panic. resulted in his secretary's role. Hidden breaches. money came in with the same regular delay as paychecks did for soldiers in the Chosen's military. Remaining faceless and nameless always remained an imperative. from a Chosen priest. “There is someone in the Cap you can talk to.” The conversation ended with a number and more thanks from Josiah. Judah had become familiar with a few. “You got money?” “I can get it. don’t ask him his name. Just like a reporter.’ This young man Robber brought to his apartment at once became his unwitting accomplice and alias. Darkness acted like a net inside Capital. Robber found his secretary before the patrols. A low profile was advisable. The other offer came by referral through the family. no less. There were professionals in this field. he'll wait for his money and sniff out the other offer. Luckily. With lots of practice.away with the deed. Robber murdered. The young man was an atypically brown-haired UnChosen. probably a pilgrim. The resources were often a necessity. a military patrol would have quickly found Robber’s secretary after curfew. Can I send it to you after you’re through?” “I didn’t say I was going to do anything. Unfortunately. He won’t tell you. Judah. Robber delivered death like a message and accomplished the art as a craft. with no room to spin propaganda or bury fact. When you call. he created them. The Wall served as little more than a facade. 10 Assassin Robber finished the part of the job for which he was best suited. but for now. The particularly strong ties Judah Batheirre shared with heathens meant offers came to Robber directly and he did not need to panhandle.

Robber said he would stay in contact and retrieve messages. His secretary’s lips even turned blue. Robber presented the cloistered lifestyle as a directive. but that of the military and Church. The point of the exercise was to weave a twisted tapestry of false identities and untraceable pasts. in Capital. The alternative was to be caught by military patrols. in the face of losing everything. That was a warning. The new Robber could not remember who that had been. the truth belonged to the Mortal God. His secretary became Jack Ferdin. If the military ever came knocking. If his secretary wanted to quit. Robber mentioned he didn't often plan on coming home. Robber had no intention of reporting his secretary to the military. one-bedroom apartment. There was more time to think and nothing to lose. Childhood friends had teased the poor man with the name as he grew up. An opening for a scapegoat in that piece of propaganda was still available.if the young man escaped being made an example or pinned with a crime he didn't commit. the trapped could do little else than wait for a patrol to show up. Robber would kill the disloyal young man. There would be no sneaking out. If the military didn't find and detain Jack. Robber assured the young man that everything will work out for the best in the end. The situation favored Robber's proposal .the Living God’s truth. trespassers were still detained by the military. He amazed himself that he had gotten so far with the crazy plan. The new Jack nervously joined Robber at his cramped. The vague comment carried no authority. but nothing else could be revealed until the pair safely arrived at the new Robber’s apartment. A long detention would be inevitable . The threat had merely been funny and convenient. The look was unmistakable. Robber was fine. Robber expected he would forget the inconsequential name minutes later. The scheme had to fall apart sooner or later. but he would know if his secretary betrayed his trust. although Robber wished knocking off random priests was on his agenda. cards or no cards. and the lack of empathy was distressingly obvious. after all. His employer became Robert Veritos. He only provided the name to solicit a disarming degree of faith. his secretary got a good deal. the young man's excursions will be rare occasions. Of course. Robber then offered his deal. Robber's secretary answered the phone. No ID cards came with the identity. the young man needed to say Robber was busy. Heathens were not involved with the murder of the priest. the young man needed to get out of the apartment and run in the other direction as fast and as far as humanly possible. the improbable arrangement offered the best outcome that might have occurred. the imprisonment served no one’s interest. The name might have belonged to a long ago victim or conjured on the spot. If either man was excised to a detention camp. if anyone asked what the young man did to make money. Robber's secretary quickly reached this poor state. The entities were the same. So Robber’s secretary gave away his name and ID cards. but could call back. Even then. The new Robert asked if his secretary had preferred being called simply Rob or Bob in his former life.fell. Under the circumstances. Robber laughed once the pair exchanged names. and night had solidly fallen. When his secretary answered calls. Still. and swapped identities with the thespian-assassin. No matter the name used. That is when Robber employed Jack under the official capacity of secretary . including life and limb. Robber promised he would honor the wish and promptly pass the ID card to the military with a tip to look for a heathen sympathizer. took messages. His secretary will then make the caller's name and phone number available to Robber at the next contact. Robber generally remained aware of heathen activity in the Cap. He took part in their plans. Robber still amused himself every time he remembered the color running from his secretary’s face . The terms were simple to understand and included employment. In exchange for a room and a little cash. He would even thrown in a couple heretics for .as if he cut the man's throat. There was that priest in the Saint Erasmus parish cut to pieces. Robber professed himself an expert. Jack officially lived alone and never entertained guests. The young man supposed they weren’t of use anyway. The threat made an already desperate person more compliant. His secretary had escaped one net but then ensnared in another. Robber assured his secretary the advice was best for both of them. His secretary would never leave the apartment without Robber knowing and giving approval. the best someone in his predicament could find.

Robber actually enjoyed allowing his victims the fleeting experience.but it bled out at night. Putting on a clean shirt and pair of pants required hurdling a fence and locating his locked car. The air felt more cool close to the water. after all. Most men his age were . Yet they got uptight when they learned heathens were part of the action. Robber fondly remembered the retribution delivered at his hands. Two guards worked the docks after curfew. although Robber was embarrassed to admit the fact. An equivalent achievement for Robber should be reputation. The challenge began upon leaving the shipyard. blade and garrote. The blacktop of the yard hoarded the heat with miserly tightness . the end came with the poor souls clawing at the strap embedding and constricting around their necks. Robber fell behind in that respect. Pressure failed to affect the two soldiers. The angry reaction was not unexpected from Chosen. He resolved to devote painstaking attention to detail after that spoiled job. Robber unwound his leather garrote. they served as pawns. In either case. They believed birth had handed them crowns. In death. nonetheless. One soldier was already present when Robber reached the water. Robber scaled the fence at a dark spot between vaporous circles cast by streetlights and hustled straight to the docks. then strangling his victims. The exertion and pain in his hands. Then again. however. The second shift came to an end. corruption often seemed impossible. most of the night. The time had arrived when these two zealots paid for pretension. when bigoted intolerance persisted among the lower echelon of any caste. The hot summer continued unabated. but guard duty was the kind of job for which no one showed up early. By the time the sad prey realized what had happened. Then again. The guard appeared alone. the two became downright sanctimonious. and even delivered a vague threat. Darting into the shadows as patrols passed was difficult enough. practicing murder every day was not practical or even possible. They weren’t even concerned when cargo mysteriously switched between vehicles. The soldiers apparently had no problem taking bribes to look the other way when cargo disappeared from parked and locked trucks. the military would not waste pinning that incident on his secretary. Robber was contracted to kill both. From his perspective. Robber confined his exercise to lustful fantasies of infamous acts. Before the smugglers were evicted. both meant his anonymous death. That is precisely where Robber found both. and shoulders were forgotten as he . he will either be caught or killed. The whole scene required a case before he made his move. they had already grown too weak and clumsy from lack of oxygen. they reported either soldier will linger on the docks. he should have learned already. Arrogance flourished when lowly heathens were involved. He typically knocked his target down and trapped the air from their windpipes. The magnitude of the crime shone too bright to frame a transient. Robber heard that strangled people were graced with a lightheaded euphoria. The bodies of the dead soldiers bore his mark. They dropped hints about patrols stumbling across the nighttime activity of smugglers. At Robber's age. maybe had kids and a little something to show for their careers. If he failed to improve. but the ground more warm. Being so careful taxed his manic personality. He felt like a voyeur to himself. Robber watched the passing life from behind. near the ocean. dazed and helpless until they lost strength to fight. Robber botched the job and he had no one to blame but himself. arms.there were also the two recently murdered soldiers. The military will look for someone like Robber. That admission set him apart from true artists. if that is what happened. His victims lay splayed. Their arms then twirled from their sides like a kid imitating an airplane. He preferred bludgeoning. Other than the bloody aftermath. the job last night was easy. Robber’s clients did not appreciate the disdain and lack of cooperation. unseen most of the time. The military will consider the soldiers “killed” as soon as the someone figured out they were not ever coming back. even money couldn't overcome the righteous prejudice of the Chosen. after waiting near his car and following a patrol. ushered in with colorful hallucinations. The soldiers Robber marked were alone without backup awhile longer. Strangely. he dared not risk leaving a trail of red splatters anywhere along his escape route. His black clothes were bloodied and dripping. They grew bold and stubborn instead. Death arrived. He needed to remember to bide his time. He entered the shipyard at night. blocks away from the scene. The harsh personal critique was not just a reflection of humility.

The cut should have gone over the cheeks. He acted too late to find a hiding place. but there was no room for delay. The rifle dangled by its strap from the bleeding soldier’s thumb. The spasms and sounds soon grew weak and the man fell unconscious. The unpleasant task of cleaning up always required completion as quickly as possible. That. Everything became rushed after that point. no blood spurt or other indication revealed Robber's strike. The pause and distracted curse provided Robber all the time he needed. then dropped into the water as the guard doubled over. Robber learned this trick well. despite the reflex to fold in upon himself. The soldier bucked and gurgled. slashing just wasn’t a clean way to get a job done. For his own safety. the other soldier suddenly came within view. Blood showered the oiled wooden planks beneath the dying man. Robber felt embarrassed by his handiwork. When the soldier turned. The guard paused for a second to verify his partner was the one who fell. Robber muffled the locking snap of the long blade with the palm of his hand. Robber never allowed himself to think much about the sympathetic reflex at the moment of death. All he could think to do was kick the dying man away. he regretted his idea. Robber darted for cover as the second soldier ran over. from his scalp. Jerking his head away from the shining blade threw the man off balance. A racing mind needed calm. forcing the air from the man's lungs. The victim simply fell limp and heavy. The sort of graffiti was for children. His back arched and Robber drove a left hook into the solar plexus of the soldier. Robber whirled and doubled back as the second soldier bolted in his direction. he still felt light. Once Robber finished. Robber saw the rifle was missing from the soldier’s hands when the man reached up and grasp his fiercely bleeding neck. The mad assassin immediately squatted on the downed man. and more importantly. The second soldier rightly believed nothing could help his fellow soldier. but did nothing more for the dying man. Robber slit this one’s throat. Nothing could have prevented this man from dying like the first. never to wake again. It was not the sort of work for which he wanted to be known by a fearful public. The cuts reached all the way to bone. Sitting on the dying man gave Robber an idea. He uttered an empathetic curse. Someone then called the guard whom he slipped behind. The last line was cut too high to represent an accurate Star of Lucifer. covering Robber. As dumping bodies was also not planned. There was no time for self-chastening. Momentum carried him backwards. so he gave chase. if Robber had not lost track of the rifle of the second soldier. If a departing spirit truly went heavenward. When Robber returned to his flesh. For a brief second. The shocked soldier recoiled. He dragged the bodies the short distance to the edge of the dock . The assassin quickly drew and unfolded his custom lock-back knife as he dropped the garrote. Robber never saw a soul from his elevated vantage point. These murders made a chink in his pride. Robber’s blade flew across the throat of the surprised man. The soldier tried in vain to stop his life from completely pulsing out. so Robber threw his foot into the soldier’s crotch. A wide gash pulled his neck apart. down the bridge of his nose and to his chin. The second guard had witnessed two men scuffle and recognized the shape of his partner.floated above his body.he was familiar with hoisting dead weight. The second soldier readied his rifle when he watched one figure drop and the other run. He had to catch his breath as if he held his own in synchronization with his strangled victim. The thought occurred as more of a whim as he waited for the ride of the man’s death throes to finish. and the killer was still somewhere within reach. The soldier had no chance to even raise the rifle. The guard had started dropping his rifle off his shoulder when he found he could not pull his next breath. The soldier turned around to meet Robber face-to-face. Robber improvised. Robber grabbed the soldier’s wrists and pinned him to the ground. Robber used his knife and carved a deep “X” on the dead face. Robber jabbed at the man’s face with his knife. which is why he needed to dump the bodies. He would have used his garrote if he had not dropped the tool. too. with their backs to the water and heads hung towards their . Despite his instructions to leave the soldiers in the open for discovery. Before Robber reached his first target. The carving made Robber look like an amateur. He propped one body upright and then the other. He then made a perpendicular cut across the man's brow. Robber then cut down the middle of the man’s face. The wound looked like it ripped its own corners as blood sprayed in rapid jets. The cross went from the temples to the opposite jaw on each side of the man's pale mug.

The oversight did not matter. He decided one of his big areas of improvement was not to let one slip lead to another. as Robber had never learned how. A dark shape much closer to the dock rose up and broke the surface. This night became a lesson to him. he convinced himself he had left thick red footprints across the planks and blacktop of the dock. A patrol will make a round soon. The point of entrance was a random one. The identical soldiers went into the water face down and wore the same uniform. Robber could have entered the yard anywhere. Once something screwed up. Robber had spent most of his life in the confines of desert cities and didn’t know what he missed until he now stood at the edge of the sea. Robber didn’t really know what he witnessed. Once Robber learned to swim. He grew anxious and shuffled about. he spotted the corpses of the soldiers he had killed float just beneath the surface. Robber hoped the soldiers will come and go before the graveyard shift reported for work. While waiting. Robber gave up and hoped the tide will take the soldiers away. maybe an eel. He watched flashing lights cross the harbor . with little hope for graceful recovery. The way the boats zigzagged made them look like the soldiers piloting the crafts were joyriding. The thick juice squished in his fists and oozed between . for lack of a better description. something else caught his attention. as well as brushed blood from his clothes across the grass. the thing was a genuine sea monster. As Robber watched the boats. All his effort to hide evidence accomplished nothing. He rushed back the way he had come but stopped in the growth of tall grass leading up to the fence. A large snake-like shape rode the waves. Robber had never seen the ocean before. Moonlight shown through the veined membrane stretching between bony spires. When he looked over the edge of the dock. Robber grabbed the ankles of the soldier he had killed first. Robber promised himself a trip to the beach during daylight within the next few days. The thing sunk and water grew still. Robber looked toward the bodies. An urge to learn to swim came over him. that were smaller and spineless. There was enough distance from dock to the water for the body to tumble almost all the way over. The splash echoed through the thick pylons below. Robber determined the time had come to leave. even in the darkness of night. Robber attempted to ring blood from his clothes. Robber could not say which dead man was which. with babies schooling all around. Twisting the front of his jacket and pant legs had little effect.the patrol boats. This job became another situation in which Robber should have assessed the outcome before making a move. He was more concerned with being tracked once on the other side of the fence. tentacles. with no further delay. The moon and city lights reflected as moving distortions on the surface of a deep world. apparent for anyone to see. looking for something to throw on top of the bobbing bodies. He was curious if anyone went into the water off the Cap. nor a real river or lake. A trail traced his path from the scene of the murders to the fence. realizing he should have tied something heavy to the dead men. Robber decided not to be concerned. Garbage had no claim to being better than anything else in this world. Robber thought the thing was some kind of huge fish. They fell with a fluid grace like a string of dancers collapsing in a wave. Blood pooled and was smeared across the killing ground. so very different from the gully of the tall buildings where he had grown up. At first. there always was a better chance more will go wrong. long curved spines fanned out and up. The legs dropped over the side of the dock. he would venture into deeper waters on a boat. The shapes appeared attached to a single creature. for that matter. pulling the rest of the body with them. he peered across the water again. Racing over the open sea looked fun. The ocean became a whole new world to explore. To him. He needed to leave. Good riddance to the self-righteous grunts.laps. As the shape rose. More dark tubes rolled across the surface of the water. They were but refuse now. One drifted further from the dock and the other was missing. Robber dumped the second soldier into the water the same way. The expanse of water looked beautiful. It seemed only fair he wouldn’t have to wait a turn going to his impromptu resting place. The spines limped to one side. Before Robber turned from the ocean. Crouched in the grass. possibly washed underneath. Robber tossed the dead man’s feet over his drooping head. Blood still dripped from gaping wounds. But he once surveyed an aqueduct and watched washes drain dry in the Spring. He had never seen the ocean until tonight and there were all sorts of mysteries to uncover.

which led to wrath and oblivion. The light was powerful enough to catch anything that did not belong between the fence and the sea. and he had not even changed clothes yet. The force of the fall squished blood through the dark fabric. Opportunists might have anticipated the sudden demise of the soldiers and seized the chance to finish incomplete business. Robber could only wish. Robber wasn’t happy at the time. Robber then retrieved the jacket and shoes. He would not dare make demands or even ask a favor. but his clothes stayed wet. He then rolled up his pant legs to his knees and next took off his jacket. insomniacs who . He hooked his fingers and toes into the chain link and easily cleared the fence. The smugglers would have been caught. The last thing Robber wanted was to be caught unawares. He found a dry spot on the back of the jacket and wiped his face and hands before turning it inside out. Robber needed to move to live. even though the crazy idea of reincarnation belonged among cults that parodied the extinct pagans far away from the cities. a long infinite triangle that dimmed as it grew wider. hunkered down in his vehicle. His skin remained smudged and pants stained. Patrols made a habit of peering through windows. A lone car always attracted attention. but Robber was indeed masterful. If the military was called. Neither the idling jeep nor slosh of ocean waves drowned out the noise. Moving became the key to his life. The car stayed clean. Robber wanted to stand up and see what caught their attention. Daybreak was still many hours away and driving was not safe before then – with curfew in effect. Such weakness was a false belief of the Chosen. He hoped the empty vehicle remained outside suspicion until he returned in daylight. the omnipotent god of heathens. Being recognized for the ability to hide seemed ironically incongruent. He saw the beam of the jeep’s mounted spotlight crawl over the yard. Robber had played this game of hide and seek since being a kid. He depended on his car waiting for him. Robber hoped smugglers had not returned unannounced. He cursed his suspected incompetence before the spotlight finally switched off. he felt heartened. with all his heart.fingers. The area was finally deserted. He had made certain he took everything he needed then checked for marks. and hope he earned some reward for all his good work beneath the heavens. Like a shark. but his tidying-up was the best he could mange until he got to his car and the clean clothes he kept inside. a good tactic even when he had no reason to hide. The patrol moved on and the assassin rose to his knees to watch the shrinking tail lights disappear around the block. Residential areas always needed to be avoided. His jacket left a smudge where it landed. Robber knew he could not wait inside his vehicle. Night owls. He then looked in the other direction. The patrol lingered too long. He crept back to his car. Nobody spied his movement. then knotted his jacket into a tight bundle. too. Robber locked the doors and carried both bundles of fresh and soiled clothes into shadows. Besides. but there was no glory in hiding. but the most obvious and condemning trail will lead straight to Robber's hiding place. His detest aside. If Robber truly wished to be reborn. The patrol arrived. he will quietly beseech the Living God. but as long as the trail had ended there. Robber shook off his hands. everything went solid black. and scanned the ground for footprints or other marks. Robber knew hiding in the automobile was unwise. Robber was not certain he could get out of the yard. Its beat amplified as Robber held his breath. His hatred of the Church and everything the theocracy stood for was another factor. Robber wrapped his soiled shoes inside. His skill at hiding was a reason Robber believed he wouldn't be shoddy at his surreptitious work. Robber carefully opened the car and gathered his belongings. as if the streetlights and the moon were snuffed out. Robber tossed his package of shoes over the fence in a high arch. He removed his shoes and hopped into a cleaner patch of grass. Robber was better with concealment than killing. Robber had yet to discover he enjoyed swimming. Robber dropped to his belly and flattened in the grass. Scraping the slurry-like blood worked to remove the wrung-out excess. Robber hoped the heathens exerted better control of operatives than to allow such an untimely snafu. He waited for redundant patrols to pass and scampered into the nooks already investigated. He chose a shark as the creature he will become in another life. The soldiers weren't looking in his direction or along the trail he left. Robber spent the remainder of the night crouched and running. literally with his pants off. The booming of Robber's heart became unbearable. For a moment.

the assassin stopped a moment and put his shoes on again. This priest. This Captain Kanen will still be as bigoted and deluded as the rest of the theocracy. he wouldn’t mind knocking off a random priest for the heathens. He had yet to learn details. In the . If the job sounded acceptable. another murder. had no real vestment in the Church. Robber reached his scanned and forgotten vehicle. even if unshod feet hampered flight. clueless monotony subdued the animals. an untimely demise of this one would actually be a favor to Judah. were thin and light colored . He decided to go barefoot. other than the final kind of meeting.detached or barely held together. A priest asked for help. Interrupted. Robber arranged a rendezvous. Robber’s preferred benefactor. vehicle owners had grown sick of fighting traffic and looking for a place to park in the crowded surrounding neighborhoods. The cool and salty ocean breeze carried distorted voices. Despite the hours before sunrise. sounding like foreign tongues. Robber had evaded the opening-spiral search patterns like the one the military ran tonight for as long as he remembered. A rabid pursuit in the middle of the night served as the best tonic for caged dogs. Robber had also grown sick of their putrid smell. the priest waved Judah's name like a flag of truce. on the other hand. but he guessed what the request entailed. Robber thought they would. He then planned to slip back to his car. The clean clothes. a face-to-face meeting offered comfort.continually sat at their windows. but heard a number of vehicles at the gate. Once morning dawned. the manhunt unofficially ended. The military gave Robber every small advantage anyway. Based on the rumors he heard throughout his years working with the Batheirre family. but he came with hands raised. Robber decided to change his clothes. Floodlights filled the yard. were guaranteed to call the military in haste. the attitude of the priest reminded Robber the two of them stood opposite the lines of faith and justice. Robber needed to intrude on his secretary a few hours. making the glow visible from blocks away. In most cases. He sorely needed a shower and safe nap. the hole opened. Meeting a member of the Church. Robber had moved well away from the shipyard. The trail to the fence enlivened the Chosen soldiers. This was a special job. He put all the dark clothes he wore into the bundle held within his inside-out jacket. Nothing inside the car suggested anything other than an ordinary automobile. They elected to take an extra hour or so and walk home. The searched territory became another nook in which soldiers had already peeked. Robber would now blend with commuters making their way back to their automobiles. When the circle grew so wide that one patrol involved in the hunt met another. His feet were so cold. just listening to the prospective employer. The inside of the perimeter was now the safest place for prey to hide. The blocks around the docks were peppered with lonesome cars and camouflage in bright sunshine. however. but Robber took his chances. Then Robber will go to the meeting for the other offer. almost a favor. including half his fee. seemed a mad idea. The dark clothes were completely bloodied and had grown stiff when they dried. The rush of traffic will overwhelm attempts by scattered patrols to keep the area secure. While changing as he crept along. When he had called. One could do worse than stroll in a summer sunset close to the sea. The meeting provided everything he needed. but once the trail led over the fence. Depending on the stomach of clients for such despairing deeds. and the money real. At the very first ray of daylight. Robber moved away from his car as the military widened their search beyond the yard. that is why Robber never asked for concise information when he returned messages. Robber determined the military's coverage will span too wide. The hue made hiding at night more difficult. As Robber thought before. his or her voice trembled or became stoic . so he evened the odds a little by removing his shoes. especially if the alternative was imprisonment in an idling automobile on the streets of the Cap come curfew. Besides caution. Despite the kin of Captain Kanen. but is somehow related to Judah Batheirre. The military would be occupied with puzzles the next few minutes. He beat his pursuers before they began their hunt. Captain Kanen could not know who Robber was. 11 Gnashing Teeth Robber's feet had grown cold once the concrete had lost all heat absorbed the previous day. Strange enough.

bundle he carried and scrubbed gore from his hands. too dark for comfortable reading. The paper looked new. “Hey!” his secretary objected.” The leathery. just so the two men understood each other. The assassin smiled and ignored the small-talk. When Robber rubbed his fingers . All neighbors in the apartment building had disappeared to work. A jeep with three soldiers slowly cruised past at that moment and Robber waved at the patrol too.” Robber held his secretary in a stern stare. “I just came from the docks. but the drape remained slightly open. clean shaven dockhand nodded as he passed the friendly stranger. Robber stood and faced a passerby. especially in Capital. With two grown men living in the single-room apartment. His secretary didn’t look eager to go back to reading. “I thought I was late. “What’s it about?” Robber tossed his bundle of soiled clothes into the chair his secretary had been sitting. He walked a couple blocks with Robber. The heat inside the little oven melted the glue from the walls. I’ve been going crazy.” “How do you know that?” Robber answered nonchalant but truthful. “It’s a good thing.” Robber grunted. He wobbled on long. The black ink remained solid and clear.” his secretary answered. Only a few places offered room for dirty clothes.” “Huh?” The dockhand paused and asked. the place appeared even more cramped. From the perspective of the patrol. toward his car.” the dockhand said to Robber. He found dry spots on the bloodied. He looked like a dockhand. He peeked through the window out of habit and drew the fading blue drapes. away from the dock's main gate. He paid the rent.” reported Robber with a grin. He flipped a page and then another. “Only a crack. “Where did you get that?” Robber demanded. “The military and a reporter or two might get in the way. and the worker went the opposite direction. skipping over a thick. stuck in here. lighting the room drenched in shadow. and wondered if there was any work at all to do this morning. already scattered with clothes and strewn with trash. The soldiers continued down the street.” The dockhand shrugged and turned around. Robber and the man bid pleasant farewells with smiles and waves. The room went dark. He forbade complaints from his secretary and threatened broken bones. He never asked the stranger why he had left the docks or about the bundle of dark. just a barren courtyard surrounded by blind windows and locked doors. “Hey. and I'm going back to my car now. He refused to look at the man who took his name. The new Robber always picked isolated times to visit. The man wore pale-blue overalls and military boots. After tying his shoes. the two men appeared old acquaintances. He stepped across the room to open the drapes. His secretary lurked inside. scratching around the yard. other than the floor. “There was an incident last night. Robber’s secretary read a book.” conveyed the man to Robber. off to work and oblivious to the murders last night. Robber turned around and called after him. “I can’t see the pages!” The man got up. A dark brown crust covered one of Robber’s hands. continuous paragraph of text. presumably on his way to work – now that curfew was lifted. “Thanks for the notice. despite the wear and age of the pages. He peeked out the window at nothing to see. just as Robber expected. in deferral of a goodbye. Robber smiled and said “Good morning. bloody clothes tucked under the friendly assassin's arm. The two men parted when Robber turned south. but this summer was hot. They had grown stiff while he sat in one position a long time. The man froze as if turned to stone by the twisted face of the assassin. Robber became instantly wary. After a long slog through rush hour traffic Robber entered his compact apartment. They didn't say much to each other at all. An off color wallpaper bubbled off the drywall.” “I brought it with me. thin legs.” His secretary pulled the drapes open to allow a sliver of light to cast upon the spot he sat.spreading light of dawn. so Robber came and went as he pleased. “Books are banned. The missing cover exposed yellow pages that spoiled to rusty orange at their edges. “You're going to work late this morning. once a paperback. he spotted the blood he still needed to clean.

Robber thought of the apartment as bachelor living.” “We really ought to be friendly with each other. Good luck to him.” Robber reached into his front pocket and pulled out a loose roll of bills. get out of here. only-child. his secretary would become an anonymous corpse if he died. I want to clean up. Chances are pretty slim he will find a school within Capital that trained poor. Robber's secretary stepped from the window. He turned his head to keep debris from his eyes. really. He pulled his undershirt off over his head. “Why don’t you go out for a couple hours?” Robber suggested.” The secretary scanned the floor. That last thought struck close to the facts of Robber’s own life.” His secretary looked at Robber with outrage. Don’t take the book with you. He used a side of his ragged book to push empty bottles. anyway. He was as skinny as a fence post. It can help you save money for school. if they need it. He found a pastel. you don’t want to. They didn’t even have a place to throw trash. flew off. Neither Robber or his secretary owned proper plates or glasses. I almost know it by heart. if he lived through the accident. and cans around a small table. So many ribs were visible that Robber lost count when he glanced. “If you cleaned up around here. blending-in with small chunks of dried mud and dropped crumbs.” his secretary said. “The money is good. His medical report might just as well say the unidentified corpse was an orphaned. Once his secretary fled out-of-sight. Crumbs. I don’t have liquor rations. . His parents weren’t around long enough to give him a proper name. but forgot the name he gave him. I like you. The bottles and cans perched close to toppling off the other side. Robber locked the door. Take the keys. illegal migrant UnChosen.” Robber grinned. cans or take-out containers. but he was not thinking of himself. I need the place for a while.” Robber nodded.” “I don’t have any money. I like cats. he wouldn’t need to clean them. “What if I don’t come back? How about I leave for the encampment? I thought the military doesn’t bother people leaving. Don’t test me.” “You can keep it. He practically sprinted into the empty courtyard.” “Go. which accounted for the garbage piled on the counter and table. Besides. His secretary walked across the room. He went into the kitchen and cleared the sink of cans and plastic utensils. it flaked off and sprinkled on a clear spot of the dusty gray carpeting. I’ll see you later. There’s blood on your clothes. “It’s on me. You haven’t paid me. among other motes.” “I’m getting sick of this arrangement. so no luck there. “I can throw in a couple of your shirts. His torso appeared pale compared to the deep tan of his face and arms. “Nothing. “Darks don’t go with whites. He heard “a book about cats” and assumed his secretary wanted to be a veterinarian.over the scab.” Robber only listened for a few keywords. For better or worse. His secretary needed to blow off steam. The pair rinsed the plastic utensils they acquired and found second uses for everything. a gentle jolt is all the start of an avalanche would take. kid. They ate directly from boxes.” Robber said. I got your book. Robber will continue being the only Robber in the room. pointing at the bundle of clothes he tossed in the chair. “Go get breakfast or lunch.” “What?” “I’ll see you later. The man had stayed cooped up too long.” “You’ll be back. Yes. The skinny lad wouldn’t have anyone to take care of him. Otherwise. He cleared enough space for the book to hang over the edge when he set it on the acrylic surface. brunch. button-up shirt and shook it out.” “That’s what I’m afraid of. He handed a few to his secretary. Robber hoped his secretary wouldn’t get himself run over in traffic in his haste to get away. short stories. there was. That’s why you came to the Cap. I won’t be here when you get back. boxes. you’d have a nice little place to live.” Robber almost called his secretary by his alias. moving faster as he neared the door.” “Yeah. “I’m going to soak those. There’s a story about a cat out for vengeance.

and antler handle. While the sink filled. The smell must come off his secretary. When stirred. He may have fallen asleep. The quantity was arbitrary. Robber cleared away dirty dishes. He mumbled a quiet curse for wetting his clean clothes. He dropped his bundle of clothes on the black and white checkered linoleum of the kitchen floor and reached for the bottle of bleach beneath the sink. and so were the pin. so he possessed limited observations. He stripped off his clothes and dropped them to the floor on top of others belonging to him and his secretary. He lay his favorite lockback knife on his secretary’s book. he collected his bundle of bloodstained clothes from the chair. Robber turned off the faucet. Using less noxious stuff in turn meant he would not continue to ruin the clothes he owned. then picked it up again and opened the blade. The chair came with the apartment. He didn’t have one. and sofa came as a happy surprise. chairs. he wouldn’t create any. Ideally. Whichever occurred. The stuff worked for anything. He lay on the sofa naked after showering and napped while waiting to dry. The running water mixed with the chemical and the whole apartment soon filled with sharp. The shared slovenly habits of the two men made their chance meeting peculiar. The cleaner did the job well. Robber pulled out his hands. confirmed by the lack of immediate blood. In the right amounts. because the humid air relaxed him. because the water heated only lukewarm. The water first turned pink. Once he emptied the sink. water splashed out and soaked the front of his shirt and flowed over the counter. bleach served as the ultimate general purpose cleaner. Before Robber left. Inheriting the table. Robber didn't have a lot of experience with roommates. For now. then darkened evenly. stinging perfume that made his eyes water. But even if the man helped Robber. If Robber avoided messy hits. Robber skipped rolling up his sleeves. never did. having them open made the place vulnerable. reaching to the surface and to the bottom of the enameled white sink. As he took off his shirt. Robber will become a maestro. Shaving seemed about all Robber accomplished in the shower. figuratively bricked into this small space during blistering days of summer. the only cleaner in the apartment. The shower needed to become a sauna. coincidence may not have anything to do with the encounter. A small. The blade looked clean. He had grabbed the first anonymous. The flimsy arms dissolved in the swirling water. he could afford a short nap. The sofa invited him and Robber still had time before his meeting with the priest. but furniture was not a part of the criteria when Robber selected the place. dream or daydream. Robber liked the smell better then the unidentified. Robber considered any place he didn’t have to sleep on the floor or sit in corners as classy. he watched the water turn red. Robber needed to take responsibility for his own mess. Then again. Eventually. A big bottle of bleach and a wardrobe of clean and properly colored clothes were indispensable in his business. Robber kept the blade itself sharp enough for shaving. He needed to keep moving and only came here today to wash up. The windows stayed shut. he needed to drain the sink and soak the clothes again in cleaner water. All men may live as they did. but had become part of Robber's wash ritual. empty cardboard box skimmed across the overflow. this morning will be another. His cuts last night were fast and accurate. the bleach would become less important. catch. His wet skin felt cool in the stagnant warmth of the apartment. or was sucked into an intense daydream. He wished his secretary was willing to do laundry. nearly overflowing the basin. Robber preferred bathing in scalding water. The clothes sank into the water. . he stopped the drain and ran cold water into the basin. he remained attentive to covering up his imperfections. undertone odors in the closed apartment. He poked at the clothes with fingers until they submerged. Even though the temperature was adequate. He measured four overflowing capfuls into the filling sink. low rent dive he found. so he took the knife with him into the shower. The color began as tendrils. which he had done on a few occasions. the assistance may not feel right. Robber rented the place for a makeshift safe house.The reality of this place was that this was not Robber's home. the vision appeared vivid and rooted in the present. but also ate the fabric. Once Robber finished cleaning up. the place was partially furnished.

The stranger twisted the knife back and forth. He wondered how long he had slept and how much he actually dreamed. Remembering his path was unimportant. The liquid felt warmer than his shower and he mistook the sensation for water dripping off wet hair. especially on his right side. The guy may have been a past victim. when Robber rolled off the sofa and . still nude. Robber needed the leak stopped. To allow this ridiculousness to continue was stupid. His skin appeared leathery. seeking revenge or come to reclaim a lost name. The cracked door itself didn't look familiar. The figure had not come forward from shadows. The source was nowhere seen. He remained lucid enough to realize he wore no clothes. Robber wished the stranger would drive in the blade and finish himself in penalty for theft. He promptly became inflamed with instinct to run and recover his stolen property. but he now knew he slept. and their solid shapes built a maze where every turn ended with an absence of light. The area resembled a big birdcage . he would kill the man himself in an instant. Robber had not really heard the intruder. not quite touching the side of his throat. he awoke. but blood still streamed down his body. He reached up with his other hand. It flowed like water draining from a hole in the bottom of a bucket. Robber felt nothing. The cage shed dense shadows. His quick rage had snared him into the nightmare. as if it came from another apartment. wearing matching blue pants and a long sleeve shirt. The lines traveled down his legs and between his toes. Nobody like him belonged inside Capital. Robber did not stare through an open doorway and he was not bleeding. not even recover his clothes. Robber looked around to find where it came from. The outdoors had been replaced with what looked like the inside of a covered garden where overgrown plants wilted black. but a prickly aura pressed into him. Robber didn't leave his apartment. an aviary. a ghost. but the flow came steady. Robber dabbed at the hot and sticky dampness on his neck. The cage appeared dark. Robber felt his chin. With his realization. He always arrived early. However. Panic took hold. and he might as well be earlier than he usually was. Robber remembered leaving the knife on the bathroom sink. the dark receded like a wave falling back to reveal beached jetsam. he watched bright red blood trace branching veins outside his skin. The stranger raised a blade to his own outstretched neck. he stood naked and only stared. The first thing Robber saw when he opened his eyes was his one at a zoo. He slapped his wet hand to his neck and splattered blood. The clothes in the sink still soaked. A wet trickle rolled off his shoulder and down his chest. trying to be silent. When he looked down. on which he lay. a workman’s outfit. A figure appeared just as he turned to find pants. like the dream. The blood oozed through Robber’s fingers. The figure mangled a smile that may have well been a grimace. and the low odor increased with humidity. The figure was that of a short man. Robber felt no compulsion to move. the horn handle and slightly curved blade were unmistakable. but did not. The figure in the courtyard vanished while panic built. It sat on his secretary’s old book. but his knife now lay in his open palm. as if he had spent his life under the desert sun. He still lay naked and damp. The exact steps Robber took between leaving the shower and lying down seemed unusually fuzzy. He looked at his fingers and saw them covered in blood. nor inside a creepy oversized birdcage. the floor stayed dry beneath his feet. not even a peep. just where Robber had left it. he had indeed shaved. with the blade folded back into its sheath. Robber knew he dreamed and took control. forgotten. The anonymous spy crept along. except there were no birds. The assassin had an appointment. Robber did not ask and didn’t care. Robber realized the inconsistency of events and the physics became too absurd. before shaving in the shower. Robber rose. He told himself to leave before the smell became a stench. Leaving the knife in the bathroom was probably a memory from his dream. All the while. Its deadbolt lock was broken out and the doorknob twisted sideways. If Robber wanted. though the sun climbed a clear sky. No sounds at all. The knife belonged to Robber. The apartment had grown muggy. There seemed no plausible way he'd been cut. Why this ordinary man was in Robber’s dream seemed curious. Instead. and no one had even come close to him. The locked door was suddenly off its hinges and lay on the wall to one side of the opening that no longer went to the courtyard. yet the apparition outside transfixed him.Someone stood outside the door to the apartment.

especially so it would not follow. Robber . Forensics would prove the killer had wielded the blade as a master. True to habit. Robber arrived across the street from the meeting place well ahead of schedule. So far. and when the few who cut the day short became a wave of buzzing traffic hazards. boredom crept in. Instead. The priest was a referral from a trusted and regular employer. Sometimes. but the advantage will go to Robber for making the call. The same condition applied with Captain Kanen. He checked his wallet and knife before slipping them into opposite back pockets. even if by way of his anonymous work. Minding his own back meant he kept a client an arm’s length from prying eyes and military stings. thanks to the unsettling dream. The two men would have never met. The alternative to casing his client was to go across the street and take a table at the very place he surveyed. His work involved quite a bit of walking. That was another little detail for which the assassin prided himself. He considered his obsession a skill. Someone who could not stay level-headed wandered off the course of caution. Compact tables stood outside. but the fact the client was a captain in the Church raised his hackles – although. He considered the exercise a benefit. Robber slipped outside with a quick sidestep and pulled the door shut. he'd peek inside stores under the pretense of window shopping. He threw on the same light-colored clothes he had just taken off. And. Before leaving. not a word about his crime. Robber would listen all day for his story. Let his secretary deal with angry ghosts. Something about last night should soon be on the radio. Robber wished for a better place to scope the restaurant. although the motivation actually came from paranoia. Robber successfully avoided commuters. The buckets of blood were merely a consequence of opened arteries. uncomfortable wait in the heat of late morning. which Robber appreciated. Now. but one still needed to calculate when the hive would let out and swarm about during long lunches. and now. Robber showed up hours before a meeting. The clothing was suitable for a daytime meeting. Robber scanned the apartment. Most people with regular jobs lacked the luxury of avoiding the rush. even earlier. besides getting down to real business. He twisted the garrote into a front. He paced the block to mask his lurking. After a long. on time and not before. He thought he knew the reason for the uneasy feeling. He first checked them again and again for bloodstains. Robber reasonably assumed a lone priest awaiting a guest would be seated somewhere among them. along with his timing. an admirable accomplishment. The shame of his sloppy evening had passed. He listened to military news on his way to his apartment. going to his rendezvous. shave and a regrettable nap. especially after he had punched out from his shift as butcher at the docks. The priest may inadvertently watch for someone other than whom he came to meet. or he had missed the story. depending on his impression of the client.dressed. just to measure his movements. other than standing squarely in the open. Robber considered watching-out for himself a service to nervous clients. as Robber enjoyed hearing about himself. For this meeting. Loitering was too conspicuous inside Capital. A shaky voice over the phone always meant he arrived sooner. he silently leaned between storefronts and watched for a priest to arrive at the unpretentious bistro across the street. If juggling a portable radio wasn’t such a possible distraction or obstruction. he hoped the bodies were found and the murders reported. A brief scan of the room confirmed everything remained in its cluttered place. Robber always walked away if he didn’t trust the look of his prospect. Occasionally. Shaking it off was not as simple as waking up. The thought itself became a bothersome feeling. The latter thought disappointed him. The car always remained out of sight and pointed the opposite direction. He attributed the practice to common sense in his business. Robber decided to make him wait a little longer. He did not want the dream to follow. The ability to navigate Capital at times when roads were least dense involved proficiency. if not common sense. When the fat priest showed up. He felt easy about the meeting today with the Kanen. Robber guaranteed himself an early arrival. Robber parked his car his standard couple blocks away. Robber knew the man used Ape. and determined they passed inspection each time. feeling he took something he didn't need or want with him. followed by a shower. and tenacious. long walks were the most activity he got. He hoped the threat stay locked inside. but actually to catch the reflection of anyone who made a mark on him. No one paid special attention to anything that happened outside.

but a hot spell had simmered all summer long. He was in the last place he should break bans. He thought a little longer about the stares and the ensuing trouble with the military. opening the second he arrived. grudgingly afforded only to well-paying clients. but he didn’t. Every time he saw the night sky in the desert. If he did. Then again. He put the money back into his jacket. Kanen could easily spot Robber if he bothered to look around. I don’t have a rank pinned to my shirt. “You probably think you know who you’re dealing with. A long time had passed since Kanen put up with lack of grace. Robber hoped the man had not planned to have lunch at the meeting. Robber had heard the sun never set in the wastes. Robber could not hear what the priest said. The priest called her back with a wave and curt apology. but still expected the respect his position and rank demanded. They would nab a smuggler in name only. Robber strolled up the street again. barely visible above city lights. other than from his nephew Judah and that bastard. yet. He had never seen a camp. Leaning against a public building in broad daylight with his nose in contraband. The priest occupied himself watching women at the bistro and counting the cash meant for an assassin. He already knew he had the right priest. other than appearing flushed in his cheeks. I don’t . thanks to his confiscated ID cards. “Reverend. he came from behind. Josiah realized the person he spoke with floated in a sea beyond law-abiding society. Whoever took the fall will disappear to a detention camp. but watched the woman recoil. Not really unusual. sloped shoulders and retreated inside. while the priest held the big wad of bills. But even in rapture.” the man remarked. he never wanted nothing more than to go back to the throngs of civilization. but implied casualness. “I am the one paying you. Robber had an angry quirk about seeing fat.” Robber’s stomach burned and the inside of his mouth tasted bitter. Taking a meal now not only demonstrated disrespect. he might as well impress some working class girls. The image typified a lifetime of gluttony available for the least deserving. The priest appeared average in most respects. “You’re not my daddy. The priest did not seem to suffer. He refused to give even that much of himself to this priest. Ishkott. The priest fail to produce a ration ticket. right outside the bistro.” he uttered with mustered snobbishness. Robber waited to see if the priest requested a menu. so when he approached.” Robber snapped. I’m not like you in so many ways. He wanted to spit. aghast. “Me neither. the priest ordered a drink and nothing more. When the waitress arrived. Only parked and passing cars screened him from the eyes of the priest.” The waitress relaxed her tiny. This priest also wore a suit coat. Robber imagined the camps as literally hell-on-earth. Being a creature of the cities. watching what happened next. Business will be conducted today. The priest pulled up. large enough for the vehicle. in a white limousine. The two were related activities. An amazing sky of stars existed over the waste. The extra weight the man lugged around may have reddened in his face. Robber stepped in. flat and smoldering patches in unmapped regions of the Shur. The arrival of Robber's client amazingly coincided with a parking space. but had crossed the desert at night a handful of times. Kanen flashed his cash and made a coarse innuendo to the waitress. The clumsy manner the priest dropped into the chair suggested his stuffed girth caused the blush. Robber kicked off the corner he leaned against and took a short walk. right?” Robber asked. he avoided scrutiny. The drink Kanen ordered arrived in a tall glass with more ice than tea. The distraction stopped being amusing at the point the story would really end.wished he had brought his secretary’s book about cats. The bistro hostess escorted the clergyman to the anticipated table. Robber sat down.” he told the waitress. Josiah retorted with information related the core of the meeting. “I haven’t said I would do anything for you. Captain Kanen wore the standard uniform of black slacks and a white collarless shirt. but sucked back the acidic juice. but you better think again. opposite the priest. old men eat. He supposed that is why the camps were built out there. As a kid. The idea entertained him. “He doesn't want anymore. begged for trouble. Robber would leave. “Listen. “You’re Kanen.” Robber said. so the tea was obviously non-alcoholic. his awe compared to looking upon the ocean for the first time.

He’s just a leech. “He’s alone?” “Yes. “That’s not too far from here. priest. too.” “You want to know how I know him?” “No. If I have other questions. for fun. Where will that get us? Your religion won’t get the job done. I’d do it for charity.” “That is quite an animal. but he planned to skim petty expenses from the money he received conducting a funeral for which he will soon be responsible.” Robber said.” “What about the neighborhood? Don’t people visit and tithe like good little lambs?” A long silence swelled between the question and Josiah’s reply. He would merrily kill the fat man in front of witnesses there at the bistro.” Robber leaned over the table and dropped his voice. I don’t have to beg for work. when you put those two together. The killer’s thinking sounded distorted. a real cock. only forced room for a reply. He carefully measured his response. He did not agree. You aren’t establishing a pattern. It was an old barrack. . Josiah reached for the wad and instantly forgot the affronts and everything else Robber told him. the end of Josiah’s desperation was now within reach. the price is already negotiated. Kanen swallowed again to encourage the frozen chunk to slide down his throat. I don’t stand for sermons or lectures about moral responsibilities.” Robber softly chanted the address aloud. Josiah decided to ignore the part he didn’t like.” Josiah stated.” “Saint Erasmus. Robber knew it when he arranged the encounter. In any case. This meeting may even end with a dead priest.” “He’s from Gomorrah. I like what I do. The man was probably insane. he planned talk a little more.” “Where? Be specific.” Kanen sat mute and appalled. The church needs refurbishing. It won't be the only crusade I wage. Josiah hoped to ask for something else. people think the clergy drops like flies. I want to know who he is. “No. If this piece of business was concluded. too close for comfort. His close face and low tone looked and sounded deliberately menacing. a warehouse made of red brick. Kanen had emergency money available. The cold hurt his mouth and made his temples ache. you’re looking for a job and I’m the one who is paying. right?” Robber queried. Oddly enough. He squinted and pushed back the pain. at his parish in the slum. “Regrettably so. “I’m not a migrant. “Does that mean you’re going to do it?” The priest felt grounded again when Robber waved him to put away the money. If you open your mouth with anything other than an answer to my question. “The name sounds familiar. Another priest was murdered inside. “Let’s try this again.” Robber quipped. the outcome Robber looked forward to. If I didn’t. I wouldn’t care less. currently not in his possession. I’ll ask you. “Get this straight. I recognize the name. “All I meant was.” “All right. I said I’d ask what I need to know. there is a good chance you’ll say something I won’t like.” Robber sat back when the priest huffed and swallowed an ice cube with a nervous gulp of tea.” This meeting could not possibly go smoothly. The priest was not quite sure how to respond. He just didn’t know the assassin currently sat across his own prospective target. He asked the priest to confirm before committing it to memory. Anyway. The captain's arrogance needed a few bites taken out. Josiah by your rules. Excitement made the captain giddy. I see you got the down payment. “Hey. The address was all he needed. Robber felt satisfied he had disturbed the priest’s comfort. “Who is this priest. “Do you think I’d tell you this is part of some crusade? What are you talking about?” spouted the priest.” Robber indicated the cash the priest flashed earlier. Benedict Ishkott?” Robber asked. but he never lasted at any parish for long. he must be a regular psychopath. I bet he fits right in at that zoo of yours. “Tell me what I need to know. To do the things he did for money.” “After this one. L99 and F66. Josiah Kanen hoped for a dead priest. and expected an ovation. The lowbrow sarcasm was difficult to forgive.

Neither man wanted any sort of relationship. Scavenging and desperation disgusted him. two men with business. Josiah failed to realize he had been struck. he thought he hallucinated.” Robber suggested. The priest's assumption was desperate and depraved. Just a deal. “Give me the money. but Josiah felt allowed to make rules of his own.are you?” Robber hinted with more sarcasm. Robber rocked back and stretched his leg from beneath the table. before tripping into the real world to buy a new suit. His fierce reaction was simply reflex to shake off vermin.” Josiah pulled the wad from his jacket pocket. “If you talk to Judah. The sound made Robber mad. “You think I know something?” Robber stared at the priest. “I didn’t have anything to do with the first one. Downright civil. waving a stack of bills. Robber's hand drifted into the pocket with his garrote. His skin appeared as thick and dark as oiled leather. If Kanen tolerated disparages about the Church. tell him I was right by you. As he did. Robber got up to follow. and was shopping! A paper bag knocked against the man’s blue slacks as he strolled away. He expected to score Ape so badly. independent contractor. but the priest knew him too.” Robber’s thinking became slanted. I can’t go back to Gomorrah. The captain knew he wasn’t making friends. “I hope there is something else you can do for me. I’d blame heathens. “I wonder if you have any Ape you can sell me. Robber glimpsed a blue blur across the street. . and physical. The workman was a small man. he slapped the priest’s wrinkled forehead.” Robber said. for the sake of remaining polite.” “If you say so. “I don’t have anyone here. he ground his teeth and scowled. Not a. but the apparition really appeared across the street. The color flashed in front of storefronts he had leaned between a few minutes ago. His red cheeks flared like beacons and he cooed like an idiot.” “And that is the only reason we’re here. His touch felt like a rodent scrambling up Robber's limb. The cash brushed against Robber’s aimless palm and brought his attention back to the transaction. Robber looked down on Josiah as the man from Robber’s dream faded away. he wanted to be clear on his position. the same from Robber’s dream. “Not a priest. rubbing his stung head with his other hand. preventing him from walking away. For a second.” That somebody whom Robber knew was Judah Batheirre. to threaten Robber in dreams. The priest sat dumbfounded. For a moment. Robber took the cash and deftly filled his only empty pants pocket. Those people weren’t in his class. I think that’s a good way to put it. The assassin reached for a mechanism of control and fell back on the concept of business.” “What are you saying?” Josiah asked. infuriated him. other than take work from Judah. Still. A workman came out of one of the shops. “Wait.” Robber tore his arm from the weak grip of the priest. “I just want to solve my own problem. disrespect had stunned the captain helpless.” Josiah begged. and better than most. When Robber realized the priest touched him.” Robber fell stone silent. The situation was too surreal. The priest snatched Robber’s forearm. as if they didn’t have bigger plans. Robber will jump on the table and finish the priest for the sake of heathens and good taste. he was astonished the priest asked for drugs. Robber didn’t mingle with pushers or users. The priest’s garb perturbed him.” “I bet you would. At first. He reached over the table and when he took the money. If we weren’t inside the Wall. The talk of murder made discerning the nature of the question impossible “Why don’t you ask the military?” Josiah refused to bicker over something he assumed a misunderstanding.” the priest rushed. If Kanen pulled out one of those tacky key chains with a cross. Just then. “Or if you know somebody. studying the man's face for suspicion. Robber's flagrant. what you might call. he spotted the blue again. Robber failed to react. the gall this stranger had. To stash the money.

Listen to the radio. No art or skill was practiced in any part of lechery. but the workman did pop into places where he didn’t belong. His practical use in the Church may be his salvation. Robber walked away without another word. given the circumstances. The reason behind the priest’s request suddenly became evident. If this meeting was not wrapped up now.” Robber growled. If anyone allowed the coming and going of people. Until then. so. “That’s why you want the priest dead. the spot where Robber had become distracted and lost the slippery interloper. They controlled the city. The only place the workman could have gone is forward. The store was the last place pursuit would reasonably lead. He followed the workman's steps and soon reached the place the man once stood. but the bulge of cash in his pocket anchored the fact in reality. Eventually. You won’t see me until I’m done. required allowances. I do. He only wanted to stave off that day until he felt ready and without symptoms of withdrawal. Time wasted and Robber needed his composure to successfully trail the workman. He had already lost sight of the man. He still felt the touch of the priest’s hand clamped around his wrist and imagined he contracted a fast rotting disease that gnawed his skin. A priest will die regardless. The Batheirre family lived in Gomorrah. the pain will come. spending just enough time at each window to confirm the absence of his prey.” Robber proclaimed. He may not get drugs today. Kanen just wanted to get past this piece of dirty work with Ishkott and put off the agonizing days when he quit Ape. but a problem they brought will go away. His hands quivered.Addicts were the worst. Josiah wanted security. “I don’t deal trash. Kanen's flushed cheeks and the jacket betrayed addiction. He moved from one shop to the next. The fat priest felt relieved to offer assurance instead of empty excuses and justification for addiction. The workman was not inside. What Robber had heard was true after all. He felt ashamed with his overt ogle into a woman's clothing store. use by family hurt business. The loss of chemical joy. Making a living in this world. Judah performed that role. he would lose the dream interloper. Distraction from his chase angered Robber. Robber stepped away from the priest just as he remembered an important item. Don’t be so eager. The pace of Robber’s walk quickened once he left the bistro. He ruled out the minute possibility the man had escaped being tracked. especially when clerks and customers stopped and gazed back. “Are we going to meet again? I’ll bring it then. He brushed the sleeve of his shirt. and no obvious shops of interest appeared along the workman’s path. The family would not tolerate a member of their clan using their product. unsuspecting warm body and stole life. If he couldn’t have any from Judah.” “I’ll be in touch when I’m ready to collect. He had listened to the same revolt from Judah and still hadn't manufactured a reply. and I don’t deal with it. but that would not help him today.” Josiah unfolded the paper napkin that had arrived with the tea and dragged it over his face. Disbelief that the meeting had even occurred drifted into his thoughts. Family was often the first and easiest mark. “Don’t touch me. if one knew what to observe. Beliefs and principles still applied. except the Sabbath?” Josiah sat shaking with his mouth open. These people were lazy thieves and opportunists. real two-legged leeches. Robber cupped his hands against the shop window before him and looked long inside. isn’t it? Things aren’t going your way? Bad deal? Are all you priests Aped every day. he'd just turn to deeper devotion in the Church. Robber thought the stranger had passed them all by. Before then.” Robber glanced the opposite direction he last spotted the workman. you’ll get the news. he felt appropriate the shop became the first place he checked. He considered the deal was a truce for the sake of business. ruin or an exploded heart all posed final ends. This priest was lucky the Batheirres had not already disowned the man. Even if supply of Ape was unlimited. He jogged and sidestepped down the block. “You better have the rest of my money. an addict in the Batheirre family appeared catastrophic to people involved in underground and legitimate dealings alike. they only shifted. They latched onto the closest. . Robber raised his hand in apology to the ladies.” “Oh. He then moved on to the next store.

” The questions were the extent of the pleasant part of an interrogation. After a hard day at work. The irony did not escape him. the vision became diffuse. soldiers became sadistic. He peered in all four directions. chasing the dream was futile. People rushed to their destinations in the fading illumination and choked the roads. was to be asked stupid questions with obvious answers. The apparition might also have materialized in waking life. more diffuse when the air stirred. Granted. The streets began to fill. He picked the direction he believed the most logical in which to slip away with ease. especially one so personal as his dream. The last thing she remembered was falling asleep in her bed. The man had become a phantom. right down to the common blue work clothes. knowing the frustration they caused. Robber wondered what the message could mean – maybe a warning? Bleeding profusely from the neck carried definite interpretations. the addition of a tout bag was a subconscious addition to help the figment stick to the physical world. “Where are you going?” “Home. Tracking across the concrete paths of a city was typically impossible and scouting had never been a forte of Robber's to begin with. The menacing workman had vanished. His hammering jarred her awake. 12 Wild Beasts Just after dawn. Ignoring the power of that happenstance seemed impossible. When Robber left his apartment. The last thing anyone needed after drawn out hours of inane busywork. Like smoke. Plenty of open doors existed where someone could duck into at the beginning of an afternoon. he had to resume immediately. He never liked puzzles. If Robber continued his hunt. after the curfew took effect.” “Why are you out after dark?” “Traffic. he would find the meaning then and there. ordering Margot to get dressed and hurry outside. or he might always have been no more solid than the apparition in Robber’s dream. Robber did have that instinct the first instant he spotted the man across the street. Robber could spend the rest of the day fruitlessly searching for a living. lay in the future. . Robber assumed his hunt was now hindered and gave up without luck. A message that arrived after the fact seemed unlikely and futile. so the image formed a fixture in his visual library. More troubling. Mark knocked on the front door of Margot's apartment. he'd happily accept the message. If the dream was a sign. The sudden rousing from slumber disoriented Margot. the man he saw across the street bore a striking resemblance to the figure in his dream. If the future offered any clue to what lay ahead. whatever will come. No matter how deeply Robber studied the vision. but never dismissed omens. Now he chased a blue apparition down the block and peek through windows as he went. Robber stopped at the intersection at the end of the block. incessantly. but tall trucks prevented vision. he didn’t exactly know what he would do. breathing stranger or he could wade through traffic back to his apartment. The phantom workman will soon vanish entirely.Once Robber found the stranger. wrapped in Mark’s arms. That was at dusk. The lunch hour scramble came late and was now rushed to make up for lost time. No one wanted to be stopped by a military patrol a block or two from their apartment or house. Robber entertained predictions of his own undoing.. Today looked like that case. and a longer day in traffic. He shouted through the door. He only tailed prey he pursued in cities. the bees were loose and buzzing. Regardless. At the apartment. the message communicated an abrupt and messy death. he too willing forgot the vision. The apparition warned of retribution for something done or something Robber will do. As visions went. Target easily disappeared for good if the line of sight became broken. After that. He exercised the grim fate on others. She did not recall him leaving this morning. and had done so very recently. he could collect his thoughts and weigh the murder he undertook for a priest. When the phantom appeared. being detained by the military would be an inconvenience.

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

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

Fertilizers. It’s a first-in basis. but the scenario was most likely the same as her own. deceased many years ago.pose reminiscent of a giraffe stretching down its neck for a drink. like last night. She imagined Sarah spent a great deal of time answering the phone to dead air and abrupt clicks when callers hung up. He hooked Margot with a taste of heathen sympathizers and terrorists within the Wall. She heard that as soon as patrol soldiers pulled the driver from the truck. It was only a matter of time before heathens successfully navigated the harbor. however. as usual. her stories didn’t amount to more than drunks and blasphemers. The parish in which the priest was murdered drifted out of design. The real. Mark and Margot independently waited in lines for assignments and wasted days. Real threats did grow. That alone was enough to assume a terrorist attack was in the works. Margot never gleaned facts regarding a fertilizer plot. Patrols across the Shur frequently spotted heathens. There were. coming and going. The latter involved the former. most likely a woman. His identity remained unknown and there wasn't enough left of the heathen sympathizer to draw a portrait. who suddenly decided they had much to say about the Church or the military —lots to say. Reporters for the military. and their censors. Margot and Mark were those alchemists. The only hardened soldiers were those who patrolled the desert between cities. There were no alternatives. untold story will begin there. On that point alone. or an agenda drove stories aired on the news. The truck was registered to an owner in Gomorrah. Margot would not call Mark unless communication was imperative. Margot naively believed his experience earned her friend and lover privilege. Other times. The military policed the harbor night and day. The news Mark probably carried merited a call to his home. unable to get across town to follow up on investigations. Decades of trial and error probed for weakness. when an automatic wall of spinning metal tore the driver apart. but the military concocted most information provided to the public. cramming every Chosen inside the Wall required every bit of flat land. tried and true exploits. used in explosives. runaways. events in life distracted their attention. “We need the assignment. usually over the barrels of rifles pointed in either direction. the ports were only one way to supply Capital . The short battle resulted in one casualty. He kept secret how he got leads. he probably had a source inside military headquarters. surmised the fertilizer was meant to be smuggled into Capital through its ports. In the past. Margot suspected something brewed. dead-end during the preliminary part of the investigation. were found traveling from the encampment to the only local seaport outside the Wall. Margot believed the breach involved complacency and arrogance of the military. The suspicious note about the fertilizer was that the cargo went the wrong direction. Essentially. he flashed a pistol and a firefight ensued.” Margot understood now that Mark talked about a story from the military. Margot predicted that much. His name went to the top of the list of reporters for one reason or another. He and Margot could not afford to waste the opportunity stuck in the congestion of traffic. made enforcement tough. and curfew violations. actually. Mark proved himself a good conjurer. Yet the priest’s murder and Margot’s last couple stories seemed unconnected. They mixed the ingredients of righteous propaganda. In reality. A reporter required a clue to the recipient of the crap to . Everyone knew the seaport was the least secure section of Capital. and few words of praise. but will. During the Renovation. Neither were airfields inside Capital. and she fell for his conspiracy theories. Before Saint Erasmus. Margot wondered if Mark allowed his contact to call his house. Authorities currently tracked the place from which the fertilizer was purchased or stolen. those stories to which Mark and Margot were not assigned that smacked of potential. Something concrete had happened since last night. The gates through the Wall presented an impossible route for large trucks carrying goods. Soldiers in Capital had uneventful nights and grew too comfortable handling mundane domestic disputes. despite herself being decent at the game. Rumors of heathen infiltration carried more merit than anyone outside the military gave them. but the volume of ships and cargo. Mark probably got a lead. little mistakes often caused elaborate plans to unravel. Seeing through spin and lies came with her trade. Such was the story about the fertilizer.

” “You know. He walked into the kitchenette.” Margot frowned. He shouted so his friend heard him through her closed door. Giving his or her life for a chance to take others seemed a fair gamble to those inbred psychotics.” She cleared her throat again and grasped the bedroom door. a gray knee length skirt and peach long-sleeved blouse. She would not have been able if he didn’t accommodate her shove. You.” “After last night. He spotted the coffee maker and searched the cupboard for coffee and filters.” Mark answered. If Mark planned to go where she thought he was. Mark silently tortured his wife. people would then be free to better themselves. of Chosen in exchange for their own. “Sarah would have made my life hell. they had no time to spare. even the lackadaisical patrols could sniff out explosives. Margot. especially after last night. They had permanent assignments and been down there almost three years. “Besides. He even felt pangs of guilt for behaving so badly. I have to dress.” “No. “Besides. but Margot needed to understand his situation could not be helped. She dropped her arms and walked into her bedroom. Inside the Wall. “I already saw you naked. know that. besides the bedroom. “Are you going to tell me what happened?” Margot asked.” Mark answered.” Mark was vexed.” Mark claimed. or hundreds. The clothes Margot wore yesterday were a good combination. Though. Margot believed even if the military prevented an attack. You’re making me leave? After last night?” “Yes. That information would only be found at the port outside Capital. Margot cleared her throat and crossed her arms.” Margot pushed Mark from the room. He saw no reason for himself to suffer outright confrontation. “Does it have anything to do with the fertilizer and the man transporting it?” Margot inquired. The great risk associated with transporting and storing incendiary material discouraged terrorist hobbyists.move further. He doubted Margot had any. because of last night. Terrorists spent whole desperate. Another sympathizer was not likely. “About you. lives were still wasted. The compact oven and refrigerator looked like they were custom built for the tiny spaces they occupied. Thankfully. She faced him. Margot was mad and not crying. As much as Margot knew . Margot stopped daydreaming and continued quizzing Mark. Tell me why you left. The desert nomads were rumored to have been nursed with blood at birth. She then shut the door. Terrorists were conditioned to trade one life for another. “Excuse me. of all people. I would have never heard the end of it. If the reason Mark came back so rudely this morning was not connected to the most plausible terrorist incident. last night. a sympathizer. heathen terrorist or even a sleeper cell. Margot would throw him out. She hurried dressing herself. Military training focused on teaching soldiers to find that sort of danger. Too many people existed with the single-minded purpose to take or save life through violence. Mark followed. “You could have gone without me. “Maybe. His old friend seemed incapable of disappointing him. I heard a story about missing soldiers down at the docks. in spite of his admirable performance in her bed last night. if the right chemicals became available. a nook appended to the only other room of the apartment. This morning was not the first time he had witnessed spite fester. but their goal and lust was the death of dozens. Bimonthly drills dealt solely with bomb threats.” Margot’s interest peaked. but now was the only time he would deal with Margot's jealousy. a real terrorist could and would do just that.” Mark gave up trying to find the coffee. He recognized the place Margot’s attitude came from. idealistic lifetimes preparing for a holy moment of destruction. If all that were unnecessary. or one within the Wall. Someone waits. Mark was fascinated the appliances were scaled half-size to the real things. it’s a good thing I went home. somebody could quickly assemble an incendiary bomb and put to use. I can always have my modesty. There was no place Margot could keep it that Mark had not searched in the minute he spent looking. “About the story? I’ll tell you on the way. The world could not help but become a better place. He was unhappily married and preferred not to make life in his own home unbearable.

” “And?” Margot opened the bedroom door. Maybe if you had called ahead.” The pair hustled out the front of Margot’s apartment building to Mark’s silver coupe. Mark slipped into the traffic of the surface street and his slick convertible danced between moving vehicles. Mark completely ignored his wife’s bout of crippling depression.” Mark raised his hands in surrender.” Margot said. Still. tardiness. if you don't know details?” “Frequent short-term assignments in diverse locations and guard duty. Margot did her best to shake out the wrinkles.about fashion. “The missing guards were reprimanded on numerous occasions. For the sake of learning professional tricks. She knew his disapproval was because her recycled outfit. “How do you know that. indicate a troubled soldier. Mark. When he had.” Mark said and then vocalized his opinion. She pulled the cushions from her love seat. when dockhands secure cargo for the night and are then dismissed.or a combination of any or all of the ills that plague working career soldiers. the lack of more crime amazed everyone and Mark left his car unlocked and the windows rolled down. His conclusions impressed Margot. she questioned her fellow reporter's assumption. Keeping the traffic moving on the freeway this time of the day topped concerns of the military. “Let’s go. “Listen. Mark parked in front of a fire hydrant. too. “So I called military headquarters this morning. He made the purchase in either defiance of added responsibility or celebrated the preservation of a degree of freedom. then came back to her husband. He had relayed the details to his fellow reporter during their stroll from her apartment to his convertible. “Typical causes of reprimand include drunkenness. “And?” Margot prompted. Sarah stayed with her parents for a month. were rare. Mark safely implied the stagnant soldiers no longer fit the military’s acceptable mold. “Okay. Mark opened the front door. I asked if there were any development on the missing soldiers. Her purse typically slipped behind them. Antiperspirant and a little perfume topped off the morning’s preparation. More sailed down the road and all moved in one direction toward the freeway. I’m sorry. Buying the Corbeta was the first thing Mark did after the birth of his stillborn child.” The same applied to priests.” Once Margot found her purse. I would be more to your taste.” “C’mon. Mark continued filling in Margot. Despite the predictable routine in Capital. as soon as I knew a real person would answer the phone. I would have liked time to take a shower. the clothe top stayed up most of the time and today was no exception. The pair worked the second shift. instead of dictates. A solid walls of parked cars enclosed both sides of the street. but nobody discussed faults of the clergy. mister. insubordination . “Details were unavailable and probably not relevant. “Tell me more. The Church was politically motivated to mandate traffic control.” Margot quipped. Margot never learned why.” Mark opened the passenger door of Corbeta for Margot.” Now Margot rushed. He usually ascribed the miracle to the hereditary decency of the Chosen people. The military dedicated resources exclusively for the purpose. drawn out over years. a common practice. waiting to be packed into trucks. The Corbeta handled so easily. Mark caused a great deal of controversy between their families. The job entails marching vacuous circles inside fenced . Coordinating a new outfit would take too much time. Mark gave her a sidelong look. She left her hair tied back in a single ponytail.” In this extreme case. The records of the two men would exemplify the violation. Mark continued speaking as he joined the flow to the freeway. Just tell me what happened when you called headquarters. There was. “That's no surprise. especially when he acted more “emotional” over a fitted car cover than the approaching anniversary of his child's death. “These two particular soldiers were assigned to guard cargo stacked on the docks. He merely took advantage of the available opening and parking zones that were not enforced this early in the morning. “Well. Concessions to the will of the populace. she expected to clash with Mark’s tan slacks and brilliant blue short-sleeved shirt.

“Chosen don’t kill each other.” “That isn't exact. but I do think heathens are here.” Margot focused on other questions. The praise sounded condescending. “The missing soldiers weren’t responsible for those critical areas.” he gloated. The checklist of rounds is also missing. That and the sheet wouldn't have been any help. in most cases. Patrols would easily spot it. if censors don't do it for you. These two steps hold the highest potential for finding contraband or evidence of sabotage. Mark didn’t bother wading up to his waist in traffic. He's dead. They only guaranteed everything stayed where it was put. “How do they know one didn’t kill the other?” Margot asked. Mark hesitated. twenty-fours hours a day. and weren't found during a subsequent search.” “What did he say?” Margot realized the question was presumptive when she asked it. especially after the yard empties. That’s . “No one knows precisely when the soldiers disappeared. Mark waited for the bellow of honking to cease before he answered Margot. Paperwork these days is. military jargon for the station designated for the change of guard. about the missing soldiers.” “Why are guards needed during curfew? Nobody lives near the docks.” “That would have been foolish to take a boat out at night. The tide must have carried the body out. They might be upset they lost their manure.” He wasn’t entirely convinced. “Nothing. besides the random patrols in the harbor and streets outside the chain link fence that separates the dockyard and seashore from Capital.” “That sounds like heathens. You learn to write the story even before you start an investigation.” Experience taught Margot that much. because of curfew. “And the killer carved a Star of Lucifer on his face.” “And they showed up in the first place?” “Earlier. He stomped the accelerator and jumped ahead of an elderly man who attempted caution. you learn who to talk with and what to ask. Margot’s question reflected her novice outlook on the world. this amount of detail suggested he made a connection higher up the rank and file. writing the story is not hard to do if it is flagged for censorship. “His throat was cut. The only certain thing is that both of them were unaccounted for at the end of their shift. Chosen lie and cheat each other. “After a while. And the original two guards never returned. She suspected her friend had charmed a clerk. the missing soldiers arrived at the yard. and ladened and locked trucks that couldn't leave the yard. She convinced herself that was how Mark got his early leads.” Margot complained.loading zones. Lazy soldiers tick off the list at the beginning or the end of shifts. Margot forgave the tone in light of her earlier question.” “Well.” “The military oversees shipments and perform searches before goods come off boats. Those soldiers were the only two souls around. They found him floating in the middle of the harbor. what’s happened?” “They found one. but murder and theft were different sins all together. Facts point to a couple of malcontents absent without leave. but reacted too slow. received a status report from guards they relieved and waved goodbye to a few acquaintances. She didn’t give time for a mental image of grisly mutilation to form in her mind. The replacements waited a half-hour before they began their scheduled patrol. an optional formality.” Margot nodded her head and continued listening to Mark. She waved her hands as a gesture meant to erase the premature query. “What do you think? Are heathens really in Capital? Might this have anything to do with Drystani?” “Thinking Drystani is involved might go too far.” Mark flatly stated. “Experience. The answer was an unsatisfying morsel.” Mark said.” “Smart. Mark continued. Alpha.” “How did you find out all of this?” Margot asked. They also monitor cargo in waiting trucks. was abandoned. Gates remained locked and all areas were secured. However. if the soldier wasn’t dumped there intentionally. “Anyway. She will soon learn for herself and accept the way things were. Acts such as those were degenerative. The task is boring but not difficult. To think one Chosen would kill another was preposterous.” “When did the two guards go missing?” “When the third shift arrived to relieve them. The relieving soldiers notified a superior officer.

“All right. “Mark. once we propose an assignment. I think that is worth a full pardon. So it’s fair game for anyone on the list behind him. at least until sharp debris punctured holes in tires. he can’t be contacted. The fumes on the freeway would soon grow thick. before you get uptight again. “Still. She half-expected when something of this magnitude came up.” “We got this story?” Margot asked. I imagine the military will dredge the harbor for the other soldier. invisible cloud of cancer-causing vapor formed. It clung to the cracks and crevices of overpasses. but because of the number of times you pulled that stunt on other women.” Mark mumbled. I can almost forgive you for last night.fellow reporters.” “I did say almost. The instructor lectured that once a doughboy like Margot graduated and started a career. Mark could simply have gone incommunicado. Margot even took a class at school called “Strategy and Tactics in Journalism. They were fortunate. Mark broke the rules for her. but thank you. the military. She should consider everyone hostile . The military assigned the story to Ralph Menton. transparent tentacles wrapped around signposts. despite their proposed joint effort and last night. and I have to say you are stunning when you’re angry. Margot realized the significance of her inclusion. I told you I couldn’t stay. Drivers took chances circumventing the usual flow. Well. Margot. His look changed to a genuine smile with an adorable smugness. The day had just begun and the reporters will get to headquarters with relative ease. “Ralph’s a drunk. we just have to pick it up before some rube gets lucky. You get this one.and an open window was invitation to an intangible monster wanting nothing more than to seed a living lung. Acidic gases scratched as they crept through nasal passages and made throats raw . Mark did not have to stop and pick her up.” The traffic slowed as drivers waited turns at a blinking red light at the freeway on-ramp. she wanted to know which way to look to see the letdown coming. Despite the roads clearing every night. this is a big deal.” Margot began with sincerity. You have every right. Remember him?” “Sure.what we’re going to see for ourselves. causing automobiles to block the alternative route. A mangled and murdered soldier in a secured area sounded like a high profile assignment. “That makes me just about even. she would never hear about it.” “How do you know Ralph won’t turn up once we get to headquarters?” The story assignment sounded too good to believe. Margot hated to see the opportunity dangled in front of her nose and have it yanked away. we got it. leaving greasy black soot. The story would surely go directly to a trusted reporter. the trip downtown to military headquarters would have frustrated Mark and Margot. don’t think this means you have a clean slate.” Mark sneered.” “Well. “I want to thank you for this. “We got this one. everybody. Motorists moved again. I know you could have kept the assignment for yourself. the Church. Only the autos following Mark's silver convertible were smitten with the predicted flat .” “Margot.” “We have a deal. “Yeah. we are sharing a byline. remember?” Mark had sustained his sneer since commenting about Ralph Menton's drunkenness. we’re going to claim it if the primary doesn’t get to headquarters in time. Margot missed the comment hidden in the noise of the sport car's air conditioning. If she was going to be disappointed. “He handled stories about Drystani for months at a time. she needed to think like a soldier dropped behind enemy lines. I’m on the list and we know which story to ask for.” She thought the subject went a little over the top.” “Hey. just the same.” “Nobody does. During the conversation’s intermission. Early morning accidents had strained the flow of traffic on the freeway and the military converted the emergency lane into an additional traffic route.” Mark rolled up his window and pointed for Margot to do the same. He didn’t even have to tell her of the development. and a loose breeze from the sea. She found the luck hard to believe. Luck blessed Mark and Margot.” 13 Sabbath Eve On any other day. Reporters lived in that kind of world. a permanent. much higher than the murder of a priest in a ghetto.” Margot said.

After more endless minutes. Privileges came so easily to him. Margot didn’t need to ask why. The lost fat and paws became sacrifices to a sadistic freeway . Their remains resembled big chunks of flesh. No matter how brief or casual the introduction. What bothered Margot was the fact he obviously enjoyed manipulating women. Professionalism called for reserve. misgivings and envy. Her excitement drowned all other thoughts and emotions. back onto the road to reset the trap. The way he behaved made her wonder if he exercised any level judgment at all. intuition exposed unspoken realities. Mark didn’t appear rumpled. When accidents occurred. the spinning rim shredded the tire to flat scraps and threw the predacious debris. yet a swinger at his core. He lived life without fear of repercussion. Margot might have made rendezvous difficult if Mark knew she watched him. and malicious ornaments became established decorations on the freeway. alone with time to think over expectations. Plenty of janitor closets offered rooms for a speedy romp with his contact. she might even have waited a minute after the door closed behind Mark before going inside. Most hazardous were the small metal caltrops caught in tire treads. Walking into military headquarters with another woman might complicate the much man-made road kill. He possessed the assets for the job. A friendly exchange between strangers might actually damage trust and cooperation. Although unspoken. Margot agreed to skirt awkward suspicion. wrecker crews brushed shrapnel to the road's shoulders. Regrets and worries seemed pains he never suffered. rather than chance a flat tire during rush hour. Thankfully. He tolerated the frequent starts and stops. They twisted and pushed through the rubber skin of tires. she felt general envy and a gender-shared distaste for his chauvinism. Margot recognized a summary gathered inside the thick folder. She could have lied and said she looked for another story. He took too long. She constantly reminded herself Mark was married. If he knew she was in the building. Mark asked Margot to stay in his Margot needed to act more like Mark. she was about to look for him. Margot spotted Mark emerge from the front entrance of military headquarters . often just a screw. single-story cinder block building. An occasional sweeper and winter rain eventually carried the debris to the gutter and down the ramps. the sharp debris flew off and found itself back on the road. She leaned over and opened the driver-side door for Mark. For appearances. Mark was wise. where the piles were easier and safer to remove. her position had changed. When a wheel blew. In the meantime. She wondered how much of herself she would lose to adopt his lifestyle. even relief when her sour rumination ended. good or poor. His advantage didn't so much matter before she slept with him. Now Margot wished she had gone into military headquarters with him. He carried a pale green folder and a steaming floral patterned paper cup. Once the two reporters reached the wide and perpetually congested front parking lot of military headquarters. racked with a pain that followed the poor creatures to death. Anything would have been better than sitting outside. colorful. They had gained the assignment. Insinuating verbal slips and a guarded posture were dangerously unmanageable. The strewn remains of tires curled in on themselves like flattened animals. torn from carcasses by claws disinterested in the meat. even if he properly introduced her as a colleague. Flaunting and risk-taking paid off. One screw claimed victim after victim.reinforced glass doors of a long. He best offered a fickle friendship and some risque fun. Mark did whatever was necessary to bring success. Margot needed to get over her growing jealousy. right?” Margot had to ask to believe. This morning. Prior to last night. The slow moving official lanes remained safest. “That’s what I think it is. misshapen. the momentum of her mind made her anxious. Damn the sake of appearances. She convinced herself that Mark went to see his contact and other lover. He was not the kind of man with whom a relationship of trust was ever possible. Just in time. After inflicting damage. She refused to settle for a . Margot couldn’t handle his pandering in the state she had worked herself into. he may be inclined to rush his illicit business. since his looks and personality disarmed every woman he assailed. waiting to bite again. Flirtation with “causing a scene” would have released pent-up energy. The debris glittered and threatened passing motorists.

and ensuing blood lost. Nothing Mark had told Margot about the soldiers showed up in the folder. “Mark. She thumbed between the two sheets. “Tell me more. a twist of blinds provided instant privacy.” Mark started his car and drove from the large. packed parking lot outside military headquarters.” “Then we got what we need and a little more. recycled from a story last night. remember?” Margot thought about her remark after she let it loose.” “No. Margot smirked. Mark took her comment in a context of his own. The information was more than Mark conveyed. “You bet.lower profile. the big one.” appeared below Mark’s name. isn’t it?” “Well. The docks lay on the far side of Capital.” “Sounds like your connection at headquarters doesn't know everything after all. Margot stopped right there . She scanned them top to bottom. She then prodded him to start his sport scar. “It’s in the summary. The report included evisceration and facial mutilation.” Mark cautioned. “What are you waiting for? Let’s go. appended the latest. “Not too long ago. She and Mark would not need a closet. He handed the floral cup to Margot. The list of perks an established reporter enjoyed continued to grow. reported one of the soldiers had been found in the water not far from the dock. Someone privy to secrets and minutia seemed to be Mark’s contact at headquarters. “It's hot. and as any travel in the city. looking for difficult to find keywords. Mark might betray details about his other lover. She supposed the information did not belong in the story. It was filled with black coffee. She still boiled a little over fabricated details of a meeting Mark may have had with an anonymous contact. She needed all the facts.” Mark waited in line to climb the freeway ramp.” Mark handed the folder to Margot. Margot thought he withheld details she cared not hear first thing in the morning.” Mark said. With luck. A second summary sheet. stapled beneath the first. the trip involved a great deal of patience. substitute story. Lack of caffeine had not started driving needles through her forehead when Mark saved her. was listed as the cause of death. The words “Priority” and “Assigned.once after the standard “Authorized” stamp and again next to the new “Assigned. with the keys already in the ignition. “You took me to bed. together. but this story was important. “Let me see the summary. She appreciated his consideration to an extent. The premise sounded like foul play.” Margot hoped for a reaction. the folder displayed additional stamps. The blow bounced off harmlessly. He then explained the assignment. Mark only raised his brow. “What else is there?” Margot assumed he didn't play along. She either implied something or simply let out a puff of steam.” His thoughtfulness impressed Margot. stamped.” Margot punched his thick bicep. The top sheet listed the names and ranks of the two missing soldiers. so she thanked him. That step would save quite a bit of wasted running around.” Margot paused. his name was written twice . “Our story. especially given the vast amount of blood on the docks. Actually. now you’re pushing me around.” he patronized. thinking about the two signatures. yes. “How could I forget? It was magical. “Shut up.paranoia sabotaged good intentions and the pair of reporters reached for a goal. did you know the organs of a soldier were removed?” “You mean his guts were cut out?” “Grossly. The following shift had arrived and found nobody to relieve. Besides being thick.” Mark confirmed. I couldn’t get you out of bed. She wondered if someone like a proxy could sign-out stories for assignees. The sheet failed to provide an estimated time of disappearance. and back up again. I did not.” Mark smirked at Margot. The second summary sheet. The military . but frugal sentences amplified the depth of the unreported background. He and Margot went to the docks to view the crime scene and gather minor details entailing good journalism. She would ask Mark about the stamps later. An oily curl floated on its surface. This contact probably had an office. A slit throat. and signed.

” The protest was naive. dead ahead. and generally bad grammar. They probably saw no further than the inside of their skulls. economical Mariposa. Then. Her mindset was geared toward function and affordability.” “But you’re driving. Loss of a tailgated car usually meant losing a hard-won position in the rolling parking lot. “Give them to me. all right. Being a passenger allowed behavior like a tourist. or even mere hours. At the moment. She flipped the envelope and pulled out the pictures face down. “I forgot you don’t like that kind of thing. The taste was less so. Beautiful and ugly cars shared common scratches and dents.but she never looked. more dented and scarred antiques appeared and broke down in Capital every year. I can screen them for you.” “Anything on the second soldier? If they found him. Her objection only served to avoid an accidental glance at the photos. the face was probably the safest image in the stack. She doubted they could repeat the license plate on the car in front of them. She had the whole trip from headquarters to prepare for black and white photos of a scarred dead face. Everyone stared. seeing a good-looking car in the wild planted seeds for a change of heart. That would be great. embellished news story. No other driver scanned the exterior of their automobile either. she could have experienced some entertainment before becoming acquainted with the case. Driving a red car was like divining with fire. She had written whole stories slowly drifting along in busy traffic like this. but color did. If Margot achieved success. since they crawled along. She needed more time before looking at gore. She chewed her bottom lip and folded back the first sheet again. No single model held special appeal. she will buy a beautiful car. Still.” The coffee Mark gave her had lost just enough heat to make drinking bearable. Oddly. Vehicles generally never interested Margot. sentence fragments. beaten boxes on wheels also crowded the roads. He pointed out the windshield with strained fingers. They fanned in his careless grip.” Margot opened the folder again and pulled out the envelope. Margot gasped. “I have always hated these things. Everyone focused attention on opportunity. Given the condition of the corpse. Focus helped an ambitious traveler jump into a lane that moved faster or close a sudden gap. “Oh. unmoving.” Mark promised his friend. Margot took any source available.” “No. he took the paper. The hot hue appealed to Margot. Reporters were left plenty of gaps for imagination to fill. The source material was ripe with double meaning and missing details. Mark rested his wrists on top of the steering wheel. Everything nice was hard to come by and more difficult to keep. The rest of the story is left to us. She wished she had heard the original. “The only thing you probably didn’t know is the condition of the body. displaying his best mockery of indignation. like Mark's Corbeta. just like her current. The page contained nothing of use. will pass before her prize became marred.must provide a special course in summary writing: how to precisely execute spelling mistakes. “Drink your coffee. it should be noted there. She didn't even know names of most cars. A choice showroom of makes and models surrounded Mark and Margot. every person behind a wheel seemed to have lost something. The new automobile will be red. she could do some sightseeing . She peeked inside just enough to find which side of the photos faced upward. Her enthusiasm for a new automobile sank when she realized only a matter of days. turned away and watched other motorists. Margot swore she counted back all the years of her life just noting model years in which the other automobiles were built. She liked how the sun reflected in the gloss. She ate lunch at the same time.” Margot closed the folder. There are the photos in the envelope. Style didn’t matter. and I already told you what’s here. Once she tapped the photocopied images into a neat pile. Any time Margot found herself stuck in traffic. “You're safe. Of course. Margot turned to the faces of drivers.” Mark said. Mark waited with his hand extended. The look suggested . but she needed caffeine. Both molded curves and acute angles fascinated her.” Margot complained. Censors refined each skill to create a confusing and cryptic propaganda template. In fact. Some handsome and beautiful automobiles dragged along the freeway.

Believe me. Of all kinds of work she tried. “What does it matter? I expect the murderer was in a hurry and it was dark. It looks like something from a kindergarten class. He’s sloppy. “I should have thought of that a long time ago. He kept the image right side down. a bad one. in case the photos curled over and the sight petrified her. When people see you coming with a green folder. For a chilling moment. it’s all wrong.” Mark frowned but his friend didn't notice. She made a concerted effort to look Mark directly in his wonderful brown eyes. “The soldier might just have been cut up really bad. “Wait. Margot thought she recognized what these people had lost.” “Could be.” “I would appreciate less colorful conjecture. Margot harden herself. One moment.” Margot replied absentminded. “I'd hate to see your kids.” “It’s not a star?” “Well. Good points. One day.” Mark nodded. that’s not a problem. They had lost their souls and now sat upright in coffins. His guts could have fallen out in the water.” “Mmm-hmm. “It’s like a badge. but she didn’t want to freak herself out again. She wanted to be a reporter. All the while.” “I really doubt that. “I think it was personal. looking for open doors and anyone alone after curfew. She quickly stacked and slipped them back into the envelope. His lack of tricks surprised Margot. what everyone on the planet discovered missing. she came furthest.” “Really? You can tell that by looking at those lousy photos? I don’t think the military wants that story. A test accompanied this opportunity for her big break.” “Yeah. “Who?” Margot turned.” Mark stated.” Mark licked his lips. please. they simply forgot to pursue the misplaced “something.people who had searched for something a long time and then gave up.” “Mark. Success appeared to require only good looks and personality.” “I know you do. “Or a crazy guy with a grudge. They unknowingly abandoned lifelong quests. It’s a pain taking the package wherever you go. don’t show me!” Mark deftly placed the pictures in his lap. professionally. they suddenly don’t want to talk to you. That random murderer is a stupid and really lucky psychopath. Both carried rifles. She stopped averting her gaze once she hid the photos and put the envelope into the green folder. “Hey. “The guy is an amateur.” Mark looked pleased for learning a new trick. doesn’t it?” Margot asked.” Margot agreed. His voice brought her back to the present. I’m just afraid we might head into another dead end. impressed. she stared straight ahead. “The cut on the soldier’s face. she daydreamed of a new car and the next.” “We’ll give them what they want.” Margot recalled the story she wrote about the priest’s murder at Saint Erasmus. feeding crabs. She accepted the gauntlet.” Mark handed the pictures back to Margot. that’s a smart place for that. I wish you wouldn’t say that. The folder then disappeared under her seat. He learned another new thing. “Do you think the same person who killed that priest committed these murders? The murderer might just be some random guy with a knife.” Mark casually replied. Margot shivered.” “What about the organs? That sounds like something a heathen would do. A small miracle blessed them when the road suddenly opened. I could use a good story. Maybe they forgot they stopped looking. Each day blended into the next. she filled herself with depressing philosophy.” Mark declared.” “Yeah. Small tasks and diversions held dejection at bay. too. He seemed so successful and had not picked up these little habits of the trade. She stopping thinking such morbid thoughts. an accident cleared and they were first at the gate. despite the hot coffee. Equally unpleasant conversations and images will certainly fill the rest of the day. Missing breakfast this morning actually resulted in a good turn of events. “I don’t think heathens committed the murders. His intestines might still be on the bottom of the bay. “Except. in this career. he killed two soldiers behind a fence. I really need this.” The hopeless no longer bothered to look at all.” . maybe a vendetta.

Mark explained he and Margot were reporters.” Mark and Margot sauntered toward the sea. but ignored their scary stories. He may have accepted rumors as fact and dutifully passed along fibs.” explained Margot. The operation then made sense. The gates had recently opened and workers filed into the dockyard. an armed soldier watched every truck. Reporter credentials gained Mark and Margot admission to the dockyard. Military personnel were experienced with rushing nonsensical.” “Maybe we should cover the story from that angle. Because the military kept the docks secure. A swayed rifle barrel hastened them past the fence. “Mark! Over here. They were all as inexperienced as Margot. someone interrupted the reporters. As expected. “Good sense and insanity are rarely roommates. one demanded identification. “I think everyone who lives in this neighborhood all work the docks. Tickets and fines were often dismissed in lieu of immediate detainment. I have to tell you… breaking news is not going to make us friends at military headquarters.” “Or keep them out. Because the military oversaw the operation. She poured the remainder of her bitter coffee on the ground and stood the floral cup over the evaporating puddle. Instead.insane. “What’s going on?” Margot asked Mark. Those folks like to call the shots.” Margot wondered aloud.” Mark said in idle conversation. Mark spoke with the two guards.” Mark’s tone returned to patronizing. If a system existed to separate loads. The fumigation at Saint Erasmus saved her the first time she thought herself ready. Trucks were unloaded. When the reporters reached the dockyard gate.” Mark decided. disorganized tasks. she decided she preferred not to see evidence of carnage. He said they came to cover a story about two dead guards and asked if anyone will provide details. “Mark Adut. She hoped her creativity landed her recognition. Neither guard answered. the military was flexible. blocks away. We can talk with him. Although. older soldier behind a row of crates jumped up and down. just to fill every nearby parking spot – just to punish visitors who live in better parts of Capital.” Mark answered.” “There was a breach.” Margot agreed. “They drive the short distance. somewhere. A wide and straight stretch of blacktop pointed the way.” A short. The soldier had swung his rifle in habit. Now the same discouragement came from someone with reputation and success. “That’s not our story.” “You could be right.” The pair reached the docks after a couple hours of wrangling with other stuck drivers. Mark parked and the reporters walked from a residential area. “The summary said the murder was on the waterfront.“So is killing a priest . violations were not tolerated on the street outside. Now that she was close. “I imagine dead and missing soldiers are cause enough to believe anything might have been smuggled in or out. Piled and scattered cargo filled every open space. she might have readily dismissed Mark’s flippant cynicism. The motion was not meant to threaten. If not for her own inconvenience.” called a gruff voice filled with excited surprise. “I guess we should go to the dock.” “Sounds like as good a plan as any. Mark drove by the yard. “Margot. His subject disguise complaint.” Margot’s mouth dropped open. Let's spin the idea to the military and see if the murders on the dock match your story. but the idea was hamstrung if she failed to bring an unassigned story to military radio. “Those trucks the dockhands unloaded looked ready to go. The yard bustled. so we’ll check it out. She had heard the same from friends and fellow reporters. An officer should be there. Margot couldn’t see any. Signs restricted parking on the streets outside the docks. scouting for a place to pull over. Before Margot could refute his claim. he never told Margot about failure. The patch on his arm . Mark might have never tried writing his own story. The military checked ID cards at the gate. inspected and loaded again. The dockyard had been plunged into chaos. even though most dockhands waved greetings and called the soldiers by name. She really didn’t want to see the crime scene. The Church mandates it.

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

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

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

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

There was not much difference between the knowledge of either the boy or younger Cortras brother. Ben used the respite to meditate and think about what he should do. making Saint Erasmus unsafe. More so.“Just the same. His wife blindly accepted the sergeant's lies. But. She leaned over and kissed him hard on his lips. Ben knew he could not continue his drift indefinitely. Their eternal resting places remained hidden while the bugs dried to dust. He needed a plan – and more important.” Margot squealed and tried to jump into Mark’s lap. Keeping coy was essential to his image. He didn't want to get caught in her bed when her old school buddies visited.” Tamara claimed herself blameless for a couple other delays but the excuses sounded selected from well-thumbed note cards. The gap in Ben's memory had faded to finding his current circumstance familiar. I like him. The pair returned with ice cream and playing cards. “When are your friends coming over?” Mark remembered Margot’s weekly gatherings. He had not agreed to play guardian. She wanted her friend to do something else. Tamara believed the boy was under Reverend Ben Ishkott's care at Saint Erasmus. “I am so work was possible. Her warm feeling made her bold. Hen had usurped the role of sitter and monopolized the boy’s attention. The arrangement made Ben happy. The Cortras brothers would move on or something would eventually happen. His single-minded focus to abandon the church got old and vain. The chance meeting with John Meshonne offered a handy excuse for Sarah. That is when Davey found the dead insect and showed Hen Cortras. That fact was obvious just looking at her. in overlooked cracks and corners. stay with me tonight. Hen just could not keep up with Davey any longer. and another tryst seemed feasible. The problem was that neither he nor Davey were entomologists with degrees. Little carcasses hid everywhere. “Mark. Mark wanted to sleep with her again too. The jolt bruised her hip.” “Hmm. Davey and Hen disappeared into the hot afternoon for hours. he always said he wanted to do just that. They can meet at somewhere else. Outside. Tomorrow was the Sabbath . but Hen thankfully had found something productive and enjoyable to pass the time with the boy.” The woman gushed. The dust in the shops she cleaned piled like ash during hot days in Capital. with black and white stripes that ran the length of the insect's elongated abdomen.” Mark clicked his tongue and squinted. The cloud that clung to the surface of Capital was not just dust. The boy crawled under pews to entertain himself. but I couldn't get across the streets and I had to wait for my cash. The mother of the retarded teenager had left Davey with Hen all day yesterday. Reverend Ben. the dirt thickened to brown haze across the skyline. He knew spending the night with Margot would make his wife furious. He may even know one or two. A devilish grin spread. but did not damage her enthusiasm.” “Is that a yes?” Mark’s face relaxed. all manufactured by its masochistic inhabitants during their daily lives. He watched and rested. He swerved the vehicle and recovered. uncovering perfect teeth. She explained she found more work than expected.” Davey informed Hen. but too close to curfew. Hen worried. but full of plenty of other noxious stuff. remember what he was doing as recently as a week ago. Specks of dust floated like veils in sunbeams that angled through half-shaded windows. They will definitely have fun tonight. 14 Wastrel Son “Spiders have eight legs and bugs have six legs. . like those swept from the floor of Saint Erasmus. The center console barred her way. an expert was not needed to determine Davey and Hen observed something unnatural. unless some adventurous or bored explorer discovered the small carcasses. Ben must prepare himself. “I apologize. “I can cancel. Stress over his missing brother sapped Hen's energy. “That’s a yes. Margot was in a voraciously amorous mood. compared to the great gulf that separated the two from an educated specialist.” Margot could not stop herself from smiling. However. Tamara Stoughnt finally returned. Davey had found a huge fly. Hen could not disagree with the fact. but that was never the truth.

Much work still waited for the tired old woman. The sergeant did say the brothers remained suspect and their truck under surveillance.” Hen shrugged and rocked on his heels. The fact the military detained the foolish man certainly seemed possible. The day-to-day worry over money wore on her aging heart. he would whisper his song if asked to quiet down. They explored the church. Starting a search at the stated destination seemed the first logical step. Ben was glad. At minimum. Her control waned over years. Hen remained so adamant when he stressed mounting danger. The old woman had already found a willing gull in Hen Cortras. “The extra effort in a city the size of Capital just isn't practical. That alone should be proof enough for Hen. Fortunately. They played all the while Tamara was gone. Wherever Dil had gone. Nobody came to Saint Erasmus looking for the Cortras brothers. No word of the unaccounted Cortras brothers aired over the radio Hen and Davey had found upstairs and . Hen immediately suspected the military came specifically for the Cortras brothers and plucked Dil on orders from Sergeant Meshonne at the Wall. huh?” Hen asked Ben when Davey and his mother left Saint Erasmus. If a patrol had captured Dil. due to difficulty finding someone to watch her hyperactive son. having a pocketbook of bills made her feel wealthy for a little while. Between the two of them. Even though Tamara never received much cash. A younger person could accomplish in an afternoon what took Tamara two full days. he unnerved Ben. it seemed they would never run out of ideas. Even crossing the street at the wrong spot in daylight might lead to detainment. an old woman. repeated their games and teased each other in every room. “The military won't expend resources to find two brothers. Despite holding the keys. squads rushed past the church on way to matters more urgent than usual rounds. To the boy’s credit. an interrogation might reveal Ben an impostor. He had spent the night coping with Hen’s indecision over a lapse into nervous breakdown. Ben suspected that she had not even tried her neighbors before coming straight to Saint Erasmus. after Tamara came and took Davey home. His slow mind and growing body could potentially badly damage his mother. Where his singing was not unpleasant. Ben and Hen discovered the boy often lapsed into a singsong voice. Capital was a big city with larger problems. His hesitance seemed minor to his growing concern over the absence of Dil Cortras. After curfew. but he was still a teenager. He verified the vehicle remained parked a few blocks away a dozen times. Hen worried a patrol caught Dil. Tamara brought Davey back to the church the next morning with more apologies. Davey could now keep the pining man busy. **** When Tamara and Davey showed up at the doors again calling for Hen. The sighting amounted to the totality of military presence in the parish. He joined Hen's worry. Last night. curfew began and the streets emptied. Ben would bet Davey talked and sang about Hen all night. The older brother did not appear last night. the boy’s laughter would probably have turned to tears and an overgrown temper tantrum.” Ben assured the younger Cortras. If Davey was left with anyone else but his new friend. the dirt waited for her. Ben only hoped Saint Erasmus would not become a daycare. Tamara could eventually do no more than relent to the perpetually childish demands of her son. The military had their names on a list. The sergeant at the Wall had merely made the customary threat to strangers upon entrance. Davey's fit might grow to a turbulence his mother could no longer weather. She regretted moving so slowly. Ben attempted to restore peace by pointing out the flaws in the scrambled thinking of the younger Cortras. The whole day passed and Ben had not seen a single patrol and he told Hen as much. he went on foot. Even one day of respite seemed like an answered prayer. and very likely. Advancing age slowed her down. Hen risked military patrols and ran into the twilight to check the covered truck that belonged to the Cortras brothers.As Tamara usually was not able to leave home. especially because she could not charge for her service by the hour. “Dil's not back yet. She was joyful to earn her money all at once. Hen might have been Tamara's only resource. The boy was scrawny. The innocent question began a brooding lasting all night. Davey and Hen immediately became steadfast buddies. the lack of rhyme and mediocrity made the songs grating.

An unopened bottle of Yowling Cat. only oblivion seemed genuine. meanness simmered in slow rage. both beliefs were obsolete. differently. Ben knew he fared better alone. He found Easter. which Ben expected of the younger Cortras. if the younger Cortras was in peril from the military. His older brother did something stupid. He behaved like Easter morning had dawned. Hen might never leave ominous Saint Erasmus and sink into helpless despair and conclude nothing mattered. “Alright. pitiful. Becoming a surrogate brother had never entered the picture he conjured as a future. “If Dil doesn't come back . but one Hen accepted. Ben guessed a search for the saw was the reason for the delay of the older Cortras.” “Can you find an occupied military station and make inquiries?” Hen asked Ben. or pass for one. Everything will be fine in the morning. Ben knew the truth. You can say your looking for a stray workman. huh?” The hypothesis seemed shaky. The only reason he joined the Cortras brothers was his own lack of direction. He refused to bear dead weight while he gathered pieces of his past. Mortal or Living. Ben rationalized. He wasted no time when he woke Ben and implored him to hurry downstairs. they were square. Rebirth testified to the immortality and omnipotence of the Living God. Certainly no wanted posters for the brothers appeared in the neighborhood. once again. In the absence of god. The next holiday was not until the end of the season the Chosen’s parade of saints. As far as Ben was concerned. Once he brought the Cortras brothers into Capital. Desperation drove Hen's request. to replace the wine consumed last night. The two faiths honored celebration of Resurrection. a magical day when prayers were answered and gifts stripped of patterned bandages. Easter had passed two seasons ago. The idea he once subscribed to these beliefs made his stomach churn. Heathens treated the day with more reverence. At the moment. nearly paralyzed. he lacked the will to escape out the back. the military would come to Saint Erasmus for the you. Dil had a problem controlling his temper. Apparently. Dil and Hen were forgotten the moment they had passed through the Wall. The rising sun woke Hen. Their squat together at Saint Erasmus was an arrangement of convenience. He would surrender without flight or resistance. Hunting for a trespassing UnChosen didn't make a lot of sense and would attract attention. the most prolific holiday of Chosen and heathens alike. he already repaid any debt for his rescue. The Chosen beliefs were especially debauched. Most of the time. Safely getting himself out of Capital would be impossible after such tragedy. Ben conjectured. A long. “A visit to the military is unnecessary. Hen jumped to the next conclusion. Curfew fell and your brother found a safe place for the night. Ransom of the living corpse of a mutilated deity in exchange for immortality struck Ben as pathological. he might fly into rage. otherwise meaningless . The pair went downstairs to the presents awaiting them. The theology of the Chosen was wrought with abominations such as these.switched on.your a priest. Dil and Ben had talked about cutting bars from . the province of the Chosen and the Church. Dil had left the gifts. Catatonia was not conducive to the long-honored instinct to survive. If Dil became drunk. The heretics sometimes flaunted obscure and sadistic graven images on the streets. Unmistakably. Ben ignored holidays. and they haven't. or lack thereof. Ben could not to watch out for Hen. aloud for Hen’s benefit “If something like that happened. A small hacksaw lay on the kitchen table. accompanied the tool.Church and military bureaucracies simply shuttered offices for a long weekend. He'll be back in the morning. The three men now coincidentally shared accommodations and spoils they stumbled upon. This day was not a holiday.” Ben didn’t like the idea. Hen acted lost. “Dil lost track of the time. but bubbled up when not closely watched. There won't be anything unusual about a priest talking to the military. but an earned grace. Everlasting life was not a birthright for the Chosen to take for granted. Despite the ordinary day.” Ben agreed to Hen’s request only to calm him and added disclaimers. Without his older brother. Losing that ride. dry stretch of uneventful days filled summer in the Shur.” The tepid promise offered enough hope to send Hen to bed. Hen insisted Ben awake.

but making breakfast with the stranger and boy felt right. he continued playing with the matches. then corrected himself. His panic drove him to interrogate Ben again. “I'm gonna try!” Davey shouted and opened the matchbox. Ben coordinated the effort to keep Davey in sight and out of his way. At first. canned tomatoes and refried beans on the kitchen table. A more intense fire distracted him once Ben turned up the flame on the stove.” Davey did as he was told and struck a match against the rough side of the box.” Before Ben agreed to watch Davey. Hen. Tamara delivered Davey just in time to stem an anxious bout of unanswered questions. The boy didn't say a word until the fire vanished into a thin column of smoke. stove-top burner and pointed at the hiss. Davey witnessed the second trick and gaped in awe. above Ben's head. the three mixed their own . “Thank you so much for yesterday. “He's not here. Ben had no clue where he had vanished now. **** Tamara had arrived at her job by the time Ben. “Where is Dil?” Ben asked sleepily. light the burner. before saying hello. “Light the stove. His attention remained fixated on the flame Hen held before his grinning face. The orange flash and burning blue circle kept the boy content until Ben finished cooking. After dishing the rice and beans onto everyone’s plates. An excited cry made Hen smile despite himself. Ben. The younger Cortras then produced a match between his fingers from nowhere. The bit of the match became soaked with the spittle in the gap between the boy's front teeth. After answering the question.” Hen happily relented and tossed the rattling box to the boy. looking for his brother without luck. and Davey fixed breakfast together.” Ben redirected the boy. He appeared willing to do anything Ben wanted to make Saint Erasmus a home. Dil took the unfinished bottle of wine with him. “Yeah. normal. when Ben opened the front door of Saint Erasmus. “Er. “I won't. The younger Cortras felt unburdened for a few short minutes. the boy seemed normal in respect to his typical adolescent fascination with in the nave yesterday.” Davey promised before imitating his grown friend. Hen stirred the tomatoes into the rice.” Tamara repeated herself. the trio gathered the bland mix of rice. After Davey lit the burner. The top of the Wall was visible over rooftops and the sun had already grown bright and broiling. “Don't waste them all. “Yuck!” “Don't make Dil mad.” Davey promised. “Ooo . Hen twisted the knob for a front. the boy sniffed out Hen inside Saint Erasmus. “I feel like I got new brothers. He had especially praised and played with Davey throughout the fixings. Hen rushed around outside Saint Erasmus and to the truck. looking out the open doors.” Hen merrily commented. Davey. The younger Cortras would have liked Dil in the kitchen.I wanna light the fire!” Davey squealed when Hen discovered a box of stick matches on a shelf above the gas stove. The younger Cortras hovered near the dais. but Davey missed the sleight-of-hand. “I hope Dil comes along soon. “Okay. Reverend Ben.” Hen still wished. I will.” Hen cautioned his friend. Hen struck the match to life between his front teeth and spit out the sulfurous bit. but the matches were merely a treat. “Hen!” Davey screeched and pushed past Ben and into the church. Davey announced his failure. Dil must have gone off on his errand when Tamara Stoughnt paid her first visit. the priest. first. but now I know my brother is alive!” Hen chirped.” giggled Hen. but I need help again. I'm so sorry. Once the preparation was complete and the flame extinguished. “I am so sorry. The two men gathered their own meals until the boy insisted he help them both.

The feeling he belonged in Capital still lingered. As soon as a hard look at either seemed warranted. Ben used the time alone to resume his thinking from yesterday. The miniature wing nuts on the tool easily spun loose. Ben only concluded he had restored his sanity. “Someone's gotta wash the dishes. Ben froze. but he spent most of his waking day drinking and pissing. what noise does a fish make?” Hen asked his retarded. but today was brand new. Both the voice and sense of destiny seemed like new notions of faith. like Gomorrah. the church was still the same motel.” Davey teased the false priest. The best thing he and Hen could do at the moment was keep busy. To reach the base of the bars comfortably. Any importance and imminence simply went away – as did the voice. Hen and Davey merely distracted Ben. . Ben might believe he had legitimate business inside the Promised Land. keeping an eye on the covered vehicle and on the lookout for Dil. Ben’s thirst wasn't as intense as yesterday and he felt grateful. he breathes water. Metaphysically. “Not me. No lump rose on his scalp. even if everyone at Saint Erasmus checked into different rooms.servings together. Today. The bars were set so close to each other and Ben needed to take the blade from the bow. Hen’s doubt and general bad feeling grew contagious and Ben got a little spooked. The idea supported the feeling he played a role in an agenda of someone else. He decided to cut bars from windows in the nave. he turned the hacksaw over. He would open up a window or two and see if the subtraction made any difference to the odd claustrophobia he experienced in the large room. He did not suffer symptoms. Ben knelt. Time skipped an hour while Ben sat in the kitchen thinking and staring at the blank wall outside the window. consequences may result because of failure or he missed an essential contact. “He's a fish. Ben was the only person who wouldn't sit still throughout the meal. If not for an urgent sense of caution. That was enough for one day. an electric jolt stabbed through the sole of his foot and up his calf. Davey repeated the sucking sound and they both rocked in their chairs. not even so much as shadows fleeting from the corner of his eye. including repetitive trips to check the truck. No more pieces of his puzzle had uncovered and the grandiosity of purpose and destiny encompassing Saint Erasmus in Capital now diminished. The suspicion was just not the shining revelation that may have been intended. Davey then gladly helped “Me too.” Davey puckered his lips and whistled air through his curled tongue when he inhaled. He must have been on his way to Capital when something happened in the wastes of the Shur. Ben needed a plan in case things at Saint Erasmus went wrong. since it came first in line. if he did work. “Hey.” The boy volunteered for every chore Hen accepted or invented. The slurping noise made Hen laugh.” Hen took responsibility. “No. teenaged friend. “I will. although fear of a concussion was groundless. He felt no particular affiliation with the Church or heathens. While standing in place. He continuously returned to the sink to refill his glass with water. When he stood.” Davey protested. his next questions included his mission and how he had knocked years of memory from his head. instead of share the limbo in which Ben lingered. except the ringing he heard . Nobody grumbled. If so. Ben didn't say anything and continued swallowing water. If Ben acted in some scheme. Yesterday.” Hen said once he finished his plate. “You're gonna pay your pants. He could have hit his head. Hen and Davey finished the morning staked out on the corner. Ben might have tried too hard to listen. both became insubstantial. hoping his calf would not cramp. The same probably applied to his attempt to rationalize the necessity of its presence there and then. Ben convinced himself entrance to the Cap was the condition of some mission. The numbness spread all the way up one side of his buttocks. Eventually.” Hen told the boy Ben ignored.that might have been evidence of heat stroke. That might apply for whoever Ben worked. He may have acted in the interest of a crime-lord of one of the poor cities. His right leg went to sleep. The window nearest the back hall seemed the ideal candidate. He ignored the boy and drank until content. His acceptance had been delivered blind and immediately.

appeared in no time. Ben gripped the blade in his fist. but the marks broke every major crease in his palm. but that odd feeling troubled him. A single swipe might even razor off a finger. Davey . No soldiers or other neighbors even slowed down to look as they passed. The points perfectly matched the teeth on the blade. he stopped worrying about injury and attacked the bar. The repetitive work numbed his mind. Saint Erasmus might just a way station for the military. Most of all. Ben turned around. A cut. Guests included the priest who presumed to be Ben's superior. Ben decided to move his work outdoors. What would anyone know of fate? Practitioners were all charlatans. He took assurance in the fact not many people had visited in the past days. Hen's face was long and his gaze remained fixed beyond the cross over the altar. The scar was really just an impression. front and back. The boy jumped up. Within minutes. A black line pressed into the skin. Yet the emptiness was addictive and the task seemed safe and certainly serene. Ben mulled the significance. The short. No one knew the future. fortune telling was nothing more than a farce. toothed row of teeth belonged in the jaw of a piranha. The latter would be more difficult. trotted around the pews. and then pranced over to Hen. To get serious work accomplished. He could finish cutting them completely if he went outside and sawed the bars at their tops. The pews in front of him suddenly bumped up and slid askew. Evenly-spaced dots of small. or he could cut at the furthest point he was able to reach up from inside. the reward came immediately. Frustration forced him to abandon the attempt. but the back door also needed a replacement. He had the look of a man who wanted to ask a favor. Ben and the Cortras brothers needed to keep out the idle curious. The side of the building with his window would remain in shade a while longer. Namely. The chore affected Ben with the same feeling he had experienced with Dil a couple days past when they scraped gore from the floor. The blade only scratched the iron while he delicately cut the metal like a jeweler. Ben had not heard the younger Cortras come into the nave. He also would not go knock door-to-door. he realized his approach as impossible. In this neighborhood. He propped his elbows on the windowsill and sawed at the bar in the center. Then again. Protracted repairs still kept the public out. offering nothing more than entertainment. Ben held the blade carefully at one end between his thumb and forefinger. pits formed an indention across the meaty part of his palm beneath his thumb. he wanted to keep the entrances locked. Ben realized the fact after he returned to cutting the bar. and the old woman and her son. The bars will wobble every stroke. the flock certainly only consisted of UnChosen.voluntary taxes paid to the Church. a few millimeters deep. The flesh turned just as red as the burned topside. but did not break the skin. Ben blew the scattered metal shavings out the window and ran his finger over the incision. The pile of sticky feathers in the back might raise enough uncomfortable questions. but knew he had none coming. Ben stopped sawing. The wretched inhabitants of the slum of the Cap will come to make wishes and toss whatever coins they had pinched into a collection plate . but deep. He could not imagine he would generate ideas or recover memories if he continued work. Hen sat in the pews near the front doors. keeping alive fragments of forgotten pagan mythology.Ben looked at a straight metal beam of vicious looking perpendicular triangles. When Ben began again. The sharp points bit. a pew turned on its end and leaned against the church would work. Ben could not allow himself to get too comfortable with his alias. He definitely wouldn't issue a Church newsletter. Ben wondered why the congregation waited. The idea made Ben feel secure. Dil may be right. Ben looked at the palm of the hand that held the blade. He had cut through the base of two bars before making the realization. the floor. but the indent remained. The day of the week fell into mystery. Davey’s shriek sounded from beneath the crooked row. As much as Ben desired to remove bars from the windows in the nave. Any morning he could wake up to a slew of pious sheep eager for a sermon. as did the discoloration from the blade. Enough conspicuous comings and goings indicated Saint Erasmus was again occupied. He needed something to stand on. Ben rubbed the artificial slice with his thumb. Any palm reader would say the slice was temporary and artificial. The only problem with the undertaking existed in his head.

Hen turned again to Davey.” Davey tattled. Hen quickly corrected his faux pas.” Hen said. but thought he mistook a pair of antennae for legs. faceted eyes that glittered gold in the light. both hands opened with fingers splayed. The bent legs made the process difficult. He was thirsty again. Translucent wings pointed upward as if the thing was about to take flight. The head consisted of a bunch of big. “Well that’s fine. It lay on its back. . Ben licked his dry lips. Davey. His squeamishness built to a level he could no longer contain. how high can you count?” Hen asked. He absolutely needed water. counting again himself. The hand that began the procession closed back into a fist. Hen almost tricked himself into seeing the thing revive before his eyes. Ben turned back around. A chill creep over Ben's shoulders and the back of his neck. The younger Cortras looked sick. Ben dug his thumb into the sawtooth-impressed palm of his hand. “Eight legs. with its numerous legs curled. but his tongue was sticky and lacked moisture. Ben knew the man felt depressed because of his absent brother. “Count them again. He kept going until he reached one hundred. and blinked as he concentrated. If Hen could interrupt and explain the boy didn’t need to prove anything. ready to move on to number eleven.” Hen said. “I guess this spider has wings. Davey ignored Hen and continued to count aloud. Hen glanced at Ben. as the other shot fingers up one at a time. More distressing were the long mandibles that looked more like pincers belonging on a beetle. The shiver made his sweat feel like melting ice. Before he went to the kitchen. but wanted to be certain Hen refrained from planning some inept scheme. “It bit my mama. He cupped his fingers. Davey reached fifteen and closed his other hand. He softly lay the insect down beside Hen. Hen missed the boy's finish and tried to pick-up clues from the second member of the audience. He snapped one hand shut. Davey looked like a mechanical traffic sign where his motion indicated a flash. fearing he might shatter the thing. Davey then raised his fists near his tiny. Hen slid away with a jerk. His mouth froze in an open smile. back to thinking about the windows. “Hey Davey. high-set ears. Davey squinted one eye. He saw the boy was determined to continue. he checked on Hen. Both Ben and Hen had seen Davey count quietly before without the use of fingers. “You’re sure?” Hen asked. The bug was just one of the hundreds that succumbed to gas. His routine had grown rusty. The insect rolled around inside like the muffled clapper of a bell.showed something to the younger Cortras and Hen flickered back to the present. “That’s real good!” Davey laughed and snatched up the found bug. Hen's patience for the show was not as keen as he believed his friend deserved.” Hen said. Hen came up with the same number. The pair started a playful argument. he raised a finger for each vocalized number.” Davey claimed. It appeared huge. Davey struggled to remember which hand to use. He sucked the inside of his cheeks to start saliva flowing and tried again. At the mention of a window. he'd try. As Davey counted. He was not as sure of Hen's observation as he was with the number of legs he knew insects were supposed to have. He made a point to change his clothes today. but this time he had reason. The boy paused and blinked again. When the boy reached ten. He poked into the boy's open palm. forming a cage of flesh. The boy then dropped his hands and waited. “How ‘bout you throw it out the window?” Hen implored. The dead fly balanced on its curled legs. Isolation from the dead swarm and clean of gelled blood did not shrink the insect. Davey held a dead fly in his hand. His grin went away and white light flashed in his eyes. even in death.” Davey declared when he finished counting. “I can count. but he recovered. A very earnest look monopolized the boy's face. Besides. His shirt was wet with sweat and he smelled his own musk. although the insect did not appear to possess feelers. His shoulders stuck to his jaw after a jammed shrug. The boy contemplated the idea his new friend proposed. Without help. Ben needed a break. Davey patiently waited for more praise. Davey unfolded his hand in front of his grinning face. grape-like. red. The boy looked disappointed. Before he continued. The preparation was for the sake of performance. but the boy didn't know he had an audience. This thing was a bunch of different bugs bred together into a single blood-sucking monstrosity. Sitting in the thin hand of the boy made the evil thing look sharp and dangerous.

” “You could die.” Hen curled back his lips. Ben would not have even given that if the boy had not demanded a farewell from everyone. The pressure from the pew felt like the flat part of a hot skillet branded his shoulder. The little pieces of chitin crunched like an eggshell. it bit mama.” “I don’t care. but stopped when he discovered the motion failed to relieve pain. He dared rub his shoulders.” Hen solemnly stated.” Davey reported. Ben decided the bench could still support his weight. When he had shrugged off the pew. he realized he still was whole . Davey followed the fall and stomped hard on the fly. But. If it gets dirty.” Ben said. kid. and his tendons tightened as if he resisted the urge to clench his fist. “They killed ‘em with gas. Davey. “Oh. who’s going to bless it?” “Him!” Davey shot his finger at Ben. If Davey made a move toward his mouth.” Ben commanded. Ben and Hen jumped at the unexpected hammer. He cupped his hand again. “Why?” Davey asked in defiance. the warning was the first words he spoke to Davey since saying goodbye last night. that wasn’t good. “Because they’re poisoned. A long split ran from one end of the seat of the pew to the other. Davey raised his arm above his head and whipped his hand down. “We’re in the house of the Mortal God. that’s right. His hands jerked to his sides like a gunslinger. His revenge seemed stymied. raising a racket that humbled Davey’s stomp. The area grew incredibly intolerant again. He held the fabric of his shirt away from his shoulder. as soon as the hard wood pressed on his shoulder. Ben hoisted a pew onto his shoulder. “No. Besides commands at breakfast. a smudge failed to trace a path. Ben threw off the pew as if he fought a mountain lion. “Are you okay?” Hen asked. The insect bounced against the floor once and rolled onto its wings. “Oh. the wood twisted and slightly parted.” Davey repeated. The burns. His skin had grown accustomed to the weight of his clothing. while Hen and Davey carried the broken piece of furniture out through the front doors. Davey and Hen rushed over. pointing at the thrown pew.” Ben directed.” Hen upped the ante. Ben went mute down the hall to the kitchen. When he patted his flesh. Hen stood ready to slap the boy's hand aside. Thankfully. only a trail of tiny carapace shards. “What are you doing? We can help.” Hen suggested again. or rather the one comprehensive burn.” “You cracked it.” Hen jumped up. a swath of skin felt ripped from his shoulder. The pew appeared solid enough to sit on. He dragged the bottom of his foot backwards across the floor. you’ll get sick. was well on the way to healing.” Davey ground his foot. Simultaneous the decision.“I’m going to eat it. he was rudely reminded of his injury. “Just. take it outside.” He gestured to the window where he sawed at bars.” Hen said.” “We’ll help. Davey. Davey paused and he grew serious. don’t!” “Don’t do that. “Go on and throw it out the window. kid. “Davey. Hen instructed Davey not to mind the damage and help him carry it outside. trying to find balance. The church echoed with the flat boom. “We just cleaned the floor. It remained intact. “I’m getting some water. The pew knocked into the others. The carcass inside was about to pop and crunch.only hurt. Hen was relieved he didn’t hear a squish. repeating a fact. Sawing bars from the windows in the nave of Saint Erasmus fully engrossed his attention. The boy laughed as if possessed. As Hen lifted the pew. “You’re out of luck. Ben reached inside his shirt. “Put it outside the window. 15 Blind Wanderer Ben failed to notice the light outside grow dim as the afternoon faded away. like open lips.” Ben answered. Davey made goodbyes a condition for going home. The bench was heavier than he expected and Ben stumbled backward then forward. If you eat it. The bars from two .

right? It's right around the corner” Ben nodded and searched for the serrated blade he had set down. Davey’s head rocked back and forth as if shaken. He didn't care to remember and wasn't hungry. “You can get into so much trouble. They sank straight to the floor as if pulled by a magnet. if he felt like eating. like mama gets. This summons cracked like a whip. Though the hint was obvious. She looked disappointed. You know that place. He could not recall anything they ate that day. They appeared clean. leaving Tamara to wait here with Ben. “Yeah!” exclaimed the boy. Ben called Hen Cortras in a low voice that reverberated through the church. Despite the intense volume. but rather the unguarded opening. but he ignored the summons. He committed himself to the finish of the monotonous task.” Ben shouted for Hen again. Once he unlatched the lock. besides the fading pink welts. invisible contamination distressed the woman. The old woman checked her son for blood. He’s not sleeping. a single person answered Ben's boomed summons .” scolded his mother.” Tamara commented. My shops closed early tonight because the Sabbath is tomorrow. “Where’s Hen?” Ben asked the boy. tiny ear. “Everybody is racing to get home. But you know that. “Go home and feed him. He hoped Hen and Davey had not slipped out altogether again. We ate beans. Unimportant details simply slipped his mind. The seat had split again when he shimmied up the leaning pew. and plainly rude. he would need the bench outside for elevation again. all the windows will be peacefully unhindered. Tamara feared her son had been exposed to the same malevolent germs as those on those dusty top shelves. She then examined her own hands. from discourteous drivers to other shelves she would never reach. A man could climb out without having to contort sideways through an impossible angle. Tamara rushed through a list other mundane details of her day. “I had a tuna sandwich and green salad for lunch. Ben only wanted to finish cutting bars. three times this afternoon! Oh. She escorted Davey home only because curfew . “I was almost killed crossing the street. Tamara missed Ben's mutter. Tamara Stoughnt had come to take her son home. Ben had lost track of Hen and Davey. Ben shrugged. when she checked behind his ears. No one answered. He had an idea who waited outside the locked doors. “That's a proper meal!” “Do you want what your mother ate?” Ben asked Davey. Long black feathers jut from behind each round. When done. amplifying his affirmation. The view was not the inspiring part. The lack of bars made Ben feel secure. The bench had proved solid enough. The soft rap rose to echoed thunder inside the serene nave. of course. Thank you. “Hello. “Hen!” Ben bellowed. but Ben imagined vile. A gentle knock on the front doors interrupted him. “In bed. He jogged in place while he spoke to his mother.” Ben grumbled to Tamara. “The kid's mother is in a hurry!” A pair of bowling bowls pounded down the stairwell that went to the second floor. would not matter either.adjacent windows lay where they fell in the breezeway.” Tamara continued. Davey jumped up and down in place. “I’m hungry. Saint Erasmus sounded vacant. but held. He’s just tired. Ben. He reluctantly put down the saw blade and went to open the doors. What he ate later. Ben left the cracked pew outside.” Davey still seemed full of energy.Davey appeared alone. “Oh.” “Is that all?” Tamara asked Ben and her son. Because he made progress on a third window. Tamara Stoughnt pushed open the doors and strolled inside. Davey! Not those feathers!” Tamara yanked them out as soon as her son stepped within reach. Tamara gasped. Davey whined the whole time. Besides the rattling refrigerator in the kitchen and unrelenting knock. The finished work pleased Ben when he rested and admired the unobstructed view of a plain block wall. then right. Tamara turned her son's face left. but submitted without struggle. I still could not dust that shelf at the liquor market. He picked up the saw blade and found the unfinished bar. She wore an apron missing from her outfit this morning.

Before coming close. Did you cash that check?” Dil stumbled forward. asked his younger brother. sure. Dil smiled and tapped his forehead with a stiff middle finger. and did not feel comfortable sitting at the moment. then burped. the weariness of the younger Cortras miraculously shook off. the sound of pounding on the stairs in the back reverberated again. “Visiting some people we really don’t want to know. I will be disappointed if you haven’t used the other. Before anything else was said.” Ben challenged. breathing heavy. seeing his brother relieved Hen's worry. He didn’t know what his brother meant.” Hen said during his nervous shuffle. at the entrance of the hallway beside the altar. almost poisonous. “Why don’t you go and find yourself a new image?” “Yeah. When Tamara and Davey were gone. Ben only blamed himself for not returning to throw the latch shut. causing himself to stumble backward.” Hen answered with reservation.which bore a collar. I have been on my feet since yesterday. “What have you been doing. This altogether new ensemble consisted of black slacks and a white long sleeve shirt . Ben almost heard the thumps against Dil’s skull. and he wanted it that way.” Ben set the saw blade on the windowsill and turned around. “Ben didn’t cash the check.” the voice inside Dil said. I can bring canned soup tomorrow. I think we look the part. “Let's eat a big supper. Besides the voice inside Dil’s shape. Ben. Ben smelled the grape and alcohol signature of the cheap wine the Cortras brothers enjoyed. and a guest. He didn't hear the woman or voice from the desert. unlike Ben's priest uniform.” Dil pointed at Hen and winked. Whatever came next. replacing the old denim outfit. I see you have been busy with one. However much time passed. Dil. Dil?” Hen asked. Upon recognizing his older brother was drunk.” The pew in which Dil collapsed rocked and nearly toppled backwards. “Sightseeing. Hearing the voice again discouraged him. the Cortras brothers had each other. the rhythm of the saw filled the nave with a numbing hum.” This was Dil’s shape. We will all have something to do tomorrow. “If you’re staging a prison escape.” Dil said.” “Thank you. personal style. Dil’s exhalation was potent. Hen lost enthusiasm seeing Dil again. He had knelt and squatted all day. Ben joined the brothers. “If you say so. “Thank you. It's about time we became metropolitan. Dil stood in the entranceway. “You have any more money?” Dil. Vibration from the saw filled Ben's ears. Davey!” Tamara demanded. “I believe I need to sit down. or the voice. Ben stood his ground. standing. so I got new rags myself. He only cared to rest his exhausted and inebriated body. He wore new clothes. He sat in the pew in front of his brother. Dil staggered toward him. you should at least check the front door.” Tamara volunteered before saying good night to the masquerading priest. When Hen heard his older brother downstairs. Ben was left to his own devices.he sought nothingness. Davey cheered. Ben felt normalcy restored. Dil's new shoes were leather. as a family. The rolled cuffs of his pants created his own. He appeared. “Where have you been?” Ben asked the hitchhiker. He stopped and struck a lopsided pose. cautious. He liked the simple clothes he wore.pended. “I brought the saw and refreshments. That is some incredible wine. One of the double doors was swung open. with factory black polish. but the voice was the one from the desert. Tamara had not shut the door behind her. first. “I like your clothes. He raised his arms outward and looked able to balance as long as he stood still. Tamara rushed home and he felt spared her insipid parade of small talk . I guess we waited for you. This time the interruption was a real voice that had been missing the past day and a half. “I liked your look. I’m busted. I need more money. Still. Ben was interrupted again. “I’m happy to see ya’. It’s wide open. just out of arm’s reach.” “That trip is only a few blocks.” . The motion escaped Dil's notice.” “No concern. Dil leaned unsteady against the closed door. “You said you visited people.” Hen agreed. Retrieving her son was the lone task she came to do and the last errand of her tiring day.

and the feeling he belonged at Saint Erasmus grew intense once more. one at a time. not expecting an answer. Hen still sat in the pew he had selected and gazed where his brother lay. Night seemed to be come early for a summer day. tipped over and now slumbered where he had fallen. and consequently meditated. However. Do you think that’s a good idea?” “Davey’s a good kid.” Dil laughed. compared to his earlier determination to make solid plans today. Unusual. “Keep him around if he makes you happy. His mother asked Ben to watch him. Not that Ben needed to be told. “No. but the voice now issued a warning. I tried to teach him how to play cards today. She still watched the clock in the kitchen of the big house she shared with Mark. The pew was fine tonight.” Dil groaned and closed his eyes. He’s harmless. not from the usual place in his throat. The feeling was mutual. but even his intense. Hen? What have you been up to with that boy?” “Davey?” Hen asked. “He's just a kid. the voice had met someone with whom the Cortras brothers were not acquainted. testing his sanity. . tonight. I like him. Urgency and need receded. You know what he said today? He said rich people should marry poor people.” Ben heard enough. overcast skies glowed rich pink in the sunset. Ben lost track of time while he worked. “That’s right. He kept showing me his hand. and fat people should marry skinny people. tall people should marry short people. After locking the doors. Hen reached over the back of the pew in front of Dil and hooked his brother's pants legs with his fingers.” Dil replied.” Dil judged. mindless focus failed to explain the compressed day. Ben wondered if alcohol caused the phenomenon. it had taken Dil somewhere. That shows he thinks. he hoisted his brother’s legs up so Dil lay flat. It makes no difference to me. “Because he's retarded!” “No. again. he's not. Something of Dil still existed in his speech. He’s not very good at the game. or anything at all. keep an eye on him and his mother.” Ben flatly rejected. despite craving nothing. “That’s his name. until the streetlights flickered on. There would be no wandering off without Hen knowing. The two personalities inside Dil Cortras must have agreed to share the same head simultaneously. Ben felt strange calmness. as long as it wasn't following him around. The sound rumbled from deep inside his belly. He didn't care where the voice went. So I did. Dil had strewn himself across the pew. And he likes me too. “Let's take him upstairs. disembodied.” Hen suggested. The new clothes and wine suggested the trip entailed some corporeal hedonism. while you were gone. A prolonged snore vibrated windows. he turned around and missed seeing thick darkness fill the nave. “Let’s say we make a point to have no more unexpected visitors. Sunset and curfew arrived earlier than she wished and she knew her husband would not come home. but didn’t think so. Hen felt glad Dil had come back and was resolved not to lose him again. The inattentiveness disturbed Ben.” “It looks like you made a close friend. He had witnessed Dil drink when the voice still lingered over his own left shoulder. with the man she had married seemed questionable.“But we don’t know anyone in the Cap. He refused to endure the ordeal again. Ben had faced an open window during the hours shadows crept in. Whatever the arrangement the voice had made with the older Cortras. What have you been doing. Sharing the home. Hen slept in the pew next to him. Neither had he seen Dil come back. So he could keep tabs on his older brother. seeming too exaggerated to be genuine. Just. Ben hurried and lock the front doors. 16 Sorrowful Birth Sarah Adut passed the long evening in desperation.” “That's just inane. The streets outside filled with long shadows as the orange orb of the sun dropped behind buildings in the west. With a grunt.” Hen vehemently retorted. “The exception is our neighbors.” Hen intended his comment to defend his brother. and a little slow.

defend the barrier and seal ruptures. most of all. malign thoughts robbed Sarah of strength and will. The timing could have been worse. Jealous demons now painted Sarah's marriage as falling apart and the loss of her handsome husband. At the same time. possibilities. she returned to her frozen state. In childhood. Now she urgently wanted to cry for the sake of sanity . “Capital is overcrowded. that much was exacted and destined. only waited the moment devastation would strike most severe. The life Sarah wanted began the day she graduated with Mark from school. she could not find a path to relief. This morning. She boasted a generous bosom and waist so slender a man could wrap both hands around. Even the scene around her froze in time. Having lain on the floor before. She wanted a little boy. Sitting on the same hard metal chair. Sarah still possessed the gifted beauty she had the day she fell in love with Mark. When the torture arrived. at the spot she fell. but her restless mind refused her. Much like a good cry denied . Sarah had re-enacted every minute of the night before. The baby had not marred her . She had suffered these nights before. long after curfew and closer to dawn. the thought of never having a child. exactly as her rigid posture had been twenty-four hours ago. that very hour became the worst imaginable. Grief was not the future she intended – the reality simply could not be. when she needed the semblance of a man in her life. wooden holders. just before dawn. Her marriage with Mark and their beautiful home remained. She lost her wonderful home and agonized. and kept a wonderful shape. The Mortal God must grant her a child and grow the tribes of Chosen. Every wrinkle of Sarah's sheer pink robe. She would collapse if she didn’t lie down.and could not. parallel and close to the edge of the table . only the wealthy or privileged owned actual houses in Capital. but these demons were impatient. Anyone who spied her pose before and visited again would swear nothing had changed. The most terrible days of Sarah's life returned. she folded her hands into her lap and crossed her ankles beneath her. Sarah had changed herself into a bereft. She demanded a good life from the Mortal God and everything had once fallen into place. he survived infidelity unscathed. such as officers of the Church or military. imagined. She had fought endless battles to build a wall. As much as she wanted to spill a torrent of shame and disgrace. living statue. Sarah was not concerned for his safety. They could not resist tormenting the sad woman again. When Sarah satisfied herself. Sarah had planned so much more than barren unfaithfulness.Sarah merely wanted escape. Sarah inevitably sealed herself from pain in suspended animation. He now only wielded silence against his wife. Demons beset her with horrible. Her sullen mood continued there without distraction. Her brooding would then continue. The napkins on the table were folded and slipped back into machined. Mark no longer made excuses. into the Shur with the heathens?” Sarah refused to allow these anguishes to cripple her. The late hour Mark returned the night before. He hadn't even used a phone to inform his wife with a message. Sarah had resigned herself to perpetual darkness in her bedroom. Fewer Chosen children were born in Capital every year. Luck had graced Sarah and her husband with a rare artifice only.Last night. back to the way everything appeared two days ago. His lies became too frequent and ridiculous. two-bath home on a small lot. heartache never stopped. The churn of confused emotions returned too soon. relentless. The future might still bring a baby. Sarah expected future misfortune. She was tall. “So what. most dear in life. The woven reed place mats lay carefully arranged. nearly the height of her husband. Where would they go. but hoped seemed distant. not a muscle had moved and each hair stayed in place. Sarah refined the arrangement on the table dozens of time to guarantee everything perfectly fit in its customary place. Typically. Only one reason prevented Mark from returning home. she preferred her big. She had sealed all those overused passages long ago. empty bed. She then rearranged and restored the tabletop yet again. Those lingering demon-days might have sprung on her when she or someone in her family fell ill. came and passed. and silken nightgown beneath. She never expected sleep.” Mark once said when Sarah told him no new souls are being born in the Promised Land. Those unforgotten days of girlhood embodied fear and lament. was undisturbed. She supposed they never really vanished.

When Mark entered her. smitten with the same shallow. a single person often found the pay unreliable and inadequate. His grandfather spun frightful tales about life before the Wall. Mark's morbid interest in death and destruction persisted throughout boyhood. The brightness of that glorious initial minute washed out everything before and after. were themselves torture. She became speechless. yet overpowering. inevitably. Mark opened his war chest when conversations turned to spars of one-up-man-ship. Mark had been delivered to her as her husband.body. She immediately turned around and her sensitive charges went herded. had exposed and encouraged the boy. but not the first time she had heard the same praise. she couldn't see around him while standing close. whether real or imagined. She thought of becoming a reporter. therapy might not have helped. attraction. he bumbled he believed her “the sexiest woman alive. Marriages with a reporter typically degraded to poor decisions. The small group of women typically huddled in the kitchen until the war and horror stories finished. he had lured Sarah. In each of Mark's old stories. The fetish followed him into adulthood and career. no questions allowed. Sarah used every bit of her demure dignity to prevent herself from diving straight into him. the only husband she would take until death. Upon meeting Mark. she refused to hear and remember their details. Sarah discretely solicited any people she knew would be offended. To continue financial assistance from her parents. Her almond-shaped green eyes sparkled. then or today. The hectic pace of school. By professional accounts. some reason always arose to impart dozens of now legendary stories again and again. Her family also influenced Sarah under hindering pressure. lives were lost. The Mortal God had granted respite only once. Sarah had heard the horrid tales hundreds of times. . the wealthy patriarch of the family. As a child. When they made love. Sarah knew the duration of tellings well enough to guess the moment of conclusion. She would have been offended then if she didn't already know the impact she made on men. The terrible stories of rape and torture Mark had learned from his grandfather. If his grandson appreciated quality time with an old man. writing for military news. his commitment bordered on a festering psychosis. Her long brunette hair had warded off the gray of age.” Those were the first words he spoke. Once seized in his long. and friends had masked an impatient vigil. Shortly after their embrace. They were perfect for each other. If she heard a gasp or revolted grunt before entering the room where Mark held audience. Mark swaggered with shoulders so thick and wide. Sarah learned to exit the room when a story loomed. she visited his bed. Chances of gaining a genuine career. even in unhappiness. she knew her life had wasted until that moment. Each strand glowed. but never cared to learn them. Still. no amount of protest or care would clean away the taint. Her mother and closest girlfriend typically joined everyone too familiar with the sickening stories. Everything Sarah wanted amounted to nothing compared against the man who stood before her on the dead college lawn. The fantastic moment of their first encounter remained in memory forever. The Mortal God would not dare forsake their love. but decided against the career when common sense prevailed. Sarah realized a lifetime of anxious wait. His blond hair held the sun captive. Sarah took a turn becoming dumbstruck. and sadness remained a constant state. This man surrounded her in an embrace she could never escape. between lecture halls. The beautiful woman seemed ageless. someone became disfigured. If Sarah could not forgive men the idiocy she obviously caused. adolescent fascination with heathen terrorism. family. What followed a clumsy introduction faded to vague bliss. or both. to accompany her in another room. The fact Mark had become so enthralled as a child should have prompted sessions with a therapist. back into the kitchen.too much time had passed without him. caught in time. If Sarah had never heard about past atrocities. and repeated. strong arms. Sarah settled for learning a practical . Eventually. Anyway. Whatever the old man demanded was granted. When the gorgeous man approached. At gatherings with friends and family. His grandfather. but because Mark pursued her secret dream. were slim to unrealistic. When Sarah met Mark. spreading a halo around his handsome face. she would never have held conversations with the opposite sex. her dreams might have remained relatively docile. Mark majored in journalism and wanted to be a reporter. He also harbored an annoying. They could say little else when struck by her grace.

pregnancy delivered her. she chose the profession at random. Mark never needed help . wealth solved problems. Obvious superiority felt uncomfortable and Sarah hated the person these low people reflected. It was a job for an UnChosen. with her beauty and arrogant charm.because of his extraordinarily generous grandfather. she had seen nothing other than the grate of accounting. Signs of a troubled relationship plagued her pregnancy. she encouraged her husband. and careless. She stopped at nothing to make a life together possible. The dream made them both happy. their lives. she performed mediocre in them all. Sarah was not without charms. made her. As things happen. unflattering clothes. followed by Art. Mark and Sarah had married soon after graduation. Her general interest classes were generally uninteresting. The contents of the last few pages forever remained a mystery Sarah had no desire to discover. if the pressures and preparations of senior year had not taken precedence. she would support his struggle to make a name for himself. She remembered every time she opened the pamphlet. Sarah could not imagine being shackled to a desk. she anticipated living vicariously the life she idealized with and through Mark. The circumstance of her marriage was not exactly ideal. as much as she cared. cast Sarah as a mythical visage of perfection. Everyone else was the proverbial sore thumb. She once believed everything had soured with the death of their child. Physically. She imagined herself better than this loutish breed. Their pudgy bodies. She craved the marriage and motherhood with all her heart. In college.skill. Hunting down the prerequisite classes occupied most of the time she spent flipping through pages. but that never really mattered. Sarah believed she would eventually marry Mark and have children. the review of the first few pages exhausted her and she always abandoned browsing selections. Although. Sarah supposed he feared being taken advantage of. Mark could begin his career as a reporter and she would birth a family while she and her husband were both still young. she had no need to pursue certification after college. Way back in school. no one guessed his riches. whenever Sarah glanced around her classes. The baby revealed truth and the pregnancy sealed Mark and Sarah’s future together love paved the road ahead. No question. She didn’t fit. Those years he had been spent captivated by horrible stories paid off and the old man’s money became godsend when Sarah found herself pregnant. Sarah failed to apply the same logic when she joined the accounting classes required for her degree. surrounded by these silent trolls the rest of her professional life. she had no wish to work in a factory of painters and sculptors. Fate didn't need to offer Sarah more clues toward destiny.not an unreasonable assumption. In the meantime. She expected they would have married sooner. Even if Sarah could draw. He got by on his handsome looks alone . She never humbled herself and begged into the crowded workforce of Capital . Regardless of timing. She finished her accounting courses with unimpressive but passing scores. she was very different from her classmates. Sarah expected Mark to abandon the elusive calling and find something more rewarding for his life. The accounting classes were listed first in the coursework pamphlet. The happy ending came and went. Mark had hid his resources. she realized she could never become an accountant. The money from Mark's grandfather lifted mundane worry and both dreams became possible. These ugly monstrosities frightened her enough. After ending. Up until that moment. and his family had probably warned him not to flaunt his wealth. For some inescapable reason. If necessary. Her classmates were so awed. Sarah found an eternity of powerless and infinite heartache. Far from giving up on reporting. Originally. In the happy end. That sort of constant shift work never held appeal and offered no freedom. In any case. no one but the instructor spoke to her. . Besides. The real happiness only lasted through the wedding day. she expected no difficulty finding work. They may all be UnChosen. Churning out icons for the Church and religious trinkets passed time as tediously as accounting and paid even less money. but that was not entirely true. She felt graced.

Mark explained he stayed with his “friend” to hook-up in the morning with someone the sergeant knew. Sarah still loved him. Mark offered no excuse. Despite the impracticalities. Their smell constantly fouled his clothes. he claimed having another wasn't prudent because they still paid for the automobile. Mark’s grandfather was truly happiest with the news. a sergeant in the military. Sarah desperately wanted to marry and have the child. The gory old man wanted a great-grandchild and would now have one.Expectations had blinded Sarah. The Chosen were blessed. Despite the terrible way Mark treated her. No matter what corner of Capital he had traveled. If that was not enough. Sarah knew she had already emptied and offered no more tears for their dead son. their life together would work out. As his wife. and certainly no apology. time had come to act like responsible adults. He returned just after curfew on the Sabbath with a new lambskin cover for his car. he promised they would go the Saturday after the date. Yet Mark's grandfather made the down payment on the vehicle. All these things she told Mark. That became devastatingly obvious in the long months Sarah recovered after childbirth. Endless days dragged while time moved from the tragedy. Sarah had convinced herself Mark was happy. She begged for another child and promised to take more care and this one would live. neither he nor Sarah spoke about missing the visit to their son's grave. She sobbed for herself and could not stop. if she wanted. Sarah still didn't know he came from an upper class family. The young couple could not always rely on his grandfather’s money. He claimed to spend the night before at the home of a friend.a brand new Corbeta. Mark revealed the car was incentive to remain married and try for another baby. but she knew their spoor. the dull pain stirred and spun into a sharp point. When Mark finally came home. but he then disappeared that entire weekend. Apparently. Sarah believed he was content doing the right thing. At that moment. He ignored that fact the baby bore the name of his grandfather. he hesitated. Her parents took her home. but every one grew more numb. A significant date had arrived. To end a thorny discussion. She refused to admit the pregnancy to herself after the first month. Sarah promised not to disappoint him. She once hoped Mark felt as ecstatic with their child as she was learning of her pregnancy. She naively believed Mark would feel the same. He could do nothing to change that. When she told him she would have his child. Sarah didn’t need to see a calendar. a vile combination of . where her tears eventually dried. she embraced the joyful news. the unhappy couple were destined for each other. She said she already told her mother that Mark was the father. All his excuses revolved around terrible traffic. Sarah braved the indignation her husband’s adultery inflicted. Sarah lied. She felt crushed that Mark rather purchase lingerie for his sports car than grieve his child. His baby lived and had grown inside her for two months before Sarah told him. but soon she could no longer deny the fact. Mark was so grief-stricken. she recalled Mark suggested they abort the pregnancy . he said nothing. there was prayer . She amazed herself with the warnings she later remembered and had ignored. Once the baby arrived.the Mortal God had provided Mark. Mark met disappointment. Sarah couldn't believe she forgot his proposal for their baby. When Sarah finally confirmed her suspicions. Some gnawing and undefined doubt delayed her telling Mark until then. In one of many arguments that ensued. On the anniversary of their child’s death. the poor little boy failed to take his first breath. Mark simply did not want children. She never met any of his strays. Mark wept openly. but in truth. but never really wanted the child. One morning. Mark said they would do just that. He went cold and pale and then asked what she wanted him to do. Sarah could take no more. and if she told her family. she really promised herself. At the moment. he bought a silver sports car . She wanted to visit the grave of their son and Mark did not. His grandfather had arranged the marriage and provided a house for their new family.kill their child. For a long time. After the death of their first and only child. Sleepless nights still plagued her and they had grown numerous when she finally returned to her home with her husband. She cursed the Mortal God and doubled her prayers. He explained finding the upholstery was almost impossible.

like her bedroom. The mood to make love instantly overwhelmed her. One night. Mark then quietly slipped into the room. Sarah remembered feeling graced with the emotions. She lay motionless except for her drifting smile. . The stench almost shocked her awake and assumed he had been sick after drinking. Of course. Still. a hushed voice waited on the phone and the unknown caller then hung up. Sarah held his return most precious and worshiped her husband. she felt his warm breath upon her cheek. The bedroom shut out all light and she rarely used the single lamp on the dresser. Foulness curdled in her nostrils. because wakefulness chased the dream further away. She wanted children and hoped Mark may yet provide them. Sarah had never fallen asleep. to pull him to her. She loved her home and wanted to stay a housewife. But the dream was not about seeing. even if only fights arose when they spoke. Sarah felt as if she suffocated. shifting outline of a fish swimming out to sea. her dream. at least fourteen hours. she found bleached blond. He smelled rank . but turned sweet and smelled like sweet table wine. but occasionally. just uncorked. but rather feeling and knowing. Her own husband outclassed her. strong hands gripped her arms. His words convinced her that she dreamed. However. Sarah wanted to be strong. They turned her over on her belly and pressed her into the bed. She now sought to remain numb and sheltered herself in comforts. especially when comfort and love visited to console her aching heart. Mark always dressed in the light drifting from the hall. Sarah found long and short strands of hair in his car. She felt her husband owed her that much for the suffering he caused. Regardless the forgone grace this morning. Before Sarah opened her eyes. Mark and Sarah may have made love. She tired of the hopeless fight. She believed she defended her home with her vigilance and confronted Mark with every discovered offense. Those common things were vespers of her dead dream. Sarah never opened her eyes. he still had an occasional appetite for his wife. The firm hands pinned her to the bed and a body pressed upon Sarah. she only grew weaker. The phone calls infuriated Sarah most. In reality. Had so much time passed since he had last collapsed into her? The weight of her husband pressed the air from her lungs. For the briefest moment. Gravity then suddenly lost hold and they floated. so she could not be certain her husband returned. She knew something shimmered beneath the surface and could even guess its direction. she fell asleep. she heard her greeting returned. She wanted to turn around and wrap her arms around him. She had rolled the deep blue comforter to the foot of the bed and pulled the top satin sheet over her. and recalling it was like chasing the sleek. On rare occasion. Sarah expected Mark and accepted the presence of her husband. pushing her further into the mattress. hope to catch any detail faded. Sarah could not remember the last time her husband touched her so affectionately. but all she had left. but she had no clue. In her vague dream. the timing will be right. as was the hair color of most women of the Shur. Her husband spoke to her. She forgot most of the details of a vague dream upon waking. The sun came up. The dream spoke to her essence and promised hope and deliverance. a clownish red. Eventually Sarah stopped becoming upset. Anyone might have slipped into the room. Mark said he awaited his wife and told his wife to look for him. her volition burned away.perfume. He had crept in and bent over his wife. and once. Sarah slept and dreamed. Mark then kissed his wife on her cheek. Sarah preferred darkness. she didn't want to wake until rested completely. humid. ate the dinner she prepared and slept next to his wife in the bed they shared. If she ever managed to fall asleep during one of many troubled nights. and she heard his voice inside her head. rotting and fermented fruit. Sarah thought her dream lacked light. When Mark was home. Sarah might pretend they still loved each other. Sarah still did not open her eyes. manifested by Mark's absence. Despite his philandering. She could tell her family Mark came home to her. Light was not required for thought and sensation. Contrary to what Sarah expected when she went to bed this morning. especially when Mark continued cheating so effortlessly. His weight felt greater than she remembered. Mark needed to come home every night. Most locks were black. Most of the time. and sex.

The smell of his bitter. instead of retreating behind her wall. They now served a different purpose and would lead her back to her love. everything would change. Sarah now resolved to combat her rival's advances and fend off temptation. The wadded tissue appeared old and stale. Sarah fought to preserve her marriage and home. from trashy to mysterious. the only thing to remain would be unconditional love. matchbook covers or other clues . he now called to his loving wife. her shoulders had cramped. Sarah hoped the dream last night was real and Mark sat in the kitchen drinking coffee. The old . Mark never used it this summer. The dream offered direction and now Sarah would search for Mark. Sarah checked the inside pockets and then those outside. She assumed the morning had long passed. There could be no other for either of them. but still suspicious. breath lingered and conjured memory and clearer emotion. and scraps of paper. For her sanity. but the despair seemed unreal. Once Sarah confronted the threat. She could never expect her husband to atone and take all the blame.were forgotten on the desk in the front hall. details of crimes that enthused Mark to write. In the past. trash. She forgot how comforting the beginning of a new day could be. She immediately gave up the expectation that things would change without her intervention. A successful seductress simply offered the latest flavor of fantasy. She had finally learned that giving up allowed the worst. The kitchen preserved its rigid state from the night before. Sarah now recognized her fault. Keeping her husband by her side always remained a challenge. When she finished. reserved only for Mark. She remembered the careless trails and clues her husband left behind. doing whatever necessary to gain his attention. but hours remained. and his few words fled away. A full spectrum of seduction spread open for women. If not in the jacket. Sarah went downstairs. Wherever Mark spent the night. The brown canvas jacket hung on its hook all summer. She found coins. The similarity may have attracted them to each other. The glow was a rare sight for Sarah. wasting romance in pursuit of her affections. He said he desired and loved her and the affirmation renewed her strength. Sarah would show her husband she loved him. She failed Mark the overflowing love he deserved. Women would always tempt Mark. Any argument Sarah harbored with Mark ended today. napkins. and the fact her husband never came home made no difference. Every note appeared related to his work and all were written in his looping handwriting . Now was the moment she took action. Mark always emptied his pants pockets into the jacket he hung on the rack by the front door. She fantasized her husband would bid her good-morning with another affectionate kiss but Mark was not home. she used the evidence when she made accusations. Expectation of repentance only caused hopelessness. Life stopped being easy once she married Mark. the visit must have not only been her imagination. No man could resist a woman that desired him. The little hope gave her strength. Everything but the pressure. and Sarah had saved plenty for her foes. . Her very life was in jeopardy. Mark was just like Sarah.well-exercised habits Sarah used to track Mark's unfaithfulness came back naturally. That observation should have been evident from the beginning of their relationship.He said and did more. to preserve love. They shared a dream. In his heart. She still felt her husband's hands on her arms. full of expectations. She will visit woe upon all who threatened her.scrawled with numbers and addresses . Time could not be stopped and wound back. He knew he belonged with Sarah. Sarah was selfish. but was now softened within a gentle morning aura. Her heart sank to remember the loving touch of her husband as only a dream. The dream revealed she had failed to fight hard enough for her marriage. accustomed to the suffering her past lovers endured. They were the same inside and Sarah was his true love. She stopped wishing the terrible past had never happened. the kiss. Dreams never left Sarah with such certainty. Some scraps carried story notes for military news. Mark came home. but Sarah woke and forgot. then sweet. Sarah knew what to do. The slut deserved Sarah's righteous. They will also lead to the latest Jezebel tempting her husband. wholly-unleashed wrath.until Sarah found the napkin. especially because of the long heat wave.

. and hope for a child. Sarah would use the low class of this hussy as an advantage. There was a price to pay if this woman tried to better herself by sleeping with a Chosen. She felt ill her husband lowered himself and slept with a woman of so low status. Many UnChosen lived in the Saint Erasmus parish and the knowledge caused Sarah to assume the worst. an address. This woman will regret the day she seduced Mark. but the chore must wait until Sarah had fended off the skank. she knew the signs. Sarah would put the UnChosen woman in place and the whore will remember the scorn of the Mortal God. Mark looked like he was slumming.When Sarah straightened the napkin. Her first irrational instinct demanded she wash the bedding. Sarah acted immediately and found her car keys. All righteousness will bear down ruthlessly on her rival. Someone of her inferior heritage had no right to threaten Sarah’s life. Sarah could spot these things. in a woman’s handwriting. The thought Sarah touched her husband after he spent the night with an UnChosen woman disgusted her. she instantly knew she had found what she looked for. This small piece of information gave her everything she needed. The address belonged in a bad part of Capital. her wonderful house. She had no claim to Sarah’s husband.

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