21 October - 4 November 2020
Tome IV - Conviction
- 1 Overview
- 2 Memories & Logs
- 2.1 Lisa Sherwood: Stroke of Luck
- 2.2 Ace Visconti: Go For Broke
- 2.3 Meg Thomas: Eat Dust
- 2.4 Philip Ojomo: The Algebra of Infinite Night
- 2.5 Through the Looking Glass: Logs 984, 985, 986, 987, 5736
- 3 Trailer
Memories & Logs
Lisa Sherwood: Stroke of Luck
"Don't play with powers you don't understand!" Lisa's grandmother scolds her for scratching a symbol into her textbook for good luck. Lisa apologises for snooping through her things. She just wanted to know more about the old village-town and the stories of witches and cannibals that were burned alive or chased out. She heard her mother say her grandmother had come across several books written in an unknown language with strange symbols.
Her grandmother warns her to stay away from her books. "You can attract great misfortune to yourself and others!" Lisa wants to laugh but doesn't. She was just messing around and doesn't really believe in all this superstitious nonsense. "No such thing as witches and cannibals, Gran. I was just hoping for a little luck on my algebra test. No harm, no foul." Her grandmother tells her the symbol she sketched was the very one she had used long ago to turn a cannibal into a gnarled, twisted, swamp tree covered in putrid, black ooze. It's so ridiculous Lisa wants to burst out laughing, but she contains herself as she listens to her tale of cannibals and missing children. When her grandmother finishes her story, Lisa hugs her and kisses her soft, wrinkled forehead. "Don't worry, Gran... I'm not going to turn into a swamp-tree or be kidnapped by a bunch of cannibals."
Lisa doesn't know if it's the symbols on her book or some kind of placebo effect... but her maths scores are improving. Not as much as they should be, but still... she's passing, and passing is an improvement. Her friend Pam says it's all malarkey. There's no such thing as lucky symbols that can raise your grade. It's all smoke and mirrors. Unfounded, ancient superstition. Jokingly Pam says she wants better marks, too. She grabs Lisa's textbook and copies the symbol in her school agenda several times. Lisa feels a tug in her gut, and she stares at the symbols with concern. "You really shouldn't do that!" She yanks her textbook back from Pam. "You shouldn't mess with powers you don't understand!" Pam laughs. "What's the problem, Lisa? If these things can help you pass maths, they can help me pass English, too. No big deal!"
Pam begs for another symbol or charm to help her on a test she isn't ready for with a teacher she despises. A teacher she ridicules for being an overweight, pill-popping bore. Lisa refuses to entertain the idea and tells her she's not allowed to look at her grandmother's secret book, let alone share its contents with strangers. Pam shrugs and proceeds to scratch a symbol on her arm with a toothpick. She asks if Lisa heard what happened to the woman near the school. Lisa shakes her head. Pam laughs as she draws blood with the toothpick. "Dumb ass walked into the street while reading and splat! Crushed by a truck! Come!" She flicks the toothpick to the ground, grabs Lisa's wrist and leads her to a road a few blocks from the school. Lisa covers her nose and can smell the fermenting human fluids in the cracks of the pavement. Pam points out blood stains and clumps of hair in the road and makes jokes at the dead girl's expense. Lisa grabs her wrist angrily. "You mustn't laugh at the dead!" Pam yanks her wrist away. "Stop being creepy, Lisa. It's not like she's still around to get offended... besides... your symbols got me covered with all kinds of luck!"
Lisa stares at Pam's arm with concern and hopes the dead girl's spirit didn't take offence. Her grandmother says sometimes spirits linger, especially when they don't want to be dead. Last thing she needs is some dark force following her for the rest of her life.
Pam's English teacher died of unknown causes and Pam's dancing with joy, relieved she doesn't have to do his stupid test on some irrelevant dead author. "I don't care what English teachers say, James is unreadable and confusing - a pseudo-intellectual who kept everything vague because he didn't actually know what the hell he was talking about!" Lisa shrugs, disagrees, but doesn't want to get into it with her friend - her annoying friend. She likes his books, the way his style allows her to live in his character's head for a little while. She finds his novel about an artist to be a fun, formless, dream-like stew with plenty of style and substance. But what does she know, she's only sixteen, and her English marks are below average. Pam hoots and hollers, and with a mischievous smile, she reveals a hand covered with ink-smudged, symbols. "Best luck in the world! No test! No lard ass! No dead authors for the rest of the year! Thanks, Lisa!" Lisa stares at the symbols on her hand and wants to yell at her for being so careless with things they both don't fully understand. She closes her eyes and hopes her English teacher wants to be dead and that he isn't lurking about.
The class is at the funeral out of respect for their beloved English teacher. The pallbearers struggle and strain under the weight of the coffin. Pam leans toward Lisa and whispers how lucky she is and how unlucky the poor pallbearers are to have to lift such a heavy coffin. "Imagine having to carry that lard-ass to his grave!" Lisa nudges Pam and tells her to quit it. As the pallbearers approach them she feels a sudden tug in her gut. An instinct tells her to take some distance from her friend. An image of lightning striking Pam flashes through her mind. She wonders if an angry spirit could make that happen. Every muscle, organ, vessel, fried in an instant for her hubris. Pam snaps Lisa out of her thoughts with another tactless comment. Lisa hears her grandmother's voice in her head, telling her that her friend has tempted fate by laughing at someone else's misfortune. For having laughed at the dead. She doesn't really believe in all her grandmother's superstitions... and yet... she inches away from her friend, staring at the darkening clouds, waiting for lightning to strike Pam down.
Ace Visconti: Go For Broke
Ace rushes into Uh, Ohs sports bar still pumped with the excitement of the mixed martial art title defence he just watched. Female lightweight MMA champion Mika James knocked the challenger out in the first round and now Ace is ready for another thrill. He sits with his buddy Wallace. "Did I miss anything?" Wallace shakes his head. "Nah... they're preparing the bowl now!" Ace laughs out loud: "hilarious! The guy's going to try to swallow a bowl of slugs. Only at Uh, Ohs would they hold such a ridiculous bet!" Wallace nudges Ace and levels a wager. "Ten to one he pukes it out!" Ace looks at the idiot and the bowl of living slugs in front of him. His instincts tell him this guy's actually going to do it. Ace just cleaned Wallace at the MMA fight and he doesn't mind taking more of his money. Ace scrutinises the idiot just to make sure his gut isn't leading him astray. Most people would puke trying to swallow the first slug. But not this guy. This guy knows what he's doing. He's a winning horse. A sure thing. "All right... let's say double our last bet!"
Wallace nods and assures him he's going to lose. Ace smirks. "We'll see about that!" As he stares beyond the idiot preparing to swallow slugs, he's amazed to see Mika James at the bar in her signature tracksuit. They exchange a look. He points at his fan shirt and extends a thumbs-up for a great title defence, but she looks past him as she nurses a beer. Wallace sees Mika and nudges Ace. "She could kick your ass in two licks!" Ace scoffs. "That's a bet you would lose, asshole. I'm double her size and strength!" Wallace snickers. "I say you don't last ten minutes... nah... you wouldn't even last five minutes!" Wallace is talking shit just to talk shit. Before Ace can respond, a bell sounds and everyone goes silent as the idiot lifts the bowl of thick, moist slugs to his trembling lips. Ace stops breathing, narrows his gaze, pulls out his lucky alligator tooth, holds it in his fist, and just knows he's got a winner. In a few short minutes he'll be laughing all the way to the bank. Come on, idiot... swallow those slugs.
Ace doesn't understand what happened. He had Wallace dead to rights. His winning horse confidently slurped down the slugs one at a time as though he were enjoying a bowl of fresh sushi. Then he stops with the last one dangling out of his mouth... cocky little shit... He smiles and swallows... but the damn slug doesn't go down... not as he planned. Ace can see a lump oozing and squirming down his throat. It slithers down... but it must have tickled his gag reflex or something... because he instantly loses his smile. There's a silence. The idiot begins to squirm uncomfortably in his seat. The crowd goes... Uhh-ohh... and all of a sudden... a projectile of slug-chum shoots out his mouth and Ace hangs his head realising he just lost everything.
Wallace laughs out loud and slaps his back. "Told you so!" Ace doesn't say anything. "Tell you what... double or nothing if you last five minutes with Mika James!" Ace stares up at Wallace. "What's in it for you?" Wallace narrows his gaze. "Your lucky alligator's tooth!" Ace hesitates. Wallace smiles. "What? Thought you were double her size and stronger?" Ace looks at Mika, at Wallace, at Mika again and nods. "I'll knock her out in two minutes and then buy her a drink!" Wallace smiles, stands, and heads over to the manager of the club to make the arrangements. Ace stands and figures he may as well introduce himself to the champ.
"What the hell was I thinking?" Ace staggers to his wobbly feet. "Oh yeah... I wasn't!" Mika steps toward him. He throws a desperate right. She ducks with a grin. He follows with a left. She sidesteps and he sees black and a few stars fading in and out of existence. "What the hell did she hit me with?" He doesn't know. All he knows is he's on his ass again and his eyelids feel like cement. He forces them open and stares up at the timer. Thirty seconds. "How can that just be thirty-seconds! Either the timer is rigged or time itself has slowed down to an impossible crawl. Shit! I'm in trouble, but I ain't losing my lucky gator's tooth!" He doesn't know much right now, but he knows Mika's got him outclassed in every way except guts and luck. Ace stands on wobbly legs and smiles at one of the dozen Mikas swirling around him. He regards a dozen clocks, narrows his gaze, and calculates. "Four more minutes... I can do this..."
The crowd is hollering and jeering. "Fight! Fight! Fight!" Ace stares at the timer and is relieved to pass the two-minute mark. Only three minutes to go. He just wants to last and has completely given up on the idea of knocking Mika out. He'll be happy if he can land just once punch. He thinks he might need to grab her hair and punch below the belt just to get her to back off. But she moves faster than his eyes can track and he's convinced his feet are turning to spaghetti. She stares at him like a hungry tiger and throws a roundhouse kick. He ducks. Laughs just as he feels her hands knit over his head and her wicked knee in his face. Black fills his vision. A moment later he's on the ground swirling in a pool of stars with the crowd giving him a count in unison. He's up at five with a fat lip and a pathetic smile.
Minutes don't feel like minutes. They feel like hours... days... Three minutes and Ace wants to throw in the towel, but his pride won't let him. His common sense is telling him to quit before she breaks another rib. He gets the sense he won't be laughing to the bank, but to the hospital. But he can't give up. He won't give up, and he certainly won't lose this bet. He's going to win even if winning kills him. For a moment he half-remembers a quote about sitting on a stove with a pretty girl or a pretty girl cooking at the stove or something about a pretty girl and a stove. He's getting it all wrong, but he knows it has something to do with time. Mika smashes a fist straight into his puffy face and he staggers back and nearly buckles over. He manages to keep his balance and tries to smile but just as soon as his lips part he somehow finds himself on the hard floor staring at a crowd that seems miles away, laughing as they give him a count in unison. He rolls on his belly and pushes himself up, groggy, and spaghetti kneed. "It's going to take a lot more than that to keep me down!"
Two rights in a nose that's already broken. She clearly doesn't want to lose. She wants to knock him out, but that won't happen. Ace won't let it happen. Outclassed in every way except guts, he clambers to his feet. He tries to smile at her. That didn't hurt. But it did. It really did. Before his smile breaks he finds himself in a headlock. "Shit, she's fast!" Mika twirls him around like a sack of potatoes and thrusts him into a table. The table breaks. So does something in his chest. He thinks it's a rib, but he didn't think he had any more that could be broken. He gets up, manages a grin, and charges her. Grabs her rock-hard arms. Pins her to the wall. A surge of adrenaline fills his entire being. He's got her now. He shoots his fist out at her face. She drops to the side, and he shatters his hand against the stone wall as he feels her lift him off the ground. A moment later she twirls and throws him into the crowd with his broken hand swelling and throbbing with every heartbeat. The crowd scatters and lets him fall hard on the ground. Something cracks. He hopes it's not a bone. Everything is distorted. He feels like he's underwater listening to a muted crowd hollering for him to get back up or stay down. He can't quite tell anymore. He stands and stares at the timer, feels a sharp pain in his mouth and senses an awkward gap. "My tooth! My fuckin' tooth!" He looks around the floor and sees his front tooth lying in a glop of blood and saliva. It's still attached to the roots. He glances over the amused and entertained crowd and finds Wallace looking pale and frightened as Mika suddenly cuts through him like chafe.
Ace dives under a table for refuge as Mika grabs him by the ankle and pulls him out. She lifts him over her head, twirls him and breaks him against another table. He stands, turns to face her, shakes his head until he clears his vision. He lurches and throws a left at one of the three faces he sees. Mika ducks and delivers a slashing right hook to the body then drops him with a devastating right hook. He rolls over the ground, wheezing, feeling his jarred and jutting ribs. He probably should be dead. He doesn't even want to think about the hospital bill. Hospital? He doesn't need a hospital. He hasn't seen a doctor in ten years and certainly doesn't need one now. His body can heal on its own. He pushes himself up but doesn't feel much below the waist. He shoots a weak punch with his good hand. Mika grabs his fist mid-air and crushes his fingers into a mangled mush. Mercilessly she grabs his arm and... pops his elbow. He screams with blood gurgling out of his mouth. She wants him down even if it means killing him.
Ace suddenly realises... "Mika made her own bet!" His entire body floods with endorphins as he wobbles around Uh, Ohs' spinning floor. A glance at the timer reveals he's only got twenty seconds left. He's going to win even if he loses every bone in his body. "What more can this kitten do to me?" He clambers back to his feet and smiles with blood gushing out of his mouth. She charges him like a wildcat and is a whirlwind of devastating blows. He's hit a dozen times and flattened with a wicked uppercut. The crowd is screaming and hollering for Mika to lay him out for good. But Ace won't lose his gator tooth even if it cost him his real tooth.
Seconds pass like minutes. The bell sounds. It's over. It's finally over. Ace collapses. Wallace stares down at him with a newfound respect and a wad of cash in his hands. Ace stares at the money and manages to mumble something. You bastard... you bet on me? Wallace pulls Ace up and hands him his tooth. "Put this in your mouth to keep the nerves moist. Keep them there until we reach the hospital. That's one for the books, buddy!" Ace shakes his head. "I'm good... don't need a doctor!" Wallace laughs incredulously. "Dude... you need a doctor, a dentist, and fuckin' shrink!"
Meg Thomas: Eat Dust
"Slash tires? Sounds a bit extreme!" Meg regrets showing Coach Jenny how fast she could run during Phys Ed class. She saw something she liked, asked Meg to run, and now she wants her to race at the State Championships. From a virtual nobody to glorified jock almost overnight. New friends, bitter rivals and rumours abound. "Why Meg? Why does she get a free ticket? She never practised, sucked up, or took diet pills to keep her weight in check. Why her? What makes her so special?" The idea of a free ticket makes Meg laugh. No free ticket for her. She's always loved to run, just not in an organised way, and she's quite certain she put more hours into her passion than anyone else on the team.
The team dresses Meg up in bandit costume with black and white stripes like a criminal in a silent film. It's so stupid she wants to scream. Two team members argue over the costume and finally decide on dropping the cliché bandit look for a more contemporary super-villain costume. They make a mask and tell her to slash tires near the police station. Then they exchange anxious looks with one another. Sounds less like initiation and more like a way to get her off the team and into a prison cell. Dana gives her a strange look, a dirty look. Seems like she has an upset stomach, gas even. She hates Meg for beating her time and probably wants to see her locked up. The rest of the team thinks up super-villain names for Meg. "Street Rusher? Super Blaster? Dare Diva? Whatever, they're all stupid! Just choose a name already!"
Dare Damsel Meg bolts through the streets stirring up laughter and attention. She feels stupid and scared at the same time lurking about in her super-villain costume. Meg pushes down her fear, composes herself, focuses her thoughts. If they want a slashed tire, they'll get one and more. I'll go straight into the belly of the whale and pull out a rib. She laughs at the image. Wonders where it came from and realises it's from one of the stories she recently read to her mother to help her fall asleep despite her deteriorating condition. Doctors don't know what she has, and they can't afford the doctors anymore. "Don't let your thoughts betray you!" Meg pushes her grief out of her mind as pedestrians laugh and point at her costume. "I'm going to target the police and set the record of this stupid hazing ritual!"
Determined, Meg approaches the Colorado police station with her heart beating at a record-breaking speed. She kneels behind a cruiser, hesitates, her hand trembles involuntarily. She’s not used to breaking the law. She takes a deep, calming breath. First time for anything. Then, with a pocketknife, she slashes a tire, yanks a piece of rubber off and backs away. Before the officers realise what's what, Meg's a bolt of lightning. Her heart's pounding in her throat. Her legs are a blur. The police give chase but eat her dust. She returns to the team with a piece of slashed rubber and a new team record. "A police cruiser. An actual police cruiser. Beat that!" The team laughs and jeers except for Dana who stares at her with her usual gas face. No one on the team has ever done anything so bold. "Welcome to the team... Dare Damsel Meg!"
Meg is the talk of the school and she likes it. Coach Jenny tells her she still needs a lot of work in the mechanics of running. She doesn't even know what that means. She's been running in the mountains with her mother for years and she never had to learn the 'mechanics' of running. Coach says for the next few practices she needs to improve her confidence on the starting line. Sure, that shouldn't be a problem. Coach spends a lot of time with Meg and many on the team are beginning to take notice. Dana makes snide remarks in the shadows about Meg's body being disproportional, about Meg having beginners' luck, about how Meg's legs seem disproportional to her torso. Meg ignores her, refuses to dignify her jealousy by responding to it. Dana gets no reaction from Meg as she talks about how her thighs are just a bit too thick for running. Dana gives her that stupid, gas face. Meg glares at Dana with a flood of expletives she wants to unleash. "You'll eat my dust soon enough, wench!" Meg suppresses her anger and smiles politely, thanking the wench for her concern, telling her she's confident her so-called disproportional body and thick thighs will prove advantageous at the championship.
Meg begins her long walk home after an exhausting yet exhilarating practice. She holds her lucky piece of tire in her hand though she doesn’t really believe in luck. She hears her mum's voice rattle in her brain. The only luck you get is the luck you make. And yet... the piece of tire kind of looks like a horseshoe. Coincidence? Probably. She admires her lucky slice of tire and starts when she hears a twig snap behind her. Before she realises what's happening, she's thrust to the ground by a shadowy figure who stomps on her ankle. Terrible pain shoots up her spine and she screams for help as the shadow bolts away. Meg screams in agony as she desperately scrambles to her feet. As soon as her wounded foot touches the ground another sharp pain rushes through her like wildfire and she collapses. She closes her eyes, gathers herself, suppresses her pain and reaches around for something, anything, to support her weight. A moment later she grabs a thick, gnarled, branch and shrieks as she forces herself to stand. Every step home is like a hammer smashing at her ankle.
The doctor tells Meg her foot is fractured in several places and she should probably stay off it until it heals. She shambles out of the office on crutches with her mother by her side. Meg can sense she's worried about her and how she's to settle the bill without insurance. They drive home in silence. "Mum, I'm sorry!" Meg breaks the silence. Her mother shakes her head. "Don't apologise, Meg. No need for that, I'm just glad you're okay... Could have been a lot worse!" Meg nods and replays the assault over and over again in her mind. The push. The kick. The stomping. Nothing about what happened makes sense. The perpetrator didn't mug or try to steal anything from her. Meg's mother breaks the silence and asks if she remembers anything about the man since they spoke to the police. Meg shakes her head. "I'm not even sure it was a man!"
Meg confides in her mother at the kitchen table. She's convinced Dana arranged for someone to wound her to discourage her from running. Anger overwhelms her and she says things she wouldn't normally say. "I want her dead. I want to crush her like a bug. I want her to burn in fucking hell. I would have won that race!" Her mother listens to her without judgement and waits for her to calm down. "You're very upset and I understand, but don't... don't stoop to her level, don't let her turn you into what you're not. You want revenge? Best revenge is success. Let her know you're the best even at your worst and that will be her worst frecking hell!" Meg narrows her eyes on her mother. Her mother squeezes her hand. "If you think you're beaten, you are. If you think you can't, you can't. Life's battles aren't won with speed and strength, but mind and will!" Tears fill Meg's eyes. Not because of her mother's advice... but because she knows her mother's days are numbered... and this probably one of their last be-positive, pep talks.
Her mother hands over a box she pulls from under the table. Meg lifts the lid to reveal a black dress unlike anything she's ever seen or worn. Before she can say anything her mother laughs. "Not only will you win, but you'll be the jewel of the after-party!" Meg feels a lump growing in her throat. "Don't lose all your strength focusing on the negative!" Her mother used to be a competitive tennis player. All Meg heard growing up was stories about Billie Jean King. Meg waits for the 'listen-to-win' pep talk she's heard so many times she's lost count. Her mother relates how she would listen to a radio broadcast of King's game to steer her mind away from fear and negativity. "Fill your brain with success so there's no room for fear!" She's prepared a special mix for Meg on her pod. Meg takes the pod and stares at it a moment, a long moment. Then she leaps across the table and embraces her mother and never wants to let go.
Meg listens to a radio broadcast as she enters school. Fastest runner ever. The Buckeye-Bullet taking the gold at the Olympics despite every mental and physical obstacle levelled against him. She listens to the same broadcast over and over again. "Fill your head with win so there's no room for fear or doubt!" Coach approaches Meg as she puts her pod down beside her. "I heard a nasty rumour that Dana may have had something to do with your leg, and I've decided to pull her from the race!" Meg shakes her head. "Please, don't do that... I'm going to beat her, coach, and I'm going to win!" Coach's eyes widen. "You're going to do what? You didn't just say you're going to win? You're not actually thinking of running on that foot!" Meg hesitates, then lies. "Doctor says it's fine and that it's just a little bruised!" Coach touches the foot, Meg shrieks. She gives Meg a sceptical look, sighs, says nothing else and leaves. Dare Damsel Meg grabs her pod, raises the volume of the broadcast and fills her mind with greatness as The Buckeye-Bullet makes The Dictator eat his dust.
Philip Ojomo: The Algebra of Infinite Night
The boy holds his lucky bell and stares out into the growing dusk. Night is coming and with it the promise of monsters worse than anything his father has ever described in his campfire stories. Rumours of endless massacres terrify him, and he hopes his mother and father will soon return. They heard a radio broadcast promising safety to those hiding and they left with others to investigate. He spent the whole day staring at the dirt road leading out of the village waiting for them to return. A few returned with wounds and horror stories. Endless stories of death, destruction and mayhem. He didn't understand any of them. "They hate us. Why? Why do they hate us?" Because the radio and the television tell them to. What did I ever do to them? You were born in newly created Nigeria, that's what you did. You were born a Northerner!" His grandmother approaches. "Did you see anything out there?" Philip shakes his head. "If you see anything... if you see danger... ring your father's bell and hide with the others!" Philip nods and stares at the bell. "Will they come back?" His grandmother hesitates for a long moment. "I don't... I don't think so, Philip. They're hiding!" Tears fill his eyes as his grandmother disappears into a small thatched home. He feels a tear slip down his face, and he knows, just knows... he will never see his parents again.
Grandmother Abigail hasn't smiled for days. A terrible smell of rotting flesh drifts into their village and she tells Philip it's the stench of decomposing cows. Philip nods, but knows she's just trying to protect him from the truth. He heard the elders talking by the well. So many dead and... they are burning the bodies before there is an investigation. Who is burning the bodies? Killing crews... Human butchers. Men paid to make his people disappear as though they were an infestation of cockroaches. A deal with the devil for money. He hates them all and tries to sleep but can't. All he can do is stare at the door where he hopes against hope to see his parents again. But he knows... they're never returning and all he has left is Grandmother Abi.
Abi approaches him and lies beside him. He leans his head against her and closes his eyes and cries. He hears her open her mouth to say something... but no words come out. He opens his eyes and she's crying silently. Before he can say anything, a bell rings, her face grows hard as she grabs him by the wrist and leads him outside to a hatch. A moment later they're underground with the muted sounds of slaughter vibrating through the ground. He squirms in Abi's embrace. She holds him tighter and tighter as cries and shrieks swell into an unbearable pandemonium. He never realised humans could emit such sounds and it's all he can do not to scream himself. He squirms and Abi covers his mouth just in case.
Silence. Horrible, gut-wrenching silence. Philip shifts uncomfortably in their make-shift bunker and listens for something... anything. Abi nudges him. "Let's see your maths skills, Philip!" Maths? She's trying to distract him from the hell outside. "Six plus twenty-four minus eight!" He works it out. "Twenty-two!" She smiles and nods. She levels another challenge and another. He answers with growing tears in his eyes. She touches his face. "Don't think about what is happening outside... listen to my words and play the game!" He nods and tries his best to work out her challenges... but he can't help but think about his mother... his father... They said maths would strengthen his brain. Make him good in school. Give him all kinds of opportunities his father never had. His father... he'll never do maths with him again... never play chess with him again... or hear his stories... and why? Because of men who take money to do the devil's work.
Abi nudges him. Philip asks her to repeat the challenge just as the cry of a toddler rips through the silence. He instantly looks to his grandmother. Her eyes go wide as she stands and approaches the ladder. Philip runs to her and grabs her hand. "Don't go... please... please...!" She hesitates, staring at the hatch above. "I cannot leave the boy out there alone!" Philip nods and wants to hold her soft, wrinkled hand forever. But he lets go and watches her as she bravely ascends the ladder and disappears into the scorching day.
Hours? Days? Weeks? He's not sure how much time has passed. His eyes never left the hatch as he repeated countless maths problems in his mind to avoid facing the truth that she has disappeared with the rest of his people. He hears her voice, her laugh, her sighs. He wants to see her again. He wants to see his parents. His friends and neighbours. He wants to see them all. But he knows... his life will never be the same again and he would rather be dead than live without them. He closes his eyes and ascends into the cool night. The smell of rotting humanity instantly assaults his senses. Reminds him of roadkill left in the sun for days... only... worse... He searches the moonlight ground and soon finds his father's bell by the charred, remains of a body. "What happened? You were supposed to keep a look out? You were supposed to warn us!" He takes the bell and cries out for his grandmother in a raspy whisper, but the whisper turns into an endless scream. He screams until he loses his voice, and all that answers back is the deafening silence of the cold, indifferent night. He falls to his knees, taps his bell with his finger, and wishes he could just disappear from this living nightmare.
Village to village it's always the same scene. Death and destruction. Burnt cars, homes, and bodies. His people disappearing in a seemingly endless mixture of fog and smoke. He can't move anymore. He doesn't have the strength or will. The smoke stings his eyes. The stench makes him want to retch with every inhale.
But most of all he can't take... the silence. The horrible silence. The oppressive, dreadful, indifferent silence. He stops and sits by a tree with a vulture hovering close to him, waiting for him to die. This one wants its meat fresh. Raw. Not burnt or doused in kerosene. He closes his eyes for a moment and drifts away, far away, but soon he hears a voice... a voice like his mother's... he opens his eyes to see a woman and several muddied children staring at him. The mother extends an open hand. "You must come with me!" Philip doesn't answer. He can't answer. There's no warmth or wetness in his mouth. His throat is like sand. His eyes are like tar. The woman hands him a flask, and he drinks as though he's never had water before. She tells him her name is Funanya and that he should come with her. "I don't want to run anymore... I want to die...!" The mother keeps her hand extended. "And that is why you must live... you must live to tell others what happened... to bear witness...!" Philip stares beyond the woman and fixes his gaze on one boy and two girls. He takes Funanya's hand and together they trudge into the thick smoke and fog refusing to be disappeared.
Philip enters a home that's been ransacked by killing crews. There's blood splatter on the wall and a dark, familiar stench.
Philip doesn't want to think about what happened to the owners. For a moment he sees his mother approaching him, but then she disappears to reveal Funanya. She approaches Philip with some salvaged school supplies. "Sometimes drawing helps get you get your mind off things!" Philip shakes his head. He doesn't want to draw and he doesn't want to do maths. He doesn't want to do anything, but wake up from this terrible nightmare. He stares at the other boy... Emeka... as he draws a picture of his village. He has a dozen colours to choose from, but he only uses black. Funanya doesn't understand why, but none of the colours appeal to him... it's as though he's stopped seeing colour. Philip stares at the picture of the colourless village and steps outside where Nikki and Chika keep watch. He shows them his father's lucky bell, though he's not sure it's so lucky anymore. He hands it to Nikki, explains she should ring it if she sees anything.
"I hate the smell of kerosene!" Funanya nods and agrees with Philip. "It's not the kerosene, but everything else attached to it!" Nikki looks at Funanya and asks why the crews are burning everything. Funanya doesn't answer and maybe she doesn't know. Philip turns to her. "They are burning evidence!" Nikki and Chika look to Funanya, and she nods. Philip hears his grandmother's voice. "Death plus destruction equals good business for devils disguised as humans." Philip grinds his teeth and answers the disembodied voice. "They should all be killed... those who pay for murder and those who profit from murder...!" Funanya stares at him. "Philip... don't say such things... they are trying to take our humanity from us and that is the one thing they cannot take unless we give it to them!"
Philip feels his face harden. "I don't want a sermon. I want my family back. I want them to pay for what they did!"
Funanya puts a hand on his shoulder. "Pray to the Angel of Mercy that we survive so that we may bear witness!" Philip stares past her at the growing night. "I'd rather pray to the Angel of Death and watch them suffer. Forgive, and be forgiven. I can't! I hate them! How can they take money to do such things?" "There will be justice, Philip. They will not get away with their crimes!" Philip doesn't say anything. He doesn't say anything because like his father he believes that those with money, those who can afford killing crews and the quantities of kerosene required to burn humans by the thousands, can get away with any crime they choose to commit - even mass murder. She can pray for mercy all she likes. He'd rather pray for vengeance.
Those who profit from murder are worse than animals. He can't get the idea out of his head that people would do such dreadful things for money. If he survives this... if he escapes this scorching hell... he'll have his revenge. He can't help but share his dark thoughts with Funanya who says that an eye for an eye is not the way. That an eye for an eye would make the whole world go blind and plunge us all into infinite night. The world go blind? The world is already blind to what is happening to him and his people. To hell with the world. The world doesn't care. All this unrest and destruction was meant to happen. It was a mathematical formula to divide and conquer and rob his country of its beloved resources. He heard the elders say this a hundred times. Funanya gives him more wise words from dead leaders and he stops talking about revenge. For a moment he thinks that maybe she's right. Maybe revenge is not the solution. Maybe the world will one day wake up from its slumbering indifference and help his people.
Nikki hands Philip back his bell in the dark night. It's his turn to watch for killing crews, but he hasn't slept in days and his eyelids are stones. He holds his bell close to his heart and for a moment just a moment he closes his eyes. Just for one minute. He awakens in the heat of morning with a start and a terrible feeling. He vaults to his feet and searches for his new friends. He finds one... pieces of one... of another... he's not sure. He hears someone moaning. He searches and finds... Funanya... not dead, but dying... sliced at every tendon... writhing in agony... covered in something golden... honey... they poured honey over her... and a million tiny black things swim, drown, and gorge on the gold and crimson streams dripping from her open wounds.
The ants are crawling under her skin and eating her alive. He kneels beside her and tries to swap them away but it's no use. They're everywhere. Funanya whimpers and sputters blood as she tries to speak. But her tongue is missing and all that issues is a terrible, rattling noise. Philip kneels before her. He doesn't know what to say or do. "I fell asleep... I'm sorry... so sorry...!" But sorry doesn't put her back together again. Sorry doesn't get rid of the ants or bring back the children she was protecting. She barely scratches something with her finger in the dirt. "I forgive."
Philip stares at the words for a long moment. Silent tears fall as he raises his hand in front her face. She closes her eyes and waits for her suffering to end. He doesn't want to do it, but he has to. He knows he has to. He closes his eyes and lowers his hand over her mouth and nose, and for a moment, just a moment, he becomes her Angel of Mercy.
Philip enters another decimated village under the cover of darkness and sees a crew... A killing crew. Maybe the very ones who killed his guardian. Maybe the very ones who killed his grandmother... his parents. No hell is good enough for these demons who would take money to disappear people. They're cooking something by a fire, laughing, and making jokes at the expense of those they butchered. They talk about his people as though they were animals. No. Less than animals. No one takes pride or ridicules the animals they slaughter. He's never seen anything like it. Dogs without humanity, that's what they are, dogs, rabid dogs, nothing less, nothing more. Something ancient tugs at him. He feels darkness like a tendril from another world take hold of his young, innocent heart. Not young or innocent, anymore. He hears Funanya's voice. "Forgive, and be forgiven!"
But he doesn't want to forgive and he doesn't want to be forgiven. He wants them to suffer like they made his people suffer. He wants them to suffer for taking everything from him. He hears his grandmother's voice trying to distract him from his dark thoughts of revenge with infinite maths problems. But over her voice is the raging, maddening heartbeat of his hate. Her voice screams out equations and challenges. But he glares at the men. He feels kerosene coursing through his veins and he's ready to explode. An eye for an eye and the whole world plunges into infinite night. Good.
Philip notices the guns by the jeep. He could grab one and shoot them all. But he's never used a gun and they'd probably run away. He could find a knife or machete... but these dogs would overpower him... "Just walk away, Philip. Never look back. It's your duty to survive and bear witness!" He ignores the voices in his head and only wants one thing. He wants them to suffer and disappear. He wants to... yes... take their kerosene and make them disappear the same way they made his friends and family disappear - in a swirl of smoke. And for a moment... just a moment... he is the Angel of Death swooping through infinite night.
Through the Looking Glass: Logs 984, 985, 986, 987, 5736
More luminous energy sent to me by an unknown ally. With this energy, I was able to open a small window that allowed me to look into a lost realm where I saw to my great surprise a city with survivors living as though nothing was out of the ordinary. The window eventually closed, and I spent the entire evening imagining how such a thing could be possible or if it was merely an illusion. The same night another surge of energy permitted me to open a doorway into a realm I didn't much recognise or dare explore. I stared at the scintillating doorway until it faded out of existence. It's as though the one manifesting these sacred glyphs is trying to help me delve deeper into the mysteries of this dimension or, perhaps, he is suggesting that the answers to my salvation are hidden amongst the countless realms discarded by this Old One since time immemorial.
Instead of reading aloud in my usual way, I clambered to the roof of my tower and conjured a fire and a radio to listen to some ghost stories from a half-remembered radio serial from Terra Dark. Without a doubt, listening to these stories has proven to be the best way to pass the time, especially when you've got endless voices clattering in your head, bringing you down with their endless agonies and anxieties. Later I used the Auris to manifest The Storyteller to read his stories like he had done for his weekly podcast. He was composed of ever-moving, black fog, and I suspect that one day I'll actually be able to recreate a more realistic person to listen to or perhaps even engage with in something that resembles a conversation.
Listening to The Storyteller and hearing familiar expressions, I am wondering: how do I keep myself out of my own creations? The memories I attempt to record as fast as I experience them prove one thing to me. They show me objectivity is impossible, or elusive at best, and I'm never quite sure if my logs are a true and accurate depiction of the subject's memory or a whiskey laden interpretation of a nightmare. To add to my frustrations, I have recently noticed other voices have made their way into my notes. Other interpretations. Other thought-patterns from people whose memories I've likely spent too much time reliving. They are becoming a part of me and that wasn't supposed to happen.
The Storyteller kept me entertained throughout the night with his gory tales of Nosferatu, so that I almost forgot my own personal living nightmare. His stories entertain and make for a perfect distraction when smashing golf balls into the abyss just won't suffice. There have been countless tales of vampires, and to be certain I've read most of them, but to my mind... his are the most chilling. More than once now I've woken in a cold sweat with the sense that my tower has been overrun by these horrible creatures with fangs for teeth.
Another incident woke me in the middle of the night. An incredible surge of energy coming to me from an undetermined source. At first, I thought my mind had given way to illusions and wild imaginings until I realised the energy surging through my tower was widening yet another doorway into a lost realm composed of memories from an unremembered civilisation lost to time. I approached and stared into the remnants of a war-torn, abandoned city with the eerie cry of a baby echoing in the distance. Just as I made to enter the lost realm the scintillating doorway shrunk and sizzled out of existence. I soon realised it may very well be possible to explore this Old One from my tower with the help of this unique energy and the Auris.
I have seen into the heart of this Old One and have seen things no mortal eyes should see... things that simultaneously perplex my mind and burden my conscience. With mysterious help I have ripped open reality, searched deep within countless rifts and seen everything tumble helplessly towards chaos and entropy... towards death and madness... and for the briefest moment I had the ridiculous thought that the mysterious ally helping me could very well be The Entity playing its game with me, toying with me as a cat does with a mouse before the claw rips the tiny jugular out. Staring out into the endless abyss of black fog I thought that this prison could very well be another form of trial disguised and designed to feast on all the psychic energies derived from alienation, boredom and all those bouts of unremembered insanity. I can't help but feel millions of invisible hooks in my heart and millions of unseen eyes all around me... watching me... waiting for me to tumble toward chaos and madness like everything else... waiting for my mind to turn against itself. This bastard of an Old One wants me to kill myself. I am sure of it. Or maybe... Maybe I already have, and maybe I will again... and again... and again.