Submitted by Bill St. Clair on Mon, 08 Jan 2007 11:31:37 GMT  <== Gloryroad ==> 

by George Potter
[from here]

To hell with you, spirit.

I did not return to this place to do battle with spirits. I returned to this place for my own selfish and important reasons. It was you, spirit, who initiated this conflict. It was you, spirit, who laid down the gauntlet.
So be it.

"Are you OK?" she asks.

I swim up out of almost sleep, the night and the situation at hand shimmer into existence around me.

I am in a sleeping bag. I am naked. I am not alone.

Stars burn above me, spread and scattered like gems on jewel cloth. The air is warm but not hot. The breeze is gentle but insistent. Such nights and such situations are the material of wonderful memories for the young. I am not young. I'm not old, but I'm not young.

Sometimes it feels like I was never young.

"OK it was good." she says, and I can feel her smile in the dark. "But it shouldn't have stolen your voice." She kisses me quickly. "It wasn't that good."

"Sorry." I tell her. "I think I dozed off." And dreamed. And was warned.

She snuggles up to me and sighs. "I gotta go home in a minute. Sorry."

I squeeze her back, for politeness sake. I'm not comfortable here. Something is watching.

"Where are we, anyway?" I whisper.

She laughs. "You must have been higher than I thought. We're up near the head of Pond Creek, 'bout three miles from my house." A yawn. "This is where everybody goes."

Everybody is a fool then, I think. This is not a good place. It's not an evil place either, but it's far from good.

Something is watching.

Something that lives here.

Everybody says that my Mother is a witch. I've never agreed with or denied that claim. I simply shrug and let them make up their own mind.

My mother is a straightforward, often severe woman of 65 who prides herself on her civility, her cooking, and the pack of children she managed to raise despite poverty and hell's own aggravation. In daily life, through daily stress, there is nothing whatsoever mystical or magical about my mother. Those are facts.

But my Mother knows things, that is also a fact. Many strange and unusual things. She knows the herbs to pick to brew the tea to kill the fever after the doctors have given up. She knows the place to go to find the perfect stone to sit in the garden to frighten crows. I have seen her reason with cats and command strange dogs to lie down and be quiet.

Many things.

Before I left her home, before I made the return to the place where I was born, she told me this:

"If you go into the mountains -- and knowing you boy, that's where you'll stay -- you will see and hear things. Don't be afraid. If you don't turn and look at them, they can't hurt you."

I nodded, serious. I'd have laughed at anyone else, and dismissed them as silly. But this was Mother.

She knows things.

Her name is Shelly and I watch her dress with eyes now adjusted to starlight.

She is not a particularly pretty girl, but I would not call her plain. She has her own face -- unique and beautiful, not pretty. I approve. Pretty is for flowers and little girls in gingham dresses and black suede shoes. Pretty is for the sentimental. I prefer beauty.

"Stop staring at me because I'm fat." she says, tone battling to sound playful but failing. Too much self consciousness coils behind the words, shattering the glib surface. Real pain lies between them.

She's not fat, but I don't tell her that. It's the stock response, it's expected, and -- like all stock responses -- will burden her with a load of assumptions.

"Skinny women bore me." I say instead.

She laughs.

I'm sitting up now, still naked, sleeping bag puddled around my lap. I watch her pull on a pair of pants with two deft motions and button them. She wears men's clothes. A Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt and Lee jeans, topped with a Harley cap. She manages to look sexy as hell in them, too.

She turns and looks at me. "Get dressed." she commands.


She sighs. "Because I don't have time to pull my clothes back off and attack you. I gotta get home. My nephew will be awake at 7 am sharp, and he'll be jumping on top of my head three minutes later. It's almost 2 am."

I comply, and she walks to her car. I dress quickly, and look around at this apparently popular little hangout. This place that screams danger at me on some low frequency deep in my head.

It's just a big wide spot beside a gravel road, more or less flat. Hemmed in by shrubs and bushes, trees a few hundred feet to the east and west, the road running a winding crooked north/south up the side of the hill.

I hear the car crank but refuse to start. I hear Shelly mutter curses.

Yes. I can feel it. Like a vibration in the air, like a finger pointing at me from the dark.

Something is watching.

Something that lives here.

The starter catches and the car roars into life, load and blaring without a muffler.

"Come on!"

As soon as I turn, facing the car and the headlights that spring into the black, the chill hits me. Imaginary sand skitters down my spine. The hair on the back of my neck stands at painful full attention.

I know, way down on that low frequency, that the watcher just let its face show.

I do not turn and look. I can feel some awful hot breath chuffing from that face, but I do not turn and look. Rigid, electrified, I walk slowly to the car and get in.

We pull out and move down the hill. The watcher stares.

I do not turn and look.

"You're kind of quiet." Shelly says, as soon as we're on our way toward the mouth of the hollow.

"Sorry." I say.

Long seconds drift by, empty save the vibration of the car and the roar of the unmuffled engine.

"Are you embarrassed?"

I'm surprised. "Excuse me?"

"Embarrassed. For fucking a fat chick who stripped down and got into bed with you an hour after she met you."

Sometimes people say things to you that leave you at this mental crux-point. If you're smart enough, it manifests as a sort of scattered graph. You can choose how you want to respond by following the graph.

I do not baby her. I do not reassure her. I do not apologize.

"That's the only kind of women I've ever fucked." I tell her, and it's the truth.

She knows it's the truth, and she laughs. Really laughs. So hard she has to pull over for a minute to recover. The laughter giggles back up again several times in the nice warm silence that it created.

When she drops me off, she's suddenly troubled.

"We're not, like, boyfriend or girlfriend or anything, right? You don't think that..."

"I'm a boy. You're a girl. We're friends. Haven't you ever watched movies? Anything could happen."

I close the door, and place my hand on the window for a moment. She reaches across and touches it goodbye. I can feel a warm spark jump across the barrier of the fake glass.

She pulls out and drives off, toward a still sleeping nephew and responsibilities she didn't create.

I decide I like her a lot.

I go inside and shower. I consider going to bed. But I can still feel the hair on the back of my neck, restless with the remnants of that electric charge. Something dances uneasily along my spine and I know sleep will be delayed, perhaps for a day or two.

I sit down, still naked, at my computer desk. I position the wheeled swivel chair perfectly in the center of the pentagram that no one but myself and Cat (who has not chosen to make an appearance yet) can see.

I close my eyes and hold my breath, until the silky flow of the circles protection crawls up my skin and encases me.

Everyone laughs at my computer, since it has no case and much of it is tacked to the wall. It's the only way it will run, since it builds up far more heat than even the four heavy duty fans placed at strategic points can handle. On cold nights the things it processes can heat my bedroom.

I never turn it off. Power outages have no effect on it, since it operates under its own power. To turn it off, intentionally, would destroy it.

I log on.

The hunt begins.

My father is the greatest mechanic this world has ever seen, and only six people know this fact. Three of them are dead and the other three deserve the sort of trust epic poems are written about.

I once watched my father repair and use an engine my younger brother and myself dug out of the ground: a big block Chevy engine that had waited there patiently for twenty three years. Waited for two children to find and rescue it. Waited for the only hands on the planet capable of giving it life again.

He did this in two days.

Years later, he traded that car for our first computer -- a Commodore Vic 20. On that day, my father found his purpose in life.

When I found out what I could do with the computers my father rigged, I discovered my own.

The night before I left his home, he presented me with this rig.

The hunt is still afoot when Cat -- his hunt at an end -- returns. He enters through one of his secret doors, ignoring the flap I built for him as he does unless we have a guest.

He saunters over to me, to the invisible pentagrams edge, and drops me the morning gift. A large gray jack rabbit, nearly his size. It has been decapitated, but there is no blood.

I don't know what he does with the blood. That's his business.

"Thanks, Cat. Good morning."

He mews, deep and rumbly, like a rusted manhole cover being pried from some burned city street. Milk, he says.

I glance at the clock. It's nearly 10 am. I have learned a lot, in my meandering way, but not enough.

Shift and CTRL down, I tap in: Exodus Tempus 60. The search locks and holds, the protective circle pauses. One hour.

I snag the rabbit and move to the kitchen, Cat dancing right on the edge of tripping me.

I pour him a milk in his favorite saucer and he sets to it with a will. I do the same to the rabbit, skinning and cleaning it, realizing that I'm starving. I slice a nice portion from it and start it frying with some butter and paprika. I scramble some eggs in a sseparatepan.

Cat deigns to share breakfast with me, perhaps to show that he does not hunt for sport. That he is a pragmatic killer. Or, maybe, he just likes eggs and paprika.

I don't try to figure cats out. They come to me, of their own will. I have never chosen a cat in my life. Nor have I ever insulted one by naming it. They have their own names. They are not pets to me. They are combination friends and associates. We complement each other and like each other. That is enough.

The only odd thing about Cat is that he is a tom. I've never lived with a tom before. A tom never chose me before now. Always females, usually tiger striped or white. Toms, I've discovered, are very different from the female of their species -- in many ways more sociable, if less affectionate. Not as quick a hunter, but just as skilled and able to take larger game.

It has been almost 10 years since I've bought meat. Why waste money on what a cat will provide willingly and (I suspect) with great joy?

I'm headed back to the computer when someone knocks on the door.

Shelly is smiling at me when I open up, having pulled on a pair of boxer shorts and a t-shirt.

She looks a little embarrassed After a second, I realize why.

She has ditched the guy clothes and... well... dressed up. A nice low cut blouse that shows decent cleavage. A skirt. Hose. Pumps.

Not embarrassed actually. Uncomfortable. And somewhat annoyed.

"Hi." she says. "You don't mind me stopping by, do you?"

"Of course not." I say, despite the fact that I do. I have work to complete, and my one hour holding pattern only has twenty minutes left to run. Missing the mark will result in seven hours work lost, a vicious headache, and a torrential nose bleed.

But I smile as I say it, regardless. I surprise myself by meaning it. I'm happy to see her. She looks cute as a button in her uncomfortable get-up, partially because of her blushing self-awareness.

I realize something as she steps inside and glances around my not exactly impressive home. My morning research is not simply the product of my usual curiosity or due to any danger I sensed formyself.

The danger focuses on her.

"Nice place." she finally judges. "Clean."

"I wasn't raised by wolves. Do you eat rabbit?"

She makes a face. "Ugh, no. That's horrible."

"Deliciously horrible."

She rolls her eyes and sits, obviously reminding herself that she's wearing a skirt.

Cat swaggers up and eyes her.

"Hi kitty." she says.

He narrows his eyes to slits and cocks his head. Then he starts cleaning himself.

Judgment acceptable with provisional reservations.

"Not very friendly."

I laugh. "If he didn't like you he'd raise massive hell." Literally, I don't say.

"You're not one of those weird cat people are you?" she asks, more flirty than inquisitive.

"You have no idea." Something about my eyes catches her. Damn. I'm letting the guard slip a little far, and Cat is staring at me like I'm a fool. The holding pattern is cycling down ttowardfifteen minutes remaining, and I can feel the 'puter pulsing out waves of warning in the bedroom. In a few minutes even Shelly will sense it.

"Not to be rude, but I haven't been to bed yet." I tell her. Best to stick to true statements. "Even ugly guys like me need beauty sleep. Did you need something?"

She stands up. Smiles. "Not really. I was... going to the store. Just... wanted to see you. I guess." Really, really clumsy lies. Except the last bit. "And you're not ugly." She blushes and forges head. "Want to get together tonight?"

Relief. "Sure. Come by around five."

"OK" She stares at me for a few seconds. Then kisses me, on impulse. A sweet little kiss.

As she leaves she walks with a bounce to her step, unable to hide a happy heart.

I see it for the first time, crackling around her like a storm cloud. The black aura of incoming danger. It ccoalescesaround her, a tightening fist, and sends smoky tendrils out, reaching for me.

Whatever lives at the head of Pond Creek wants me, all right -- but knows better than to try a frontal assault. It's a sneaky bitch. It will try to sneak in through a weak emotional backdoor.


When I was eleven years old, I figured out how to log onto the internet -- which was an achievement because we didn't have a modem or a phone, and the internet was a bare few servers stitching together a hhandfulof Universities. I figured this out in a half trance, while aattemptingto write a Basic program that would function as an alarm clock.

Unnerved, I asked my father to look at it. He passed out. My mother looked at the code and paled.

After that, they let me be at the computer. I met many interesting people. And creatures.

And I figured out many more things.

I slip back into the chair with nine minutes remaining. The room temperature has grown uncomfortable and a steady ache has crept behind my eyes.

Shift and CTRL down: Resumptis. Cat gives me a final, withering glance and wanders off to sleep.

The hunt continues.

I'm in the Howling, the non-place some call Hell.

It's not. What it really is is the seedbed of reality, the thin layer of existence where nothing becomes something.

"Probably because the universe got bored." my dad opines. My mom always says something about God.

On this side physics begin -- time, space, heat and light. On the other -- nothing.

To me, it's just a big data web.

But I have to be careful. Because on the other side the enemy lives. It has many names.

Nothing, as I said. Scientists call it entropy and 'the heat death of the universe'. Politicians, the human beings most in its thrall, call it Order.

My family, and those like us, call it The Crumbler.

"The first thing you have to understand, son, is that most people are ignorant about the universe. Take the concepts of chaos and order. Chaos is supposed to be bad, Order is supposed to be good. Right?"

I nod. That's what they tell us in school.

"That's a bag of bull." Dad is enjoying this. He likes destroying illusions as much as fiddling with tools. "Think about it: what is the ultimate order?"

I mull it over, but he's being rhetorical.

"Being dead. Being rotted away and gone. Nothing more orderly and quiet and peaceful than that, is there?"

I agree.

"And that's what the Crumbler wants. Not just for us. For everything. For the whole blasted universe."

I'm spiraling in, now pulling data from the minds of the dead. Their souls do not rest here, but their memories are often locked, here -- flash frozen in The Howling by their final frenzied fight to live.

I concentrate on the geographic area of Pond Creek. Its history and settlement.

It comes to me, as a revelation, what I'm dealing with.

I didn't think any nature spirits still haunted this world. I now realized why my mother warned me. Because nature spirits, despite the romanticists and neo-pagans, are all in the service of the enemy. As my family and folk like us -- witchfolk, they call us -- exist to combat him.

I know what to do.

"You can't hide from it." my mother tells me as I pack.

"I'm not trying to hide from anything." I tell her, lying. "I just want to go back and see the damn place."

"You can't help what you are."

"And I can't help what I want, either!" I yell. "Maybe I just want a wife and some kids, Mom! Maybe I just want to be left alone and not worry about some fucking ancient war I never asked to fight!"

She laughs at me, pissing me off even more.

"Lord, boy... you think we chose this?"

I continue to pack, angry.

"Nobody gets to choose. We were born as we were and the enemy tries to kill us because it fears us. We no more choose it than water chooses to freeze in the winter."

I come out of trance. The complexity of what I have to do next demands I be fully functional. That means it's going to hurt.

I once tried to explain to my dad how I built hexes and ttessellationswith the computer.

"A normal computer only knows two things. On and off. But the way you rig 'em makes 'em different."

"Explain it to me." Dad maintained that he had no idea how he did what he did. He worked by instinct and intuition.

"Well... they got on and off. But they also got over and under and toward and away."


"Six positions. Not two."

He smiled. "A hex."


Lots of things live in The Howling. Imps and daemons and furies and rrievings All of them are dangerous if you don't know what you're doing. And all of them are useful if you do.

I need a rieving

My mom taught me about rievings.

"Nicer than imps or daemons." she said. "And nowhere near as annoying as furies."

She drew a hex on the ground and snatched one from the substrate. It glowed like fire and fluttered in her finger. "Kind of pretty too, don't you think?"

"What are they useful for?"

"Not a lot these days." she said, and flicked it back into the Howling. As long as I live I doubt I'll ever be able to match her skill. "They used to be indispensable when our folk had to deal with spirits. Swallow a rieving, and you can take on its sight. They also sing, a song of protection."

"Think I'll ever have to use one?"

She smiled. "I hope not. But I'll teach you. Just in case."

It takes me almost an hour to pull the tenacious little fucker from the substrate, using almost 1500 lines of code.

Once I realize it, though, I don't have to figure out how to swallow it. Damn thing charges me, smacks me right between the eyes. Pain and light explode in my head, and it takes me a few minutes to get used to the high pitched noise and the bizarre way the world looks.

I realize with a chill that I can now see the Crumbler's effects on the world. The awful fingers of dissolution transforming spacetime into simple dead atoms.

Cat hisses at me.

"Oh shut up." I tell him.

Shelly arrives at 4:45, and I've come up with a plan to get back to the head of Pond Creek.

While in the Howling I dipped into her head. I know she has a weed dealer past the wide place. I know this weed dealer won't let her bring me with her, since he doesn't know me. I also know that she's out and wants some and is broke and bummed about it.

I meet her at the door. She hears my plan and hugs me. The reiving passes a thought to me from her: This guy just flat out rocks.. I tell it firmly to stop doing that.

On the ride she tries clumsily to get to know me.

"So you were born here?"

"Yeah. Left twenty years ago."

"Why did you come back?"

"Why not?"

"Where do you work?"

"I don't.

Short silence.

"How do you get money then?"

"Male prostitution."

She laughs. Then stops.

"Not... like... for real, right?"

I just look at her.

"You're weird." she informs me. But she's almost bouncing in her seat.

As we cross Pond creek bridge I tell her to stop, judging it so that we halt exactly in the center of the bridge. The rieving in my cortex whines its number song: the world apappearso me as perfect geometric edges, the steadily tightening hand of the Crumbler in their hateful symmetry.

"What for?" Shelly asks. Rather than make up a lie I speak with the rievings voice, exactly what she needs to hear. She blushes. "You goof." But she's pleased.

I'm out of the car and make my way to the river's edge. A few seconds travelling on the bank leads me to the marshy edge of where Pond Creek flows into the Big Sandy. I can feel the spirit's baleful influence even here, at its furthest reach. The rieving amps up its chaoswhine, screaming the protective spell around its bound holder.

I scoop the vial full of the mingling waters. I glance at it in the moonlight. Brackish, gleaming dully.

On my way back I catch sight of color. An incongruous flower grows a few feet up the mossy, overgrown bank, lonely pretty in a field of faded green. I pluck it, smiling. Seems my rieving's a bit of a romantic.

Shelly is pleased down to the bone. She nearly wrecks us trying to give me a spontaneous hug. I look at her dourly but she just sticks her tongue out at me and places the flower in her hair.

I must admit -- it looks nice.

We stop by her house for a minute, to check on her nephew. He's busy at his Playstation, wandering an imaginary land and battling imaginary evil. He spares me a smile and a 'Nicetameetcha.' before his attention pulls back to the game.

Shelly grabs three pops and a pack of French Lights, tells her Mom not to wait up, and whisks me out of there.

"Onward to buzzland!" she cries as we leave the driveway. Her eyes shine in the reflected dashlight and I am glad she has no clue how much danger we are walking in to.

"Are you sure this is OK?" she asks me as she drops me off at the wide place, as if it weren't my idea. "I wish dumbass weren't so paranoid."

"It's part of his business to be paranoid, hon." I tell her.

"Still annoying." She sighs. "I'll be right back. Well, not right back. Robbie is the kind of dealer that forces you to gossip before pulling out product. You know the type. Gimme a kiss."

I do. She's greedy.

She finally leaves, thankfully not asking me if I need a picnic lunch and a blanket.

As soon as her headlights disappear I bring out the vial. I can feel the watcher gathering strength, perhaps enraged -- or afraid -- at my returning presence. I have a bare few minutes.

With the assistance of the rieving I draw the not-pentagram, the interior winding hexagon, in water on earth, with a skill Euclid would admire. The air gusts around me, and -- in my head -- the rieving pours out elemental fire into the other three elements.

Components mesh, processes begin, deep on the secret levels of the reality fabric numbers dance and crunch together.

I sit in the circle.

Two seconds, a hair over maybe, and I hear it approach. Feel its breath and smell its angry stink.

"Hello spirit."

Get the fuck off Pond Creek.

"Not very welcoming to one of the few who know of your existence, spirit."

Get the fuck off Pond Creek.

"I come to parley."


I sigh, dramatically. "Fine. We'll do this by the boring old routine." I take in a breath and hold it. I command the rieving to cycle up to full.

In a voice not my own I speak:

What are you?

A pause. An electric stiffness evades the air. The hex has it. It cannot lie. It cannot refuse to speak.

I am the spirit of what the firefly things call Pond Creek.

How old are you?

As old as the mountains and the forest and the world. Older than your kin, ugly fetus.

What is your purpose?

I pour. I pour. I pour.

What is your intent?

It fights, screaming in pain as the hex forces it to compliance.


I repeat my question, slowly. Enunciating each word, making them huge and horrible. Driving them into the spirit like blades.

What. Is. Your. Intent?

Something like a choked sob. A moan. Then:


Oh. Of course. For a moment disgust and anger fills me. Images, connections. Of witches and mechanics and the hexes they weave, from discarded parts and bones and blood. Of hexes riding spirals of DNA into the future. A never ending war I never asked to fight, was drafted into from conception.

Of a sweet girl with a wild flower in her hair, who knew nothing of war on the secret planes. Who just wanted a nice guy who would be sweet to her.

What of the girl? I ask. She has done nothing to you. She is not a combatant. She was born and raised here by your demesnes. The compact...

Was broken when she whored for you!

Ah, yes. The blind morality of the Crumbler and its creatures. My mother's voice in my head: "It hates us for what we are at base, baby. How messy and unpredictable we are. How chaotic and instinctual."

You can't run from the past. Events are hexes, building tessellations as they propgate through time and space. Destiny waits around every crook and corner. Into the future we must march, into the mouth of the Crumbler.

From the boiling chaos of the now, my only medium, I act.

I stand. I focus the rieving into a compacted point. The moonlight warps around me.

I will leave this place, spirit. Do not harm the girl. I will leave and never return. Tell your master.

I pour.

Harm the girl and I will stop that pour. I will end your flow. Harm one hair on her head and you. will. cease.

Get the fuck off Pond Creek.

Not until my ride gets here, bitch.

In the distance I hear the approaching throb of a mufflerless car. A moment later, headlights stab through the trees.

Tell your master. Now... go.

There is a pause. Then the sound of something large turning and walking away. Four feet. It has four feet, whatever body it has chosen.

Just as Shelly arrives, it fades, as does the rieving and the protective circle. I shudder in the sudden cold. I am drenched with sweat. My nose is bleeding.

She sticks her head out the window. "Come on! He had some good shit! Let's roll one."

I climb into the vehicle, make an excuse for the nosebleed, and accept the sack of herb.

Shelly fusses over me, cleaning the blood off, but mollified that it has indeed stopped.

"Forget it." I tell her. I kiss her, greedy myself this time, knowing that this second night together will be our last. I am determined to make it an enjoyable one.

I should have known better.

We are a quarter mile away, I'm rolling and Shelly is gabbing about her perpetually stoned dealer, driving too fast, when she shrieks and slams on the brakes.

I get a single glance.

They'll say it was a deer, but it's the size of an elk. It is solid white and glows.

It has the face of a man and huge human eyes that boil hate even as the car slams into it and careens sideways.

The last thing I remember is moving in slow motion ttowardthe windshield. Moving toward that hateful face.

And a voice, screaming in my head.

I Pour!

I wake up, a few minutes later, unscratched. Thrown through a windshield, thrown clear, but unscratched.

Of course. The hexes my mother placed on from the moment of conception and renews daily will not be defied by such crude measures.

Shelly is not so lucky.

The car is on fire as I stagger toward it, crushed against a huge tree it has damn near knocked down.

She's alive. A mess, but alive.

I manage to get her out. I manage to carry her broken body three miles to her frantic mother and terrified nephew. I manage it, but barely.

I'm not a superhuman. I'm just a guy who can make a machine count past two.

I ride in the ambulance with her to the hospital, numb with anger. Sick with rage. She wakes up twice, screaming in pain. After the second time they up the morphine. Both arms are shattered. Spine dislocated. A hip is broken. Her skull is damaged. The EMTs don't know how badly.

"What the hell did she say?" the driver asks.

His assistant pauses. Then says, in a low voice:

"She said 'It had a fucking face.'"

I stay with her in ICU until dawn, when her mother finally shows.

"Sorry." she says, refusing to look at me. "Had to wait till my son got home. The baby, you know."

I nod, and give up my seat.

I look at Shelly for a moment. I lay the red wild flower by her hand. I found it sticking to my jacket in the ambulance.

"Just go." her mother says. "I don't know who you are, but I think you're fucking dangerous." She swallows past a dry throat. "Please. Go."

I nod. What can I say? She's right.

And I have work to do.

On my way out of the hospital I hear a mew. I look up and am not surprised to see Cat sitting lazily on the stonework sill of Shelly's room. He stares down at me in patient contempt.

I wave. This is as it should be. What we wreck and leave behind may not be forgiven, but a gesture can be made.

"Bye, Cat." I whisper. He does not respond. Goodbye is a human concept, too silly for catkind.

Maybe they are on to something.

I am coming for you, spirit.

Across Pond Creek bridge and down the Big Sandy, up the bank. I run. Your entire length -- every twist and turn, every spot deep and shallow -- I note. I give you this respect, this honor, though you do not deserve it. I keep the compact and custom of our ancient war despite your filthy deal breaking.

I bring no rieving, no lower plane hex. I bring only a backpack stuffed with the cruder magic of my people. A different tessellation, honeycombed cylinders of gglycerinand volatile nitrates.

I am coming for you, spirit. You will cease. Your flow will end. Today.

Almost there, spirit.

-- from The Polk County Gazette:

Good news from Polk County General! Shelly Certes -- injured in a car accident last week -- is up and recovering. Keep her in your prayers, folks. She has a long period of therapy left to go, and the poor thing still can't remember much from the past few months.

In other local news, there's still no word on the mysterious explosion that shook Pond Creek the day after Shelly's accident. No suspects have been named, and the Sheriffs Office figures there won't be any.

"Damn fools probably blew themselves up messing around." says Sherrif Harry Casey. "We suspect it was dope heads playin' with dynamite. It's a shame that the folks on Pond are hard up for water, though. Be the end of the year before the rock fall can be cleared enough to let the creek run again. Morons sheared half the top of the mountain off."

I'm two hundred miles west, thumb to the random, when I hear a pitiful little mew from the treeline. It's hot and I need an excuse to rest, anyway. I make my way over into the shade and slip the backpack off. Not much but clothes and a shitload of granola and trail mix. Deep at the bottom is the only important thing: a modified gigstick USB drive that I have wrapped in dry ice and a dozen layers of thermal cloth. I sit the pack down easy. Some of the things on that drive do not take kindly to bumps and jars.

I pull out a granola bar and munch. I dig out half a pint of milk that's on the edge of going bad anyway -- it's been riding at the top of the pack since eight this AM.

A few minutes pass when I hear the mew again. Much closer this time. I turn, slowly, and see what has come calling.

About five feet away sits the scrawniest, most ragged excuse for a kitten I've ever seen. Skin and bones, fur that might be gray beyond the coatings of dirt. A female; I can tell from the way her eyes gleam.

She has a mole in her mouth. Decapitated. Not a single drop of blood flows to the ground.

I sigh. I've never had to eat a mole before, but the deal is the deal. Can't be that bad.

I hold up the milk and shake it back and forth.

"Hello, Cat." I say.

Half an hour later we are on the road, Cat snug and sleeping the sleep of the content at the very top of the back pack.

I stare down the horizon as I move toward it, watching the sun fall down toward the other side of the world, pulled along the march of the Crumbler.

I hope Shelly is well. I hope my folks don't worry so much.

But mostly I wonder what another day will bring. Hiding from the past is stupid. Thinking you can just walk away from a war and settle down is even dumber.

Who needs a wife and stuff when you have a Cat?

Who needs a place to settle when you have a war to fight?

I walk toward the horizon, into the mouth of entropy, into the halls of order, smashing windows and seeding chaos. I ride the ttessellationup from the quantum boil, harbinger and champion, bringer of change.

Tomorrow is coming, my enemies whisper. And I know this to be true.

But no quicker.

No quicker, by God.

Death to the Crumbler.

Add comment Edit post Add post