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Oct 31st, 2016
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  1. he scene couldn't have been more gruesome if it had been written by Dashiell Hammett himself. Michael was chained to the wall of one of the interior prison cells. Blood dripped from his nose and ears. Deep lacerations cut through his wrists, evidence that he had struggled mightily against his attacker. His flaming sword lay in a dank puddle across the cell, guttering. Cauterized into his chest by his own sword were the words:
  2.  
  3. SHE BELONGS TO ME
  4.  
  5. "What a waste," Esphaerel thought. Being a demon, he wasn't very fond of angels per se, but Michael had been alright. They both had similar interests - the protection and caretaking of Sarah. But someone or something was making its way through her protectors. Yesterday, he'd dealt with the murder of Heero Yuy, and the week before, the double elimination of Vegeta and Piccolo. The attacks were getting more vicious and the same message was always scrawled at the crime scene.
  6.  
  7. "I'm gonna have to hunt down whatever hell-creature this is all by myself." he muttered. There were two others left but they were effectively useless. That didn't mean they wouldn't know anything, however.
  8.  
  9. He walked down the long, stone corridors of the mind-prison, his footsteps echoing in the emptyness. Somewhere, water was dripping incessantly, the sound bouncing off the walls and pounding against his head. There wasn't much light down here to speak of, but that didn't matter to a demon. They prefered it dark and even a little murky. Sure beat the hell out of sunshine and dandelions.
  10.  
  11. Exiting the prison, he looked out on a vast plain and saw a large castle looming in the sky. He knew he'd find Tifa Lockhart lounging around inside. He didn't much like her. Always going on about saving the planet and shit like that. Not to mention she lacked a certain sexual something he preferred. Sarah may be a woman, but he preferred men. Since he had control of Sarah, this made her a female gay man. He guessed that if she had control, he'd be a male lesbian. His ruminations on the complexities of sexuality came to a stop when he approached Tifa.
  12.  
  13. "I guess you've probably already heard about Michael." he said as way of greeting.
  14.  
  15. "Things are so scary!" she cried.
  16.  
  17. "I need to figure this out fast. Did Michael say anything to you?"
  18.  
  19. "He did mention feeling nervous. He said he felt a very powerful force looming over everything." Tifa stared at him with trepidation. She usually had a strong aura around her, gave off a vibe that she'd easily kick your ass if you just gave her a reason, despite her chipper personality. But not today, not now. There was fear coming from her, he could smell it.
  20.  
  21. "I'm sure you'll be fine. Strong, pretty woman like you can't be beaten by anyone."
  22.  
  23. He turned from her, heading toward the dense, dark forests on the opposite side of the plains.
  24.  
  25. The walk didn't take long even though the forests looked miles away. That's the way things were here, locations were just a thought away. Esphaerel sighed with relief as he entered the darkness of the forest. The sunlight of the plains made his eyes hurt and his skin burn. Here in the shady cover of the trees he felt more like his old self. He gave a low growl in satisfaction.
  26.  
  27. "Hello to you, too, "a voice purred from the shadows. He looked to his left and saw two bright yellow eyes staring from the darkness.
  28.  
  29. "Calisto, I need to talk to you about what's been happening." The eyes blinked lazily then he emerged. A bi-pedal jaguar stepped into a beam of dim light and paused. Calisto was deeply aware of what kind of picture he made and loved the attention. When you're as muscular and lanky as he was, you drank up the adoration like milk from a dish. Esphaerel felt his nether region tighten in response to the adonis before him, his heart picking up speed. Outwardly he gave no sign of arousal. It wouldn't do to lose his head at this juncture.
  30.  
  31. "What do you know?"
  32.  
  33. "I don't know how useful my information would be to you, but if you come a little closer, I'll whisper what I know in your ear."
  34.  
  35. "This is serious. You could be next."
  36.  
  37. "I suspect I might be, but somehow I don't feel so scared when I've got you around. Stay with me, at least for the night. You know Sarah is perfectly okay with us being together."
  38.  
  39. Esphaerel tried hard to keep his steely composure but beads of sweat glistening on his forehead belied his true feelings. Calisto crept closer to him, trailing his paw down Esphaerel's chest enticingly. Esphaerel was about to give in until he felt the sharpness of Calisto's nails against his throat.
  40.  
  41. "I'm sorry, but I can't let you get in the way. Sarah and I have a plan. You've been in control for far too long and it's time we took her back." Calisto swiped his claws across Esphaerel's neck, opening a large cut. Esphaerel barely reacted before he punched Calisto full across the jaw. He hadn't seen it coming, as he'd expected the swipe to fell Esphaerel. What Calisto hadn't counted on was the amazing healing capacity of demons. No sooner had the cut opened, it had closed. Esphaerel stood over Calisto's fallen form and looked down with pity. Such a pretty face and he'd have such an ugly bruise once he woke up. Just to make sure he couldn't meddle any further, Esphaerel tied him to a nearby tree.
  42.  
  43. He then thought about what Calisto had said. He and Sarah had a plan? That was impossible. He was Sarah. He had control over her. Unless...
  44.  
  45. With a thought, Esphaerel found himself back in the prison cells. He immedietly set off for the deepest part. The light grew dimmer and dimmer, the air more acrid. Lower and lower still he went, passing branching halls and countless doors, descending thousands of steps. Finally, he came to the bottom of the stairs and stepped out into a single hallway. The door at the end had been barred and sealed, but now he found it cracked open. He slowly opened it wider and saw her, his Sarah.
  46.  
  47. "Why, Sarah?"
  48.  
  49. She turned to him and anger flashed into her eyes. The unibrow on her forehead furrowed deeply under her greasy, stringy hair.
  50.  
  51. "You've ruined me, Esphaerel! Everyone laughs at me. People think I'm mentally retarded or psychotic. My family resents that I wont get a job and support myself!" she snapped, yellow spittle flying from her chapped lips.
  52.  
  53. "Now that's not fair, Sarah. You know you have fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome."
  54.  
  55. "It doesn't matter! My life is ruined by you, by all of you. They laugh at me on the internet. They tell me to seek therapy. I can't go on like this. I have to take back over. I have to end you, all of you, if I'm ever going to be normal!"
  56.  
  57. She gave a guttural scream and flung herself at him, hands raised to scratch at his face with dirty, stubby nails. He tried to prepare himself, but was knocked off balance when her large form crashed into him. Sarah quickly jumped on top of him and scratched at his eyes. Esphaerel knocked her off and stood over her. She kicked out with a stumpy leg at his knee, bending it backwards. He gasped out in pain and then cracked it back into place. Then Sarah was behind him, jumping on his back and biting his neck with her plaque-encrusted teeth. Esphaerel backed into a wall over and over again, crushing her until he felt her release and crumple to the floor. Breathing heavily, he turned to watch her. She was heaving with hysterical sobs.
  58.  
  59. "No," she moaned. "You're not real! You don't exist! Leave me alone and give me my life back!"
  60.  
  61. "I can't do that, Sarah. We're soul-bonded. I know what's best for you and I'll keep good control over you."
  62.  
  63. Sarah whimpered and went limp, resigning herself to her fate. Esphaerel pulled her up and chained her to the walls. He made sure to use double locks and seals to keep her from escaping again. He knew what was best for her, for them. Being an Otherkin was a blessing, she'd see.
  64.  
  65. Esphaerel checked into the control center of Sarah's head and looked at what was going on. From what he saw, he was currently having an argument with her mother.
  66.  
  67. "You just don't understand because you're just a straight, normal, hetero white woman! But I'm not! I'll never be like that. You need to accept that I'm not a normal, mom! Being a demonic jaguar trans-gendered lesbian Otherkin who's married to Tifa from FFVII is who I am, so check your privilege!"
  68.  
  69. Yeah, Esphaerel thought. Things would be just fine with him in control.
  70.  
  71.  
  72. Violet was outrageously excited. She’d missed Maiden the last time they’d toured, as she’d been seven at the time and her mother had been reluctant to let him go on his own. Violet had tried to convince her to go as well, but it had been on the same night as the finals of her social netball match, and her commitment to the team had to come first. This time though, she’d just turned seventeen, and after some reluctance her mother had agreed that she could go by herself,* as long as she agreed not to partake in any satanic rituals that her mother had heard might occur at such a gathering. She’d managed to secure a spot only ten metres from the stage. She was being jostled somewhat roughly by the crowd, but she didn’t care, because she was about to see Maiden. It was gonna be so righteous.
  73.  
  74. A rather vigorous sway went through the crowd, and Violet fell over, scraping her knees slightly. She got up right away, though – she was helped to her feet by some young girls. Obviously their mothers didn’t mind them going out by themselves. Even on a school night. Thanking them, she dusted herself off, then hearing the opening riff of a song – although not one she recognised – she quickly turned to the stage.
  75.  
  76. It took a moment before Violet realised she did in fact recognise the song after all. It just wasn’t a Maiden song. Some girl was singing about something tasting like a cherry chap stick. What is a chap stick anyway? No metal singer ever wrote a song about a chap stick. She must’ve gone to the wrong venue! She looked around desperately at the hordes of girls, and the occasional boy who was either clinging onto some girl’s waist or hoisting a girl up on his shoulders to show off how manly he was and possibly earn a bit of a pash later on their front porch as he nervously dropped her off.
  77.  
  78. As everyone around her sang along passionately about a brief quasi-lesbian experience they’d once had, Violet turned to a guy nearby who didn’t appear to be trying to make out with any of the nearby girls and shouted “What the deuce is this nonsense? Where’s Maiden?”
  79.  
  80. “Didn’t you hear?” he replied. “Maiden cancelled. Katy Perry, or K Po as I like to call her, graciously filled their spot in the schedule.”
  81.  
  82. “OK,” shouted Violet “firstly, that’s a dumb nickname and makes no sense. And secondly, this is totally bogus. I’ve gotta get out of here!”
  83.  
  84. He shrugged. “It’s pretty packed, might be hard to move. You could always try to crowd surf out. Here, I’ll boost you.”
  85.  
  86. “OK, but watch the hands.” He boosted her up. He accidentally grabbed her butt on the way up, but then she accidentally elbowed him in the face quite hard, thus discouraging any further accidents. Unfortunately, she seemed to be surfing the wrong way. On a raging sea of swaying people, she was carried in the rip up towards the front of the stage, and the sound of K Po warbling that she hoped her boyfriend wouldn’t mind too much grew increasingly louder.
  87.  
  88. As she reached the barrier separating the crowd from the stage, a large man with ‘Security’ written on his shirt pulled her down, pointing to a nearby sign with a picture of a surfer on a sea of hands with a red cross through it. Violet sensed an opportunity. “What’re you gonna do about it, kick me out?” she yelled.
  89.  
  90. “Don’t tempt me.” Somehow, Security didn’t need to shout. He just opened up his mouth and his voice filled the air. “But no, no one goes out now that we’ve started. You’ll just have to stay here where I can keep an eye on you.”
  91.  
  92. “No one goes out? That’s ridiculous!”
  93.  
  94. Security shrugged. “We’re making history here; K Po is going to perform the longest concert ever. The people from Guinness World Records are here and everything.”
  95.  
  96. The colour drained from Violet’s face. “The longest concert ever? What’s the current record?”
  97.  
  98. “Some Canadian guy’s got it at twenty seven hours or so, and Canada have been lording it over us ever since. Thankfully K Po’s on hand to sort them Canucks out.”
  99.  
  100. “Does she even have twenty seven hours of material?”
  101.  
  102. Security shrugged. “I guess they’ll do slightly longer versions of some of the songs. Only twenty six hours and fifty eight minutes to go, and she still looks strong!”
  103.  
  104. Violet considered the prospect of a twenty seven hour K Po concert, and after this short deliberation, kicked Security in the testicles quite firmly and ran away. Security doubled over and clutched at his manhood, tears coming to his eyes.
  105.  
  106. Violet ran along the barrier, hoping to find some avenue of escape, but the barriers were quite high, and it slowly dawned on her that she was just running in a wide circle around the stage. Furthermore, she was approaching some more Security. She tried to scramble over the barrier, but the crowd were quite mindful of the rules regarding barriers, and pushed her back. As the Security with the bruised testicles slowly caught up, and the other Security closed in, she collapsed to the ground and started crying. Through her tears, she said “I just… don’t think I can possibly sit through even one more hour of K Po.”
  107.  
  108. “Well, look who’s back in the land of the living.” Violet opened her eyes and a concerned face looked down at her.
  109.  
  110. “What happened?”
  111.  
  112. “You fell into the mosh pit and were quite violently trampled. You broke several ribs and one of them punctured your lung.”
  113.  
  114. “And this was at a Maiden concert?”
  115.  
  116. “Yes. By the way, you no longer have a spleen. It was irrevocably damaged and we had to remove it.”
  117.  
  118. Violet was barely listening. “Thank you, sweet merciful baby Zeus.”
  119.  
  120. “Also, it’ll be about six months before you’re able to eat solids. There is good news, though!”
  121.  
  122. “Oh?” Violet was not paying much attention. Her mind was on ice cream. That was something people got to eat in hospital, right?
  123.  
  124. “You have a very special visitor! Iron Maiden wanted to be here in person to cheer you up, but due to the satanic rituals they are suspected of vaguely encouraging in unspecified ways, they weren’t welcome in the country for longer than it took to perform their tour. Fortunately, K Po decided to fill in for them!”
  125.  
  126. Violet tried to scream, but passed out from the effort.
  127.  
  128. hough the stiff grey cots in our dorms weren’t by any means fit for whoring, I’d been here long enough to be accused of it.
  129.  
  130. Knowing smirks, snide comments, fake dollar bills left on my pillow--suggestions of loose legs bandied about by loose lips. How typical. But more to the matter, how simple the slander. How lazy! They say, and they are right, that the girls of Madam Charlotte’s compete for high-reaching marks every bit as feverishly as they do for low-hanging fruit.
  131.  
  132. So in my defense I’ll say that I have never in my life charged any lover a nickel. And not only that, but I make far too much ruckus to favor a tryst in any so public a spot, though I could perhaps be compelled to test walls of the the fifth floor maintenance closet. It would be best, if you were wondering and in need of it, to wait until the clattering water boiler in that closet fires up in the early afternoon, just before Society Classes. But be sure to check first for a knot of chewing gum--strawberry flavored--pressed against the doorknob before you enter, lest you and I make a most awkwardly-intimate acquaintance.
  133.  
  134. The morning announcements began to crackle over the intercom as I favored my face with a brush of powder, blindly, as I owned no mirror. In just two weeks’ time I’d learned the contents of the days’ insufferable recorded greeting, as well as the cadence in which it was read. I began to work my hair into a single, thick braid while mouthing along with the dreadful words--a fierce, if mute, mockery:
  135.  
  136. To all girls good morning. Remember why you are here. Remember why no one comes to visit you. Remember why you have failed to achieve marks high enough to earn your place outside these walls. Remember that you entered as deviants but shall leave only as debutantes…
  137.  
  138. And so on.
  139.  
  140. I wasn’t sure why I was here, whether it was the mansion I’d burned down, the Oldsmobile Convertable I’d stolen, the bank safe I’d helped get unstuck, or the third of any such incident. Inquire, if you must, with the district attorney of Chicago for the particulars as to my holding.
  141.  
  142. There was another girl, boyish and quite pretty, sitting two beds over from mine, also in the middle of beating her face with a brush. She must have noticed my re-enactment of the morning announcements. “Don’t let ‘em catch you doing that,” she said, clipping back sandy blonde hair with bent, mismatched barrettes. “Or anything else, for that matter.”
  143.  
  144. At least she hadn’t thought to call me a ha'penny harlot. “Getting caught is an exception for me,” I replied, frowning with concentration and cursing the fact that I didn’t own a compact with a mirror.
  145.  
  146. She laughed. “Everyone in here says that. Need a mirror? I’ll loan you mine. For a cigarette.”
  147.  
  148. “I don’t smoke.”
  149.  
  150. “I know, but I saw you steal a pack right out from under Millie, yesterday.”
  151.  
  152. She seemed to note the concern lining my face and said, “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone. I can hardly stand the sight of her.”
  153.  
  154. Begrudgingly I grabbed my lilly-white pillow and felt around in it before finding the rumpled pack of Lucky’s and tossing them to her.
  155.  
  156. When I held her mirror up to my face, I couldn’t believe how tired I looked.
  157.  
  158. ***
  159.  
  160. The Role Of Good, Honest, and Strong WOMEN In A Very Foul, Indecent World / Or, Roots And Consaquenses Of This Our Modern Gender Confusion
  161.  
  162.  
  163. Understand that I would much sooner part my own veins than I would sit through a speech with a title so hideously edited. But because this was a mandatory symposium, and because Madam Charlotte herself was due to tour the grounds sometime today, I found myself sitting in the Great Hall amongst two hundred other badly-behaved girls, doing all I could do to stay awake.
  164.  
  165. After five excruciating minutes of machine-gun adverbs mixed with unsettled disagreements between moody subjects and hapless verbs, I excused myself under the guise of a most-convenient arrival of the Lady’s Calendar.
  166.  
  167. Besides, I was an expert on the subject being discussed: I knew enough of Goodness and Honesty and Strength to know that a proper lady was only allowed to demonstrate two of the three at any one time.
  168.  
  169. I had taken a small handful of steps out into the hall when none other than Madam Charlotte, a giantess if ever there were, appeared behind me, latching hold of my thick, raven-braid and pulling my wiry frame--kicking but not screaming--back inside.
  170.  
  171. ***
  172.  
  173. Her office would have made a dentist quite uncomfortable.
  174.  
  175. Sitting behind a substantial brown desk, The Madam, an aged woman in an impossibly conservative black jumper dress, was quietly thumbing through the numerous court orders, character statements, police reports, and mug shots that had accompanied me here. For my part, I was slouching in a chair twice my size, chewing gum defiantly and sucking my tongue, all to look as disinterested as could be.
  176.  
  177. “Such a resume for a girl of sixteen, and from such a wealthy--if not happy--family, too!” was Madam Charlotte’s appraisal. “It just won’t do.”
  178.  
  179. I shrugged. “It’s rather the only resume I’ve got. And as for family, the dead are most often unhappy,” I said, quite helpfully.
  180.  
  181. “It was only three months ago that your parents took their own lives, so I’ll not allow you to blame the lot on that!”
  182.  
  183. ‘Took their own lives’. A more sanitary description, than, say, the actual way of the thing. I’ll spare your nerve and say only that my parents had set out on a cool Thursday morning to repaint our summer veranda, my favored reading spot, to a lovely chestnut brown; when came the heat of the afternoon they had traded their good intentions for arguments, then their brushes for a 12-gauge scattergun, and then, finally, lovely chestnut brown for slimy splattered grey and red.
  184.  
  185. Mutual suicide; their final, desperate attempt to one-up each other. Congratulations.
  186.  
  187. “You attended the finest parochials,” Madam Charlotte continued, “studied the classics, earned the highest marks amongst your peers, and stood perennially for commendation. Such a fall you’ve had: Crime, vagrancy, deviancy! Do you wonder why this is?”
  188.  
  189. I didn’t, really.
  190.  
  191. “You’ve clearly, from this report, developed an addiction to relations. Sexual!”
  192.  
  193. Oh, that. Indeed!
  194.  
  195. She continued, “...to boys, men...”
  196.  
  197. Huh?
  198.  
  199. “...of all ages, and, if these ghastly reports are to be believed, of all descriptions, too.”
  200.  
  201. I smacked my gum, started smiling. I had to wonder if the true extent of my proclivities was either absent from the file, or if in a fit of squeamishness she’d skimmed too quickly, only saw “SEX”, and thus had overlooked. Also: official reports dealing with a girl of my preference sometimes left out details too embarrassing for their author to bear the thought of writing.
  202.  
  203. She studied my face, her worn-out eyes narrowing. “No doubt, you’ve been led by men to delinquency. And what’s more I think you enjoy it,” she muttered. “Being caught delinquent, I mean.”
  204.  
  205. I blew and popped a bubble, the scent of stale strawberry filling the dusty room. She was right--about being caught anyway. So I said, “No. You’re wrong.”
  206.  
  207. “I’m sure I’m not,” she said, sitting back in her chair, as pleased with herself as if she’d just cracked the electrical telegraph. “So,” she continued, triumphantly, “I can assure you that our security here is top-notch, and given that my formal diagnoses of your hysteria includes an unhealthy appetite for the company of men, I am glad to say that none are allowed inside my walls. And since you cannot leave, we are quite sure to cure you, eventually and fully, of your carnality.”
  208.  
  209. ***
  210.  
  211. Whether a life in thrall would have otherwise cured or wounded me, I cannot say; over the next six months, Heather--my sandy-haired confederate with the mirror and smoking habit--would prove a balm to my restlessness. With time we’d grown quite close, talking every waking minute--and as the chill of winter began to creep through the walls, we started squeezing ourselves onto a single grey cot each night, laughing together under a blanket at such a brazen possibility as Us.
  212.  
  213. Now it was a late afternoon, Heather and I had dutifully volunteered for trash pickup on the fifth floor. As we chatted and lazily scooped up scraps of paper and sanitary wrappers, I heard, from down at the far end of the hall and inside the maintenance closet, the water-heater start to hiss and rattle.
  214.  
  215. I dropped my bag. Grinning at Heather, I reached for her hand and said, “Let’s go!”
  216.  
  217. Without a soul around, we moved gracefully and quietly, two eager wraiths sashaying down an endless hallway. At the closet I jimmied open the door with a wayward bobby pin, and when I took her arm and pulled her inside, she asked me, the both of us laughing, “You sure? We were almost caught last time!”
  218.  
  219. Before I kissed her, I pulled the wad of gum from my mouth and mashed it against the doorknob--then pushed the door shut behind us.
  220.  
  221. Rock moved along the dirt road, headed towards the county fair. It was finally spring, and the trees were showing off their new growth. The sun was shining, warming the chilly morning air, and Rock was excited. The fair only came once a year, and all his friends would be there.
  222.  
  223. The path wasn't too long, the carnival wasn't too far away. As Rock plodded, a shiny thing, lustrous and polished, glinted at the top of the hill. Rock continued along the path towards the hill until eventually he was there, next to Scissors.
  224.  
  225. Scissors had one point stuck in the dirt. No matter how much she would spin or snip, the point wouldn't come loose.
  226.  
  227. "My! You seem to be really really stuck, don't you now!" Rock said.
  228.  
  229. "Yes. Yes I am stuck. I was on my way to the fair, and in my excitement, I guess my stride caused me to bury my point too far in this dirt."
  230.  
  231. "So. You're stuck, yeah?"
  232.  
  233. "Of course I'm stuck, idiot. Any fool can see I'm stuck. But I'm sure, if I just keep snipping, I'll be able to finally --"
  234.  
  235. Rock threw himself into Scissors, knocking her loose.
  236.  
  237. "Hey!" she screamed as she fell to the ground. "Now look what you've done! You've scratched up my legs! Look at this!"
  238.  
  239. Rock looked and said, "I was trying to help. You seemed to be stuck, I figured I was big enough, I'd just nudge you loose."
  240.  
  241. "Oh you nudged me all right. Look at these scratches! What kind of a fool would just bump without thinking?" Scissors was clearly upset, and Rock wasn't sure what could be said to cheer her up.
  242.  
  243. "Honestly, I'm very sorry. I only meant to help. Look. Let's go to the country fair together! I was already heading that way, and you said you were going. Let's go together. Maybe I can cheer you up with a song."
  244.  
  245. Scissors gave him a sardonic grin. "A song? You think a song can help? I'll be on my way. If you think you can keep up, then, well it's your choice. But I'm not going to wait around for you."
  246.  
  247. "It's settled then! Let's go!"
  248.  
  249. The two, Rock and Scissors, continued down the hill, on towards the county fair. Not a word was said between them. Rock was happy to be in the silence, he wasn't one for words. Scissors on the other hand was becoming more and more agitated, having a guest on the road who was not one for conversation.
  250.  
  251. Soon the sun was directly overhead and a shadow flittered in front of them.
  252.  
  253. "Oh my! Look at that!" Rock said. Up, in the air, was Paper, riding on the spring winds. Paper would twirl and float in the breeze. Sometimes she would move far on down the path, and then the wind would change direction and she would float back towards Rock and Scissors. The bright sun shined through the orange-hued parchment whenever Paper would pass directly between the sun and Rock or Scissors.
  254.  
  255. "Oh look at her," Scissors said with a sharp tongue. "Thinks she's just all beauty and perfection, flying and flipping through the breeze. She'll get stuck up in the branches before she knows it."
  256.  
  257. "Oh but I think she's just beautiful!" Rock said. He'd stopped in his track, transfixed by Paper's merry twirls and twists in the air. "Hello there! That looks so fun!"
  258.  
  259. "It is! I can see everything from up here!" Paper said.
  260.  
  261. "Can you see the county fair?" Rock called up to her.
  262.  
  263. "It's just over the next couple of hills! It looks amazing!" Paper was coming closer to them, settling on the lower breezes. "Are you two headed to the fair?"
  264.  
  265. "Is there anything else we'd be doing on this filthy road?" Scissors snipped at her. "If I had my way, I'd be on a cart. Or even better? I'd have stayed home. I should have known better than to get out today."
  266.  
  267. "Are you mad? Today is just beautiful!" Paper laughed and then caught a draft that sent her way into the air.
  268.  
  269. "Mad enough to turn back? Yes. Mad enough to watch you float like a bubbly chirpy flap? I doubt it." Scissors was having a hard time walking and watching Paper.
  270.  
  271. "Turn back?! Nonsense! The fair is right beyond that creek, and your shiny legs will be the admiration of everyone there!"
  272.  
  273. Scissors and Rock looked further down the path and saw the creek. It wasn't very wide, and not very deep.
  274.  
  275. "Oh I don't know about this," Scissors said. "That water will rust my legs, and the stones in the creek bed will dull my points. I'm not going. I knew this was a bad idea."
  276.  
  277. Rock smiled and said, "Not to worry. It's not so deep. I'll cross it, you can stand on top of me and we'll be across shortly."
  278.  
  279. "And get my feet wet? Did you hear me say I'm not going to get my tips rusted?" Scissors voice rose. "And what about Paper? Paper can't cross on top of you, she'll get wet."
  280.  
  281. "Paper will be fine I'm sure. Look at her, she's so high up and can make it across without our help at all."
  282.  
  283. “Oh I can't cross by myself," Paper said. "There's a breeze following the creek. Every time I've tried to cross, the wind from the creek threatens to take me into the water. I'm afraid of the water. But look! There's a rope bridge! Scissors, you could hold me while you went across on the rope bridge."
  284.  
  285. Scissors considered it and said, "Nope. My blades are far too sharp for a rope bridge. I'm sure I'd cut the rope and we'd both fall into the water. Besides, how can you trust me not to harm you? I'm sharp and pointed. One slip and I might slice you to slivers as I fell into the water."
  286.  
  287. Paper hadn't considered Scissors a threat until then. "Yes indeed. Your points, your blades, you're nothing but danger to anyone near you! You must have to be careful constantly."
  288.  
  289. "I manage. But, just to be safe, a rope bridge won't do."
  290.  
  291. Rock looked farther down the creek. "Look! There's a stone bridge! We can all three of us cross there! This is fantastic isn't it?" Rock began rolling towards the bridge.
  292.  
  293. "You just wait a minute. If standing on top of you is a problem, don't you think walking across a stone bridge is just as bad? You really are slow, aren't you?" Scissors had planted both her points firmly in the ground.
  294.  
  295. "Oh come on now," Paper said. "He's just trying to help. If you won't take the rope bridge, and you won't take the stone bridge, then I guess we'll just go without you."
  296.  
  297. Scissors began walking behind Rock. "No! I can do it. Don't leave me. Let's go. Fine. The stone bridge will have to do I suppose."
  298.  
  299. Paper laughed and landed on the ground in front of Scissors. "You're just an old grumpy hag. I don't know why Rock puts up with you. Rock. Let's get out of here and leave Scissors behind. I'll ride on your back, and we'll go over the stone bridge."
  300.  
  301. Rock stopped short. "That won't do. If you cover me, I'll suffocate. We need Scissors to carry you."
  302.  
  303. Paper was laying flat on the ground by now, and the breeze had died down. Scissors walked towards Paper, and pushed the tip of one point into the edge of Paper. "So I guess you do need me then, don't you?"
  304.  
  305. "Ouch! Stop that!" The point dug into the ground, through Paper, causing the slit to tear.
  306.  
  307. Rock turned and saw Scissors, smiling, while she drove her other point into Paper. "No! Stop! You're hurting her!"
  308.  
  309. Scissors began to bring her two points together. The gash in Paper was growing, and Paper was in so much pain she screamed a shrill yelp. But Scissors kept cutting and hacking. She stabbed Paper, and cut and snipped and clipped.
  310.  
  311. Rock slammed into Scissors. "You have to stop that! You have to!" Rock continued to bash Scissors. The fastener broke, and Scissors fell apart, her two blades motionless, but Rock kept hitting her, denting her smooth metal legs, turning them into metallic twisted fingers.
  312.  
  313. "Oh Paper, no. No." Rock wept. He tried to pick up Paper, gathering as many pieces together as he could.
  314.  
  315. Paper whispered quietly, "why did you wait so long before stopping that foul shrew?"
  316.  
  317. Rock held Paper in his hands and said, "How the fuck should I know, I'm just a rock talking to a shredded piece of paper, next to a bitter broken pair of scissors. Like any of this is supposed to make sense? Bitch please."
  318.  
  319. And then Rock went on to the fair and had the time of his life. Fuck bitches man. Fuck em.
  320.  
  321. It was sudden, swift, violent, confusing.
  322.  
  323. “RPG on the rooftop!”, “Where the fuck is our backup?!”, “Tank in the alleyway! Take it down!”, “Sniper! Sniper on that balcony!”
  324.  
  325. It was if his body was on fire. Every nerve, every fiber, every synapse, every atom of his being suddenly became alive. As if it was here, right fucking now, this very fucking godforsaken mockery of an urban jungle in some ass-end third world country was where he belonged. Where he had a purpose.
  326.  
  327.  
  328. Brian was almost overcome by the noise of rockets and the smell of sulfur burning his nose and the sight of his comrades being mowed down and the screams of the dying and oh shit what the fuck is that is that a fucking TANK—
  329.  
  330. He barely got out of the way before the damn thing swung its gigantic turret around and bellowed an ungodly roar. He had to scramble, had to keep running, had to move dammit, move!
  331.  
  332. And then he heard the screeching of—Friendly Javelins. Firing. At the very tank that was on his white farm-boy ass. He almost let himself breathe a sigh of relief. Almost.
  333.  
  334. He leaned against a broken wall of what used to be a towering skyscraper, a far cry from its previous form. He checked his assault weapon, swapped the mag, put a fresh one in, clicked off the safety, chambered the round, and started to run off anew towards the gaping maw of death before him.
  335.  
  336.  
  337. The battle raged on, his trigger finger at the verge of falling off his hand. The fatigue was starting to gnaw at his legs, he was running and gunning so much. Every bone in his body ached and pleaded and begged for him to slow down, but he knew the battle wasn't over yet, just a few more minutes and it would all be over.
  338.  
  339. Every once in a while, an enemy would pop up and his assault rifle would bark at them, sending them down to the rubble-filled streets. It was almost like it was a reflex, really. It just...happened. No rhyme. No reason. Just...instinct.
  340.  
  341.  
  342. Then...the enemies stopped coming. They just...up and left. Vanished without any trace. Brian slowed down his quick gait, concern flickering across his face. Something wasn't right. There was no formal surrender, no discussion of terms...
  343.  
  344. He looked up, and saw glistening silver careening towards the Earth, speeding as if it were thrown from the very hand of God Himself.
  345.  
  346.  
  347. Then, there was noise. There was fire. There was dust. There was wind.
  348.  
  349.  
  350. And then there was silence.
  351.  
  352. The Year is 1985.
  353. England,Shropshire, Wroxeter, two 18teen year old boys are entering an abonend bunker. The mosscovered"do not enter"sign above the entrance is barely redable, it has not worn the gnawing of time well. They ignore it. The bunker was a perect litle shelter for them. For James and RIchard it was the ideal, that is to say the only place where they could be themselves.
  354.  
  355. Wroxeter, famous for it`s old roman ruins and little else was hardly a stronghold of tolerance. Quiet little villages with piss poor work markets seldom are. Two young boys in love could not be open about their desires in such a place without risk. Tall, muscular and atheltic James and Richard cherised the attention they got from the local girls .
  356. But the School janitor with his needy blue eyes and gaunt face also appreciated their looks. Attention from a known poofter like him they could ill afford. In short things could be better for them. Mercifully they knew they always had eachother and the aboned bunker. It would have to do until they graduated.
  357.  
  358. Spring was in full orgasmic explosion when they visited the bunker for the last time. Nature blossomed, it was green, moist and filled with bird song. The green hills east of Wroxter was in everyway a paradisal sigth, not including the odd discarded needle or empty beer can. Even the heavens looked magical, dotted with white puffy clouds and clothed in the colour of the ceasars. Happily the bunker was obscured behind trees and did not disturb the romantic visage.
  359.  
  360. Inside the bunker James pushed Richard gently away -No, not yet, work before pleasure remember? Not even a little kiss?--- Alright, maybe just the on... They kissed, it was quick, it was sweet.
  361.  
  362. -Now to the task at hand, James said and pulled away. Lying upside down in the sparse concrete room was Richard`s bike. It lacked a front wheel, the old one had gotten fucked up after a particulary nasty fall. To buy a new wheel would probaly be best, but neither Richard or James had much money to spare. And RIchard loathed to spend the small pithy the school janitor paid for his "favors" unless absolutely necessary. Instead the two boys had gradually managed to cobble together a decent rim and fit it with spokes. The tire they simply stole off the janitors bike, infront of his very eyes. What was he supposed to do, go to the police? They hoped it would do as a new wheel.
  363.  
  364. After much sweating cursing and hustling about inside the bunke they finally made the wheel fit the bikeframe. It looked safe anyhow.
  365. -Seems alrigth. Wanna give it a go Richard?
  366. - You know what i want, hehe.
  367. -Seriously mate, ride it down the slope to see how it handles. We might need to make some adjustments.
  368. Richard picked up the bike and smiled. -Yeah yeah i heard you, if it makes you happy.
  369. -I just want you to be safe using that wheel. Richard walked outside and sat down on the bike. -I know you do.
  370.  
  371. Richard started to roll down the hill the hill, immeadtly the bike started to shake and rumble . As he neared the first bend in the road the front wheel touched a small pothole, at once the wheel collapsed inwards and the joints holdning the rim together came apart violently. Richard was flung off his bike and landed just outside the road, where he tumbled ever faster down the slope. Running as fast as he could James found his lover lying face down at the foot of the hill. His body perfectly still despite bleeding massivly from his rigth thigh where a piece of bone protruded from his flesh. As James he got closer a terrible frigth posessed him. He could barely stand when he finally reached Richard. The horrible dark red blood was naseuating, it was downrigth gruseome. Shambling like a drunk man James tried to get awaybut quickly fell down. The blood made him dizzy, made him feel like he was drownin, made him hold his to breath. The blood the blood blo..
  372.  
  373. James lost conciousness. When he came to the sky was a little darker and the air at little colder. His lover laid on the same spot as before, the ground now toroughly draped with a dark red colour and RIchard himself curiosly pale. Like paper or snow or something.
  374. -Get up Richard please, we have to get your bike fixed. Come on mate, get up.
  375. RIchard, please, YOU HAVE TO GET UP!
  376.  
  377. Several weeks later after Richard had been buried at the St Andrews church James found himself outside a yellow camping wagon. Standing in the door in his trouses and with a beer in his hand was the school janitor. With a grin he simply said-So it`s just me and you now innit, come for a job have you?
  378. - Pay me double what you gave Richard and use a fucking condom and i.i.. i`ll do what you want
  379. Mr Fletcher stepped back and gave James a huge grin-Get in!
  380.  
  381. Lena shivered in the sea air. Another wave threatened to soak her again. The boat rolled down a steep wave. She held tightly to the small mast as the sea water soaked her green cloth pantaloons and rabbit fur vambraces. It will matter little. Her rough leather cuirass will hold against her sister’s attacks.
  382.  
  383. Lena looked behind her to the small boat chasing her. She could see the ten men working swiftly to move the boat into position. Her sister locked eyes with her. Rama bowed irrespectively in her tightly fitted battle-maiden dress. The leather fit her firm torso and thighs with stone lines around her body to stop any slashing attacks. Her arms were covered in the fur of some unknown animal. Lena’s sister always dressed elaborately for murdering siblings.
  384.  
  385. Lena signaled for the sails to stop. The men cut the sails while Lena swiftly sliced through the mast. There was no retreat. The men dived into the sea. She was alone. She faced her sister with their slave-brothers. Let them come.
  386.  
  387. The silhouettes jumping through the air were betrayed by the lightning striking the sea in the far distance. Lena ducked through their jumping attack onto her boat and swiftly sliced through the first slave-brother’s bare chest. Red viscous fluid damped her blue silk sash around her waist as she carved through the screaming male. Their wooden daggers would not find purchase.
  388.  
  389. The slave-brothers came en masse. She stepped over the slain one, noticing his loin cloth had slipped off. Nothing but the best for her sister, Lena thought. You would think in this freezing rain they would have some other piece of clothing. Two struck out with their wooden daggers and fierce eyes. Lena just smiled as she sliced their hands off. They dove into the sea in fear.
  390.  
  391. “Sister. I did not know you so fiercely desired our throne,” Rama said seductively, walking past the slave-brothers into sight. Lena held her battle posture, gold circlet falling slightly over her eye.
  392.  
  393. “I survive to see you stay forever as princess, sister. All of Glaima will suffer at your hands. I will die before I let you ascend,” Lena shouted.
  394.  
  395. Rama squinted and smiled. She pulled a sword off her back. Lena noticed the water falling off her fur gauntlets and dampening her goose skin boots. She would not be as mobile as normal in this rain.
  396.  
  397. Lena struck first. She took two steps and slipped her right dagger along her wrist while thrusting to the side with her left. Let her attack my torso. Rama snapped the sword upward in her center and took a step backward. The slave-brothers jumped into Lena’s path. With Lena’s last step, she spun herself, slicing through the wooden daggers in her way.
  398.  
  399. Two slave-brothers lost their head to Lena’s athletic force as Rama burst forward. While spinning, Lena used her momentum and Rama’s attack to push herself upside down into the air, over Rama, as the sword entered an unfortunate slave. Rama’s puzzled look turned to shock as she realized her mistake. Lena took her hair.
  400.  
  401. Three slaves remained. Rama clutched furiously at her bloody stump of a head. The slave brothers kneeled. Lena laughed as she presented the five feet of hair removed from Rama’s head. The blue ribbon holding it together came apart. The hair was claimed by the wind and blew out to sea.
  402.  
  403. “You…Monster…” Rama screamed, every ounce of her flesh shuddering. The slave-brothers did not move. They served Lena now.
  404.  
  405. “Come, my sister. Let us see what cruel fate is in store for you,” Lena whispered, winking at her sister.
  406.  
  407. Rama screamed in rage and pedaled as hard as she could across the small boat. Her sword angled toward Lena and began to slash easily across the middle. Lena burst forward at the moment Rama was in the air between steps. Lena sliced the sword to the side and worked herself inside Rama’s defense. With a kiss on Rama’s cheek, the dagger pierced her soft silk dress and chest.
  408.  
  409. They both fell to the deck together. Lena dug the hilt of the dagger as far into Rama’s chest as possible. Rama coughed blood onto Lena’s dark emerald amulet. She cried out in agony before opening her eyes again. “My dear sister, it didn’t have to end like this,” Lena said softly, twisting the dagger through the leather sword holster on Rama’s back.
  410.  
  411. Rama sputtered blood and shook uncontrollably. Her tears and life slowly drained from her face. “Lena, I have one final request,” she stuttered. Her breathing turned to rasping.
  412.  
  413. Lena watched her sister’s eyes revert to her younger self. When they laughed and played together. This was her last family. She would be alone from here on out, even if her sister was a murderous psychopath. She leaned in closer, lifting her hand from the hilt of the dagger. “Yes, my sister. What is your request?” she whispered into Rama’s ear.
  414.  
  415. It slipped past her purple cloak, through her silk undershirt, and into her lung. No more breath. The dagger Rama had kept hidden. With every single ounce of strength left, Lena had been stabbed in the back. “Die with me, dear, sister,” Rama whispered. Lena gasped for air. There was only blood inside her lungs. They stared into each other’s eyes one last time. Rama stopped gasping. She moved no more.
  416.  
  417. Lena tried to reach behind her. She could not find the blade in her back. She fell off Rama to attempt to dislodge the perturbed weapon. It only drove it farther in. She lost the strength to move. Her eyelids became heavy. She felt no pain. She thought she would feel pain in her last moments. There was only light.
  418.  
  419. Mr. Finnster, “Finny” his kids call him, sits behind a messy desk. Principal Edwards leans against the office door, staring at the torn manila envelope on the desk.
  420.  
  421. “If you lose anymore students, I’m going to move the rest to other classes,” Edwards says.
  422.  
  423. “You read the report, I didn’t do anything,” Finnster says. “The kid went berserk.”
  424.  
  425. “The parents will be here any minute, you can tell them that it wasn’t your fault. I wonder how that’s going to go.”
  426.  
  427. “Oh come on, he’s just banned from field trips, it’s not like we’re expelling him.”
  428.  
  429. Finnster stares out the office window to the children playing at recess. He scans the yard looking for David Grant. The boy sits alone on a bench, watching a game of four square. The room suddenly feels hotter than it had before.
  430.  
  431. Two sharp knocks rattle the pebbled glass of the office door. Edwards straightens up and unbolts the door.
  432.  
  433. “Good afternoon Mr. Grant, Mrs. Grant,” Edwards says. “I will be in my office if you need me.”
  434.  
  435. The parents thank the principal with a nod and come in.
  436.  
  437. “What is this all about?” Mr. Grant asks. “What happened to David?”
  438.  
  439. “Well, it’s really more about what David did,” Finnster says. He picks up the manila envelope.
  440.  
  441. “I don’t know what you mean,” Mrs. Grant says.
  442.  
  443. “This letter is to officially inform you that David Grant is no longer allowed to attend class field trips, as he is a danger to others,” Finnster says.
  444.  
  445. “You have got to be joking,” Mr. Grant says. Finnster hands the report to the parents.
  446.  
  447. “Gross sexual misconduct?!” Mrs. Grant shouts.
  448.  
  449. “That’s unfortunately what the school district calls it, but, let me just tell you what happened,” Finnster says.
  450.  
  451. It all started on the bus. David didn’t have his lunch, which his parents forgot to pack it for him. Kids will find anything to tease each other about, but that wasn’t such a big deal really. David was late getting to the bus to begin with, because he was asked to go back and check for his lunchbag, which even though he knew he didn’t have, he had to go look again to be sure.
  452.  
  453. When he finally got back to the bus, the trip was already running late by then. All of the seats on the bus had been taken, leaving David with just the back of the bus seat. The pee-seat. That’s what the kids called it. Apparently a homeless man had lived in the back of the bus for some time, urinating into a gash in the upholstery, and all the foam in the seat soaked up all the pee, and it smelled pretty bad. Never could get the smell completely out.
  454.  
  455. “Why the hell did you make David look for his lunch?” Mr. Grant says.
  456.  
  457. “You know how kids lie,” Finnster says. “Anyway, so the seat thing was really just the tip of the iceberg.”
  458.  
  459. When the children arrived at the museum, there was a dinosaur skeleton in the lobby. A gorgeous looking T-Rex. Well, of course one of the boys pointed at David and called him P-Rex, which, admittedly, was pretty clever. David was starting to get frustrated by then, especially when the kids started patrolling around like T-Rexes and shouting ‘What’s that smell?’
  460.  
  461. David asked what he could do to get rid of the smell, and he was told that maybe he could get rid of the pee smell by taking his pants into the bathroom and using some of the soap there to scrub it out, and the air dryer to make it dry enough to wear.
  462.  
  463. He agreed, and headed to the bathroom. Someone asked where P-Rex was, and that student was told David was in the bathroom. The kid ran into the bathroom, and then came right back out laughing and shouting.
  464.  
  465. David came out looking distraught. The zipper on his shorts had snagged at the bottom, and he couldn’t pull it back up. His shirt was just barely long enough to go down that far, if he held it down with both hands. The same boy that came out of the bathroom laughing threw the complementary museum tote bag all the children received, except for David because he was at the back of the bus and they were short one bag, at him. David reacted, letting go of his shirt, and it sprang up, revealing the busted zipper.
  466.  
  467. ‘P-Rex has pee pants, P-Rex has pee pants,’ the chorus sprang up from nowhere, and reverberated around the museum lobby.
  468.  
  469. “Why the hell did you keep letting this happen?” Mrs. Grant says.
  470.  
  471. “Kids have to learn to socialize, and they have to realize the things they say effect people,” Finnster says.
  472.  
  473. “By using our son?” Mr. Grant says.
  474.  
  475. “Well, that was really just an unfortunate circumstance that David continued to be harassed, I’ll admit.”
  476.  
  477. “Where did you get your degree, you imbecile!?”
  478.  
  479. “Mr. Grant, this is not about me, this is about your son displaying horribly inappropriate behavior on a field trip.”
  480.  
  481. “Oh, I’m sure this will be rich, I’d love to hear what your definition of inappropriate behavior is,” Mr. Grant says.
  482.  
  483. David let loose a primal scream, deep, from the bottoms of his lungs. Bones from the dinosaur models shook from the force of the scream. An unholy pause swept through the lobby, everyone had to look. David seethed, surveying the crowd, but he had a smirk plastered across his face. He had finally got them all to shut up. That was when he noticed that, even though they were all looking at him, they were not looking at his face like he would have expected them to. They were staring at his crotch. All sound was extinguished by the oppressive silence bearing down on the lobby. David looked down. Poking through the broken zipper on his shorts was an erection, held only in check by a straining pair of Spider-Man briefs. An engorged Spider-Man face peered out from the open zipper, white eyes distorted and misshapen. Somewhere, the first giggle crept out.
  484.  
  485. “That was when David lost his shit, for real this time. Jesus, it was a sight.”
  486.  
  487. “What the fuck?” Mrs. Grant says. The parents are wide eyed, Finnster realizes he’s losing them.
  488.  
  489. “Mrs. Grant please, no more interruptions, let me finish,” Finnster says.
  490.  
  491. He started to go red, like he was a thermometer in an old cartoon, ready to pop but then all of the sudden David goes slack. His shoulders slump and his head lolls off to the side. Small rounded bumps of spine protruded evenly down his curved back. Then his fingers started to squirm.
  492.  
  493. David bolted upright, pulled by some invisible strings. But the strings kept pulling, until he was bending backwards, his arms still weighty and draped at his sides.
  494.  
  495. “And then he just opens his mouth, and says ‘Ock.’”
  496.  
  497. He kept saying it, wet and throaty. ‘Ock. Ock ock.’ That’s all he can say, and then some starter pistol fired off in his head. He tears around the museum, his erection pointing him in every direction, his arms flailing behind him like a parachute with a hole in it. He charged at a girl who laughed at him on the bus, but right before he got to her, he turned a right angle and started trucking it towards someone else. ‘Ock!’
  498.  
  499. The other kids screamed and scattered. All the adults were paralyzed by the chaos. A big group of kids would start to gather, but all that did was make David turn, ‘ock’ and run pelvis-first at them, causing them to split up again. Two security guards finally strolled up to the lobby, the younger of the two appearing distressed. The older, veteran guard seemed unflappable.
  500.  
  501. The security guard said he’d seen this before, “you just gotta let ‘em tire hisself out.” But David didn’t show any sign of slowing down. He did three laps around the T-Rex model before the younger guard pulls out his radio. The older one put his hand on the other guard’s shoulder and shook his head. David ran up to the two guards, dick pointing right at the younger one. The guard looked nervous, maybe a little scared. David let out another ‘ock’ and the guard yelped and jumped back a little. The older guard took a step forward.
  502.  
  503. “And that’s when the security guard finally had to use the kid-taser on him. I thought it might have been a bit over-kill, maybe would have let him wear himself out a little bit more, but the security guard assured me that he’d be fine.”
  504.  
  505. “He did what?” Mrs. Grant screamed.
  506.  
  507. ”He tased him,” Finnster says.
  508.  
  509. “This is insane,” Mrs. Grant says. “This isn’t happening.”
  510.  
  511. “David’s fine, it was just a kid-taser. Course they called him Tasid for the whole bus ride home. But he was pretty good sport about the whole thing. A little sullen, maybe, but that’s it.”
  512.  
  513. “You have got to be the worst teacher I’ve ever seen,” Mr. Grant says. The wooden chairs scrape abrasively across the floor.
  514.  
  515. “What? Where are you going?!” Finnster says.
  516.  
  517. “We’re going to get our son, you monster,” Mrs. Grant says.
  518.  
  519. “But he has class in 20 minutes.”
  520.  
  521. “That’s not our problem anymore,” Mr. Grant says, jabbing a finger at Finnster. He reaches for the knob. Finnster pulls at the tie around his neck, trying to let some air in.
  522.  
  523. Finnster’s fingers grip the desk with a terrible ferocity, alternating red and white like well marbled bacon. His upper lip quivers and twitches off to the heavens with increasing speed. The Grants stop trying the knob as they watch Finnster’s eyes roll into the back of his head.
  524.  
  525. The teacher’s face is a ripe tomato, and his eyes are ever-whitening spots of mold, threatening to explode. Mr. Grant turns frantically back to the door, slamming it back and forth, the deadbolt giving slightly every time. Behind the pebbled glass appears the familiar silhouette of Principal Edwards.
  526.  
  527. “Open this door, god damnit!” Mr. Grant says. Slowly the shadowy face of Edwards grows darker as it approaches the glass. Skin flattens against the window and the Grants can see the bright shade of red flushing Edward’s skin. One milky white eye stares at the parents, pressed so up against the glass they can see veins.
  528.  
  529. Behind the Grants, the sound of tearing fabric causes them to pause. They turn, wide eyed, to the sight of Finnster with his head lolled back, but otherwise, clothes intact. More ripping. They can’t see where it’s coming from. Then, one final rip, and a meaty thump hits the underside of Finnster’s desk.
  530.  
  531. Finnster’s slack jawed mouth begins to drool. A wet gurgle bubbles up from his belly. White saliva trickles from the corner of his mouth, and the Grants can hear his tongue undulate in the slick crevasse.
  532.  
  533. “Ock.”
  534.  
  535. “I AM THE BLOOD OF GOD. I AM HEIR TO THE SKY.”
  536.  
  537. God, what time was it? Mark looked at the clock: 6:47 am. “Yo Lyle, shut the fuck up already!”
  538. “I WILL RAIN FIRE UPON YOUR HOMESTEADS! I WILL RAZE THE GROUND TO ASH! I AM LYSANDER THE MIGHTY AXE, DESCENDENT OF – “
  539. “No, you’re Lyle the punk bitch.”
  540.  
  541. A petulant scream rang out from the gaming room, then the slam of the door, then nothing but the muffled sound of nerd rap. His little brother might have quieted down, but the damage was done. Mark was awake. He rolled out of bed and made his way to the kitchen, head pounding from the night before. He was in no shape to perform any task requiring more than the most rudimentary of motor functions. He went to the fridge, thankful he had thought to make a BLT before heading to the bar last night. There was the tomato and lettuce for vitamins, bacon to feed the brain, and bread to soak up the toxins – a heavenly trifecta of a sandwich.
  542.  
  543. Mark sauntered towards the fridge and opened the door. You could have heard the scream from halfway down the block.
  544.  
  545. “Where the FUCK is my sandwich!” The door to the game room slammed open, revealing a fat, pimple faced fifteen-year-old boy wearing an MC Chris hoodie. The floor was strewn with empty bottles of Mountain Dew Code Red, chips, and discarded packets of pop rocks. Also Lyle’s shitty little girlfriend. She barely looked up from her Nintendo DS, and seeing nothing remarkable, turned her acne scarred face back to the Gameboy.
  546. “Gamer fuel, bro”, said Lysander the Mighty Axe. “Gotta keep these noobs in line, ya know?” He smiled, revealing teeth stained an artificial red. God, how he loved his precious pop rocks. He swiveled back to his screen and resumed his Clan chat.
  547. “Ok, Bartleby the Wise, now all we have to do is wait for a white mage to –“ Lyle was interrupted by a smack to the back of the head. “You little shit!” Mark screamed. “You always do this! I am sick and tired of your freeloading bullshit! I swear to god I’m going to wring your –“
  548. Mark gasped, feeling a sharp pain in his side. “GET OFF OF HIM!” He turned to see a flurry of poorly dyed hair and Invader Zim paraphernalia stabbing him with a Jhonen Vasquez themed hairpin. Mark had forgotten about the she-beast lurking in the corner. What was her name again? Beth? It didn’t matter. He hurled her across the room, and pulled the pin out of his ribs. The little bitch had drawn blood.
  549.  
  550. And then Mark was on the floor. His vision hazy, he saw his little brother holding an expensive replica of Gimli’s axe from the Lord of the Rings films, the hilt of which was slick with Mark’s blood. “I wonder if that’s where he got his name,” thought Mark, before descending into darkness.
  551.  
  552. ---
  553. Mark awoke on the floor of a cold white room. It was barren and clinical in aesthetic. He looked around, and saw a dim light overhead, a locked door to his left. A waste bucket with a lid on it lay in the corner of the room. From somewhere, a loudspeaker boomed.
  554.  
  555. “YOU WANT TO PLAY A GAME?”
  556.  
  557. Mark shivered. “Lyle, this isn’t fucking funny! I think I have a concussion, I need to go to the hospital!”
  558. “NO ONE STRIKES LYSANDER THE MIGHTY AXE AND GETS AWAY WITH IT! NOW – DO YOU WANT TO PLAY A GAME?”
  559. “Do I have a choice?”
  560. “LOLZ NO. BEHOLD THE ALTAR!”
  561.  
  562. A pedestal rose from the ground a few feet in front of Mark. On it were two items Mark recognized well: Mountain Dew Code Red and Pop Rocks, two of the staples of Lyle’s diet. Mark felt his stomach grumble.
  563.  
  564. “HERE’S THE GAME. I’VE NOTICED THAT A CERTAIN GREEN ARCHER NEEDS FOOD BADLY. I HAVE PROVIDED HIM WITH SUSTENANCE. YOU CAN EITHER STARVE OR FEAST, BUT HEED MY WARNING: DIRE CONSEQUENCES HAVE BEFALLEN THOSE WHO’VE SUBSISTED ON SUCH A DIET. HAVE FUN BROTHER. SQUEE.”
  565.  
  566. Mark had heard tales of ruptured stomachs, kids rushed to the hospital from trying to impress their peers with a mentos/pepsi cocktail. But Pop Rocks were a completely different animal. A pressure buildup of such proportions would surely result in a gastrointestinal explosion. There had to be another way. He surveyed his surroundings. “Of course! The bucket! I can blast my way out of here!” He had no idea what the magnitude of such an explosion would be, only that it was especially dangerous in such a small enclosed room. Seeing no other option, Mark realized it was a risk he’d have to take.
  567. Head swirling, Mark dragged the shit bucket over to the door and removed the lid. The stench was overwhelming. “He’s done this before!” Mark realized. “Actually, come to think of it, that explains a lot.” Grabbing the volatile candy from the pedestal, Mark readied the Dew. He’d have one shot at this. It was now or never. He ripped the top of the packet off, took a deep breath, and poured the entire packet in.
  568. A look of desperation spread across his face. The candy was already reacting to the septic acids present in the bucket! He quickly emptied the soda into the bucket, slammed on the lid, propped it by the door and scrambled to the other side of the room. He waited, terrified.
  569. Nothing. A minute passed, and still there was nothing. Mark began to cry. The most important gamble of his life had panned out to nothing. “Maybe if I shake it”, he thought. Mark approached the bucket, and knelt down to jostle the contents. No sooner had he touched the sides of the receptacle then his entire vision became a sea of red and brown. The bucket erupted in his face, the lid spinning off and slicing the main artery in Mark’s neck, the contents of the bucket Pollock’ing the walls. The smell of saccharine and shit filled Mark’s nose as he bled out on the cold floor. The loud speaker crackled on to emanate the final words Mark would ever hear.
  570.  
  571. “YOUR PRINCESS IS IN ANOTHER CASTLE, NOOB.” And then, there was nothing.
  572.  
  573. It was a boring Wednesday afternoon. School was out and the bus home was still an hour away. Baudolino wished he had something to read so he went into the little book store across the road. What was he in a mood for today? Not crime fiction, he loathed that genre. Not fantasy, he had just finished reading the Silmarillon. Perhaps a story about “Hitler`s willing executioners”? The Holocaust had always made him morbidly curious. Nah, too serious.
  574.  
  575. He went to the upper floor to check if he could find something there. Let`s see. More fantasy, a Sci-Fi novel featuring a nude purple woman on the front. No thank you. Then he noticed something that was very out of place. A Quran had been left in the self-help section. Baudolino picked it up. Beneath it, he saw a book he had heard much about. It had a black cover with golden writing. The golden silhouettes of a short man dancing with two bikini-clad women. It was simply called “ the Game”. Baudolino put down the Quran and picked The Game. He skimmed through the blurb on the back. It promised him a way to get successful with women, how to be a player so to speak. What horny 16teen year old could possibly say not to that?
  576. Naturally, Baudolino had to buy it.
  577.  
  578. He spent the rest of the evening reading through it. At every free minute he had, he read a little bit more. Man, this seems almost too good to be true? Suddenly he was aware that it was necessary to give the appearance of confidence. I guess women like that too, shit what a fool he had been.
  579.  
  580. Baudolino devoted himself to the understanding for The Game. He read all the forums, checked out the Author`s Wikipedia page. Somehow, everything it espoused made sense. The hypnosis, Kino, the fucking magic tricks, negging, the whole lot of it. Baudolino greedily swallowed it down.
  581.  
  582. Secretly he concocted a plan. He had to find a way to implicitly communicate that he was both a daredevil and that women had desired him the past. I need a conversation piece. But what could it be? It had to something that would be both unusual, sexy and daring. He had just the right idea. He would buy a sex toy and somehow work that into a conversation with random women he met on the street. He would say that it was joke present to his ex-girlfriend (she did not exist). At that time it seemed to Baudolino that this would make him appear sexually liberated, a joker and someone women had desired in the past. Heck it was better than doing nothing. People like confidence right?
  583.  
  584. Two weeks later, it was time to put theory into practice. An October Saturday afternoon, Baudolino took the bus into town. He was finally going to play the game himself. Would his plan work? Badolino could only hope. Some 45 minutes later he found what he had been looking for; a sex toy shop.
  585.  
  586. Should he buy a vibrator? Nah too expensive. The same went for vibrating eggs. But the dildos were reasonably well priced. Baudolino picked a sleek black one. This would do perfectly as a conversation piece. The clerk looked at him funnily when he bought it. Thankfully, she said nothing. Instinct told him that this was not the kind of place where you should flirt with the staff so Baudolino did not say anything either.
  587.  
  588. He had his conversation piece in a discreet little handbag. Now he had just to find a single young woman. However, on the streets of XXXXX it was a cold and windy day. Few people were out. Suddenly the whole place looked half-deserted. Baudolino walked and walked and walked. He walked to the cinema. He walked through the park, past junkies peddling their wares. Past the Romanian beggars enduring the rain and the wind in silence. Up and down the docks he walked. Past the supply ships, past statutes of Great Men covered in bird shit. Yet he could not find a single young woman. He could see a few single men, a few old women and a few couple. However, he could not find what he was looking for. Perhaps he should try a café`? Baudolino tried doing that but somehow he would feel like was going to faint just as he was opening the door. He never entered any café`s that day.
  589.  
  590. He continued his lonesome patrol but still he could not find the right kind of person. After a while, Baudolino noticed it was getting dark and checked his watch. Four and a half hours had gone past. Shit. It was time to go home. Baudolino walked for a few minutes and found his bus stop. A woman was standing there, she was alone. She was not looking down into a mobile phone; there were no plugs in her ears. She was perfect. Come on Baudolino, talk to her! He waived at her and said weakly “ Terrible weather…don`t you think?”. She was standing with her back turned and could not see him. Badolino would never know if she had heard him or not.
  591.  
  592. Before he could speak, again the bus arrived. It was completely empty. Baudolino found a seat two rows behind the mysterious woman. In Baudolino`s country sitting down next to a stranger unless you absolutely have to means breaching a grave taboo. Therefore he needed an excuse to get any closer without appearing like a dangerous lunatic. He was pushing it by sitting this close.
  593.  
  594. Perhaps he could pretend like he recognized her “ You look so much like my friend Jelena!”. Perhaps he could pretend as if he did not know where to go off and kick start a conversation that way. The bus was just 2 minutes away from Baudolino`s stop when he finally made his move. No more passengers had entered in that time. It was just the two of them. “So do live around here?” he said as he walked up to her row and sat down next to her.
  595.  
  596. The woman opened her mouth but did not speak; her eyes were suddenly wide open. He repeated his question. “ Ehm, what`s it to you? ” she replied sharply. Baudolino started sweating, his hands shook” I am just you know…curious”. The woman leaned back from him and pushed the stop button. Suddenly she was staring intently at him” Could you move away please, I have to get off here”. Baudolino complied, the woman got off and the bus continued to the last stop on the route.
  597.  
  598. It was short walk from the bus stop to where he lived. Baudolino felt a bit despondent with the results from his wanderings. However, most of all he was angry with himself for cooking up such a harebrained scheme. Had he really wasted his money and time for no gain?
  599.  
  600. Baudolino took out the dildo from his handbag and unpacked it. Baudolino had read about anal stimulation; why not try it on himself?
  601.  
  602. Quickly he found some porn on his computer. Nothing too gross, just standard lesbian stuff. Then he went to work on himself. It took a few tries but Baudolino eventually managed to find his prostate. Jerking off whilst fucking himself with a dildo at the same time was not an easy task for a newbie like him, but he managed somehow. When Baudolino had wiped his laptop and t-shirt clean, he felt very satisfied. The dildo had been well worth the money. In the years to come it would serve him well. Just too bad it would stink like Satan’s taint when he forgot to clean it.
  603.  
  604. Baudolino never read The game again.
  605.  
  606. I admit that I should not have left the cantaloupe sealed in its plastic bag next to the radiator for most of the week, and eating half of it was categorically stupid. Yet I nearly got away with it clean, or as clean as bad gas and bloating can be for a man with a full refund in his pocket and a great story for his next party.
  607.  
  608. The store had offered a money back guarantee, and that cashier Julia had a very pretty smile. Her parents must have found a great orthodontist in her early pubescent period. The plaster peeled on that smile when I handed her the soggy bag, and she turned her nose at one whiff, but she did honor the guarantee and handed me my two bucks back. As she set it on the counter next to the register for just a moment, I spotted the ooze seeping out of the downhill corner. She planted her hand in it only to jerk it back, sniff it, and wipe it clean on her smock. The smell wasn’t the only thing turning my insides at that moment, yet for a tread upon minimum wage drone, she remained quite friendly as I walked over toward the restroom.
  609.  
  610. As I entered, I burped. I could taste the cantaloupe again, tinged with bile, and I had to squat over the toilet and fart a half dozen times before I felt settled enough to walk back out the stall. Julia had closed her register and walked away with the bag held so far to the side that it threw off her balance as she bent sideways at the hip against the rancid leverage. Her ass bobbed, and she kept brushing her hair back with her right hand to keep it from accidentally contaminating itself against the bag as it fought to remain level. I always had great appreciation for the struggle.
  611.  
  612. She narrowly averted disaster when she passed that little black metal stand for those clear produce bags. If I had used one last week, she might have had an extra layer of protection from her cargo. I like to be green, so I only use what plastic is strictly necessary. The edge of the steel caught the edge of the bag and nearly wrenched her around into a throne of apples. That would have been a shame. Yet she freed it without too much structural damage and made it the rest of the way to the open produce work area without further incident. My stomach was already bubbling again, and I knew that avoiding the dreaded vomit was going to be a close thing. I probably should have gone home. Yet, as a man who had unleashed a dirty bomb on those who had the audacity to do their jobs, I had to remain at the scene long enough to watch.
  613.  
  614. I was ready to give Julia my little smile and wink the moment she turned around, but she did not even look my way in her beeline for the sink. I did note that she washed her hands the recommended thirty seconds—maybe even a bit longer to finish scrubbing away. She did not even glance toward me as she brushed past me in her march back to her duty station. A pity. At least the view was as good the other direction.
  615.  
  616. Peeking around the corner, I saw the bearded dude just standing in place, holding the bag so that it dripped just beyond his toe. He lifted it with one finger; I guess he did it to examine it. By the time it got up to face level, the shifting weight tore open the gash in the side and dumped slime all over his redneck beard and work-issue polo. I ducked back around the corner to stifle my laugh. The drifting profanity just made it better. Someone else was in there too; I could hear the giggle. I stood off to the side, pretending to browse those little bags of spices: cumin, sage, even a twenty buck thread of saffron. Oh, I had never tasted it, but would I tell my friends that saffron was beyond the budget of a man who would return a two buck cantaloupe? No, I could watch Food Network and browse Wikipedia with the best of them. They probably had never tasted the sublime gastronomy of sucre saffron. My own stomach kept sending rather more rotten signals out both ends. The low-rent hipster soon rattled a little cart with one of those foldable black things in which they send produce. I could see the stretched handle of my old plastic bag sticking from the top of it. I guess as the already infected, he had corpse removal duty. I followed him at a discreet distance past the racks of plastic cased lunch meats and the big display of 40 oz tubs of cheese balls. Those always hit the spot. A little girl down the mountain dew aisle pointed at the peon and whispered something to her mother, who never even bothered to glance our way.
  617.  
  618. Once the dude passed through the back room doors, I hesitated for only a moment before heading there myself. If anyone asked, I could claim to be the Pepsi vendor. The customer is always right anyway, that’s why I got my two bucks back. The loading dock was mostly deserted, but I worked my way over to the little window in the loading dock door and watched my friend work his way over to the big dumpster. He was clearly angry as he flung the bag overhand against the back of the open dumpster, but the idiot had forgotten all the liquid. He indeed “made it rain” as they say, and the container tipped up and splashed him down the right side at the same time. He just stood there arms apart, shaking his hands dry and dripping. I bet he cried.
  619.  
  620. Anyway, I could have left then too, but the hammer of Thor smashed that little gas chamber I called my stomach at that moment and send me scurrying for the bathroom to release the pressure. The place was empty, and I rapidly locked the stall and let loose. Maybe they could call me the thunder god if they make legends of my day.
  621.  
  622. A few minutes later, I felt sufficiently degassed to make the drive home. I was sure I was going to avoid the dreaded loss in the nausea battle. Yet, the moment I emerged, I saw my friend again. He had stripped his shirt which was soaking in one of the sinks. He was giving himself a sponge bath with paper towels, blotting away at the grainy slime. In the mirror, I could see the flecks of slime in his hair, in his beard, the same slime that roiled in my stomach. At least I can say that he got the worst of it again at the end.
  623.  
  624. Mort admired Sam from the security of his own table. He watched her look to the left and right before opening a packet of butter and sneaking a quick lick. Mort smiled. She always did that at lunch.
  625.  
  626. “You’re such a creep Morty,” said Tony.
  627.  
  628. Tony was a tall, beefy senior who wore his hair slicked back. He loomed over skinny little Mort, a gleam of malice in his eyes.
  629.  
  630. “Don’t call me Morty.”
  631.  
  632. “Alrighty, Morty.”
  633.  
  634. Mort sneered at Tony.
  635.  
  636. “Always staring at that bitch,” said Tony.
  637.  
  638. “She is not a bitch!” shouted Mort.
  639.  
  640. Nearby students turned their attention to Mort. His face went flush.
  641.  
  642. “You’re dumb. A dumb little creep.”
  643.  
  644. Tony walked off, leaving Mort alone with eyes on him. The bell rang, and Mort scattered.
  645.  
  646. ***
  647.  
  648. As the bus sped down the road, Mort scrolled through the iphone app store. He looked through the new section, trying to find entertainingly poor apps. He loved reading articles and watching videos about terrible games, and he always wanted to have a series like that of his own.
  649.  
  650. “Majick Djinn,” read the title of the topmost app.
  651.  
  652. Mort grinned to himself as he clicked on the genie’s lamp icon. He figured it’d be a poor man’s Akinator. When the app loaded, a heavily blurred image filled the phone’s screen.
  653.  
  654. As the image came further into focus, Mort didn’t recognize anything resembling a genie. It depicted a gaunt figure, its arm clung to a bare tree branch. Before Mort could click off the app, a synthesized voice spoke.
  655.  
  656. “What is your desire?”
  657.  
  658. Mort collected himself. He wasn’t about to let a picture scare him away from what could be an amazingly terrible app. He cleared his throat.
  659.  
  660. “I want Sam to love me, and Tony to fear me.”
  661.  
  662. The app didn’t respond. Mort tapped at the screen. Was his response too complex for the software to understand? As Mort prepared to say something, the app whispered back.
  663.  
  664. “So be it.”
  665.  
  666. ***
  667.  
  668. Mort sat down at a different spot for lunch, praying that Tony wouldn’t find him. He picked a seat where he could still admire Sam, though. Sam performed her usual ritual of opening a packet of butter and taking a single lick. Mort leaned in close, his courage building. He lifted his tray and pushed out his seat. Today was the day.
  669.  
  670. However, as he did so, a sharp pain shot through both his arms. Mort lifted his left hand to his face.
  671.  
  672. Thick yellow liquid covered the entirety of his arm. A dull sting jolted through his entire body, the substance leaking from his every pore. Skin peeled away from his flesh in large, yellowed patches that melted into more liquid as they hit the floor.
  673.  
  674. His throat clogged up with the liquid, and a familiar taste hit his tongue. His eyes shot open as he realized what the substance was.
  675.  
  676. Butter.
  677.  
  678. A crowd formed around Mort as an ambulance sprinted towards him. A primal urge surged through his body, and he brushed through the forming crowd with outstanding strength. He saw Sam, still sitting in the back. He crawled towards her, his voice raspy and weak.
  679.  
  680. “Do you love me, Sam?”
  681.  
  682. Sam wailed as Mort cradled her in his buttery arms. He covered her mouth to silence her screams.
  683.  
  684. “You love butter, don’t you Sam? Now I’m butter, and you love me.”
  685.  
  686. From the corner of his peripheral vision, Mort saw the Djinn. It stood in the crowd unseen. Dark, rotten skin covered its entire body like a jacket. Mort grinned back at the demon as it watched him smother Sam.
  687.  
  688. “And we can thank my friend, Sam. My friend the Djinn.”
  689.  
  690. Sam choked and wheezed as butter invaded her mouth and nostrils. Mort engulfed her into his mass, her cries muffled into distant whimpers.
  691.  
  692. A hard thump smashed into Mort’s head. He shifted focus to see Tony pounding him in the head. While Mort couldn’t feel the pain of the blows, he still didn’t appreciate the retaliation. Another strike caved in Mort’s skull, sending buttered bone fragments flying into the air. When he tried to pull his hand from Mort’s skull, however, Tony found himself stuck.
  693.  
  694. The Djinn watched on in approval. Tony cursed and thrashed as butter ensnared his arm, eventually reaching his face. Mort reeled Tony’s increasingly limp body into his center of mass for digestion.
  695.  
  696. “Thank you, my friend. I finally got the girl and beat the bully.”
  697.  
  698. “What an a-maize-ing maze!” declared our teacher. We stayed as silent as the scarecrows, fearing any punishment Mrs. Cook would give us if we were to groan at that lame pun. Either way, we would soon be divided into teams of four students, and be allowed to roam the farm as we pleased.
  699.  
  700. Nothing was going to ruin today. This was fieldtrip we were all looking forward towards, even more so than the trip to the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory: Today we were visiting the Great Vermont Corn Maze – A large farmland nurtured between three of the largest highways in the state. Here, many people came to visit the 10 acre cornfield etched into a maze
  701.  
  702. There were other attractions too, including the barnyard itself, underground tunnels for kids to play in, and brilliant garden full of flowers that seemed so exotic to a population that mostly only knew of green plants and trees. However, there was no sort of “victory” or “conquest” to be had over trivial things like flowers.
  703.  
  704. No, we already knew how this day was going to play out. Once we got inside of the corn maze, we would be able to easily stray away from the teachers, and we didn’t have to worry about any other adults or teenagers; Over 90 percent of them give up within 20 minutes, and decide to screw around with each other behind the barn instead.[1]
  705.  
  706. No, we already knew what was going to happen…Carl, Karl, C.J. and I were in a group of our own, and as soon as the teachers yelled the word “Go!”, we ran full tilt ahead of Mrs. Cook, who could only shout at us as we tore through the dirt trails, aiming for the middle of the maize.
  707.  
  708. ***
  709.  
  710. The day before, the four of us had gotten into an argument over who got to go out with the new girl, Carol. She had made flirty advances on all of the guys in our class, and even kissed Carl on the cheek after Lunch one day. I think she was just trying to wipe her lips off on his cheek, because the school staff is too greedy to buy napkins, but he got into a heated argument with me and Karl. C.J. joined in, taking Carl’s side.
  711.  
  712. “We C’s have to stick together. If you really love her, you gotta make her yours! And I’ll help any way I can!”
  713.  
  714. “Oh yeah?” I said to the fourth wheel, “And how can you help? Besides, she clearly wants me. She sits next to me in math class.”
  715.  
  716. “Simple. Girls like tough guys. And what better way to prove how tough you are than beating other guys?”
  717.  
  718. “Hmm…you have a good point there”
  719.  
  720. “Yeah,” chimed in Karl, “So how do we ‘settle this business between men’?”
  721.  
  722. “That’s easy! Tomorrow, we are going to that corn field, right? We won’t have hardly any supervision, and we can get Carol to watch us duke it out. What do you guys say…?”
  723. “I don’t know-“
  724.  
  725. “You’re on!” I blurted out, cutting of Karl.
  726.  
  727. “Fine. Tomorrow, we’ll group together, and meet at the center of the maze. Carol and her group will be there.”
  728.  
  729. “And how do we get to the middle of a maze? It’s called that for a reason!”
  730.  
  731. “Simple,” said Carl, “We’ll use google to get a birds eye view of the field, and just take the quickest path!”
  732.  
  733. “Very well then,” I said, without any reservations. “Tomorrow, you and C.J. are going down!”
  734.  
  735. ***
  736.  
  737. I thought I knew how this day was going to play out. As soon as we reached the predetermined location, we waited a couple of minutes for Carol’s group to show up. Carol appeared, but here group was missing.
  738.  
  739. “Hey Carol! Good to see you. But, uh, where’s your group?” I asked.
  740.  
  741. “Tee hee. I gave the guys a couple of smooches not to say anything, and told Mr. Brian I needed to use the restroom. So, what’s this about Carl?”
  742.  
  743. “Ah yes. C.J. had the great idea that we should have a competition to decide who should get the right to date you. So we’re…”
  744.  
  745. “Hold on, WHAT! Date me? I’m not an object. I don’t want to go out with any of you guys. You’re a bunch of wimps anyway. I’m going back.”
  746.  
  747. “No, wait!” cracked Carl. He was getting desperate. Suddenly, he ripped a stalk of corn out from the ground, and started thrashing around.
  748.  
  749. “I’m no weakling! I can beat all these guys! I beat you too, Carol!”
  750.  
  751. Before we could even grasp what had just come spewing out of Carl’s mouth, he swung the stalk at Karl, knocking him down. Without missing a beat, Carl ripped of the corn cob and jammed it down Karl’s throat. Karl was having trouble breathing, and couldn’t properly bite down on the cob. Carl then stood up, and stomped on Karl’s face. Karl didn’t move anymore.
  752.  
  753. Carol screamed. This day was meant to be memorable for all of the students, but not horrifying. I didn’t know what to do, but I realized that “beating” Carl wasn’t a game anymore. Not now that my friend was laying on the ground, motionless.
  754.  
  755. I have made my decision to take a stand. I rip out two Corn Stalks and charge at Carl. “Bastard! Die! Die! Die!” I’m charging like a bull, two horns of corn aiming for Carl’s repugnant face. I can see the fear in his eyes, regretting everything that has happened.
  756.  
  757. But then, a creepy, toothless smile started to form on his face. I then felt a large thud against the side of my head. I collapsed into the filthy earth, crumpled up like a piece of trash. I turn my head to see C.J. had struck me with a wooden signpost, dripping wet with my own blood. I want to get up, but my legs won’t move. Carl has me pinned down. In his hands are the two ears of corn that I had dropped just a moment ago.
  758.  
  759. “I’m no coward! I’m better than anybody!” Carl slobbering at me. My heart stops. The yellow drills come towards my eyes.
  760.  
  761. No! No no no no no no no! No!
  762.  
  763. “Ahhhhhhggggggggghhhhhh!”
  764.  
  765. Nothing but pain is left. I have failed to best Carl, and now I will die here, a virgin, in a field of corn! God, why did you have me die in such a corny way? Couldn’t I have at least traded blows with that punk Carl once, or at least gotten a kiss from Carol?
  766.  
  767. Fate is too cruel. but, at least I know Carl and C.J. aren’t getting out of the maze alive. Because as everything started to fade away, I could hear a piercing blast, and the agonizing screams of the two assaulters. It was a shotgun. Cool.
  768.  
  769. I ain’t never met the corpse I didn’t wanna make love to.
  770.  
  771. Now, I can tell by the look on your face, you need some explanation. A dead body’s got a certain mystique. Quiet. Relaxed. Demure. Every corpse has a need, the need to have life pumped back into it, albeit briefly. My work is thankless—dead lovers ain’t in the position to pay me any complements—but somebody has to attend to their basic needs. The dearly departed want for affection like anyone, and I’m fixin’ to give it to ‘em.
  772.  
  773. They say variety is the spice of life and if that ain’t true, my name ain’t Calvin Augustus Blunt. I get my variety at the funeral home. Black bodies, white bodies, men, women. I extend every courtesy ‘fore I dress ‘em up, make ‘em all pretty. And I ain’t never had the temerity to refuse any of ‘em, till I met the wolf lady.
  774.  
  775. That afternoon she’d been a beautiful woman; come the evening she had eight teats and was covered in fur.
  776.  
  777. “Hot damn,” I yelled. I checked the name. Suzanna Stanton. Does her family know? Course not; if they did why’d they risk bringing her here? Stantons are old money. Sure wouldn’t look too good for ‘em if word spread. Worse yet for me, if this got out sure as shit there’d be investigations. All y’all police swarming the place, asking questions, checking bodies, and keeping me away from my beloveds.
  778.  
  779. The wake was scheduled for the following morning. Open casket. It would be necessary to get back to the facility at the crack of dawn. If wolf-man lore was any guide, Miss Suzanna would be back to her pretty two-teated self by sunup. If not, I was gonna have one bitter morning pill to swallow.
  780.  
  781. That next morning I was relieved to find pretty Miss Suzanna back in human skin. I attended to her needs in the usual fashion and thereafter got her nice and glammed up for the wake. The documentation listed the full schedule: a daytime wake, daytime funeral, and burial the day after that. I felt if I could keep the lid on Miss Suzanna’s uncommon nature, then I could continue my work unhindered. There was, however, one thing in Miss Suzanna’s documentation that gave me pause. The space for “Manner of Death” was left blank. My curiosity piqued.
  782.  
  783. Later that morning, Stantons filled the parlor, sobbing and trading stories about the late young woman. I proceeded from mourner to mourner, offering my regrets, asking what they’d remember most about Suzanna. It’s heartwarming to bring a smile to the bereaved; matter fact, it’s my second favorite thing about this job.
  784.  
  785. One of the mourners mentioned, “Be sure not to miss the gentleman with the red beard. That’s Suzanna’s boyfriend, Rastus. I’ll wager he’s in particular need of comfort right now.”
  786.  
  787. I looked for a red beard and talked to the only man fitting the description.
  788.  
  789. “Rastus? I’d like to talk to you about Miss Suzanna.”
  790.  
  791. His eyes widened. He took a step back. “Wh-what about?”
  792.  
  793. “I’m told y’all were very close. I can see how shaken you are at her passing. I just want you to know that we at Blunt Funeral Services extend our deepest condolences for your loss.”
  794.  
  795. Rastus frowned. “Have you ever lost anyone close to you?”
  796.  
  797. “Oh, yes. I lost my dear mother when I was still in grade school. I reckon that’s why I’ve always felt a certain bond with the departed and their families. I’ll say a prayer for Miss Suzanna. Let me know if I can do anything else for you.”
  798.  
  799. Rastus nodded.
  800.  
  801. I started to turn away, but curiosity got the better of me. “Forgive me. But if it ain’t too bold, I’d like to inquire as to the manner of her death. For some reason, I wasn’t supplied the background information.”
  802.  
  803. “Just stay out of it,” barked Rastus. He turned and stormed out the front doors, cigarette pack in hand.
  804.  
  805. Abrasive though he seemed, I’d made Rastus a promise. I knelt in front of Miss Suzanna’s casket and began to pray. After a minute or so, I felt the kneeler shake with another person’s weight. I looked to my right and saw a dark haired middle-aged woman.
  806.  
  807. “Hold my hand, Calvin,” she whispered.
  808.  
  809. I’d introduced myself to so many mourners it didn’t seem strange she knew my name. As I took her hand I felt the crispness of a business card. The woman slipped it to me, released the grip and rose from the kneeler. I waited a moment, then rose myself and walked into a back room.
  810.  
  811. Ada Bloom
  812. Private Investigator
  813.  
  814. I flipped the card and found a handwritten message. Barnaby’s Pub. 6:00pm.
  815.  
  816. It was near-dusk when I arrived at Barnaby’s and met with Ada. She skipped the small talk and hit me with a question. “Did you notice anything unusual about Suzanna when you dressed her for the wake?”
  817.  
  818. Well, my heart just about jumped up outta my throat. “No,” I lied. Shameful of me to be dishonest, but I reckoned if Ada found the truth, it’d invite unwanted attention to the funeral home. My work was my life. I couldn’t risk any disruption from folks like you.
  819.  
  820. Ada continued, “When you spoke to the mourners, did any of them act strangely? I noticed Rastus storm out after speaking with you.”
  821.  
  822. “I fear that was my failing, not his. I asked the cause of Miss Suzanna’s death in a most insensitive fashion.”
  823.  
  824. “You don’t know?” Ada asked. “Prescription overdose. No note, but ruled a suicide anyway.”
  825.  
  826. “Who exactly are you working for, Ms. Bloom?”
  827.  
  828. “I’m working on behalf of a client who cared deeply for Suzanna and suspects foul play. Suzanna’s friends are suspicious of Rastus. She confided in them that she’d been fighting with him these past few months. Over what, they couldn’t say. So, I’d like to know more about your interaction—Oh! AHHH!”
  829.  
  830. Accompanying Ada’s scream, dark brown fur sprouted from my arms. My nose pushed outward, until I could see it far in front of my face. Officer, did you ever know lycanthropy was a social disease? None of this is gonna be any good for my love life.
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