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The Dysphoric Odyssey of the Galvanic Mr. Adams: Name stolen. Far from home. Up to his ass in swash to be buckled ... DOGMA is an epic cautionary tale of madness, adventure, daring, narcolepsy, enchantment, swashbuckling, sarcasm … did I mention madness? All Mr. Adams wanted was a different apartment, an alternate career path, a redefined relationship status, you know: a new life. However, like a John on a slight sexual solicitation budget, he contracted more than he bargained for in this twisted tale of: Elder Millennial vs. Elder God.

Fantasy / Humor
Jesse Mundy
4.0 1 review
Age Rating:

Part One

‘A Knickerbocker Pop In’

Was He galavanting? He wasn’t sure what galavanting meant, exactly. He thought maybe He was. Whatever He was doing it was at least in the ballpark of galavantism. He was excited. He wove through the other foot traffic at a fast clip, even by City standards. The EDM playing in His headphones seemed to sync up with the natural rhythm New York was churning to that day. He dipped in between two street corner prophets in the middle of a pulpit dispute over whose distinct pleasure it was to stand there and yell stuff that frightens children and causes all nearby adults to use the ole’ mental horse blinders built-for-bullshit they develop over time. A natural reaction to living in the country’s largest city.

“I’m doom-sayin’ here!!!” one of them actually yelled, mostly in His ear, as He pressed past them. His counterpart stood ready to swing a hand-written ‘THE END IS NIGH AND SO am I’ picket sign like a battle axe. He was already meeting the neighbors. How anyone could bother being so mad in this cold was beyond Him. The first day of March was taking its time getting above freezing. The sun was rising and flooding through the space between the ’scrapers, but the frosty concrete surfaces it was working hard on waking, weren’t yet convinced.

His destination lay right behind the prime, pitched-battle patch of filthy sidewalk upon which the proselytizers had postured themselves. 888 8th Avenue, a strangely unassuming, dark, fifteen-story, Art Deco condominium tower. It really was strange how unassuming it was. Looking at it then, as He was, He couldn’t believe it didn’t look familiar.

It seemed almost too thin for its height as if it had been squeezed into the block as an afterthought. Also, the address label on the side in tall silver numbers, 888 on eighth? He must be more worn out than He thought, He hadn’t once noticed that about the address. That would have driven her nuts, His ex. She was way into numerology and all that shit would’ve called them ‘master numbers’. Man, it felt good to be calling her an ‘ex’. She wouldn’t know about it for another ten hours probably, but it was starting to feel real to Him now.

The honking of a moving truck’s horn pulled His attention to the street. His cousin Pete was leaning across the passenger seat of a $19.95 U-Haul with a Giant Squid ‘painted’ on the side, its tentacles grasping at bits of the Newfoundland travel advertisement, a misguided attempt to encourage one to ‘Venture Across Canada!’ by showcasing one of its more grotesque, natural monsters. Pete poked his pointer finger in the air and spun it around at Him to signal that he was about to do another lap. They had driven around the area half a dozen times already, trying to find a place to park. Pete had let Him out a few blocks away so He could beat traffic and make His appointment with Walter Kultalsyan, His soon-to-be building superintendent. Turned out He could have stayed in the toasty cab a little while longer.

He waved him on and walked briskly to the front door of 888 as His cousin veered back into the slog of morning drivers. There was considerable fanfare at his return, by way of angry horns and angrier swears. These lobbed through slightly ‘cracked’ windows, the existence of which on a morning such as this were meant only to facilitate the venting of cigarette smoke and one’s verbal disdain for the actions of fellowmen. The latter was practically the responsibility of every New Yorker. A bunch of jabronis making decisions, without the instant corrective measures of a neighborly tongue-lashing? Talk about a recipe for a descent into chaos!

He owed Pete big time, and not only for having to drive, which was already a big owe. His cousin was at His door that morning just minutes after His ex (so good) had left their shared apartment. The two of them had loaded everything He owned into the ‘Krakenmobile’, as Pete kept calling it, in record time. This was due to some smart thinking on Pete’s part, trapping His ex’s cat in the closet ... oh man, they left the cat in the closetGood. It will be the first sign of something amiss when the black Burmese terror doesn’t immediately bulldoze itself into her ankles when she gets home. Plus, little Loki will undoubtedly piss her shoes in retaliation for the imprisonment.

He found the buzz board and, having removed His headphones, pressed the little black button next to a label that read ‘TGT - WALTER’. It only took a few seconds for a deep accent (Armenian or something?) to creep out from the speaker.

“What is it?”

He pressed the button again and said, “Um, hello, Mr … uh, Kul ... Tal ...”

The voice from the speaker harshly cut Him off.

“Stop ringing bell! You hold down bell!”

Embarrassed at having misinterpreted how the intercom worked, He retracted His gloved hand from the interface and floated a “Sorry,” towards it.

“WHAT IS IT?” the accent asked again impatiently.

“I’m ... uh, supposed to ... move in today?” He answered weakly.

“ADAMS? Ah, good. I meet you in your apartment.”

The slight, white-noise hiss of the speaker clicked off and the sound of the steel slide of an electronic lock being withdrawn came from the front doors. He hefted the left one open and then let its heavy weight slam behind Him as He slid inside the lobby. It wasn’t exactly warm, but the absence of wind made it seem positively pleasant by contrast.

The lobby followed the larger design of the building itself, it was unreasonably tall for its other dimensions. The flickering fluorescent lighting sickly illuminated a small mountain of packages by the individual mailboxes. Center of focus, up a half flight of stairs and in between what looked like the opening of two hallways for ground floor apartments was a large open elevator. The accordion-style safety gate retracted into its left side was barely visible, while its companion stretched across the back of the car. The light emanating from inside the elevator was brighter than that of the lobby.

He pulled out His phone to check the confirmation email for the floor and apartment number again. There were several news app notifications entitled things like ‘First COVID Case in NYC Confirmed’ that He had to swat out of the way like digital gnats. He hoped Pete was too busy trying to find a nearby spot to catch wind of that story because he was already obsessed with this new flu thing. Peter did that with all of them: SARS, bird flu, swine flu, H1N1, ZIKA ... how exhausting. There it was ... okay, unit 8, floor ... 8. He’d been busy, sure. Stealth-curating a new life for yourself, in a different part of the city was exhausting, but He had to be sleepwalking to not notice all these friggin’ 8s!

He sighed heavily and chugged the rest of the bitter coffee from the paper cup Pete had handed Him through His doorway at an ungodly hour that morning. He could sleep soundly tonight in His new place. He chucked His empty cup into a lobby trash bin, stepped into the elevator, and pulled the gate behind Him, pushing the ‘8’ button on the instrument panel that ran from B to 15. Right in the middle.

As the door shifted closed and the cage slung into its ascent, He wondered what this new place was going to be like. There’s no way it looked anything like the pictures with the Getty Images watermarks on them, hell for the outrageously reasonable rent rate, it was just as likely to be some kind of trick. Maybe just an empty storage room that Walter Kultalsyan was going to use as a backdrop, in which to savagely beat and rob Him. He would normally never have DREAMED about renting a place site unseen, had He not been so desperate.

Five years in an abusive relationship were coming to an end today. Abusive how you might ask? And you probably would. The handful of people He’d told about it certainly had, all with that same condescending incredulity. Sure, He was twice her size, as if stature had anything to do with it. It was as if His ex had been trying to unlock an achievement in a crass video game and the award was called something resembling clever, like Gary Abusey or Out Like A Gas-light and the checklist included things like:

{} try all the abuses, really explore the room.

And then she took ‘room exploration’ too literally, once she had played out all the greatest hits ... your physical, your emotional, your friggin’ psychological, and so she reinvents the art of ‘spacial abuse’. It wouldn’t have surprised Him in the least to learn she had let a previous boyfriend have a mancave, expressly for the purpose of being able to study it and learn its secrets of happiness induction. All so she could reverse engineer the concept and develop the polar opposite of a mancave. A manvex, if you will. An ever-shifting/ever-shrinking three-dimensional autonomous zone within their home where His decisions were beneath scrutiny in regards to what occupied it and what state the occupants resided in.

In fact, the most recent rezoning of the manvex had resulted in it being found, rarely and by design, deep in the back of the very same closet that now encased a urine-armed and mean-tempered little Loki. little Loki might already be engaging in an act of spacial abuse herself right now. It truly was a vicious cycle.

Unlike the experience of His ex’s malevolent familiar for the greater remainder of the day, a door opened before Him; He was at the eighth floor. The room numbers predictably started at one. He wandered down the dimly lit hallway. If He had to hazard a guess, number 8 was at the far end by the stairs. This was His new hallway, one of many new aspects of a new life.

He started a new job later that afternoon. He quit His desk job exactly two weeks ago. As a condition of His resignation, He wanted it kept quiet, nobody was to know except for His boss. It was an unorthodox request and she was sad to see Him go, but He’d said that He didn’t want a big deal made of it. Plus, He had wrapped up all of His business and responsibilities so well, that she was happy to give Him that much. He had work friends. But all of His friends were their friends. They were her friends. So He got a new job and a new place, both in a new borough and He would make new friends. He was ghosting an entire social life and He was so pleased about it.

He had landed a gig as a bar-back, at a decent dive, on His past job experience. He hadn’t worked in the service industry in almost exactly ... five years, but He’d always kind of liked it. Nothing was going to stop Him now. He’d be bartending before summer, they said. 2020 was going to be His year. He was newly single in New York City and going to have the best spring of His life!

The metal door designation on number 8 was sideways. It was missing the fastener from the top and the thin metal edge had caught on a tiny door splinter that was keeping it from swinging upside down and becoming an 8 again. There was a woodgrain silhouette where the number used to be attached, from when a coat of paint had been added to the entire hallway, making the space bland and uniform. Before He could knock, the door opened.

He found the entryway to number 8 filled with the incredible breadth of Walter Kultalsyan, or was it his incredible height? Any which way He happened to look at the man, the super seemed larger than life. He managed to speak after probably too long.

”Um … Walter, uh … Kul … tal …” He began, starting to struggle with the surname once more.

“The Walter is fine,” his voice grumbled. It sounded almost exactly as it had through the intercom. Strangely tinny?

“The walter ... oh, just Walter, I see,” He replied sheepishly.

“Adams,” the man paused for at least a beat, his nonplussed expression unflinching upon his weathered face. Kultalsyan’s bushy and aggressively expansive mustache, in contrast, seemed to be a force of motion even though it was standing perfectly still. A white woman could get lost in his facial hair and the search party would probably still give up. “Please, follow.”

He could feel warmth spilling out of the portal before Him. He briefly wondered whether or not He was paying the bills already. That was until He spotted the fireplace. It had a fireplace. The modest apartment may soon be filled with a pathetic array of personal belongings: a spare twin mattress Pete was gifting Him, a chipped acrylic lamp, a wonky end table, a few trash bags filled with clothes, and a recently liberated manvex, but it had a friggin’ fireplace!

Walter led Him to a pair of steel folding chairs set facing each other in front of the hearth. Upon one sat a thick stack of papers. Walter bent a massive shoulder down to scoop up the pile. He handed it to Him at chest level, his other hand producing a ballpoint pen from somewhere, clicking it open just prior to presentation. As soon as He took them, the super gestured to the chair that had just been holding the documents with an open palm that had the gravitas of a T-bone steak.

He stepped to the seat and looked down at the formidable stack of forms, then set them back in the chair. The heat emanating from the fireplace felt fantastic. He started removing His scarf and loosening His coat. He couldn’t help but look admiringly into the flames, as He did so. “It’s gas, right?” He absently asked while He hung His coat on the back of the chair as if it were a clothes hanger.

“Yes. All fire is chemical reaction. Please, sign,” came the man’s gravelly reply, flames glistening off his coal-black eyes.

“Oh ... right,” He said, slightly stunned by the strange answer. He pulled each of His sleeves up and picked the pile up again. He seated Himself, and after He had done so Walter settled unto the other folding chair. It shouldn’t have held the man up off of the floor, but it did so without the slightest sign of struggle. He propped His left ankle up on top of His right knee as a makeshift writing surface and started reading His new rental agreement.

It was ... extensive. He did that thing that He would do when signing a heap of paperwork, where He started off reading every single word as if He were some sort of lawyer or some bullshit. Then after the signatures and initials started accumulating, He sped it up, but not too much, not like He had quit paying attention to the words altogether. He looked up at Walter who was staring at Him with an almost imperceptible, knowing grin. I mean He probably could do that, if He wanted to. It seemed like He blindly agreed to new terms of service agreements with apps every day that were longer than anything He read all week.

Fuck it, He was doing that. The pages started flipping over staples at a hurried rate. And now just a brief questionnaire? Some of the questions were just bizarre: What is your max bench press? He hadn’t the slightest idea, so He made a flattering estimate. At long last, He arrived at the final signature and He laid His best ‘doctor’s scrawl’ on it. He’d started signing things by way of the pen flailing like a failing lie detector test when He was in college. It was just one of those decisions you make, like whether or not to cross your sevens. This is who I am now ... But then He froze when He got to the ‘Full Legal Name (in print)’ section directly beneath. He was stumped ... about His own name. How typical, choking right at the finish line. What the hell was His name?!

“Problem, Mr. Adams?” asked the accent.

He just shook His head in reply as His mind raced. Look at your other answers! The signatures were no help, damn His hubris! Running around scribbling nonsense with the pompous expectation that He could always easily recall His own name! Initials: M.A.

Martin? Michael? Monty?! It sure as fuck wasn’t

“Mr. Adams?” it spoke again.

Fine! I’m not going to lose this friggin’ glorious fireplace over a trivial detail. ‘Mister Adams’ it is. Walter grinned broadly as the pen left the paper, he had more teeth in his smile than seemed practical, but ... in a good way. It was comforting. Or was that the fire? Whatever the case He felt euphoric! He’d done it! Beep Beep BEEEEEEEP. A horn sounded from somewhere outside. “Pete,” He said to the silent, staring supe. “He must’ve found parking.”

He could feel Himself grinning like an idiot, but it felt wonderful. He stood, His arms and legs searching for the correct amount of movement as if He were drunk. His tongue seemed to fill His mouth. He was now smiling so hard His face hurt or was it going numb? He managed to order His limbs back towards the door.

“Pete is probably waiting ...” He muttered matter-of-factly. He opened the door back to the common hallway of the eighth floor, cold cut into the room, dispelling the overpowering warmth. He stepped out and the stale brisk air of the hallway brought a sobering effect, He was starting to feel His face again.

The door slammed shut behind Him, the sideways 8 staring back. beep beep beeeep The horn sounded very far away this time. What had happened in there?! Fresh air, He needed fresh air. He would find Pete. He made His way down the hall, feeling more Himself with each step. He looked up just in time to see the empty elevator close and lift upward, the shaft darkening, leaving Him with His increasingly distressing thoughts. He still couldn’t think of His own name! He pulled out His phone to call Pete. No Service! … The stairs, He’d take the stairs.

The cold that occupied the common area of floor 8 was seeping through His layers as He traversed it once more. He rolled His sleeves back down as He approached the sign on the door at the end of the hall, adorned with a stick figure walking down a flight of stairs. As He got closer He could make out a frightened frown upon the figure and lines of fire in the stairwell added by a sharpie-wielding vandal.

The door to number 8 swung open once He walked before the threshold, the sideways number giving way to a wave of intense warmth. He spun to face it, startled, and said, “Oh, Walter, I …” but there was nobody there.

He fell backward suddenly in the hall as gravity seemed to tilt towards His new apartment, throwing Him abruptly off His balance. No sooner had He hit the dingy surface of the floor that He found Himself sliding into the mouth of the open door, His fingers making marks in the displaced carpet fibers as He went, like a cartoon cat claw-sliding down wallpaper. There were no signs of the folding chairs, the contract, or … the Walter as He plummeted into the firelit living room. The door slammed shut above Him.


The Murphy bed came out of the wall with a thud, the weight of His body pulled the ancient suspension springs a few inches toward the floor before rebounding. The tendrils that had been pulling His wrists and ankles to the four corners of the mattress rescinded into the cavity it had exposed and disappeared into the faux wood paneling. He lay there shaking and breathing deeply, the fireplace flickering silently away, for what could have been an hour. His concept of time was amongst the list of casualties that had piled up since He had signed The Lease.

When it seemed as if no further unpleasantry was to be visited upon Him, He sat up. His body ached to succumb to exhaustion, to embrace catatonia, but His mind was amped, anticipating the next bit of sensory overload. The bed never took the opportunity to drag Him back inside the wall to be slowly quartered in its bowels.

He swung His legs off the side of the bed and stood. This time, the carpet held Him up, didn’t start swallowing Him into a sinking morass. A cockroach scurried from under the bed and started down the short hall that led to the front door, but it veered around the corner to the bathroom. The hall never once collapsed upon the cockroach to twist it like a towel being wrung out. He followed it, still quivering involuntarily, as nothing else happened.

He watched it with a weary fascination as it explored, unmolested, the apartment that had destroyed Him, over and over. Why No. 8 had so suddenly become docile He could only imagine. The break in the seemingly eternal agony stopped short of providing any real relief, however, for he had abandoned all hope in the midst of it, He was broken.

The insect climbed the wall of the bathroom without the wallpaper manifesting wriggling, razor-sharp worms from the pattern. It walked across the ceiling that had been splattered with His blood times beyond counting, though it once again had the look of a neutral white rental coat of primer that had never received proper paint.

The bug fell right into the center of the clawfoot tub, that He couldn’t help but notice: wasn’t currently animate and chasing Him throughout the apartment. The clear plastic shower curtain hadn’t sprung to life, so it could choke it out of the roach. It landed on its back, bounced gently against its carapace, and then flipped over to its gross little legs, so it could scurry down the drain. And like that, the goddamn invertebrate had accomplished what He had been striving for, for ... weeks? … years? It had escaped His prison.

He was beyond the wherewithal to weep. He crawled into the tub, curled into the fetal position, and turned the shower on. Finally, with a trauma blanket of steadily pouring warm water enveloping Him, coaching His body back into its functionality, He bawled until He fell asleep. He awoke when the water ran cold. He first thought the water heater must’ve lost the inevitable battle, but when He opened His eyes …

… it confirmed what His olfactory factories were reporting.

He was outside!

The air was fresh! That wasn’t to say it was clean. It was heavy with smoke and it tasted a bit like blood, but there was also the unmistakable scent of life. It was a fragrance so subtle that He’d always taken it for granted, the smell of other organisms, of living. That smell did not exist in No. 8.

He stared into the sky. Rain battered down upon, well, everything. It occurred to Him the deluge was freezing, as was the cutting wind that tore at His stark naked body. An idle observation really, the temperature wasn’t alarming at all, for His fight or flight response had been reprogrammed into a fine, fuckit response. Continuous torture will do that. What was amazing, was how quickly the old processes started trying to reboot. He was looking up at the moon, through the fog, through the trees, and He thought:

{I must be in Central Park.}

There was a rational narrative forming in the back of His mind, despite the fact He had just so previously been in a place of utter madness; His recent past was purely irrational. He had always had this idea about Hell: The classic cartoon version of Hell would be silly. Endless mindblowing torture? It would get old, you could get desensitized to anything. The worst thing about eternal, non-stop torture Hell would ultimately be the boredom of such basic barbarism.

His opinions on the efficacy of continuous torment had definitely changed since signing The Lease, but He still thought the most effective Hell would be one you could never quite be sure of. A slowly-building awful that would come to the occasional crescendoed culmination of agony, making you almost certain you had indeed found yourself in the depths of Hell, just to have it pulled away suddenly, like waking from a dream.

A cool-down period to recalibrate the nerves, a reasonable peace that makes you question how you could be so foolish as to assume damnation was at hand. It wouldn’t even take any extra effort to be successful, the tortured imagination would tie itself into knots to arrive at an alternitive explanation, nobody wanted to believe they were in Hell.

After all, He had just spent what seemed like a small eternity living out a boundless nightmare, coming to the conclusion that He was dead and reaping perpetual punishment. Probably due to the fact that Pete, who studied hard to keep a valid driver’s license every eight years, because he thought it impressed the chicks, had no business whatsoever driving something as large {and with as many gears} as the Krakenmobile. He’d been certain they must have catastrophically died in a car crash, or maybe he’d gone down in the elevator, {I never read the friggin’ inspection dates on the posted licenses to make sure they are current, like an idiot!} and then His damnation had become some demon’s day job.

All it took was a little fresh air and a bit of freezing rain tunneling down His bare ass crack to bring on the existential excuses.

{Maybe I was just having a bad, street-vended falafel-induced nightmare, started sleep-walking, and took the F train naked to the park.} {That wouldn’t even make the top ten strangest things that happened on the F train today.} He followed the moonlight down to the mud that was squishing between His toes, and the somnambulatory streaker storyline met a challenger.

He was not alone, well, not exactly.

A body of a battered and anciently armored warrior lay before Him, face-down in the muck. {Though it would be more accurate to say it was ass-up in the muck, as it was missing its head.} {That’s not to say the head was missing.} The head had been mounted, by way of her severed throat’s exposed esophageal cavity, upon the pommel of a sword that protruded from the warrior’s back. Blood had run down the macabre decoration and coated what appeared to have been an intricately ornamental cross guard; it reminded Him of that stupid cephalopod depicted on the side of the Krakenmobile. The sword was ancient, weathered, and blunt. {What tremendous strength would be required to drive such a thing into a person? Might as well have been rebar.} The entire display was positively ghastly.

{LARPer.} {It was completely possible that a live-action role-player or a cosplayer from a comic con was fucking around in Central Park late at night with friggin’ sword and accidentally …} { ... bludgeoned her own head off and fell into her best human hors-d’oeuvre impression?!} The narrative was falling apart, but the neural pathways to panic still lay dormant, despite the gore and uncertainty.

There was a white leather-bound book, adorned with an array of minuscule animal bones, laying in the mud beside her body. Water was pooling on its surface as though it had been sprayed with a wiperless windshield coating. Cradled in His hands it felt dry to the touch even though His fingers were every bit as soaked as the rest of Him; the tome remained unsoiled. It was eerily beautiful. He opened it somewhere in the middle pages and as the vellum repelled the raindrops as well, a steady stream began pouring down the gutter between the sheets. The words looked curious and alien to His eyes at first glance, but the longer He marveled over them the more they began to look like something He understood.

Suddenly, He was reading it perfectly … The voice of Walter Kultalsyan was reading along, in His head? No. He noticed the lips of the corpse moving along as He read, His tormentor’s voice was coming from her severed head. When He looked up at the dead woman’s face the speaking stopped, as He was no longer reading. Her lips slowed to be still once more. He tried not to look at her again as He read. His hackles were finally functioning again and fully raised. A shock of terror, so cold that neither this rain nor the depths of the oceans could hope to match it, pulsed down his spine, dispelling His disassociation.

“ADAMS,” The voice read along. “This one has failed me here. DO NOT FAIL ME AS WELL …” Despite His efforts, He had looked at her face again.

“... Take the body and throw it into the fires of war. Take the tools and use them. DO NOT FAIL M- ...” He shut the book with quaking fingers. Her face had frozen mid-glare, blood pooled in her mouth and then poured down from the left corner in a crimson drip. He took a moment to steady His breath, letting the rhythm of the rain on His forehead drive calm into His mind, and then He set to work. He dared not defy THE GREAT THE WALTER.

He knelt before the dead woman, removed her heavy cloak, and wrapped it around Himself. The armor she wore looked like the stuff out of a videogame aimed at the teenage libido. More swimsuit than brigandine, a protective flaw her assailant had made pretty opportune use of, evidenced by her wounds. Nearby He found a discarded shoulder bag that looked to have once housed the book and He slung that upon Himself as well. With the pale volume stowed away within, He hefted the body/sword shish kabob over His shoulder. The head almost immediately slid off of the sword’s handle and He lowered Himself under His burden just enough to grab it by the hair. He then started to shuffle towards the flames that He could vaguely make out in the distance.

He was wondering how anything could possibly burn in such a downpour until the smell of sulfur and pitch made breathing unpleasant. The flames He sought belonged to an oil-soaked rampart that had become a small bonfire. Multiple dead bodies were scattered around the mess, faintly illuminated by the blaze. There was one man, clearly still on his way out, propped slightly against the base of a tree. The moral support arbor’s farthest-reaching branches had caught as well and were smoldering above the oil fire. The dying man saw Him approaching and he but stared, the whites of his eyes popping against his half-dried, blood-caked face.

He dropped the decapitated body into a heap at his feet, and said with a nod, “How’s it goin’?” Still, the man only stared.

That gaze never wavered as He grabbed the woman’s body by the legs and dragged it towards the fire. His watchful eyes had grown wider as he watched Him trying to pull the stuck sword from the body, give up, and use it to leverage the corpse upon the flames. The man’s look was most intense as He took a step back having successfully bequeathed her still sword-skewered remains to the miniature inferno and tossed the head in after.

“She wanted to be cremated,” He told the man, sardonically.

It was then He realized the man hadn’t been staring so much at Him, as he had the shoulder satchel. The rain had washed enough mud from the cover flap to expose a bright red sun emblazoned upon it. He covered it instinctively with the cloak and turned His back on the man. Having fulfilled THE WALTER’s task, He picked a direction and walked into the darkness, into the lessening rainfall and thickening fog. He didn’t see, as the dying man did, that the black smoke rising from the woman’s embering cadaver was following Him, seeping into His back. The dying man would tell no one.

The fog had become quite heavy, but He was still able to make out where His feet needed to fall. He stepped over tree roots, and axes, and cudgels, and severed arms, and some dude’s legs. {Who knew Central Park had a body part problem this bad? Maybe if the mayor wasn’t such a bum … next election, I’m going to vote for whoever adopts the most anti-public park human limb dumping platform.} He was just trying to get as far away as He could from the place He’d last heard the voice of THE GREAT THE WALTER. He’d done what THE WALTER had commanded and now He was getting scarce and never reading this book that He was clutching tightly through the red sun bag ever again ... strange that He hadn’t even considered just chucking it after the corpse into the pyre. {That’s probably not good.}

He must have been going the wrong way because there were more and more dead people hanging out in the fog as He wandered. Before long He noticed another nearly dead guy amongst the expired. He had that exact same kind of disturbing stare as the mortally wounded dude at the oil fire. {What were they, brothers?!} He walked up to nearly dead guy dos to get a closer look. His legs were trampled into a shape that hurt to look at, and a broken shaft of a lance was sticking out of his chest. He definitely wouldn’t call him a lucky man, but the sheer fact that he hadn’t yet succumbed to his wounds was incredible.

He got within five feet of the man when He realized it was actually not credible, for he wasn’t the only one staring. There was a second set of eyes widely following His movements, that set was sitting on a stump. They belonged to a person whose head had been sliced in half at the nose. The lower 95% of him lay folded over himself nearby, the looky bits were attached to the top of his skull, which had landed like a bowl of brainy breakfast cereal on the stump.

“What are YOU looking at?!” He mostly didn’t yell.

The mouths of the two dead men answered at once. The folded-over man’s mouth was muffled and probably wasn’t entirely intact, the effect was an overtly sarcastic sounding mumble manifesting from him. Old trample-legs seemed as though he was translating for eyebowl because he could actually be understood and his delivery was appropriately, profoundly deadpan.

“Nothing,” they said together.

He stood stunned in silence for several seconds before He laid down a couple of follow-up questions.

“Why aren’t you both dead?” came the next.

“It appears pretty obvious that we are,” they replied in unison.

The last query He posed followed an even longer pause, as He mustered the will to speak it aloud.

“Is this Hell?” He finally managed. The two sets of eyes blinked twice in tandem.

“Don’t be ridiculous! That would mean I am in Hell, and I don’t believe in it.”

“That’s very reassuring,” He mumbled facetiously, and then He stomped along, continuing His random path into oblivion.

He tried to ignore the fact that every corpse He passed along the way was watching Him as He walked. Though the rain had nearly ceased, a constant misting lingered, making the fog itself feel wet. And then, without warning, it was gone, the haze melted away and He found Himself in a cold clearing surrounded by clearly living soldiers, clearly all in a mindset to do violence.

He had been traversing fields of two distinctly different kinds of dead guys. The first were dressed head-to-toe in armor that He found reminiscent of the style of the samurai. Bright red armors; some had white triangles arranged upon the breast in various amounts, maybe to signify rank? The others wore only helmets, their bodies were covered in all manner of tattoos and brightly colored warpaint. Despite the technological advantage donned by the red army their bodies easily littered the ground two to one. The clearing was made up of the same types of characters on opposite sides, though the living numbers juxtaposed those of the deceased.

Some of both camps were staring at Him, the strange fur-cloaked naked man that had just appeared out of the mist. Most, however, were intently watching the meeting of a few individuals around the center of the field.

On His left were the representatives of the more feral, savage, and most importantly: more numerically represented by backup.

On His right were the red armored soldiers, more uniform, somber, and most importantly: their comrades were more scarce amongst the living. He’d never considered Himself to be private eye material, but it seemed pretty obvious that the red guys were losing. Hard.

Still, the contingent of crimson soldiers surrounded a man upon a huge white horse who seemed unwilling to cede his greatness in the face of certain doom. The haughty man’s saddle had a standard mounted behind him. The banner was torn and soiled, but quite clearly displayed a familiar red sun in the remnants that gently fluttered as a backdrop to his outrageous armor. It was a burnt gold suit of plate metal that resembled the armors of his underlings only in the strictest stylistic sense. The term embarrassment of riches came to mind. It was assuredly more expensive than the rest of his entire retinue’s armaments. Of course, he had a spokesperson.

“Lord Ijdelheid is willing to consider a conditional surrender,” announced his herald, a lightly armored man with a mustache that was exceptionally long at the ends of his mouth. It hung like tassels halfway down the length of his throat. The vassal was putting a brave effort into mimicking his liege’s disdain for the grim reality of the situation. His knuckles were giving it away in the pale death grip he had upon the upright spear to his side.

“He insists that Lady Margot’s life be spared in exchange.”

This was met with mirthful laughter from the center of the opposing delegation. It was a woman’s laughter. Powerful, yet distinctly feminine. The description fit the woman who cackled just as succinctly. She was the most incredible human specimen that He had ever seen, standing most of a foot above her companions, and they all, save one, looked like the front line of the New York Giants.

She wore only warpaint and boots. Her hands were folded over the pommel of a massive bastard sword that stood from the ground before her. She whispered something to the only member of her squad who could be considered small among them, and only by peer comparison. The ‘small’ barbarian listened to her words while stroking one of the many braids that made up his beard and considering the pompous ass on the magnificent steed.

She was looking right at Him, He was sure of it. A pit formed in His stomach, but if she had mentioned Him at all, braid-beard didn’t show it. He stepped a few paces before the rest of his troop, never looking in His direction, and answered. Maybe He had been imagining things.

“His lordship might as well bargain for the moons themselves!” hollered Braid-Beard. He wore garments that reminded Him of a Celtic kilt. They looked impeccable as if he hadn’t done any fighting whatsoever. Maybe he hadn’t, after all, he carried no weapon. At his words, raucous laughter erupted from the horde of scary men that lined the entire left side of the clearing. {Did he say moons, as in it’s been many moons? Or like plural moons …} Braid-Beard let the laughter subside before he continued.

“The Lady Margot …” he paused for effect, “ ... is already slain.”

At this, Lord Ijdelheid, whose face had been turning a shade that matched the red sun which fluttered behind him, exploded in an impudent rage that shook all of his tightly curled yellow locks like quaking fusilli pasta.

“LIES!” he shrieked.

There was a tremendous amount of tension spreading about the clearing at his outburst. The lord’s herald looked as though he would like to be just about anywhere else at that moment. There was a rising cacophonous roar of weapons striking shields rhythmically from one side and responsively nervous armor creaking in the cold, quiet off-beats from the other.

The fearsome woman was staring at Him again, there was no denying it. It reminded Him of the way the wolves looked at Him from their exhibit at the Bronx Zoo. Unfortunately, He wasn’t the only one to notice her gaze this time.

One by one, her shield brothers, and then the red warriors, followed her eyes to Him standing there. The voyeur. The pre-battle percussion gave way to ambient murmurings, which in turn became an unbearable silence. Under the eventual collective leering of every present soldier, His nudity came foremost in His thoughts. In response, He adjusted the book-bearing satchel strategically before Him.

This resulted in astonished vulgarities amongst the soldiery to His right, the herald nearly choked on his mustache tassels as he gasped. Lord Ijdelheid positively snapped. “You ANIMALS!” he cried, as his charger lifted into the air upon its massively muscled hind legs. Before the warhorse had returned its front hooves to the ground, the heavily armored nobleman drew his sword from its scabbard and pointed it directly at Him. The men around the horse were confused as to what to do. Most looked as though they were just as likely to throw their swords to the ground as follow their Lord into a suicidal last hurrah.

Alarica, Queen of All Tribes, held up a hand, palm facing her Court, three score elite warriors that fought side-by-side with the world’s most dangerous person, as she conquered it. She kept her predatory eyes locked on Him. The Court, by her order, held fast as the enraged Ijdelheid spurred his mount into a full charge.

Now He’d seen the NYPD horsecops before, plenty of times. Hell, He’d seen a horsecop take a shit in the street on St. Patty’s Day, during the parade no less. {I don’t mean the cop that rides the horse.} {’Cause that would be kinda weird.} {I meant the cop who is a horse when I use the word horsecop.} {And that dump that it took was bright green.} {Sometimes I think back at that radioactive-looking shit I watched that horsecop drop and I wonder: What food-color-laden treat had that horsecop gotten into earlier that day?} {Did it drink one of those green beers?} {Was that horsecop drunk when it took that green grumpy on Fifth Ave …} But He’d never had a horsecop running Him down before.

“Oh shit, he’s coming right at me,” He said aloud, still watching the majestic beast close the distance. “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit!” He sputtered as the Lord’s longsword rose in the air with a practiced economy of action to deliver a killing blow one second later in the precise space His brains then occupied.

Instinct had finally kicked in and He was about to perform a flawless impersonation of a horsecop on Fifth Avenue circa the 17th of March, 1996.

His left hand was extending in a defensive maneuver that would likely result in His second to last memory being of a nobleman’s sword barely noticing His fingers, as it passed through them on the way to His face.

His right hand was all up on its bullshit again and was rising forward making a fist like it’d never seen a punch thrown before. He appreciated the effort.

Suddenly, every hair on His body stood on end and His balls did that thing they would do sometimes when He looked down from a high vantage point, where they felt almost like they might abandon ship. {Like they were trying to convince the rest of the body that they had some kind of testicle version of ‘spider-sense’ or something.}

The Sword He had left sheathed in the burning body of Lady Margot formed itself in His right hand. The weapon that had seemed so dull and ruddy before had awakened, rust and tarnish had given way to brilliant black polished steel and it pulsed with energy. It was the single most painful thing He had ever experienced.

Nothing THE GREAT THE WALTER had ever thrown at Him in No. 8 had hit this mark. It felt like He had the current of a subway ‘third rail’ running from the weapon, into His arm, and out through His shoulder on its way into another dimension. It just shunted into existence, making what He could only describe as the absence of sound, forming exactly where it needed to be to block the incoming blade.

He made up for that absence, as He screamed with all His being.

There were exactly four members of Alarica’s Court who didn’t flinch at that primal wail. Hell, there were a number of horsecop impersonations manifesting on either side of the clearing.

The only two mammals present that weren’t in awe of the sound, were the Lord and his steed, both of which had been so close to the source that their eardrums had burst. The pair passed Him and turned in a tight half-circle, the horse rearing again, wild-eyed. The force of the blow had caused Him to follow The Sword out of the beast’s immediate path.

He grabbed His right forearm with His left hand as His roar crescendoed. Then He dropped The Sword, the muscles of His entire right arm spasming, fingers contorted, steam rising off of Him into the night air. The horse had reached a panic level that could never be trained out of even the finest stock of warhorse. It had molten steel splattered upon its flank from its rider’s weapon being unmade. Part of its tail was on fire, the rest was coated in rapidly cooling alloy. It bolted straight at Him. Its rider was every bit as lost to madness; grief and rage escaping in his own primal yell, as he held what was left of his sword in a death grip.

He didn’t have a choice, it had fused with his gauntlet.

They charged again, this time to trample Him.

He raised his arms before Him, eyes closed as His whole body went tense, and readied for impact. He felt a wave of force press against Him. But it was not what being crushed felt like, He was sure of it, He’d been crushed so many times in No. 8.

He opened His eyes. His arm was still convulsing and His nude, cloak enveloped body was covered in somebody else’s … four humours ‘suicide style’ human smoothie.

Two roughly opposite thirds of a horse lay on the ground mere paces from Him. There were several dead, and dozens injured crying out at once, as they reacted to pieces of Lord-Ijdelheid-and-his-expensive-ass-suit-of-armor shrapnel having cut through sword ranks like a claymore mine. You know, pandemonium.

He took the opportunity to pass out.

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Sara: So far, everything seems to be well written and keeps my interest. I gave all high marks in hopes to encourage the writer to continue.

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honeygirlphx: I wish your books would be a tv series I can only imagine how amazing these fantasy stories would be!!

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