'Kill too Hard'
On a ratty-looking desk, an old-fashioned touch-tone phone rang.
The small, messy office filled with the tinny analogue ringing sound.
Mojang clung to the grenade launcher, the wooden sawn-off stock poking his ribs. He ducked behind the desk, taking the small phone with him.
He took the receiver out of the cradle with a plastic clicking sound. He pressed it to his greasy-looking ear.
“Hey, boss!” A cheery voice chirped.
“Bernie, you double crossing pinche puto!”
“Come on, it’s not just me.”
“What are you talking about, you fat, lousy fuck?” Mojang spat into the receiver.
“It’s the fans, man.”
“They’re bored, Mo. We’re winning too much. We make it look easy. There’s no drama, no suspense. Long story short, they’re replacing you.”
“What the fuck? With who?”
“You? Your fat ass is replacing me? No way! Put me through to the top guy. There’s no way they can do this. This is our last game. We’re out. We’re clean. They promised- “
“Sorry, Mo, this comes from the top. Our approval ratings are tanking. They thought they needed to shake things up.”
“No, you motherfucker, you put him on no- “
The phone went dead. Mojang bit down on the receiver. Snapping it in half over the desk, he threw the rest of the phone to the floor.
He cracked open the grenade launcher and saw there was a hot grenade still in the chamber. He clapped it closed and stiffened his lip. “Fffuck!” He threw the heavy grenade launcher across the desk and hurried over to the window. Barred, it was covered in a heavy mesh, impossible to remove. There was no way he was getting out. He clanged the cage mesh, looking like a kid in a playpen. His face welled up with sweat and nervous tears. “FUCK ME! FUCK ME!”
A clatter outside hushed him. He ducked behind his desk again. He scrabbled for the grenade launcher on the desk.
“No, please, no. I’ll suck dick. I’ll suck your dick,” a muffled woman’s voice said from behind his door. An angry banging. “FUCK, MOJANG! LET ME IN, YOU LIMP DICK MOTHERFUCKER!”
The noise quickly stopped after a brief gurgling sound. An ominous silence fell on the garage, not a croak or a death rattle to be heard. All the blood was already on the floor.
Then a dull banging noise started against the thin door, accompanied by stifled whimpering noises. The noises got quieter as the dull banging got wetter. Each bang was accompanied by sloppy slapping noises.
The pathetic bolt lock popped off. The screws popped out and rolled on the concrete floor. The door swung open on just one hinge.
Mojang peeked over the desk and saw the doorway was empty. The flimsy door itself was plastered in blood and brain matter and there was a big crack down the centre. Strands of long hair stuck out of it.
Mojang recoiled as a mass was slung hard across the desk, like a deer hitting the hood of an SUV. His face was splattered with blood and brains. The girl’s limp limbs twisted in every direction. Her head had caved in. Using it to open a door would do that.
Mojang winced. He used the barrel of the grenade launcher to turn her face around, and his other hand to move her hair aside. Her eyes were half open; they rolled loosely around in her head like dolls’ eyes. He swallowed and closed them, feeling bad for a minute before he remembered he had locked her out.
The lancer stepped inside. His feet made a metal stiletto sound. They were covered in skin -tight metal sandals. On the concrete floor, they sounded like tap shoes or a dog with long nails on a hardwood floor.
“We can talk about this. I’ve brought in a lot of business. We’re the best. We win. We can do better. Fuck, man, we can do whatever you want. I’ll learn to fucking juggle if that’s what you wa- “
“Sorry, you’re cancelled,” the lancer said, a cold chill riding his words all the way down Mojang’s spine.
Mojang fingered the grenade launcher, with its wood inlays, as he looked at the girl sprawled across his desk like a tiger skin rug.
He took a deep breath and scrunched up his face, ringing out vicious tears from his one good eye.
“Fffuck you, silver surfing faggot!” He lifted the grenade launcher and turned his body so he was pointing it at the lancer, with one arm outstretched. His face twisted into his death mask: what would be left of it.
The lancer let out a breathy laugh and gave a wicked smile with those strange eyes. He dropped into a pounce and closed the gap between them with murderous intention.
Mojang fell back, his heart leaping to meet the challenge. He stumbled over a broken phone cord. His finger squeezed the trigger and he proceeded to make an even stupider face.
The building popped open like a giant soda can. The sheet metal peeled back and curled up, licked by flames. The explosion was viewed by an indifferent drone flying overhead, the flames reflected in its ambivalent lens.
TJ retched. Only blood and bile spilled onto the movie theatre lobby’s linoleum floor. Fire licked the walls lazily. The sprinkler system watered the orange buds of flame during their puckish dance.
He was on his knees, wheezing drywall dust. The linoleum floor was covered in chips of wood and glass. He couldn’t see; blood was in his eyes. He clutched his stomach. His ribs felt tender and brittle as a bundle of twigs. His breathing was laboured and rasping. Sharp pains shot through his chest.
“How? Where?” a distant voice said. It took a few moments for him to recognise it as his own, punctuated by burning pains in his chest.
His ears were all gummed up with blood and he could see those blue lights again. Blue beams of energy tore through the walls soundlessly as he doubled over. More sprinklers went off as anaemic flames spread from the large entry wounds in the building. The blood was washed out of his eyes and ears. The rhythmic drumming of the water fought with the voice in his head. “Get up!”
“LAMBYYYY!!!!” Jeff wailed like a wounded animal as he grabbed for Sunday.
She floated out of his grasp, like a faerie dancing on his monstrous fingertips, just out of reach. She glided backwards, landing delicately on the hood of a Chevy.
The heavy gun steadied at her shoulder, she breathed in and centred her vision. She squeezed the tacky dual triggers together as hard as she could. A short burst of dull power popped from the gun. The recoil was less like an ordinary gun, more like a constant pushing sensation from two polarized magnets. She fired a solid beam of energy. It side-swiped the hulkish man, like a small subway train made of pure blue light, and tore into the multiplex behind them, where she’d just seen TJ tossed through the window like a My Little Brony doll. The monstrosity that had been Jeff stood before her holding the ragged stump of its arm at its side.
“You hurt Jeffy. Give me back Lamby now, or I’ll-!”
“Or you’ll what? I don’t have your fucking doll!” said Sunday.
“You said a bad word,” Jeff spat. A stream of black liquid oozed from his nose and joined the one from his mouth. “Need Lamby, where?”
His arm was missing. The beam had hit him across his entire side. Part of his shoulder had melted, bubbled and cracked and was coated with a black and orange, viscous liquid. It smelled bad and started to spread. The bubbles in the liquid jostled like blackbirds baked into an uncooked pie.
“What the fuck are you?”
“Dirty mouth!” He spat, biting his lip and teeth down from the pain. He stifled tears. “You’re a mean lady!” A stream of child-like, vicious tears bled out of the scarred and pockmarked holes in his face. The liquid spreading over his arm seemed to have a mind of its own. It started to cover the hole that she had just made in his chest. It grew bulbous and pregnant, like a membranous sack: a large ovum or placenta forming on the outside of the ‘man’s’ body.
“Shit!” Sunday said as she readied the gun again for a second shot, fiddling with the cheap, tacky plastic triggers: undoubtedly the cheapest part on this otherwise space age weapon.
Click click. Nothing happened. “Shit, is it out of ammo?” She turned it over, looking for some kind of gauge or instructions. “What the fuck? It’s all in Korean or something!”
The placenta sack on the monster’s arm burst like a giant blister, spilling amniotic fluid all over the floor. It revealed a shiny-ish new arm, as large as the original, but still only partially formed. The skin was pale and almost see-through, revealing every vein and muscle. It was slick and viscous-looking, like a giant, cooked frog’s leg, chewy but full of bones.
TJ reached for his sword, but it was gone. He looked around sheepishly, he was alone. The building was empty. He was in the lobby of a multiplex movie theatre, the one he’d come to ever since he was a kid. Every leader board of the arcade machines was marked as his. ’TJ’ topped the score boards of even the most obscure games. He was unashamed to claim the dancing games too.
One thing he had always sucked at were those toy grabber games, which he always thought were more of a fairground kinda thing, but there was one right in front of him. His senses slowly returned. All those childhood memories greeted him, like the spirits of every Christmas past and present: all the times his mom had taken him here and had been too cheap to buy popcorn. Then he had started coming here by himself and watching anything that was on with a big box of half and half popcorn. It had felt good: a cool, dark place, where you could feel alone even surrounded by people, watching something that took you out of yourself for an hour or two.
He scanned the grabber. It gleamed, its grabber arm twisted into an arrogant caricature of a smirk. Before he realised he was standing, he’d kicked it angrily for some reason. Then he saw it: a small stuffed lamb sitting atop a cheap mall katana in a ratty, two ply, faux-lacquered sheath. It was right there in the grabber. How it had gotten there he had no idea, but seeing as though he had no memory of how he had come to be alone in the multiplex, he added it to a list of plot holes. He shuffled through all the filing cabinets of his rational mind looking for an answer but came up with a great big, smirking middle finger of ‘cos fuck you, that’s why.’
He took his shoe off and started to tap the Pyrex feebly, expecting it to have a secret pressure point upon which it would explode dramatically. He covered his eyes, turned his head and tapped blind. But when nothing particularly cool happened he put his shoe back on.
“Fuck it,” he said as he started to rummage around in his pocket for some spare change.
The soft, whipping blades of a helicopter tossed blades of long grass around listlessly.
The abandoned railyard was cold and empty, steel and rust and glass and blood and bone. Dead from the outside, the undergrowth was a different matter. It buzzed with activity, mercs rushing, circling like ants. It was the last day and they were prepping to move out and mop up the town.
“We’re moving out. Mop up starts at twenty-one-hundred hours.”
“What about the helicopter?”
“Take three and guard it until that limey bastard comes back, then we meet back at the court house for a clean sweep. We might even make it back in time for ‘Jersey Shore’. MOVE OUT!”
“Yeah, sounds like a plan…. I hate that fucking show,” the lone merc said under his breath as his commander darted away into the brush.
The rusted mouth of the railyard hung open like a funhouse entrance. The light trapped inside bounced around the many reflective surfaces, but it remained void of any illumination whatsoever.
The mercs huddled around the chopper, coughing and scratching their balls, lamenting that their deployment positions had left them a little too far apart to hold a conversation.
Peshwari’s gaudy helicopter touched down in a clearing, behind the railyard, picked for its seclusion and ease of access to cover.
One of the merc’s leant against a tree, letting his rifle hang freely at his side. It bumped into the tree as it swung. “Fuck this shit, man, they get to go stomp squishy maggot heads while we’re stuck guarding some English faggot’s flying shag wagon. Fucking bullshit!” An unmistakable clanging, crashing noise echoed through the railyard. “What the cunting Jesus fuck?” the merc whispered to himself, clenching his butt like a choir boy in a cramped confessional.
The merc spun around awkwardly, flailing for his rifle. He whistled and signalled without turning and began a forward advance with his rifle stock firmly in his shoulder. The other two mercs formed up behind him. They approached the side entrance of the railyard but crab-walked to the side, avoiding the open entrance for lack of cover. They were impressive, all in black. The rifles looked top of the line: integral silencers, laser sighting, mounted red dots sights. The mercs all had night vision goggles and full tactical gear, including gas masks and tear gas grenades.
Without a word, they formed up around the rusty-looking side entrance of the railyard. It was probably used as a staff or service entrance. The first merc turned his finger in the air, pointed at the second merc and motioned to the door. They stood on either side of it. The third reared back and kicked down the rusty door, allowing the other two to breach the entrance. They flooded in smoothly, and with a practiced bravado, flicking green tactical torches into the dim building’s canned twilight.
They fanned out, spreading through the veins of the building, bringing life to the abandoned structure. The only things visible were the beams of their torches.
A fourth merc came upon the girl’s bathroom. Lured by a distinct outpouring of natural light from the open door, he entered slowly and was struck by the immediate silence inside. The elegant marbled interior gave it a mirrored-box feel, and the echo was daunting. He was invading this feminine throne room. He thought he could hear the gasps and mocking giggling noises, small anaemic coughs to get his attention.
His head began to swim as he heard a little girl whispering. Every horror movie he’d ever seen rushed in and made the walls breathe in and out like an iron lung. His mask grew hot and he took it off. His face was young and boyish. Before he knew it, he was in front of a line of prim stalls, untouched by time and torture.
On the floor, at the end of the row of stalls, under a sanctified beam of light from a frosted glass window, a little girl hummed. She was hunched over an old A4 pad of paper. She had happily doodled up a mess, with a set of dry crayons, her back turned to the entrance.
The merc lowered his weapon, wiping his damp face and sniffing the dank air.
“Sweetie, you can’t be in here. Are you OK? What are you doing in here? Where are your parents?”
Laura hummed nonchalantly, fully engrossed in her colouring.
“We’re playing hide and seek.”
“Me and the badman.”
The stall behind the young merc creaked in answer.
TJ rattled some quarters into the machine. It sprung to life, like some ancient mechanism in an ‘Indiana Jones’ movie. The arm moved stickily. It ratcheted around, showing its age, but it still worked.
“Sword or doll?” He was running out of time and quarters as the metallic arm hovered indecisively. “Shit.” He grabbed for the sword with the claw, trying to hook the faux-lacquered sheath. The claw lifted the cheap sword up vertically, gliding up to the hilt because of the weight. The pommel hit the top of the Perspex box and the claw arm lost its grip. “Shit, how the fuck did it get in there?”
“TJJJJJ!” Sunday’s voice called out to him, or was it in his head?
“Shit, doll it is,” he said as he fumbled a few more coins out of his pocket and into the machine.
Outside Sunday fiddled with the strange gun as Jeff put himself back together.
“Fuck this!” she screeched, losing her temper and throwing the alien weapon to the floor. It made a strange hissing noise and started to vomit an unstable purplish beam. Cracks in the upper receiver smoked and gave off noxious smells and a weird light show. It didn’t explode, but the fluctuating beam began tearing up main street, looking like a fifty foot lightsabre attached to a runaway sprinkler.
The force of the beam moved the weapon around like a pressure washer hose. The beam it had shot before must have been the product of precision lenses, which had now been cracked beyond repair. The raw energy from the weapon poured out without restraint, akin to a slowly leaking atom bomb or a hydrogen microwave.
TJ rattled the claw arm around, his full concentration bestowed upon this pointless game. The lamb doll had been mockingly placed on top of the pile of other plush toys. It stood out; it was dirty and dog-eared. The others were relatively pristine.
He positioned the claw over the stuffed animals, trying to avoid the large sword propped awkwardly against the side of the case. He lowered the crane arm and it began to make that annoying whirring sound. It opened its feeble swinging claw and began pawing at the dirty stuffed lamb.
Outside, the wave of destruction from the device casually missed Jeff, but the light show had been distracting enough to allow Sunday to slip away.
She ducked down, panting, behind a BMW on the other side of the street. The sky was lit with a purplish glow as ball lightning emerged from the weird gun, which now lay cracked like a quantum egg on the sidewalk.
Jeff covered his eyes as the light got a little less bright. It flickered and dulled as the skin over his eyes crusted and grew back.
“Hide and seek, lamby. I find you. Want lamby back!” He bounded around the street like an escaped gorilla, his jacket torn, the last shreds of his humanity torn away and revealed as an elaborate façade.
Lumbering over on to all fours, as if his shoulders were growing bigger and heavier, he charged back and forth like a bull. He knocked over cars and sent parking meters flying.
Sunday breathed heavy as she peeked out into the street, still abuzz with that dying cosmic light. The street was empty but for the burnt remains of that strange gun, still radiating an energetic maw of wanton destruction. The car jumped with a sudden weight and creaked. A warm gust of air curled around her neck. She scurried out from the shadow of the vehicle as it was flipped over her head, and tossed away like an empty soda can.
TJ held his breath as the claw fumbled for a grip on the stuffed lamb, but his attention was broken as a BMW crashed through the wall of the multiplex.
He turned at a skeletal clicking sound. The claw released and there was a soft, muffled sound as something landed in the receptacle.
Outside, Sunday dashed through streets. A toppled parking meter looked like an upturned gumball machine but twice as sweet. She picked it up and swung it back at the monster that was closing in on her as fast as a jungle cat. Her swing was off by a second and the heavy meter bounced off his back, sending a shockwave through her entire body.
Jeff knocked her to the ground with a light but meaty swipe. She rolled to a stop, her head resting on the lip of the sidewalk.
Her eyes fluttered as she reclined on her asphalt altar. A large shadow stretched out over her crumpled body.
An elephantine foot hovered over her head and began to descend slowly.
“Lamby, give me!”
Tear gas grenades skitted across the marble floor. Gas spilt out, like the product of a thousand second hand smokers, filling the large open area with dense, dark smoke.
“WHO THE FUCK POPPED SMOKE?” Merc number three said as his vision became clouded with the noxious mixture. Not wasting any time, he switched his night visions goggles to heat. A hot outline pierced the thick clouds: another merc. He could tell by the cold lump of metal hanging at hip height and the outline of the mask and gear. “Report, who popped the smoke? Are we clear?”
The merc cut through the smoke with a quick, hungry gait. He pointed at his head gear and shook his head with a confused head tilt.
“What’s up? Your mic not working? Just shout it. What the fuck? Report!”
The silent merc darted through the cloud of smoke and dust and leapt weightlessly. He planted a firm hand on merc number three’s mask, tearing it off like a Band-Aid to reveal a peaky, pinkish face exposed to the noxious gas. The moment the mask was yanked away, he opened his lungs like a punctured valve and took a deep breath before he could catch it. His eyes and throat burned. Blind and dumb, he shot into the dark cloud. Bursts of silenced automatic fire swirled in the dense clouds.
“OVER HERE!” a ragged voice said, doing its best impression of a jockish merc. “Over here,” the voice whispered in the blinded merc’s ears. A light tap from a slim finger on his shoulder. Then it was gone again, into the mist, like a shadow of a ghost choking on its own laughter.
The blind merc swung feverish: Zatoichi, the blind swordsman, cutting through the wind and earth, and firing his rifle aimlessly. He clamped one hand over his face, trying to scratch the white-hot sensation out of the burning red holes in his head.
Unlucky merc number one walked into a cockeyed conga-line of hollow points. He danced a reflexive danse macabre and rag dolled backwards into a dusty vending machine, collapsing into a bloody, posed repose. He went limp and his gear came in contact with the hard floor with a series of metal clicking sounds, grenades shaking loose.
A muffled clap of thunder. A veiled flash of white light and a tightly pressurized pop of gas tossed merc number two out the way he came in. He peeled his mask back as it smoked. He coughed on an empty, charred lung. Chunks of white phosphorous smouldered on his shiny midnight gear. He started to rip it off, as if he were covered in alien, acidic blood, until he was standing semi-naked and shivering in the cold midday sun.
Hearing a light giggle, he turned to see a little girl standing at the other side of the door. She smiled at him and then pointed a dainty little finger off to his right. He turned too slowly and caught a few delicate, silenced slugs in the back. He fell, like a lump of coal, to the ground.
“Well, that was easy,” Carpenter said as he peeled the snug gas mask off his hairy, dishevelled face.
“Uh huh,” Laura said.
“Well I guess we better get to the chopper,” he said in a ‘Predator’ Arnold Schwarzenegger voice.
“Why did you do that funny voice?”
“Err, never mind. Let’s just go.”
Carpenter let the mask drop into the dirt next to the stiffening body of the nameless mercenary. He had a face now, for all the good that it did him. He had been a young guy, late twenties to mid-thirties, dark brown hair, a ruddy complexion. But that might have been the phosphorous and tear gas.
“What the fack?” the helicopter pilot said as he leant over the elaborate military spec cockpit. He wore seventies style aviators and a slick back-and-sides cut, with a light widow’s peak. His face was pale and sullen, with sallow, saggy cheeks hanging from his skinny chops. He wore a white, faux sailor suit with flares: some kind of tawdry uniform from a boss with a bad sense of humour and taste to match. An embroidered name tag embossed above his left breast pocket read ‘Nigel’ in a tasteful font.
His face grew even more ashen as he watched the once-still trainyard, now vomiting gas and putting out a tawdry light show. Frequent squeaky, popping noises set his teeth on edge.
But that was soon forgotten as a cold metal implement probed the ticklish part of the back of his neck, causing all the soft, downy blond hairs to stand up to attention.