Wednesday, November 23, 2016



While We Were Waiting 
to Be Cannibals


 by Chris Tannhauser



She left me when she found the secret baby that wasn't mine. And the morning had started out so well: woken up with a slow blowjob, a segue into straight-up fucking, the master/servant kind with hair pulling and less-than-gentle biting—because most people like stuff they claim to hate when the pants come off—and then a balls-deep, pain-face cumshot followed by “dutifully” pleasuring her (used here in an ironic fashion as it’s the secret pride of all men who can make their woman come with slow strokes and a firm tongue, face slick as a glazed donut).

Did I mention that she shot me?

I had kept the baby anesthetized but started tapering off in anticipation of the meal—you won’t believe the shit we put in our meat and how bad it is for us—and it peeped and she found it. I figured this out because she came back into the bedroom with a jittery gun at the end of her sweaty arm, the black O of the barrel wiggling between her wide, white eyes. It was a Smith & Wesson Airweight 642 double-action revolver, the one with the shaved hammer, a hunk of metal and possibility hovering between our naked, just-fucked selves.

“Baby,” I said, “I can explain.”

Her face kinked at that, a reflection of the discontinuous stresses in her mind as if the craziest thing possible had just somehow gone even crazier, and she pulled the trigger.

Stuff that’s not like in the movies: bottoming out in pussy, getting shot.

I didn’t hear it, but the flash seemed to painlessly dislocate my soul with a queasy kind of vertigo, mostly with the mantra OH GOD I’VE BEEN SHOT on autorepeat like it could melt the universe. 

Luckily for all of us it was just a weepy flesh wound, and I sincerely hope it made her feel better as neurology has shown that there’s no such thing as Free Will—there’s only Free Won’t. We are each of us hurtling full-speed through life—and man, Nature wants us to run all-out—so the gas pedal’s got a cinder block on it and all we got is the occasional hand on the wheel or the e-brake and there are times when you know you should pull it but for some reason you don’t, usually because it’s pretty awesome to go through a fruit stand at sixty miles an hour. Of course, pulling the trigger could’ve been her trying to put the brakes on something, exactly what we’ll never know. I didn’t hurt her if that’s what you’re thinking—that’s not who I am—but I did break some of kind of record getting my gunshot self out of there.

We made love on account of my business trip, and it turns out you can get through airport security with a gunshot wound if you patch it up first. I had the aisle seat next to a gregarious fence salesman, the kind who finds a way to engage you, shake hands and somehow give you his card before you’re really aware of what’s happening, level ground giving way gently to a sudden rollercoaster drop. At some point he said, “Well, that’s me—what about you?”

So I told him about inspecting meat packing plants, and the shit we put in our meat and how bad it is for us, but that the people at the plants are somehow taller and stronger and have clearer skin and eyes than the rest of us, they’re lighter on their feet and move with an animal grace that sneaks up and surprises you when you could’ve sworn you were paying attention. And they stand so close and smell so good, their breath is sweet and unrestrained. I told him about sneaking away—as difficult as that is given the nature of these magnificent creatures—and seeking the rooms only the initiated or the doomed may find, and that in so doing I hoped not to expose them but to become one of their number, with access to superior health, ancient racial memory, the power to make women cum with a whisper…

He seemed less interested than he should have been, but then making women cum with a whisper is one of those mundane superpowers that anyone can have if they just pay attention.

The zaftig middle-aged flight attendant with the thick, glossy braids and homemade beef jerky book warned us of turbulence over the mountains and bade us to strap in. I thought of her perfect teeth, plucked and sucked to get that little dangly bit of soft pulp at the end—was it worth the effort? Or just another dead end in the labyrinth of such things, an afternoon of anticipation struck down by an evening of disappointment? I didn’t need searching and discovery—what I needed was a goddamn map.

The turbulence had us by the guts and nuts when the door to the flight deck opened and the pilots stepped out smooth as bear fat. A wave of what-the-fuck rolled through the cabin and then the captain turned to his copilot and said, “Hail Xom, brother.”

“Hail Xom,” the copilot replied and they both pulled splash guards down over their faces.

“You will stay in your fucking seats,” the captain said in a mild German accent, a Smith & Wesson Airweight 642 double-action revolver, the one with the shaved hammer, held with casual flop-wristed menace.

The plane lurched, and then rolled smoothly onto its side and over as if driven by the rising screams of the passengers. The pilots walked on walls, transitioning to the ceiling with the ease of dancers who knew the tune as we hung upside-down from insufficient seat belts, heads dangling in the void below us.

“Hans, if you would be so kind,” said the captain.

The copilot produced two long, curved fillet knives, glistening with potential. “It would be an honor,” he said. He turned and spread his arms and sprinted down the cabin ceiling, four good steps ahead of a patter of red rain.

Several red-blooded Americans in the rear of the plane immediately unbuckled, crashed to the ceiling, rose—and were shot down one by one, lazy headshots from the hip, neatly missing Hans, like a goddamn movie.

I unbuckled, too, and the gun clicked but the captain was dry, or perhaps it was because I was pre-shot, in one of those recursive interfoldings of reality where I was meant to be shot, would always be shot, it just happened with a needle skip on a different groove but it’s all the same hunk of spinning vinyl after all.

Hans skidded into me as I stood, his twin blades angled for some of the best parts of me, but I am a motherfucking meat packing plant inspector and know my way around knives. We hit the ceiling and I thought about that baby as we wrestled, about how it just wasn’t fair that these people should have the best stuff while hiding it from the rest of us—not everyone would want it anyway, and there would always be plenty more to eat. I would prove myself worthy by being as unappetizing as possible.

Things were going inevitably bad—his strength was prodigious—when my knee found his groin and I turned a wrist in his surprise and opened him to the world.

It takes time to go like that, and when all the noise was out of him I staggered to unsteady feet.

The ceiling between me and the captain was slick with blood.

“I just want to be one of you,” I said calmly.

“You fool!” he yelled, “Xom chooses the worthy!”

“Perhaps Xom has chosen me,” I replied, beginning to walk toward him.

“It doesn’t work that way!” he screamed.

“Maybe it does!” I yelled, running now.

“It really doesn’t!” he said as we collided and fell into the cockpit.

I lunged and seized the yoke overhead—I would right this plane and save us all, not to expose them but to become one of their number, with access to superior health, ancient racial memory, the power to make women cum with a whisper…

The captain pistol-whipped me furiously, cursing like a barbarian but I had reached a place where resolve trumps pain, on the edge of power, just around the corner from the face of God, and I would not be moved by normal means as I pulled and plane began to tilt. We grappled in slow motion, his hands over mine, a caress, resisting with the power of however many men he ate, and I reached up with my mouth and closed it on his hand, the flesh giving way beneath my teeth, the crunch of bone and the promise of marrow, a gush of blood like sunlight into a dark room, it tasted—

It tasted—

It tasted AWFUL.

Like a wet monkey that had shit on the Moon, a neglected pet that had somehow clung to life by eating garbage dump diapers. In my moment of absolute triumph, I gagged.

Stuff that’s not like in the movies: eating people, rolling an airliner.

They don’t tell you that it slides like a half-mile straight down when you turn it on its side.

“Oh sweet Christ you’ve ruined everything,” wept the captain as mountainside filled the windscreen.

Monday, September 19, 2016



Endnotes from the 
New Phrenology


by Chris Tannhauser



Three thousand feet beneath the North Pole, not even Santa can touch you.  Sure, he could send waves of elves into the deep, and he has in the past, in epic pointy-eared pile-ups that put the Great War to shame, but today he'd keep his dick in his pants if he knew what was good for him.  This deep-sea no man's land was about to become wizard country.

The Soviet-era nuclear sub Koldun creaked and dripped with the immense pressures from above, hovering uneasy in that icy black.  Even the long-dead crew—waterlogged bodies driven by ghosts the way you'd still use a ruined hand to drink a cup of milk—felt the remnants of dread stirring in their putrefied brains.  Being dead spared you no misery where wizards were concerned; the Ref made sure of that.  He had the crew gut the command center, originally designed to oversee a sliver of Armageddon, and put up arc lights and bleachers and a boxing ring complete with carved basalt turnbuckles and eerie ropes.  The canvas was the actual Shroud of Turin, more than big enough on account of what most people don't know is that Jesus was 12 feet tall and fat as fuck.  And above it all, dangling in a golden cage, the prize that men would do anything for:  The Fairy Queen.  She was shiny and mini-voluptuous and curvy with rainbow insect wings, inches high, sure, but only one shrink spell away from heaven.

The Ref smiled with his smiling mouth.  "You ready for this?  To be won by blood and rage?"

"Fuck off," she spat.

Satisfied, the Ref nodded to Prince—not a prince or the prince, but Prince Prince, who plugged in his electric purple guitar with a sound like sex and the hum of the æther and drew his fingers along the strings in a sotto voce note comprised of pure soul that rose into a face-shredding wail of a revenant, a sound that thrummed mind and metal and miles of seawater out into the heart of the sun and so into all suns that shine on all worlds where things creep and hop and bite.  This, this was the siren call heard by every last wizard, living and dead alike.  Come and fight, it said.

And come they did.

Like a nerd convention for psychopaths, cosplaying mini-Hitlers every one, in sumptuous robes and capes with enormous cowls and star-spangled pointy hats and skullcaps and thigh boots and even one in soiled tights.  Gripped in fists that had strangled things both fair and foul were crooked wands carved from the bones of impossible beasts, as well as soul-shearing staves dripping with baubles, trinkets and gewgaws like the charm bracelets of the damned.  Every last man was epically bearded, beards being the true measure of a wizard, for in the wizarding game "old" was a synonym for "seen some shit".  The longer the beard the deeper the tombs, the more glyphs in the True Names of demons, the greater the pyre of upstart barbarian thieves who had dared step across the threshold of your sanctum sanctorum.  An impressive beard was wizard for, "If I made it this far, what the fuck are you gonna do?"

As each one arrived he was announced by the Ref's announcing mouth, booming and inflected with drama:

"Fenris the Effulgent."

"Tchormium, Khan of the Ages!"

"Aktmnembitor, Wind in the Sails of the Turning of Worlds."

"Eeeviscerator Priiime!" (Who's actual name turned out to be Percy.)

And, after more than an hour of this:  "Toby—ah, okay, just... Toby."

The ones you really had to look out for, everyone knew, had the smallest names—like Ked or Zet or Om—or even had no name at all.  Those guys just didn't give a shit, and that translated into an outsized awfulness in the ring—biting, eye-gouging, genital mutilation.

"Hey, Toby," Fenris sneered, stroking his luxurious Fu Manchu with thumb and forefinger, an ensorcelled monkey glaring from his shoulder.  "Back for more, eh?"

Toby pulled his sumptuous robes closer about himself.  "We'll see, fuck-face."  He tried not to think about something that wasn't even a memory because that memory had been knocked clean out of his head—it was just a grainy instant-replay, Fenris punching the wind from Toby's guts and then taking his time to line up the shot that simultaneously removed parts of Toby's past and a decent chunk of his future.  Second grade was just plain gone and the inevitable pugilistic Parkinson's meant there would come a day, facing a barbarian thief in his own home, when, instead of a bone-roasting fireball he'd pull a rabbit out of a hat.  And that would be that.

"You might not remember me," Fenris chortled, "but my balls remember your mouth."

Something inside Toby popped and he snapped into the air, pre-cast spells lighting off in a blinding swirl of arcane energies, roaring and seeking even as Fenris did the same, the two of them rising toward the ceiling like a neon dogfight.

"ENOUGH!" bellowed the Ref with his bellowing mouth, a sound that sucked the magic from the room.  The two wizards fell like cats, Toby catching himself neatly on both feet even as Fenris staggered and needed a hand on a bleacher to steady himself.  

Toby grinned and cracked his knuckles.  Save it for the ring, he thought-pushed into Fenris' startled mind.

"SAVE IT FOR THE RING!" bellowed the Ref with his bellowing mouth.

The crowd chanted along half-heartedly:  "Sa-save it for the ring."

"Now," said the Ref with his saying mouth, "you know the rules.  Nude.  Bare-knuckles.  No magic items!  Powers to be held in escrow by demons, stripped as you pass through the ropes.  Do we all understand?"

The crowd murmured assent.

"Because misunderstandings can end you."

That was an understatement.  Toby had seen with his own eyes, in years past, wizards so invested in their powers that they had forgotten how much they leaned on them, like Zarius the Unclean who's rune-etched skeleton was deemed illegal as he crossed the ropes, causing him to collapse into an undulating sack of organs as the bell rang.  The other wizard, being a wizard, acted before the Ref could call it and stomped Zarius' brains out his mouth-hole.  Then there was the time that The Forgotten One forgot he'd been dead for seven thousand years and poofed to dust in the ring; his foe, Kletsch the Something-or-other, gleefully declared himself the winner by default even as he choked on that dust cloud, though the last laugh would be had nine months later when that wicked cough Kletsch could never seem to shake metastasized into a vicious lung cancer that turned out to be the magnificent rebirth of The Forgotten One, whose fetus seized Kletsch's heart and ate it before birthing himself through the death-spasming asshole.

The Ref nodded solemnly.  "Then we can begin."

The dead sailors unveiled the tournament bracket, etched on rusty deckplate and spread like a Class IV Mothman's wings, the outer edges decaying toward the final match in the center.  Toby noted with a warm feeling in his groin that he and Fenris were on opposite sides of the bracket...

And so they began.

Two-by-two came these beings of raw intellect and will, will that could bend the very fabric of space-time and make even demigods kneel, their bodies clothed in the skins of mythic beasts or the stolen veils of alien goddesses, heads and necks and wrists and fingers bespangled with objects forged in hell, or the guts of dying worlds, or the minds of sleeping children—in a word, wizards—they came and stood before the ropes and mugged for the crowd, waving arms or crossing them like petty dictators, nodding with overweening faces, a smugness that begged to be slapped if only you were that strong.  These Great Men who had enslaved nations, made pets of demons and spelunked the sunspots of yet-unseen stars became something else entirely when they passed through the boundary of the ropes—

Toothless old men.

Stooped and gnarled, rebel flesh hanging in body-wide wattles, skin pocked with scars that scribed outdated maps of depravity as well as more than one mole that someone should really take a look at.  Genitals either shriveled into dirty gray-tufted lairs or hideously distended to flap between knobby knees.  As for hair—those who still had it—it was greasy and stringy and made you feel like taking a shower because photons that had bounced off of it ended up somewhere inside your eyes.  Beards that were once the fragrantly-oiled man-fur surrounding a literal Pit of Doom were rendered as stinking, mangy pelts, speaking more of alcohol and schizophrenia and dumpster fires than Ultimate Power.

The ship's bell rang the first round.

We're not going to waste any more time here—the truth of the matter is that these hateful old men had quite a bit of trouble putting each other down.  What should have been a brutal rendering of the "sweet science" was more often a slap-fight where someone ended up crying uncle over an accidental finger in the eye. Rounds never went past the first one before someone quit, as evidenced by the bored ring girls in their milkshake bikinis and high heels, and the lonely cut-men who would never be asked to staunch a bleeding eyebrow while muttering encouragements.  Mostly the fun was in watching Lurïed the Sky-Slayer close his eyes and turn his face away as he windmilled ineffectually at Noltch of God-Skull Mountain who was doing the same until one of them fell down and cried.

And the crowd goes wild.

Every now and then there were fights that became legend when they flipped the script—while everyone enjoys a good comeuppance, there's something to be said for the outré, and brain damage.  This year's crop did not disappoint; nestled among the usual suspects there was a wizard who turned up with his familiar—a homunculus of himself—that did not vanish upon stepping into the ring, but instead flanked him as he closed on his rival who squeaked, "Wait—that can't be fair!"  The rival tried to get the Ref's attention but the Ref was busy chatting up a ring girl with his chatting up mouth and so the mini-wizard bit the rival's rancid nuts as the big one slapped the scream out of his mouth, bringing the crowd to its feet.

Then there was the wizard in a filth-crusted My Little Pony sleeping bag with duct-tape for shoes, speaking in tongues—someone in the crowd did the math and began shouting, "Hey, hey, hey!  Dude's not actually a wizard!"  And boy, was he right.  The dude crossed the ropes, still clad as above, and closed on his opponent with a viciousness that spoke not of sundered Laws of Nature but of the promise of a half-eaten burrito and a forty of malt liquor five minutes from now.  It turns out you can be strangled with a sleeping bag, and it's apparently within the rules—at least it was today.

Finally, it was Toby's turn.  He faced off against * the Unpronounceable, resplendent in his unicorn-fur belly shirt and Pantaloons of Scrying.  * was one of the good guys, nodding appreciably toward Toby from outside the ropes before stepping in—

The crowd hushed as if struck dumb.  In one corner, weighing a buck-twenty soaking wet was the emaciated, dissipated form of *—and in the other stood Toby, his old-man head atop the gleaming, bulging Adonis of a forty-year-old gym rat.  Toby was easily 240, and could bench twice that.  He returned the appreciable nod as the bell rang and threw a punch as sure as a knife that has tasted meat, an uppercut that clacked *'s gums and rolled his eyes white with permanent stupidity even as it took him off his feet.

This was the drumbeat of Toby's day.  Step in, knock out.  Soon, his hideously-forewarned competitors tried running from him, to quit the ring before he could lay his terrible hands upon them—but always he was one step ahead, and the only way they left the ring was on a hasty stretcher one of the ring girls had dug up somewhere.

The only difficulty he encountered on his steady march toward the center of that dread bracket was from a random sorcerer from an uncataloged plane who turned out to have been long-ago de-souled and repossessed by something that got stripped out at the ropes—rendering him a slack-eyed, drooling, unrelenting meat-machine.  There was nothing in his skull but the hiss of hunger, he felt no pain, and standard boxing practice did nothing but keep him momentarily at bay.  Toby looked to the Ref, who shrugged his many shoulders, and so Toby seized the thing—careful to avoid the snapping jaws that still had enough teeth to be dangerous—and set to the work of manually dislocating as many large joints as possible.  The Ref called it in Toby's favor twenty wince-inducing minutes later.

And so the hate of ancient feuds withered until only two remained:  Toby... and Fenris.  The Ref hyped the crowd with his hyping mouth for this final match and then bid the combatants to step into the ring.  

Toby ducked under, and the Fenris who stepped through the ropes somehow retained his youthful aspect, unnaturally lithesome and tan, muscles corded like a diagram, magnificent cock and balls heavy with genetic superiority.  His ensorcelled monkey was still perched on his shoulder, glaring.  Surprise flashed through Toby, then grim determination followed in its wake.  Cheating motherfucker, he thought, careful to keep it to himself.  He's in cahoots with the rope-demons—promised them half a Fairy Queen, no doubt.  The monkey smiled a terrible little smile that normal monkeys don't know, eyes flickering with recognition and a sophisticated, anticipatory hunger.

"Cheater," said Toby.

"And the kettle's smoking pot," Fenris rejoined, "What sorcery is this?"  He indicated Toby's man-mansion with a snide wave of his hand.

Toby flexed and thought he saw Fenris retract his chin a fraction of an inch.  "Nothing but a steady diet of stallion blood and iron," he grunted.

"Be sure to send me the recipe," Fenris laughed, "Or I can always get it from your next of kin at my funeral."

Toby smiled with his mouth.

"Uh, your funeral, I mean," stumbled Fenris.

The bell rang and the crowd filled the metal tube of the sub with the reverberations of raw, unfiltered loathing that pushed back against the frustrated ocean, making the entire hulk creak and ping.  Even the Fairy Queen was on her perfect feet, wee fists pumping the stale air.

Fenris held himself loose, twitching his skeleton like a restless whip.  Toby raised his leg-like arms and one of his eyebrows.

"Jeet Kune Do—trained by the bound shade of Bruce Lee himself!" exulted Fenris, wiping the thumb of a curled hand across the tip of his nose.

Toby shrugged, a geologic gesture, and stepped forward.

Fenris danced backward, feet blurring in an intricate weave, then reversed suddenly, his body twisting the way you'd throw a right, but he conjured a left out of it somehow.  Toby arched backwards, turning his head to the side beneath the blow, the breeze of it caressing his cheek.

Fenris uncoiled from the feint to throw the real deal and Toby turned, elbows in, fists tucked against his face like a mantis, and the shot skidded off his forearms.

Then came a loopy hook in surprised follow-up, which Toby ducked, coming up the other side into a half-assed open-hand slap, the kind you'd give to a hysterical celebrity.  Fenris staggered back, eyes burning, Fu Manchu bristling.  He immediately launched a confusing and mutable flurry of Wing Chun foot- and handwork, the stuff you'd subject a wooden dummy to in a misty mountain temple courtyard.  Toby rolled and faded and slid his head away from every motion like a superior dance partner accepting a lazy lead—nothing but pure choreography.  After a full minute of this Fenris was wheezing, arms dropped that imperceptible inch that puts the brain at risk.  "Motherfucker hold still!" he shouted.  "Who the fuck you train with, Michael Jackson?"

"No one in particular," Toby said and popped Fenris clean in the nose, bloodying it magnificently.

Fenris rebounded off the shot and swung into the attack as Toby fake-stumbled back, making everything miss by inches.  The monkey-demon screeched pure rage, tiny hands hugging Fenris' head, buried in his Fu Manchu as he tried to Ratatouille him into something that would actually land.  Toby fell back against the ropes, fists over his face, elbows covering liver and spleen and the crowd sighed.  Fenris' stance flickered through an encyclopedia of kung fu, an effortless zoetrope of puissance, to find just the thing to unlock Toby's cage of meat and bone.  The monkey-demon twisted and Fenris' blur settled into a mode of attack:  The Pantomime of Hands-Like-Water.  

The assault began as a gentle rain, rain that fell in larger and larger drops until it was the deluge of a rising waterfall, a hundred feet, a thousand, and then miles high into the clouds where thunder lives.  The monkey-demon screamed and screamed, exhorting Fenris to find that elusive thunderclap.  Toby held under the onslaught at first, letting the ropes cushion the blows from the back while resting just as he had been taught, but that sky-high shit was starting to hurt.    

Through his sheltering arms Toby saw the monkey-demon's eyes wide and slavering, fangs glistening at the thought of eating an entire Fairy Queen, for it had no intention of suffering the indignity of merely half.  It was then that Toby heard the distant rumble of thunder and thought a thought transmitted mere days ago, while doing bongs with the helpful spirit of Mohammad Ali:  "Float like Edgar Allen Poe on laudanum and sting like a critic.  But mostly, make 'em taste the gutter."

Toby bunched his right hand into the Akkadian sign for Throne of God and threw the punch straight at Fenris' stupid face, which slid to the left to make it pass over his shoulder—just like Toby knew it would—putting the screaming monkey-demon right in the path of that meat and bone locomotive.  With a wet smuck the punch peeled the monkey-demon clean off, stripping away half of Fenris' Fu Manchu with it.  The split-second dilated into a day and Fenris turned his head in super slo-mo to look after the missing monkey, angling his chin perfectly to catch the Number Two train to Sleepy Town—a cruel left driven by Toby's mass entire.  Toby lanced Fenris through the skull a good three feet, the drastic change in momentum rippling through brain tissue, different densities making shorelines of breaking waves, tearing tiny bleeds like lightning traces through the meat, shorn axons releasing a whitewash of neurotransmitters straight into the hardware of the soul.  If brains give rise to minds, then kicking the meat out from under the ghost makes being like trying to change a lightbulb while standing on a two-legged stool:  Gravity gonna do its thing.

Insensate, Fenris consigned himself to the planet's embrace, kissing the Lord's canvas with the back of his head, arms already curled in the "fencer's pose", the crude hand-jive of deep brainstem injuries.  The crowd surged to its feet, howling, even as Fenris' impressive cock stiffened in angry, defiant pulses and began to spit thick ropes of jizz all over his curled and twitching form.  Never the same again, it spelled out in pearly glyphs.

\*/

The inevitable riot was put down by the rope-demons who corralled the whipped-dog wizards into a single-file line past the glittering loot pile of abandoned artifacts the demons had no use for—everyone was encouraged to take one as a memento before being unceremoniously hurled into a crackling, eye-watering rift in space and time that led back to whatever transdimensional bolt-hole they called home.  At least one hoped.

Toby sat, quiet, on the edge of the ring while the demons cleaned up, their spindly bulks darting to and fro from the edges of vision, the unsettling motion accompanied by the soft sounds of weeping children and masonry falling from great heights.  Above, the Fairy Queen let herself out of her cage and fluttered down in a lazy spiral, hovering briefly before alighting on her bifurcated feet next to Toby, where she dropped cross-legged and began smoking a grain-of-rice cigarette.

"We gotta be clear, you and me," she exhaled.

Toby nodded.  "You're not coming with me."

She grinned like they were sharing a secret.  "Nope."

"That's okay," he said with a frown, "I did this to save you anyway."

She pulled a face and blew a wisp of smoke.  "No, I'm pretty sure you did it 'cuz you hated that guy."

Fenris rolled by in a demon-swept pile of bodies, jittering with seizure and loudly shitting himself as he went.

"No love lost, certainly," Toby sighed, "but I always thought it would end differently—you know, all-or-nothing atop some impossible mountain, or with... armies of... plasma golems... on the surface of the sun, something cool like that." 

She smiled.  "Worked for me."

Toby regarded her.

"What I mean is, I like watching men fight."

He nodded.  "And here I thought I was doing something awesome for you."

She giggled.  "Well, you were, just not the way you thought.  Sorry."  She shrugged her tiny, rounded shoulders and flicked her cigarette two inches away.  "Besides," she said, pointing at him and narrowing her compound eyes, "you cheated.  How did you get sorcery past the demons?"

Biological telepath, he thought-pushed into her.  No magic to it—just sympathetic vibrations in the æther.

She clicked her fingers.  "I knew it!  So—" she put a hand to her temple in mock-concentration "—are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

He blinked.  "Pancakes?"

"Don't mind if we do!  We'll go to my place—I have kitchen staff.  You'll need about a million pancakes, but they'll do whatever I say or get pulled apart like bugs."  She tittered at that and rose on buzzing wings, pinching the end of Toby's thumbnail in her hand to pull him along.

Toby looked back one last time before that blazing portal as the mortal remains of Fenris the Effulgent, Sword of the Lunar Dawn, Prolocutor of Bespoke Hells, danced the final stanza of his saga that had been so damn good for so damn long, only to end with a dull, wet splat no bard would dare curl his lips around.

Because while "head-fakes" rhymes with "pancakes" no one's going to ever pay for that shit.

~

Thursday, October 29, 2015

MYSTERY HOUSE



MYSTERY HOUSE


A Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Story.

Suitable for children.


by Chris Tannhauser


START HERE

The moon oozes into a starless black above the peaked and jutting roof of the place, the inky-windowed bulk of it squatting in the mist, leaning almost imperceptibly away, as if gathering itself to strike.  It's not quite what you expected, being so much more.  Like something out of a bad mid-century horror comic, dilapidated even then, but with 70 more years of decay on top of that.  Gables and gambrels and garrets, sagging shit Lovecraft would have recognized as the parts of a place people once lived, but now only where something Beyond Evil lurks.  A wrought-iron-prickled container for Things That Should Not Be, looking for all the world like the frozen head of Walt Disney sucked off the French Quarter.

They said not to come, everyone knows better than to come, but having finished that awful business with the vibrating mummy—God rest the souls of the fallen—here you are.  Recovered, mostly, except for a slight limp and the odd blackout moment, but full again with hate and a terrible resolve.

You grimace and make a crackling fist.  A rivulet of blood drips from your knuckles.

It ends tonight—the Mystery House is done.


Inventory

slight limp
hate
terrible resolve
witch-hunting kit


Do you:

WALK UP STEPS
or
CHECK AROUND BACK



You have chosen:

WALK UP STEPS

This is the kind of protesting, rotten-wood portico that could snap an ankle upon hasty retreat—just the sort of non-diabolical hero-killer that witches aren't known for, but should be.  You'd imagine it's all black magic and demon familiars and hideous transformations but it's much more likely to be shit like this, a Halloween prop shaken vigorously in the face, the backpedaling, the snapped ankle and then a quotidian monkey shanking.  Or, like that one time in Prague, an electrified bed frame suspended over a window, a bit of real-world magic that kills one while shattering the minds of everyone else within screaming and smelling distance.  You make a mental note to jump the steps should it come to that.

You take a step or two toward the door—a mildly luminescing tangle of angles that seems interested in meeting you halfway—your hand is on the baroque knocker before you realize what you've done.


Inventory

slight limp
hate
terrible resolve
witch-hunting kit
mental note


Do you:

KNOCK
or
GO TO LIQUOR STORE FOR TEQUILA AND COUGH SYRUP



You have chosen:

GO TO LIQUOR STORE FOR TEQUILA AND COUGH SYRUP

It's a well-lit and suspicious place, midnight stragglers hustling personal demons, furtive, judged and judgmental.  No real eye contact, just lots of glances.  The dude by the dumpster makes your hand itch for the Glock in your witch-hunting kit—you did remember the Glock, right?  Or was it the sawed-off?  Or was the sawed-off just the truncheon, similar in the hand and mind?  Shit shit shit.  You stand between the aisles of stuff shaped like want-holes, frozen, and what you want is to rummage the duffel and put that itchy hand on the Glock or the sawed-off and not the truncheon but there are at least six eyes glancing past you repeatedly, slashing at your equanimity, and an array of CCTV cameras that can probably see your thoughts like closed-captioning.  You take a breath and a swig of cough syrup.

"Hey, man," says the cashier, "You gonna pay for that?"

"I always do," you reply.


Inventory

slight limp
hate
terrible resolve
witch-hunting kit
tequila
cough syrup


Do you:

TALK TO CASHIER
or
GET ON WITH IT ALREADY




You have chosen:

TALK TO CASHIER

The look on his face is one you've seen before, too often, so you hit him again.  He goes down, taking the folding chair he's duct-taped to with him to the cracked basement floor.  He coughs teeth and wails.  "I told you I don't know anything!"

"So you admit you're a mindless pawn."

"What?  What pawn?!"

You give him an extra-hard boot to the tummy.  Rookie move—it's gonna take him a few minutes to recover, and in the meantime you'll get nothing useful out of him.  Just sobs and fluids.  The single bare bulb is swinging—must've bumped it with your head—making shadows lurch and pounce.  Furniture and old machines, some covered with ghost-shrouds, some naked, a mirror framed in light wood carved like bones, your face, hovering there, in terrible recognition—you've been here before.  So many times, before.

You grab him by the hair and yank him upright.  The chair's fucked, not rated for this, won't sit up straight.  "The house," you hiss, "and the witch."

The bulb gutters like flame.

His face twists.  "This place?  You're the one who brought me here!"


Inventory

slight limp
witch-hunting kit
horrible realization


Do you:

GET THE FUCK OUT
or
GET ON WITH IT ALREADY




You have chosen:

GET THE FUCK OUT

The hallways are long and dark and full of senseless furniture that's only good for architectural spreads that never show people—or for tripping intruders.  The passages twist, but not in the usual way, everything's turning on its long axis.  Three steps on the floor, a weird hop to the wall, careful not to put a leg through any doorways, then bootprints on the ceiling while dodging dead light fixtures.  You hit the front door floorwise at full steam, knocking it open and hurtle onto the porch, where you put a boot right through the middle step.

You wake on the damp ground, nightsounds all around, having pissed yourself.  Your head and ankle throb in synchrony.  The house squats, immobile, front door hanging open like a dumb mouth.


Inventory

pronounced limp
witch-hunting kit


Do you:

GET ON WITH IT ALREADY
or
GO TO BARCELONA



You have chosen:

GO TO BARCELONA

Of course, you don't really intend to go to Barcelona.  That's just code for a broken arrow situation gone FUBAR, an emergency exfil to a safehouse, probably somewhere in the Balkans.  And then a general call for reinforcements.

The flight, while at the marginal safety of 35,000 feet, does nothing to calm your nerves.  You're gonna need something to keep your head in the clouds.


Inventory

pronounced limp
jangled nerves
keister-stashed fiberglass shiv


Do you:

TROUBLE STEWARDESS FOR SLEEPING AID
or
HIJACK PLANE



You have chosen:

TROUBLE STEWARDESS FOR SLEEPING AID

Dear Penthouse Letters,

I never thought it could happen to me, but it did.  Airplane lavatories are tiny and you'd swear there wasn't enough room to cram two people together in there—let alone have enough space to disrobe sufficiently to snizzle—but you'd be surprised.  It probably has something to do with the unconscious needs of evolutionary pressure and how we're genetically inhibited from making a public space where two people can't fuck or designing pants that can't be popped, flopped or twisted quickly into a configuration that allows for genital contact.  No matter how hard we try, the ur-chemistry in our blood will always steer us back to a bang-closet and long zippers.  Even the most devout ascetic in his "don't touch it" closet, dingwallace safely mortified in a chastity belt, can get shocked erect when a servant of indeterminate gender wriggles into the space buck naked with the key.  Turns out in the deepest, darkest sub-basement of the soul there's always water on the floor, seeping, seeping.  Her hands on mine, she showed me what she liked, so we did a bunch of that.  It didn't make me as sleepy as cough syrup, which would have been nice, but it did make her wink at me for the rest of the flight.

Sincerely,

Name Withheld By Request


Inventory

pronounced limp
keister-stashed fiberglass shiv
mile-high club membership
chlamydia


Do you:

RIDE IT OUT
or
NO, REALLY—LET'S HIJACK THIS MOTHERFUCKER




You have chosen:

RIDE IT OUT

After three confusing weeks in Barcelona, you're back.


Inventory

slight limp
mile-high club membership
tomahawk
plucky sidekick


Do you:

GET ON WITH IT ALREADY
or
TRAIN SIDEKICK



You have chosen:

GET ON WITH IT ALREADY

You stand before the night-house in the semi-protective glow of the full moon, panting and wiping the plucky sidekick's blood from your eyes.  You told him to run.  You told him to run but he had to turn and look.  They always do.  Unless you train them not to.


Inventory

slight limp
mile-high club membership
tomahawk
dented shovel


Do you:

WALK UP STEPS
or
CHECK AROUND BACK



You have chosen:

ENTER GRAVEYARD

You're only halfway down, like three feet under the headstone, when the shovel hits a lead plug with an inscription.

THINK ABOUT IT, it says.


Inventory

slight limp
mile-high club membership
tomahawk
dented shovel
doubt


Do you:

DIG IT UP
or
JESUS CHRIST JUST DO WHAT THE PLUG SAYS



You have chosen:

DIG IT UP

Fuck plugs.  Besides, the grave contains some dude buried head-down with a baby-skull wedged in his mouth.


Inventory

slight limp
mile-high club membership
tomahawk
dented shovel


Do you:

REMOVE SKULL
or
NO NO NO DON'T TOUCH IT



You have chosen:

REMOVE SKULL

You could sell this shit on eBay—the plug, the bound bones, the baby skull, hell, even your underwear "worn by a grave robber during an actual grave robbery; cleaned to eBay standards".


Inventory

slight limp
mile-high club membership
tomahawk
dented shovel
bundle of bones
baby skull


Do you:

SELL ON EBAY
or
CALL IT A NIGHT



You have chosen:

SELL ON EBAY

Your roommate's home—still hasn't done the dishes—says he called the police.


Inventory

slight limp
mile-high club membership
tomahawk
bundle of bones
baby skull
rage


Do you:

WAIT FOR POLICE
or
CASTIGATE ROOMMATE



You have chosen:

CASTIGATE ROOMMATE

No matter how hard you look, you can't find the parasite.  Probably shoulda laid down some plastic first.  Red and blue lights dance through the thin curtains. 


Inventory

slight limp
mile-high club membership
tomahawk
parasite


Do you:

KICK THE DOOR BEFORE THEY DO
or
FEIGN INNOCENCE



You have chosen:

KICK THE DOOR BEFORE THEY DO

You gun the engine of the Rhino Industries Trampler XL police vehicle and three of the six South African riot tires get air off a startled Prius, neatly crimping it in a cloud of sparkling glass.  It handles like a pig, the driver-side door is missing—which is annoying—and the radio doesn't get anything but some weird, right-wing talkshow about places you've just been.


Inventory

slight limp
mile-high club membership
tomahawk
parasite
police hat
sucking chest wound


Do you:

TAKE A LEFT ON EUCLID
or
HOLY SHIT VIBRATING MUMMY



You have chosen:

TAKE A LEFT ON EUCLID

More than anything you want that hard left, away, away from what is, impossibly, him.  Popping and locking and doing his weird vibrating dance across the street, his millennia-wormed vestments snap-fluttering in a cloud behind him.  In that awful, sickening moment you realize that all those months of investigation and globetrotting, that burning swath of ruined lives you wiped from the map like so much dust, all culminating in that single, hard night beneath the pyramids, Inishka whispering in your ear "Make it count," and then she was gone, no time to scream, Doc Ambrose rising then, pages of the Book of the Dead in his fist as he barked impossible syllables you could feel in your guts and nuts to bring the whole mass of centuries down upon the Dread Pharaoh's head—all of it, all of it a monumental waste.


Inventory

slight limp
mile-high club membership
parasite
sucking chest wound
regret


Do you:

SWERVE
or
THROW TOMAHA—AW SHIT IT'S GONE



You have chosen:

SWERVE

You haul on the wheel hand-over-hand and the beast groans with inertia as the shocks on one whole side compress, tires fattening with the load but keeping the road as you punch it again and bear down on the flickering thing pinned in the banks of blinding lights.  Seconds are sectioned as they swell, the ticking of every clock let out logarithmically long—longer—and then into the silence between worlds where the vibrating mummy dances his blasphemous dance.  He steps—and is gone.  He steps—

—and the grille has him for lunch, then vomits the other half into the hungry wheels where he pops into a cloud of spicy dust.


Inventory

slight limp
mile-high club membership
parasite
sucking chest wound


Do you:

DRIVE UNTIL THE SNIPER TAKES THE SHOT
or
DRIVE THE BREACHING VEHICLE TO THE MYSTERY HOUSE



You have chosen:

DRIVE THE BREACHING VEHICLE TO THE MYSTERY HOUSE

In the glare of the 18 halogens it looks like the kind of place kids go to drink and have formative experiences that'll color their first marriage, the kind of place heroin addicts go to get found dead.  Light washes evil to banality, and you realize you just shoulda burned the place down in the first paragraph.  But your reflexes are failing you—the last thing that always happens just before the end.

There are no brakes, just an aching right foot holding pedal to the metal, and at least one of choppers tethered to you by silver spotlights is live news—and man, are they ever gonna see something when you kick this hive over.  You got what you couldn't get in Barcelona, an entire sting-crazy and heavily armed cavalry riding in your wake.  Whatever boils out of that house will go straight into their teeth.  It might get you first, but what the hell, that's the end that was destined for you when you first stepped upon the path.

The light makes the whole façade a million shades of gray, everything dull but for the yawning black mouth of the doorway, an undulating deadspace that seems to shift with every jounce of the Trampler's riot-worn shocks.  The engine roars—and the house answers—slapping your blood cold, the steering wheel like ice in your fists.  Eyes frozen wide you hit the portico at speed, disintegrating it into a twin-tailed fountain of wet kindling as you plunge into the heart of the house and the darkness folds over you like a thousand nights up to no good.  No good at all.

And now you know the door was never the way in—it was the way out the whole time.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The part where we're done.



Part I —  All-in on alien.

On the screens above their rainbow heads it's all tentacle sex, gaping and surging, eyes wide and watering, what happens, perhaps, when your culture gets gut-punched by two nukes.  Below it's all human-enough—people-shaped, smells unfamiliar but not outright wrong, sounds like laughter, anger, need—it's just that it's not coming through on the right channels.  The faces mean the same things, they're just unfamiliar to my uninitiated gut.  So I keep my head down and suck my noodles alone.

Barking syllables, repeated, give me the he means me jolt, repeated again because you never look up until you're sure, and when I do the other face is clearly pissed off, same family after all.  His body language is a giant sneer, and he repeats himself, this time with a two-finger poke into my shoulder that twists my skeleton.  My hand wants a gun like a prayer wants God, but they don't let you fly like that around here and my contacts were all head-shakes on the weapons part.  I decide to play dumb until I have to hit him.

I turn in my seat to free a boot from the bar rail and line it up, all sneaky-like, with his inseam.  That's when I see the tats and know this isn't random.  He barks again and I think about a chain of events that doesn't start with me getting shot, but does have me rabbiting through an Orwellian panopticon, built to prevent pretty much everything I might think of to escape.  There's a ludicrous car chase that ends with a hostage I don't want and a cartoon sniper taking the shot—

Through the super slo-mo of brains-blood-teeth-single-flapping-eye I see her step forward in the unusual direction and engage him with hot gibberish.  His face does this thing like he's been asked to fuck a three-headed dolphin and he turns with comic leisure, the leading edge of him a barely contained backhand slap.  They trade sounds and faces and postures that ratchet ever upward and finally he hits her, spinning her hair into a dark shining spiral.  She puts a hand to her face and withdraws.  He turns to ignore her and perhaps give me some, then folds his arms with the arrogance that comes from living with a tribe of thugs at your back, feet wide in genital-wagging bravado.  And then she's back with a stick produced from nowhere, the first crack across his skull almost quiet, then magnified on the second shot by his open mouth when she breaks it over his head, grabs him by the hair and pumps the jaggy end into his gargling neck three, four times.  He hits the floor and curls sideways like a gill-sprung fish where she takes an athlete's windup and kicks him in the brain hard enough to make the rest of his passing painless.  The whole thing is almost refreshingly familiar, human, humane.  Comparatively speaking.

She eyeballs everyone in the joint and they give her a radius like a force field.  "You," she says to me, "he will see you."


Part II — In through the out door.

We didn't fuck in the car, though it smelled like we might, with all the unbuttoned humanity freighting the air.  That came later at the coffin hotel where she went at it with the workmanlike enthusiasm of a bucket-list tick, all business and taking care of herself, my own orgasm slapped out of me at the last moment like a half-forgotten ellipsis dot dot dot.

"You need a better hotel.  Another driver will take you to one."  She slid into her pants and to the hatch, popped it and sat on the edge, a wilding shape.  "Clean yourself and wait for the call."

Her walk away, pulling her scent with her, was that ancient, ultimate ad:  This way to the eggs.  Loud enough to tell from the other side of a roaring river whether or not it was worth the swim.

Later.

Cigarette smoke and a ringing in my miserable head that comes from having a firearm discharged too close, these are the things they leave me with.  Instead of a finger I have the object of interest, grasped in a half-hand and bloody towel.  It's a cylinder of quartz with the top taken off at a funny angle, fine silvery-white tracings inside that hint at puzzle pieces, constructed, not flaws.  If they knew what I know, they wouldn't have left it with me, traded it for the puffs of nothing that are promises, information, gold.

When I move my mind a certain way and regard the object just so I am lopped and hollowed, sectioned, an exploded view of myself, and the shame at so few moving parts is one of those parts, making it an embarrassingly large percentage of what I am.

Time passes and I fall through places chasing understanding, ejected from the penthouse within 24 hours, then a week at the coffins, a month in an aptly named hostel, the better part of a year in the streets where no one really lives.  When understanding finally dawns in fullness, it's because I've become extenuated enough for the caverns of darkness to shine through, those dense overhead miles encompassed by my smeared gaze.  I'm the only thing that reflects anything in here and I can see that I'm done.

When it comes it's like a migraine tear, space-time jabbed and pressed into and nothing I can say can describe it—it struggles with an earnestness we would call "rage" but that doesn't even come close.  We are thin in a way it is dense and the pull of its gravitational emotion smudges the edge of what I am, permanently.


Part III — It'll come to me.

One outrageous act, it's all I can afford, all I'll have—I almost said "time for", but of course that's meaningless where I'm going, where I am.  Too many open doors showing the trajectory of my life, points connected in a neat spiral with a sudden, paper-tearing pulse off the table.  It will find me, it's only a matter of—"time" is wrong, again.

And so I open doors along the curve of the harbor, looking for that summertime past, through the uprights of the dragon-tailed torii, traditional thresholds delimiting the sacred from the profane—which side is which cannot be determined here.  I push against a current of time, following the regression of modernity, everything bulking, simplifying, steel and concrete curling into wood and paper, clothing losing the conqueror's twang for something more authentic.  

I follow a rising wind that hums with the attenuated shades of once-people, it grows to choking with their ashes as I cross into a stain upon the world, a graveyard convulsed and inverted, its underside crawling with smoking ghouls.  The air growls and grows ever hotter until it ignites into screaming tongues of flame that recede toward a mad point in the sky where they compress themselves into a sudden apocalypse of light.

It is the summer of 1945, and children play in the park.

Everything stops when they see me, their headmistress calling to gather them back across the sward.  The children's faces are unafraid, observant at the sight of me out of nowhere, my flesh a door to forever, a beacon that calls to the thing beyond for whom time itself is meat and drink.

There's a little girl ahead of the group, an outlier with a red bow at her neck, and we both run for her.  I scoop her into my arms and she is light and calm until her headmistress screams and the girl turns her little head and begins to cry, infected with terror.

"I'm sorry," I say, and let the torrent of time drag us back.


My stuttered self sets her on new grass with new children and she has only just left my hands when I am consumed