February 1, 2014

What Could've Been

“Can't you sleep?” August asked his little brother from the open balcony where they would normally play and watch the streets of the grey ghetto.
Ludwik was standing inside, by the doorway of the room they shared, stretching. “I couldn't sleep at all,” he replied. “Are you spitting again?”
“No,” said August, who then sighed instead of laughing.
“Where's your arm band?” asked Ludwik.
“I was getting tired of it.” August added, “Because the night felt like forever.”
Ludwik nodded in understanding. “Where's mama, papa?”
By their parents' bedroom, the door was shut. “Still sleeping, probably.”
“Let's go wake them.”
“You know we're not allowed to go in there,” recommended August.
“Close the balcony door, then,” said Ludwik, shivering. “It's getting cold.”
“First come see here,” said August.
“What's going on?”
“Remember what mama and papa said, the rumours?”
Ludwik leaned on the railings with his brother. The lamp posts were still lit below. “Hm?”
“The ghetto's been talking about a purge lately.”
“A purge? What did mama and papa say?”
“I think the rumours are true, Ludwik. They're coming to take us to the camps after all. I knew it.”
“Who?” Ludwik's voice trembled a bit, his teeth chattering.
August pointed to the leftward horizon, where the sun was only beginning to rise. It was there, up the street, from which a rumbling noise, commands, could be heard. The smoke of transport trucks parked there made it seem as though there was a new mist. Shadows emerged, becoming figures. Rows of infantry could then be seen, urgent in their march, intent on occupying the street. The soldiers gathered neatly on the pavements both sides of the street and readied their rifles, taking orders from a pair of frothing commandants. All of them wore the swastika on their uniforms, and the two boys knew this symbol well, too well.
“The monsters,” said August. “The monsters have come.”
Ludwik looked up at his brother, distraught. “Are they going to kill us, August? Tell me they're not, brother.”
“Don't panic,” said August, holding Ludwik's hand. “They can come and try, but we'll fight back.”
“Are you sure we can take them?”
“I promise you, we'll be fine.”
“I can't fight, August. We should really wake up mama and papa.”
“Don't be silly. Leave them.”
“But this is important, August. This is our lives.” Ludwik's heart was beating out his chest. He couldn't bear August's composed demeanour. He didn't understand it. He wormed out of his brother's grasp and stormed back inside.
“It's no use,” said August, solemnly.
“They can't be asleep,” protested Ludwik. “Not at this hour, surely?” Half sobbing, Ludwik turned the handle of their parents' bedroom door several times, then gave up.
“Do you see?” said August.
Ludwik, slumped, returned to his brother's embrace. “What do we do?”
“We hope.” August pointed to the building opposite theirs, the one the soldiers were instructed to first enter. “Look.” Lights were turning on in some of the apartments.
“What are the monsters up to? They better not come here.” Ludwik was trying to sound menacing. But when that bloodcurdling scream came from their neighbours, Ludwik couldn't help but sob more violently.
The soldiers came back out of that building, this time escorting fifteen of the ghetto's tenants, who had their hands touching the backs of their heads. They were shoved, mocked, and then told to get on the ground, on their stomachs, on the gravel of the street, where old death lingered. An elderly man was shot first, and then a child, who couldn't have been older than Ludwik. And then a pregnant woman.
Ludwik was on his knees, clutching his ears against the gunfire, so stunned he didn't notice the dribble hanging from his mouth, the tears pooling on the balcony floor, the wetness in his pants. August forced his brother to his feet and hugged him, and wouldn't let go. There was a river of blood in the street, a strange quietude that even the commandants were inclined on assuming for a forever-minute. The bodies went into the trucks.
“The monsters won't touch us,” said August. But this time August wasn't so sure; he was trying to convince himself. As he held Ludwik's head, he saw that his own hands were shaking involuntarily. “They'll go away. They'll leave us alone.”
“Breach the fifth,” they could hear a commandant say. Unit five—that was their building.
There were sounds of footsteps on the stairs, in the passage. Then hammering. At the front door. Once, twice, and there wasn't time for the boys to think, and the door came unhinged, and the monsters were inside their home, stalking their prey with their big guns.
“Hide,” August told his brother. Ludwik did what August was doing, hiding by the walls of the balcony beside the door, where they couldn't be seen from the inside. They didn't dare breathe. They didn't dare spy, although they could hear the destruction the soldiers were wreaking on their possessions. With every crack and shattering, the boys were jolted, and as they could hear the soldiers nearing, their knees grew weaker.
Ludwik wanted to hold his brother's hand, so he reached out, despite August shaking his head, telling him not to. Then they were found. They were staring right into the cold, blue eyes of one of those monsters, one who had come to the balcony for a brief smoke. It happened so fast.
He had them in his sights.
And he was doing nothing, but they swore the monster could see them. Yet the soldier turned away, flicking his cigarette into the air before going back inside, having had his name called. August and Ludwik looked at each other, in awe, wondering if they had been made invisible by prayer.
“They must be in here,” said a voice inside; another monster.
August and Ludwik could tell where the ensuing bang had come from: the door to their parents' bedroom. They winced with the noise.
“Bastards,” said the same voice with a chuckle. “They've already done themselves in. All four of them.”
“9mm Luger,” said another voice, scoffing. “Where could they have gotten this?”
“Never mind. Get to the next door. On the double.”
“Yes, sir.”
There was complete silence in the home when the monsters left. The brothers stood in the doorway of the balcony, peering in. The dining table was split in two, the cupboards undone. What remained of the family cutlery, shards. Their photographs on the wall, on the ground.
“Do you think we can go see mama and papa now?” said Ludwik, wiping away his last tears.
“No, Ludwik,” replied August. “Let them sleep.”
“What about us? Where do we go? What do we do?”
“We imagine.”
“Imagining things will help us through the rest of our journey.”
“You mean like when we play?”
“Yes. We can imagine fun things, what can be.”
“What could've been,” said Ludwik.
“That's right, brother. We can imagine what could've been.”

January 26, 2014

The Culling

In the dark, John sat numb on the bed's edge, paying little attention to the television that was a few inches from his face. Each time he raised his unlit cigarette from his ashtray on the carpet, his fingers would forget where his lips were.
The newsman looked on the verge of a breakdown.
...remember these days...tapping into the source of mass consciousness...third eye imaging...what has long been deemed the other side...mystery no more...”
Sarah, his wife, was curled up. She was restless in sleep.
...we will continue to broadcast these images for the next three hours. As for me...I would like to say...”
The newsman was cut off, replaced by a transitional black background.
Text scrolled across the screen and advised sensitive viewers to switch off. That familiar semi-fuzz followed, showing faces of people who used to be. Every night they would appear on the television. There were always many of them, just standing there in distorted nothingness, whispering.
Die, die, die,” they would always say.
John would keep searching for the face he wanted.
Groans. Sarah was up. She turned off the television for John, told him to quit his habit, said he was scaring her. And he said nothing. He returned to bed and stared at the roof with her. The alarm clock spelled out 1:02AM when the television turned on by itself. They both heard the voice. Together, holding hands, they leaned forward.
There was one face on the screen.
I'm stuck, Daddy, Mommy. Get me out. Destroy what you know.”
John sobbed violently.

Sarah dropped a pan in the morning, messing eggs on the kitchen tiles. She shambled to the living room, short of breath, and downed an anxiety pill. She spotted John hiding behind a curtain.
“What are you doing?”
He pointed to the window. “They're making the sacrifice. They've started.”
She looked. The neighbours opposite them were kneeling on their front lawn, cutting their flesh, bleeding themselves to death.
Sarah turned away and retched.
“But it's what we have to do,” reasoned John. “It's what they want.”
Sarah closed herself off in the bedroom.
John pressed his ear against the door. She was on the phone.
“Can't I come pack in by you, just for a time?” she was saying.
“What do you mean? Aunt Jane's dead. Mother?”
Then a long silence. Sarah came out wiping her nose with a tissue, her eyes red.
“I don't want to talk about this,” she blubbered to John, trying to get past him.
He showed her their son's photograph. “Everything is falling apart, Sarah.” And he showed her the pistol in his other hand. “We have to do this. There's no choice.”
Sarah pushed him and ran. John grabbed her before she could reach the kitchen. She screamed and screamed as he pulled her by her hair and forced her into the bedroom. He threw her onto the bed and switched on the television. And then he made her watch.
“I need you to understand,” he said.
Their boy appeared on the screen.
John said, “Tell Mommy what you want. Make her understand.”
I will always love you, Mommy, Daddy, but I want you to die,” said their son. “When you die, I can be freed, and the universe can start anew. Help us.”
“Do you see?” said John.
She kept shaking her head.
Mommy, don't you like me anymore?”
John made her look at the photograph again. “It's him, Sarah.”
Do you remember, Mommy? Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are...”
Sarah buried her face in her hands.

“...we'll burn our house then all the houses left. Afterwards, we'll take turns with the gun. Okay?”
She nodded. She was crying onto the photograph.
John lifted her chin, smiled at her and cupped her hands. “We'll be with him again.”
She nodded. They went outside. Half the neighbourhood was already burnt down.

January 23, 2014

I Did It For The Lolz

And then the airport terminal was a slaughterhouse.
But, that high. A million pussies couldn't compare to that high. Just for a few moments, I was traveling the stars, tasting the milk of the universe's teat. In my state of bliss, everything was perfectly splendiferous. Splendiferous – I mean, what the fuck is that?
Alas, good times never last. What my dealer didn't tell me is I would shit my pants on the come-down.
People were screaming on the ground. I told them to shut up and stop complaining because I had a headache and smelly pants, and at least they could still get disability in this country. I headed for the bathroom, stepping over their bodies. I cleaned my machete, neatened my tie and entered a post-high seizure. I hated those. Aaack – that's what I sounded like, convulsing up against a wall.
But I knew what my body needed right then. More mother fucking Krokodil. I had two doses left, not enough. Quickly, I phoned my dealer and stuttered my way through a conversation, barely able to grip the phone. I told him to go fuck himself then politely asked if he could come visit. Said he knew where I was – apparently, I was on the television – and he was already waiting.
I didn't bother with an elastic band. Just stuck the needles in there. In my ass. I floated like a butterfly for a while, dancing across the terminal. Rubbing my crotch against dead people's hands, punching my balls, biting my lip off – everything felt so good. The pain was tremendous, the blood pouring aplenty, but I was happy!
I was going to start decorating my fingernails on the windows, too, but then the pigs were in town. Blue-red flashed outside. Some dude was yelling through a loudspeaker and was with a bunch of other dudes, dudes with guns, dudes with cameras. I shaped my fingers into a pistol and told them to make my day. Odds favoured me, anyway. The universe was on my side.
My man with his ridiculous dreadlocks was over there with an audience, waving. I went towards the window to see what the hell he was mouthing. I asked him where my drugs were before my nose fell off. Then he was laughing at me. Idiot. I suppose it was funny, but the least he could've done was come over and give me my damn tits. Starting to get annoyed, I went outside.
All the police dudes crouched behind their cars, readying their weapons, shouting.
“Stay where you are,” the loudspeaker announced. “Put your hands behind your back and get on the ground, else we'll turn you into mince meat, mother fucker.” He didn't really swear, but it would've been cool if he had.
I told him, “I'm the messiah. There's no reason to be afraid,” but I don't think it came out right. More likely, they heard, “I-nd-ah-tere-no-ron-t-be-arm.” See, the tip of my tongue had just gone.
And he said, “We're giving you ten seconds.”
And I said I had rights. I accused him of being a nazi. I hoped he heard.
They had me. From behind, pigs snagged my arms, hooking cuffs on my wrists. But the joke was on them. I was like – what's his name? – Mister Fantastic, and I pulled away. I was free. Missing hands, but free. I arrowed for my man, grabbed my drugs, gave his green, scrammed.
Damn, I was fast.
And sure, I was losing more and more of myself in the process of trying to escape, but at least I got another hit. I stuck five more needles in my ass and kept running, taking the police in circles.
Oh, man. So good.
My arms and legs were bothering me, stifling progress, so I ripped them off in freedom's name and threw them in the sky. Finally I was there. At the pinnacle of everything. My universe, my way.

January 19, 2014

The F'N Man

Class A citizens make the decisions. Class B citizens do the paperwork. Then there's the rest of us who fight to the death. That's how you get your licence to earn big dough in this world. Nobody's forced to, but for Class C, that option is there. Seven fights, seven kills – got to earn capitalism. I get it, though. They want the bloodsuckers.
I'll make them see.
The waiting room is empty. Manilow is singing. Mum's telling me about heaven. Dad's saying how strong my opponent is. And I'm saying fuck it. I don't need anyone telling me any bullshit. I'm made of iron. This is my house.
“Death's the road to immortality,” says Mum, applying spit to my face.
I snarl and pound my chest. “Who's 6-0? I'm still standing. I'm the best. I'm the boss.”
“But your opponent is also 6-0,” chips in Dad, that frail piece of shit.
I tell them both to fuck off.
Then the secretary says something. She stops filing her nails, and says, “Well, they call that mo'fucker Knuckles. Know why? On account of his big, ol' razor fists. That mo'fucker done caused beheadings, I'm telling yo ass.”
I want to go punch a wall, but then, right on time, the intercom wants me.
The office is open. Examiner's behind a desk looking like he misses the fight game. Poor, sad fucker tells me to sign on the dotted line. I take my time. I give Knuckles the evil eye. I let him know this is my moment. Then I sign like I'm painting a goddamn masterpiece.
I hope you're ready, capitalism.
“Remove your shirts,” Examiner says.
Already off. Primed. Pumped. Fists up. The fight's on. Before I realise it I'm on the floor. Shit. Knuckles has me in a chokehold. Fuck. He's hitting me in the gut. Goddamn. He won't stop. On and on. And then–
There's no pain, but there is a funny splat sound afterwards. The fight is stopped. But I don't understand – I'm not dead. What the fuck?
Knuckles pukes in a bin, runs off calling for his mother. I tell Examiner to raise my arm in victory – rule a forfeit – but the dick's just standing there, staring. That's when I realise.Turns out I'm split in half. My entrails are hanging out, too.
But there's nothing Muscles can't handle!
“Don't move,” Examiner tells me. He takes out a cellphone and records. “This is the most fascinating thing I've ever seen in my life. What do you feel?”
“I feel like finishing this fight, that's what,” I say.
Mum and Dad come in, and I hear gasps.
“What did I tell you?” says Dad, the bitchass.
“Do you want to go to the hospital, son?” asks Mum.
“Fuck you,” I reply. “I don't need any help.” I use my arms as legs, and stand. More of my innards splosh on the ground. Briefly, I can manage walking. Two steps, I'm on my back again. “Oh, shit,” I begin whimpering helplessly. “I don't feel good, Mum.”
My face is full of snot and tears. What a pussy!
“It's alright, son,” she says. “Death is okay. It's not something to be embarrassed about.”
Uh-oh. I've lost feeling.
“I can see,” I whisper, “the other side.”
“What's it like?” Examiner asks.
I ignore him. “Mum, I just want to say sorry for the terrible things I've done.”
“It's okay, dear,” says Mum. “You're still special to me.” She kicks my intestines closer to my body.
“What about me?” asks Dad.
“Go fuck yourself, Dad.”
Dad cries on Mum's chest.
Examiner again. “What do you see? You must tell me.”
I keep quiet for a few seconds, then raise my middle finger. “You'll never know, ass-wipe.”
Going up. Or is it down?
Either way, they'll know I'm the man.

January 15, 2014

Today In The United States of Avatars

A muscular man found an appropriate moment to sneak up on two women at a restaurant table. “Feel my biceps, sis,” he told them, performing suggestive poses.
They swatted the air like he was a fly but he kept posing for them.
An officer patrolling the street saw what was happening and poked his tablet to start up iWhistle. He triggered a high-pitched noise only the troublemaker could hear, and it was so debilitating the fellow shambled over like he had been hypnotised to walk in that direction, towards his judgment.
“Why the ears?” the muscle man sulked.
“What were you doing disturbing those ladies there?” the officer demanded to know. “Putting to test your perverted pickup lines, I reckon.”
“I was trying to be friends?”
“Hold on a minute,” the officer said, scrutinising the troublemaker's appearance like he had discovered a new area of interest. “Is there something you'd like to tell me?”
The muscle man went quiet.
“You won't mind if I open up my iIllusionDestroy program here and–”
“Okay, okay,” sighed the muscle man, and when he tapped his shirt pocket, no more was he an adult with a heavy build. Now he was his true self: a young boy.
“I knew it. An avatar,” the officer remarked.
“So what?” said the boy. “It makes me cooler.”
“Don't you know using iPersonify outdoors is illegal?”
“Since when? Who says?”
“The law.”
“It's not bollocks, and don't use such foul language. It's the law. I say you're breaking it.”
“In that case, I don't care, because you can't do anything to me. I'm only nine.”
“Well, you sure will get a good wallop when I tell your mum.”
“No, no, please don't.”
“Where's your iPersonify? Where are you hiding it?”
The boy reached into his pocket. He hesitated then handed the pebble-sized device to the officer. “Everyone's doing the avatar thing,” he tried to explain, pointing at the ladies. “They're not real. Why do you have to take mine away? Why not them?”
“Friends of yours?”
“Part of a local network. I knew they were in the area. Saw on my program. Was trolling them, that's all. Wanted to have some fun. I'd never use iPersonify to fool real grown-ups, I'm telling you.”
“What version are you using?”
“1.0. I wish I had the latest, because you can do so much more, like interact with other people who have lower versions and whatever. But this is all my mum could afford to buy. And–”
“Spare me the details. What about those ladies there? What version?”
“I think they're on 1.61, because–”
“Quiet. I bet you go buy alcohol under that guise, don't you?”
“No,” replied the boy, looking down at his feet guiltily.
The ladies had just finished sharing a milkshake when the officer grabbed their shoulders. “Save me some time, won't you?” he said, softly. “Hand over iPersonify and I'll save you a trip to the slammer too.”
“But we're just a pair of attractive, grown up women having a fancy brunch and a scandalous chat, because that's what women do.”
“Right, you asked for this. I'll let iIllusionDestroy do the unveiling.”
“No, wait, fine, you've got us.”
The ladies transformed. Their heads levelled with the table's height and then they were little girls. Not without snivels and shakes, they did as told, as the officer had reached out his hand and insisted again. They mourned their loss.
“Now you've learned your lesson,” said the officer, pocketing their devices.
“But this is so, so, so unfair.”
“It's the law.”
“But everyone does it,” they said, and the boy, hiding behind the officer, nodded in agreement. “Everyone in this restaurant is using iPersonify. How can we be doing wrong? I mean, our mums just bought us ours yesterday at the mall. I don't understand. I hate you.”
“The fact is, this is illegal junk, and that means you're not allowed to own these things. Do you understand? And – wait – what do you mean by everyone?”
The girls showed him to the indoor section of the restaurant. A man in a corner was smoking a cigar, peeping over a newspaper every now and then to watch three chatting women nearby at a different table. Elsewhere, there was a couple holding hands and a tall chap having a dance to no music. And in the middle of it all, a grey alien humanoid, waving for someone, anyone to notice it.
The mad officer stormed in and shouted for their attention. “You lot of Otakus are sad, pathetic, depressed, lonely losers who need to learn how to live life like normal people do,” he ranted. “My word. No wonder this country is going downhill. Don't you read the news? Don't you know what you're doing is illegal?”
None of them said anything. They seemed unsure of what to say.
“You will all hand over your iPersonify gadgets this instant.”
“I don't know what you're talking about,” said the newspaper man.
“What he said,” said the alien.
“Or will I have to use my iIllusionDestroy and find out the hard way and maybe give you lot a taste of prison life? Do you know what they do to tech-fraudsters? Your choice, guys.”
Silence. And then they cooperated. Altogether, they changed into teens. The officer went around and, to groans and sighs, confiscated their devices. Then he had ten quantities of iPersonify.
“Excuse me,” someone with a high voice interrupted. The officer hadn't noticed the spectacled man who was in some dark, hidden corner, playing with an assortment of various devices. The well-equipped fellow had his hand raised in the air like he was in a classroom. He was enthusiastic about being picked.
The officer turned to him and sneered. “Are you also hiding something from me, nerd?”
“Actually, no. But I happened to hear you mention iIllusionDestroy. The thing is, no such program exists.”
“Nope, nope, nope, you're wrong. It's a police–”
Someone turned the entertainment monitor loud just then. A newscaster was describing the appearance of a man who was going around with a hacked avatar stealing iPersonify devices from unsuspecting children. Everyone in the room stared the officer down while the newscaster continued.
...wears a police uniform; has a moustache; shaved chin; a very red face; big booty...”
The officer began walking backwards, giggling nervously. Everyone got up from their chairs and activated laser knives.
“There's no need for violence, friends,” urged the officer.
“I agree,” said the spectacled man.
“Listen to the nerd boy, guys,” agreed the officer.
“Yes, please. Everyone take a seat.”
And everyone did.
“Because we all know how to handle real losers.” The spectacled man whipped out a gun and fired a beam. It was an instant hit. The officer watched his body fade into blackness, and as his clothes disappeared, all the iPersonify gadgets fell on the floor.
And as a result of the shot, the officer became who he really was: a fat thirty-year-old.
“I was just trying to have a bit of fun, mates,” the fat man explained, scratching warts. He looked around, saw the dirty looks he was getting and then ran away from the restaurant, frightened for his life. He ran so fast he tripped in the street, and then he got up and ran again. Until a drone came to pick him up into the air and take him away. And then his attempt at an escape was useless.
Everyone in the restaurant got their devices and turned their avatars back on again.

January 14, 2014

Full: [Hope]

Only you can save humanity now, Jack.
“Shut up,” he told himself, landing at the bottom of sea-immersed Upper East Side New York. With a shake of his flashlight, he lit the murkiness, searching for signs in the rubble. But he knew he was in the right place anyway, since minutes ago he had seen 3rd and 2nd and all its buildings and landmarks plunge. Nevertheless, he got confirmation that moment. A medieval maiden statue was waving at him temptingly, teasing a plastic beer. Old Ned's was near.
So close, Jack.
Where he needed to be. By some miracle, there Hope was, right in front of him.
But...oh, shit.
Jack stopped. Some kind of creepy-crawly had a firm hold on the chest concealing Hope.
A baby octopus, you idiot.
“Sure. That's what it is,” Jack said, desperately feeling around his holster for a flare gun, swallowing against a rock in his throat.
This isn't the time to laugh.
The creature had its beady eyes locked on his, like it was taunting him, and that pissed off Jack. But then Jack spotted the thing move forward and Jack was almost too afraid to do anything. On instinct, he forced his hand against his flare gun, got it out and pointed. He fired off one. Bang.
The flare arched over the creature's head. A miss. And that's all Jack had.
What now, Jack? Swim back?
Trumpets. He knew that noise well. A warning from some priviliged people to the people on the surface. Maybe the underground government. Well, that's who he reckoned was causing those trumpets, because they were the only ones left, and every time those trumpets sounded, the ghosts would come back. Every time that happened, he'd be in the right place, hiding. Not now.
How do they always know when?
It was rather like a warning from the sky, like the angels were singing. Saved by the bell. The octopus couldn't stand the noise. It eloped into a cave somewhere, and then Jack got what he wanted. Rummaging in the chest, he only needed one thing. The Teddy Bear, which was labeled Hope. Jack made sure he got a good grip on it. Then he swam up to the fading light of the sun.
Thank you, Jesus.
Jack reached a dry slope again and fell on his knees before the broken teeth that made up the remaining city. He pried his suit off and regained wind. He inspected the behind of the Teddy Bear and pulled down a zip there. Buried in stuffing, Hope. The cure.
The cure to what?
“The government knows, right?”
You can't cure something you can't touch.
“Fuck you.”
It's too late, Jack.
“No, never. I have to get to the laboratory. I can change all this.”
The laboratory's gone, Jack.
“Jack.” Not his voice.
Jack looked up.
“Jack, you don't have to change anything in this world.”
Jack turned around. “Marsha?”
She was one of them, a ghost, a figment of the eighth dimension. But she was so real, beautiful. She more alive than he was, somehow. She was reaching out a welcoming hand to him. On that hand she still had the ring. He couldn't believe it. He wanted to touch her. But he knew what would happen if he did.
Just do it. Get out of here, Jack.
“Everything is being undone, Jack,” Marsha said.
Jack saw them again. Hordes of ghosts tearing down the skyscrapers, making the sea rise.
“This world is not for us anymore. You have to accept that. Come with me.”
Buildings around him were crumbling inward. The ground, dissolving.
I miss you so much, Marsha.
“I know.”
Jack wept. He turned away then looked at her again. And then he had to.
What does it feel like on the other side?
“Hell. But you're used to it.”
Jack threw Hope in the water, and took his wife's hand.

Full: [The Serpent In The Garden]

“Larger than anything ever built by man, the traveling tower could flatten hills and mountains,” Dad told Gabriel, his face glowing red from the candlelight.
“Our Great God,” said Gabriel from her bed, making a sign of the crucifix with her hands.
Dad did the same, and replied, “What we call it today. We used to call it World Eater. We were wrong about many things.”
“Where did it come from?”
“They say Our Great God came from the sky. No one really knows.”
“What did it do?” Gabriel asked.
“When it came, all the cities of the Old World were crushed. For good reason. Back then, the people were living sinful lives. Me, too. I was what they used to call an Atheist.”
“What's that?” Gabriel asked.
“A terrible type of man. But I've changed my ways.”
“How did you escape the Old World cities?” Gabriel asked.
“I believe Our Great God chose me in spirit, though I didn't know it at the time. See, I was one of the survivors who fleed to the sea and formed this new settlement, and I think there's a reason for that. Eventually, when the tower caught up with us, we were so, so afraid. But remember, we didn't understand at the time. As I remember, it was mid-winter. Suddenly we heard this great rumble, and the ground quaked. Everyone went outside to see. When the traveling tower came again, you couldn't even see the moon anymore, only its...lights. Seemed like it was heading right for our shacks.”
Gabriel's mouth was wide open now.
“I still remember going to collect my things so I could try to run away. But then it cut into the sea and simply stopped. It spared the people that day. Been a long time since it moved. Well, it doesn't need to anymore, because it's here to teach us great things. It's chosen us. It's a blessing, really. If only we knew what we know now.”
“Wow,” Gabriel exclaimed.
“Our Great God then communicated to the Preacher in his dreams. Imagine that.”
“What did Our Great God say?”
“Our Great God wanted our servitude.”
“What is servitude?”
“Serving. That's what we do. We serve Our Great God in many ways.”
“Like how?”
Dad laugh-coughed weakly and smoothed her soft hair. “You ask many questions. I can tell you're excited, but you better get some sleep.”
“Please, Dad, just one more question. Like, who lives in the tower?”
“Forbidden knowledge, my girl.We must never speak of that.”
Dad pointed upwards. “They're watching.”
“Tomorrow you will know everything.”
“Will Our Great God bring Mum back some day?” Gabriel asked.
Dad paused, rubbing his wrinkled face. He spoke softly, “No one has ever come back, girl. That's a good thing, though. Mum is probably having a very nice time with Our Great God. Better than struggling here, don't you think?”
“Like, what will happen when I see Our Great God?”
“I don't know, but look, this is a good thing. Alright? Consider yourself very lucky. No more questions.”
Dad blew out the candle, and Gabriel dreamt of her mother. In the morning, Dad was weeping.
Gabriel was given a special necklace by the Preacher. She was happy but wished Dad was, too. The Preacher put her on a boat and paddled against the Atlantic Ocean tide, and then Dad was gone.
On the way, Gabriel kept asking the Preacher questions, but he wouldn't answer. As the tower came into view, it wasn't so beautiful anymore. She saw the sun for the last time as the boat entered a tunnel at the tower's base. The Preacher picked her up under the arms, put her on a platform, faintly thanked her and left.
The little girl stood in darkness for a while, waiting.