He noticed it as soon as he walked through the door, and was about to mention it, but then thought better of it as the youth settled behind his desk and set about turning on his computer. His black-eye looked angry and painful, spread across the cheek-bone and blending away on his right temple, as though prior to coming into work he had gotten himself into a nasty fight, him on the losing side. He seemed to get on with his work as though it wasn’t there, and that, he thought, was not good for business, so he decided to approach him and ask him about it.
Kevin Harlow was a manager at ‘Global tourist’ travel agents, was 43, and had worked there for six years. He promoted the casual approach to work, on the understanding that a less formal appearance made them more endearing to the customers. They had uniforms and had to look smart, but it wasn’t essential that they looked as smart as possible. Kevin always had the top button of his shirt open, and wore a glitter ball stud earring meant for women. He, however, didn’t know that, but nobody mentioned it. He liked to think of himself as a good, trendy boss, and would sometimes at the wave of hand tell a worker to have the rest of the day off, but he was still their superior, and superiors and workers never mixed. They would never meet for a drink afterwards, and nor would he be invited. With colleagues of a similar level to him, he would never invite out a travel consultant, just like a group of doctors on a business trip would never invite the cleaner, which was not to say the cleaner was any less intelligent. It was just the way things were.
Martin Ramsden had worked for ‘Global tourist’ for two weeks, and had seemed fairly decent so far. He had obtained the job through the normal method, having seen the advert in the job centre, sent in his CV and application form, had an interview with Kevin, and had started the following Monday. At 22 years old, he had never received job-seekers allowance, and had came straight from university, obtaining a travel and tourism degree. He was a thin, lithe figure, almost gaunt, as though a strong gust of wind would blow him over. He could have been called a wannabe hippy, but he wasn’t particularly bothered about the environment, or animals. He once bought mice from a pet shop to feed to his cat, just to watch it play with and eat them. He had a pierced lip with a ball hoop, a stud in his upper left eyebrow, and long, stringy hair that seemed to permanently shine with grease. Kevin didn’t know him that well, and nor did the other workers. He seemed not to mingle, and showed no interest in doing so. Early days, though, he had thought, but somehow could not see him being the life and soul of the office party at Christmas. He would probably be the one who never turned up, or reluctantly sat at his desk having been forced to wear a paper crown, then leaving early, or constantly looking out of the window. It seemed as though he would always keep himself to himself. He did however, know his job well, and nodded and smiled at the customers as trained, and what he was hired for.
Kevin stood at the side of his desk, hands in pockets, waiting for Martin to see him. After a few moments, he did. Kevin pointed to his own eye and made a slow circle motion.
"What’s with the…?"
"Nothing," said Martin, "It’s fine, I’m alright". He then busied himself back on the computer, and Kevin realised that was all he was going to say, then walked back to his office and sat down in his leather swivel chair. He looked at his computer screen, thought no more about it, and continued playing spider solitaire.
The following morning at 08:30, Kevin was sat at his desk, replying to an email, when there was a knock on the door, and Isabel, a 38 year-old, overweight, dog-obsessed travel consultant walked in without waiting for an answer. She gave a quick glance out of the door and pushed it almost shut. She hooked a thumb over her shoulder.
"What’s with Martin, his face is even worse. It can’t be good for the customers to see that". Kevin sighed.
"I’ll deal with it," he said. Isabel left, and Kevin was close behind. He found Martin standing by the window, sipping a plastic cup of water.
He stood beside him, looking out at the road, and train station opposite. Martin looked at him, and Kevin just about stopped himself from flinching. The left side of his mouth was swollen and purple. A solitary plaster covered a still bleeding cut.
"What’s happened Martin? We can’t have you dealing with the customers like that".
"It’s fine. There’s nothing wrong. The public are not going to stop going on holiday just because of this," he said, pointing to his face. He then drank all of his water, turned and walked back to his desk, throwing the cup into a colleagues waste-bin as he did.
The two other workers who were at the desks looked at Kevin as if to say: ‘Well, probe him further or send him home’, but he didn’t, then simply said: "I’m going the shop, anybody want anything?" Everyone shook their heads, and he left, the door shutting slowly behind him.
The following day, Martin turned up for work as usual, but there were no more marks on his face. The black-eye was still there, as was his swollen lip and plaster, but Kevin hoped that would be all. However, the day after, his face was still the same, but his right hand was bandaged, and he walked with a limp. Again, Kevin felt he had to say something, and approached him at his desk.
"Martin. Do you need time off to recover? What’s been happening to you?" The telephone on his desk rang.
"Nothing," Martin said, rather loudly, and the look in his eyes would have made Medusa proud. He reached for the telephone, and answered it, and again Kevin knew that that was all he was going to get, and simply stood there, not knowing what to say. Should he pull rank and disconnect the call and demand to know what was wrong. ‘I am your boss and I want to know what’s happened or you do not work here anymore’, or go back to his office to decide what to do.
While he was there, pacing around, trying to sum up courage to confront him again, he heard a raised voice from outside at the desks.
"Nothing, ok, there’s nothing wrong, alright, I’m fine". The door opened and Isabel walked in with wide, questioning eyes. She hooked her thumb over her shoulder and kept her voice low.
"I’ve just asked Martin about…"
"Yes I know,"
"Well, I think you should do something. Give him time off or, well, whatever".
"Yes thank-you Isabel. I’ll do something". She looked at him for a few seconds, and he realised that she knew full well that he had no idea what to do, or had any nerve to do what she knew he ought to, so she simply turned and left, and Kevin sat back in his chair, and then knew exactly what he was going to do. It however, required more courage that what he needed now. He was almost ashamed of himself for not dealing with him more forcefully, for not discipling him. Bosses didn’t get where they were by being nice. Some of them get where they do by illegal and unfair means, and by plenty of back-stabbing. Some, however, reach higher levels without resorting to illict behaviour. They, though, are mostly exceptions.
The thought of having to sack him brought a wave of apprehension through him. He’d never had to discipline anybody, but this was the highest position he had reached and so far had been content with his workforce. He rifled through the metal filing cabinet to find Martin’s details and CV, and listened for the door opening incase he was caught. He needed the address and quickly wrote it down on a notepad, tearing it out and shoving it into his pocket. He decided to try one more time before Martin went home, but found he was with a customer, so busied himself with straightening brochures, and was about to go back to his office when the customer stood up and shook Martin’s hand. He left with a smile on his face. No question he can do the job, Kevin thought. He crossed to his desk.
"Are you sure you don’t want to tell me what’s…" He pointed to his own eye again. Martin just stared at him, as if he was surprised he had the cheek to ask, then looked at the computer and treated Kevin as if he was not there. Kevin simply wandered back to his office rather sheepishly, and closed the door behind him. In his pocket, he felt the piece of paper bearing Martin’s address.
At 20:04pm that night, rain pelted the city as though a hurricane was in rehearsal, and wind buffeted the blue Peugeot 206, parked across the road from Martin’s basement flat. Kevin watched the building, feeling rather like a stalker, or a private detective hired to spy on somebody. All he could hear was the rain lashing the car, and the rubbery squeak of the windscreen wipers as they tried in vain to wash the water away. Again, apprehension soared through him, and he knew it was now or never. He wasn’t going to knock, just see if he could see anything that could give him answers.
He pushed hard to open the door as the wind pushed against it. He soon found himself slamming it shut, and running across the road, bathed in light from the street-lamp in front of the fence, bordering an unkempt square of grass. When he reached the gate, he found he was soaked. A path led to steps leading up into a three-storey building, but beside that, there were steps curving down to a door. At floor level, there was a window approximately fourteen inches high and eight feet long. The light was on, and he pushed the wooden gate open, again, the wind protesting, but he soon found himself walking slowly across to the window, and looking down into a kitchen. He suddenly took a few steps back, as he had seen a man there. As rain pelted him, and wind pushed against him, he slowly edged his way back, careful to avoid casting his shadow inside, and looked down at the man, who was simply leaning against the counter, arms folded, looking at a kettle as steam rose from it. He was topless, and Kevin guessed he was simply waiting for the kettle to boil, but he could see no cup ready. Around a minute passed, and two other people walked in. They were chatting and smiling. One of them was Martin, who lay several items on the counter. Lighter fuel and matches, a hammer, a shard of glass, a wooden mallet, and what looked to be a knitting needle.
They soon stopped talking, and joined the man in looking at the kettle as they waited for it to boil. Around thirty seconds passed and Kevin saw the appliance click off, steam billowing into the air. The man suddenly lunged for it, opened its top, picked it up and emptied the water over himself, his face, shoulders and chest scalding and turning red. He screamed in pain, the last drop leaving the kettle before he dropped it. He writhed around and collapsed to the floor. In his pain, he made a few pleading gestures towards something that Kevin could not see. The look on his face could have been perceived as pleasure, or pain. The other two looked at him with smiles on their faces, then Martin wandered away, and returned seconds later with what was clearly barbed-wire around two-foot long. He no longer had the plaster on his face, but still had the bandage on one hand, but on the other, he got the other man to wrap it around like a knuckle-duster. Soon his hand looked like it was wearing a metal glove. The scalded man was on his knees, trembling, but still looking at something out of Kevin’s view.
Martin then stood beside the kneeling man, and proceeded to strike himself repeatedly in the face, instantly drawing blood, then punching at his ear, then scraping it down the side of his neck. Blood streamed down onto his T-shirt. He punched his face a few more times, drawing blood from his nose, and then gestured a kind of appeal in the same direction as the scalded man. He looked exhausted, and Kevin saw the other man cross to the kitchen sink, just below, out of his view. Martin turned to speak to the man, but stopped. Something had caught his eye. He looked directly up at Kevin, his bloodied face turning to anger. He then stalked away, and Kevin panicked, and made a few steps away, then realised there was no point in running. The basement flat door opened, and out walked Martin, who stood holding the door open, looking at Kevin. His anger seemed to have gone, as if on his journey to the entrance he’d gave up and just accepted that Kevin should know. Rain lashed at Martin, washing the blood away in seconds. He nodded inside, and Kevin slowly walked in. Martin closed the door, and Kevin followed him into the kitchen.
The other two men looked at him in surprise, the scalded man looking through scrunched, pain filled eyes.
"This is my nosy boss," said Martin, "Spying on us". The others said nothing, and it was then that Kevin saw what had been out of his view. On a kitchen table, which was draped with a green silk sheet, was a large wooden sculpture of what looked like a deep-sea angler fish, crossed with other fish found in the depths. It was around three-feet tall by five feet long. The huge maw of its mouth contained jagged, sharp wooden teeth, its large round eyes staring forward as though it could see the men. It was a rather amateurish sculpture, as though a student who wasn’t really into the subject had done it for an exam. There was also dark splashes of red over it, where blood had been shed.
"That," said Martin, "Is Kogun. The God of suffering, of pain. Sculpted by Jeremy here," he gestured to the other man, a rather rotund gentleman with an unkempt black beard who looked to be in his late forties. He simply stared at Kevin, then looked at Martin and said: "Despite him, It’s now my turn". Martin nodded.
"Yes, it is".
"So it’s all just…" said Kevin, stopping when he saw Jeremy pick up a specially selected shard of glass, which he could see was already stained with dried blood. It was around six inches, half of it wrapped in crimson cloth.
Jeremy turned and looked at the deity, brought out his tongue, and pressed the glass onto it, easily tearing through the soft flesh. It penetrated around an inch before he gagged on blood and coughed it up onto the floor. He dropped the glass and put a trembling hand to his head, pain pulsing through him. After a few seconds, he reached onto the counter to pick up a sharpened knitting needle and mallet. Standing there for a few seconds, blood streaming from his mouth, he looked at the idol in admiration, fear, and pain.
The sharpened end of the needle, he placed into his left ear, sliding it in around three centimetres, and keeping it there with his right hand. He then proceeded to bang it in with the mallet. He managed two strikes, screaming as the needle penetrated around three inches. Both Kevin and Martin flinched at the loudness of him, and Jeremy collapsed to his knees, and then to the floor, shuddering in agony as though a powerful electric current was surging through him.
"What the……why?" said Kevin, "What on earth is this?" He continued, not waiting for answer:
"You’re insane, you know that?" A wave of confidence swept over him.
"You’re sacked. That’s it, you’re out".
"On what grounds?" said Martin, "What I do in my spare time has nothing to do with you. You can’t sack me".
"If it’s affecting your work, then it is, and I don’t employ psychos" he tapped the side of his head.
"Do you think this is some poxy cult? Kogun calls to us, demands our pain to appease him. He’s the God who was cast out of the history books, not mentioned, forgotten, because of the suffering he caused to innocents when he lived in this realm. The other Gods cast him into another dimension where he could not interfere with anything on Earth, but he managed to be able to call to those people whom he knew would understand. There are many of us across the world, and now he is bound here by devotee’s pain. As long as somebody somewhere on this earth is in pain in devotion to him, then he is here, in this dimension. If not, then he goes back to the realm where there is nothing, he being the only God where there is only space and time. No planets, no other life. Infinite nothingness in all directions. So on this world when somebody suffers in worship to him, it brings him back here".
"So he is here, then" said Kevin, his tone of voice heavy with scepticism.
"He’s here right now because those two are in pain". He gestured to the two men. Jeremy had now managed to reached out a hand in a pleading gesture to the statue, as if to say ‘Am I suffering enough?’.
"Yes, he’s here" said Martin, "but he also could be elsewhere in the world as long as somebody is worshipping in pain. Gods can be two, three, eight thousand places at once. He’s not just some pathetic deity you know, worshipped by some weird cult who…." A look of horror sank onto Martin’s face, followed by fear. He looked at the sculpture, his eyes wide in panic.
"I’m sorry," he shouted. "I’m sorry. You’re not pathetic, I’m so sorry. Forgive me. Forgive me I beg you." He fell to his knees and clasped his hands, pleading, tears streaming down his face. He reached up onto the counter and picked up the claw hammer which looked new. He grasped it in both hands and did not hesitate in repeatedly slamming it into his mouth as hard as he could, shattering his teeth and cracking his jaw. His skin ripped and pieces of teeth embedded into his tongue, and some spilled out onto the floor, blood dripping to mix with Jeremys. He cracked his fore-head and left cheek-bone and bridge of his nose. His face was a mask of scarlet, the fluid pouring down, as it still did from Jeremy’s mouth. They all reached out to the statue, pleading.
"I’m sorry," said Martin, "Please forgive me". He then collapsed to the floor, the pain ripping through his nerves and pulsing into his brain.
Kevin just stood behind them, his face that of confusion, a frown creasing his fore-head, his hands on his hips. After a few seconds, he looked up at the sculpture, and his face became more serious, because he knew something was there, another being inside the carving. It somehow took on a more realistic appearance. Its teeth looked white and sharp, and it seemed to have shiny green scales.
Suddenly words formed in his mind, and he knew it wasn’t him, or his subconscious.
‘Worship me with pain,’ it said, and fear surged through Kevin.
‘Worship me with pain’. The statues eyes shone with white, and Kevin picked up the lighter fuel and matches, and squeezed at least half of the can onto his face, some spilling onto his shirt which was still damp from the rain. He threw the can down, and struck a match.
Not through fear, but through devotion, Kevin brought the flame to his face, and it instantly became a flaming mask of pain. He sank to his knees in the blood, and opened his arms wide in worship as his hair burned and his face began to melt.
The following day, he turned up for work as normal, his face red and tender, some of the skin having drooped beneath his eyes and around his mouth, but he preferred work to hospital, and guessed he could easily cope with questions. With his hair having been blazing, he had decided to shave it all off, so his whole head was different shades of red.
Isabel entered his office, and hooked a thumb over her shoulder.
"Martin looks even worse, I don’t know what…" she stopped as she saw Kevin.
"It’s nothing, ok, out!" he nodded to the door, and Isabel simply stood there for a few seconds, staring at him, then turned and left. Kevin stood up and walked to the door, opened it and leaned against the frame. He looked across at Martin’s desk. Martin was busy sorting through papers, and out of the corner of his eye, saw his superior. They smiled at each other, then Kevin turned back into his office, and quietly closed the door behind him.