13 August, 2013

The Countdown Begins (Ish)

I can't really say that it's begun, as there's no definite date yet, but things are in the works here. Improvements, you could say. A total-blog revamp, which means new sights (and new sounds, too!) and a whole buttload of better-quality edutainment. Once the blog is reactivated, the story of Jim and Diego will be completed, and there's going to be so much more to see and experience.

Here's the Twitter announcement:


And for the Facebookians:



And I haven't figured out how to use Tumblr yet, so there's no one to tell on Tumblr, and I suppose this post will be shared on Pinterest, and I'm not entirely certain what to do for Instagram, but I'll figure something out. Either way, things are a-changing!

15 July, 2013

Jim Gains a Familiar!

"Oh, sweet merciful goodness! I think it sunk its teeth in even further!" I think I reached shrieking at this point, but I was very much against it biting my arm clean off. Diego ran over and began prying its jaws apart while I punched it in the back of the head.

After several seconds of tugging, Diego found a nerve on the little demon and it shrieked, releasing my arm from its jaws. Instead of letting go, it wrapped its stubby arms and legs around the wound it made, and clung to me as though I were a life raft to save him from drowning.

"Why the hell are you being so goddamn stubborn? What's the point of you?" I asked through gritted teeth and threw myself at a wall, using it to cushion my impact. It let out a pitiful squeak and let go. Instead of dropping straight to the floor, though, it hovered for a second before exploding to shreds. Diego and I just stared, dumbfounded.

When the dust settled and the strips of garden gnome flesh fell to the ground, there was a stereotypical-looking demon, red skin, black horns, bat-like wings, et al, hovering at my 6'3 eye level, flapping its wings to stay aloft. It immediately began flying toward the stairs to escape, but before I knew what I was doing, I barked out a couple syllables that might have sounded close to "No! Stay! Me!" and some other things I couldn't make out.

It looked like a cartoon at that point, with the way it seemed to collide with an invisible wall, and fell to the ground. When it landed, it dusted itself off, whipped its barbed tail along the ground and stared straight into my eyes, which made me want to take a step back, but some base, lizard-brain instinct told me not to budge, so I didn't.

We stared at each other, oblivious to Diego going back and forth between stammering about something and tilting his head back. It seemed like an eternity that we stared, having unknowingly entered a contest of fortitude against a full-fledged demon. My eyes started to burn, but in the end, it blinked first.

Almost immediately, as it looked away, down to the ground in defeat, did I realize that a segment of my brain I had no idea I had partitioned off suddenly became accessible. I could tap into the senses of this demon, an imp, as it was known where it came from. I didn't press for details, but they came anyway. I watched the imp fight amongst its kin to survive bursting forth from the stomach of a poor human woman, its brothers and sisters falling, dead, from the hole in her stomach. I vomited.

A whole lifetime of being a literal trickster from hell, pitting other demons against one another, all the while acquiring knowledge by pouring over books in some horrible library in the abyss, and how to access that information became clear to me. This imp owed me everything it had or ever will have, so all I had to do was demand it tell me what it knows, and it will. I also realized that the transfer of information was going the other way, too. The imp was learning about me and my life.

"Whoa...amazing. No, horrifying. No...whoa...." The imp flapped its wings a several times before launching up to a perch on my shoulder. It coiled its tail around the arm it bit into, and instantly the pain began receding. I was back to myself. I turned to Diego, excited.

"Hey, dude! Remember how Esther at that bookstore is always going on about her cat being her familiar? Now I've got one, too! This imp challenged me and I won! Kick ass!" I was so excited.

It was at this point, however, that I noticed we had an audience. Slowly, I turned toward the possible statue of Tandamum to see the bewildered faces of my neighbors.

"Well...shit."

08 July, 2013

Into the Belly of the Beast

The stairs were covered in moss, so Diego and I had to be absolutely sure about our footing. As we gingerly descended, we kept having to grab on to vines and other wall protrusions to keep from tumbling head first down the rest of the stairs. I had never felt so foolish going into my basement, but the last couple of days had changed how I feel about a lot of things.

"When we bought this place, did you ever think that this is where we'd end up? Going into the basement to slay a demon, armed only with a whip made of some vine and two axes?" Diego chuckled to himself as he spoke. The situation definitely had a sense of black humor about it. I felt like I was in a very bad B-movie.

At least we'd come out alive, though, so that was good. I had a girlfriend, so she would survive. Cliff and Sal, though.... Well, Sal may already be dead. That snapped me back to the present as I arrived at the bottom of the stairs. There was some sort of low humming coming from around the corner and towards the center of the basement, but I couldn't quite decipher what it was. Either way, it was rather unnerving.

We peeked around the corner and almost fell over in pure shock. What we saw, clear in the exact center of the cellar, was Tandamum with some sort of circle drawn around him on the floor, which didn't really bother me once I realized who the body bound and gagged (still unconscious) at the statue's feet was: Sal. I couldn't really make anything else out, as most of the neighborhood was down here, sitting cross-legged with their backs to us. The low hum was coming from them. Some sort of chanting, I supposed.

"Holy shit, Jay! It's fucking Tandamum!" Diego exclaimed in a whisper when he got around to seeing the demon-worship.

"Don't worry, dude. It's just a statue; it's not like that's actually him! Also, Jay? What the fuck?" I whispered back.

"I don't know, I'm experimenting with new things. Also, it totally could be, dude!"

"What? Are you dumb? Why would you think that?" I was getting kind of annoyed, as we needed to focus on getting Sal away from the statue, and our crazy cultist neighbors, not whether the dead body of the ultimate evil was petrified in front of us, or just a statue. Diego lightly punched me in the back of the head.

"Dipshit! Tandamum, Pacifi, and all of their people were made of stone!" I flashed back to Allendriel's story. Shit, he was right. My right bicep received a pinch.

"Ow! Cut the shit, dickhead! You already made your point!" I hissed, rubbing the impact site with my other arm.

"What the fuck are you talking about?"

"You pinched me! Or bit me. Either way, ow!"

"Dude. Why would I go for such a girly move immediately after punching you in the back of the goddamn head?"

I looked down into my arms again and realized that since entering the basement, I was missing a lot of things that were going on around me. For example, that creepy garden gnome with the smile with too many teeth was the real culprit, having sunk its needlelike teeth into my arm. It grinned at me.

"What do you want? To offer some unwarranted criticism, too? Too bad, I'm full up on that precious commodity. Pick something else."

It seemed to ponder that for a few seconds and then shrieked a "Pik pik!" before sinking its teeth in once again. I screamed and started flailing around.

"Flex! Flex your muscles! It'll make him explode!" Diego shouted, being less helpful than I'm sure he thought he was being.

"It's not a goddamn mosquito, Diego! It's-" I began screaming back.

"Yeah, it's a demonic garden gnome with syringes of who knows what for teeth that works for the Ultimate Evil, and it's trying to kill us! I'm sorry I didn't read the guidebook a million times to get the proper method of killing it!" I wanted to deck him, but I started hitting the garden gnome instead. It just held fast.

"Stand back-I mean still! Stand still!" Diego roared, lifting one of his axes up high above his head. Shit, he was really going to do it, so I did the only thing I could think of doing: act on impulse. I'm going to also take a moment here to let you know that I have always had very, very poor impulse control, which explains why instead of screaming and moving, I screamed and punched him in the nose instead.

"Oh, god! My nose!" He immediately dropped the axe to the ground with a clang, and put both hands to his nose to check for bleeding.

"Relax, dude! Relax! It's not broken!" I went to offer as much assistance as I could, but he waved me away with his elbows. Turning from me and muttering, Diego tilted his head back toward the ceiling. I don't think he believed me about his nose being broken, but one crisis at a time. Before that, I would have to deal with-

"Oh, sweet merciful goodness! I think it sunk its teeth in even further!"

05 July, 2013

(a chaotic missive from the one who lived)

How do I begin? I honestly have no idea, so I suppose I'll do stream-of-consciousness and see where it takes me. I apologize in advance for the scattered thoughts.

On Sunday, my baby brother died. No. Took his own life. That morning will always be seared into my brain, and my usually shitty memory won't ever let it go. I remember what I was thinking on the drive home from work that morning. I was thinking about taking him out for that beer I owed him for his 21st birthday, back in January, once I received my permanent work schedule.

.....

(1 hour, 16 minutes later)

.....

A conversation between a bard and a writer:

Bard: I like what you have so far. You can read the one I put up for Nate .... When you're ready. Its "My Immortal"
Writer: I can't. I'm mentally blocked. I tried continuing, but all that would come out was sdhga gsigh sig...gibberish. I physically cannot write about it....

Bard: Don't force it. Dy, it took me fourteen years to write about my son. I stupidly made two of the main chars [in the zombie book] dealing with the loss of a son and a friends suicide. You KNOW how much I avoid that book. Fuck, horror is my genre. And I'm a cynic And I'm writing romance and erotica! It'll flow when it's time.

Writer: Not good enough.

Bard: You can't force it. It will happen when you are ready. Sitting around and talking yourself into believing you can't write it before you've even tried won't help either. /toughlove You are the best writer I know, and I believe in you. You're in pain right now. It's still very new.

Writer: I think I'm about to round the corner to rage real soon. I can feel it bubbling up within me.

Bard: That's part of grieving. A very normal part of it. Embrace it. But don't hurt yourself.

Writer: It's shades of red and orange, a hulking juggernaut proud to exist, fully confident in its purpose. There is a smell it doesn't recognize in the air, and it stirs feelings of remorse, regret, pain, grief, agony, terror. It knows that these feelings are gateway feelings. Not in the typical sense, in that they lead to other emotions, but a gateway to freedom. It has never seen the outside world, but it lurks, hungry. When it rounds the last corner and discovers the source of these feelings, it will throw its head back into the sky and scream a terrible, soul-rending scream.

Bard: Put THAT into the blog, Dy. That's a perfectly real and honest portrayal of grief. And beautiful

Writer: The thing is that since it has never seen the outside world before, I am afraid of what I will say and do. There is a rage inside of me I have not known, and it is waiting for the tiniest bump in the road, the slightest inconvenience. What bridges will I burn?

Bard: You ok?

Writer: No. Not even a little. I feel the same sense of dread that I would imagine those unable to leave the path of an oncoming storm feel, the quiet before the sound and the fury incarnate.

Bard: No one will blame you for acting out at a time like this. No one that really cares. Remember, I threw a Christmas tree through a window once. I get it. I understand. Yell at me if you want to. I am here. If you need me. Always. I appreciate your concern, but I am your friend, and I care. Just know I'm here if you need me, okay? For anything. To vent to, to edit your writing, to share beautiful memories, or just someone to talk nonsense with to get your mind off of it. I wish I could do so much to help you and lend support. I'll do whatever I can from 500 miles away. Okay? *big hug*

Writer: And just like that, it's rerouted down another corridor. A temporary standoff. Not much, but something.

.....

(1 hour, 4 minutes later)

.....

I am empty. Drained. I know not how to deal. I begin to think of fairness and what's "right," as if I can will my desires into being simply because I know what is the best universal course of action. The earth still turns and the sun still races across the sky. Lives are still lived and things don't care. I am left to deal with all of my angst and all of the my complex emotions that come with the suicide of my brother. (I have spent so much time writing fiction lately that it doesn't matter how many times I write those last five words, they, too, seem like fiction to me.)

.....

(12 minutes later)

.....

I just don't know. I haven't cried all that much, and I worry that I'll be driving or working at one or the other in-home direct care jobs I have when it hits me, and then I'll be unable to function. What do I say at that point? What do I do? I tried reading a blog authored by someone who went through this also, but the words don't seem to have any relevance to my life and my situation. I just haven't found any way to connect to what she's writing. Part of me thinks it'll come in time. Part of me thinks it never will. Part of me just shut itself off from thinking.

I am lost, confused, sad and angry that I'm not more sad and angry.

I was originally going to put Lawn Gods and all other projects on an indefinite hiatus, but then I realized that I shouldn't do that. I'm going to need to keep busy. However, I will take the rest of this week off, and we'll see where I am as far as continuing the story of Jim and Diego on Monday.

20 June, 2013

Reunion

The boot bounced off of my chest and back into the sitting room. I readied myself to fight, if need be, by taking off the whip. Instantly, it felt like nothing more than an extension of my arm. It was so comfortable in my grasp. I was ready to take on anything.

However, the creature that threw the boot hadn't done so out of malice, as it hadn't even known I was there. I took a knee behind the door frame and peered around the corner in awe of what I was seeing. It was like someone gave life to one of those hideous garden gnomes that lived in most front lawns, and it was going through my steamer trunk of books!

I wanted to boot stomp the fucker, but if it was a legitimate life form, and not just a construct, then I couldn't do that. I needed to at least give it a chance to defect to my side. Oh, man! That would be both hysterical and adorable! As I got up to approach it, I had a sudden flashback of the sleeping gas attack that made me stumble for a step. Apparently that was enough. The gnome peered over the lip of the trunk and looked straight at me. All I could see was a big nose, its eyes, and that stupid pointed hat.

It shrieked at me and began chanting some kind of gibberish. I was so badly startled that I jumped back, bumping into the wall. It leapt out of the chest with little to no effort and toddled up to me. By the stars, this thing was hard to stifle a laugh from. When it approached, it lifted its arms and made an "ak! ak!" sound.

"You want me to lift you up?" I asked, legitimately trying to not poke fun at the foot-tall garden gnome. When it nodded enthusiastically, I obliged and knelt down to grab it. It seemed delighted that I was picking it up. Holding it at arm's length, I looked at it, narrowing my eyes. It felt like a real, living thing.

It mimicked my face, so I began making different faces, just to see what it would do. I wasn't entirely surprised to find that it copied them all perfectly. It pointed behind me, back out into the hall, so I began walking where it lead me. When it took me to the basement door, I hesitated.

"Dak! Dak!" it screeched at me.

"What's down there, little buddy? Are you going to rip my throat out if I take you down there?"

"Nak! Nak!" It shook its head, and pointed at the door. It had begun vibrating in a fit of what I assumed was excitement. I took a deep breath and opened the door, allowing a pungent odor of wildflowers, moss, and other general flowery scents. Then it dawned on me.

"We're going to see Tandamum, aren't we?"

"Ak! Ak!" It rotated its head a full 180 degrees and smiled an impossibly large smile that revealed rows of viscious-looking, needle-like teeth. I shuddered.

"Can't I save at least save one person first? I don't want to go alone."

"Mek!" it grunted. It seemed to consider this notion unhappily before sighing and then we were suddenly in another room, with no more sound than a "paf!" We were in the study, where my whole social circle, minus Sal (damn it), was tied to individual poles, the same poles as last night. As soon as the gnome and I appeared, all heads turned toward us.

"Jim!" they all gasped at once, making me feel like I rose from the dead. The gnome looked from me, to my friends, and back to me again, in one 360-degree rotation of its toothy head, seeming to be considering who it should set free. I carried it over to Tilly.

"Oh, Jim! They caught me! I was sneaking around back, and when I stopped to gather my fortitude, so I started playing with that pen you gave me. Almost immediately after, I heard your voice run screaming into the fray where my ex sucker-punched you! Then I stood and begged for you to stop, as I couldn't bear to watch you be hurt!" She had begun crying out of frustration as she struggled against her wrist and ankle restraints.

"Jim! They're gonna fucking sacrifice us, Jim!" Now it was Diego's turn to get my attention. "I think they killed Sal, Jim! They killed that guy we all thought was you, but when you showed up stupidly last night, he stopped looming like you and they killed him!"

"Allendriel...." I whispered. "Has anyone seen Allendriel?"

No one responded.

"Damn it!" I sighed, then turned to my gnome. "Okay, buddy. Who'd you pick?" It pointed at Diego, and suddenly the three of us were standing outside the cellar door once again, with no more than a "paf!" I looked at Diego.

"We're being led to Tandamum." I said, grimly. He reached over to the wall by the front door, and picked up two axes we kept for chopping down trees, and reated them on his shoulders.

"Then let's bring it." I clapped him on the back, and opened the basement door.

17 June, 2013

Infiltration

I had apparently spent quite an extended period under the haze that hung above the marsh, clinging to the sky and making all outlines unclear, even obscuring the sun. Once I left the swamp, I found that it clung to the horizon, bathing the sky in oranges and purples. All I was going on was the hope that my friends actually were alive, but I supposed that that was enough as I crawled up the hill on my stomach. That idea quickly led me to reconsider my wearing the twenty-foot vine whip like a sash; the thorns were becoming a literal pain in my sides. Not having any other way to carry it, however, forced me to just soldier on.

"Goddess damned stupid mother flipping cultists taking over my neighborhood," I grumbled as I went. It was rather slow going, but I couldn't see into the community, or even the houses themselves, making a stealth approach a necessity.

Once I reached the base of the wall, I looked back down the hill at the marsh, but could only see a hazy fog, and remembered that I always saw the hazy fog at the bottom of this hill on the rare occasion that I looked down here. Had the plant creature been there all this time, waiting for me?

I shuddered at that thought and took off the vine whip. It had a comfortable weight in my hands, feeling familiar in an impossible way. The closest I had ever come to even holding a whip before was when I carried a length of chain to use in assisting the uprooting of a tree stump almost a year ago. I put some faith into knowing how to use it when the time came.

Right now, however, I just used it as a grappling hook. I whipped a gargoyle at the top of the fifteen-foot wall to be an anchor, and began rope-climbing my way up. I felt like Indiana Jones, and felt my fortitude redouble. I guess there's something about acting like an action hero to make you start believing you are one.

I got to the top and looked over the edge, suddenly remembering how I wound up in the marsh to begin with. The sight of ambulatory shrubs and other such plants shocked me again. I could barely believe my eyes, but after what I had just experienced, it was slightly easier to believe.

Diego's favorite rose bush had literally sprouted legs and I was watching it patrol the grounds. It looked like it was trying to mimic Cliff in the slow, methodical gait in which it moved, which was hysterical. Unless, I thought immediately after, that was Cliff. I unwrapped my whip from around the gargoyle's torso to hop down and landed in a roll, popping back up on my feet.

"Yeah! That's some fuckin' parkour shit right there!" Beaming, I made a bee-line for the small tree line we had separating our house from the neighbors on the right, the Danielsons. They were okay people, not giving us too much grief for our life choices, and I legitimately felt bad that they had become crazy cultists.

I ran to the back door of my house, hoping to make it in and through unnoticed. As I peeked through the double glass doors into the kitchen, I saw the Baxters, from the very front edge of the neighborhood, preparing finger sandwiches. The demon worshippers who attend bake sales and PTA meetings. Fucking bizarre.

I knelt down by the door and waited, hoping that the seemingly lowly soldiers would gripe about the master plan and, in turn, unknowingly reveal it to me, but it never came. They prepared my deli meats and cheeses with dead eyes and total silence. Well, shit.

After another couple of minutes, the Baxters finished their preparations, and brought their silver platter, stacked high with sandwiches of different varieties, out of the kitchen. Their angle suggested they were going to thr front room, causing me to shudder at the idea of geriatric demon summoners holding a meet-up in my living room.

As soon as they were far enough away, I slid open the door. Peering around, the house still looked the same, save for the intricate pattern of vines throughout. It bore an uncanny resemblance to that house in Jumanji either just before or just after the flood scene. I was impressed, but then again, I suppose real-life special effects guys don't necessarily need a budget.

Then I had a thought, which led to probably the most important question since this whole thing began: Would that make me Robin Williams in this scenario? My friends are trapped in some sort of PTA-from-hell game, and even the love of my life is endangered. I guess that makes me the protagonist of this story. My house, my friends, my love.

I sighed. Can't I just flip to the end of this story? I really would like to experience Tilly's warm embrace, to put it delicately. The past, what, week or so, has just been one long nightmare. That's it! Maybe I'm still in a coma in the hospital! No, this is real.

I stopped suddenly, in the middle of the hall from the kitchen to the main room. This is real. Demons, magick, cultists, ultimate evil, plant monsters, all of it. This is all real! My head swam with this realization. I had been on the go and constantly forced to just accept it, but now, with a small reprieve in the action, a moment of clarity. How does this sort of thing just go unnoticed?

By rights, it shouldn't. Then again, it does. If it hadn't been for the fire, I still wouldn't know about it all. I know it has to be connected because of the weird shit that happens when I feel the burning sensation in my forearms. There has to be something to that. That fire...

"Shit," I hissed. I could feel the burning sensation coming on again. "No, no, no, no, no! Not now! Come on, Pacifi, give me some of that orgasmic bliss again!" I squeezed my eyes shut as I continued pleading in hushed tones.

"Come on, I have a mission: to rescue my friends and my love! This can't be happening now!" That seemed to be the magick phrase, as the burning withered down to nothing once again. I breathed a sigh of relief and continued throughout the house. I turned into the main sitting room, and before my brain could register the interior of the room, a boot connected with my chest.

13 June, 2013

Understanding the Monster

Just as I let the final gulp of air out of my lungs, the vines pulled me back above the surface, raising me into the air. My head was still swimming, however, with thoughts of Tilly, my friends, and Allendriel. I let them down. They were dead, and it was all my fault. Tandamum was going to rise, and it was all my fault. No need to thank me, population of Earth, I'm only the man who murdered everyone.

I had never been a genocidal maniac before. I always imagined it would be more...fulfilling. Oh, well. I hope dying doesn't hurt. Being chewed and dissolved at the same time probably would, though. I should probably do something to avoid that. But what?

For some reason, I began thinking of Tilly's late husband, and how he randomly went up in flames when he was about to kill me. Well, not kill, but that's what the story will be. I don't need Sal and Diego giving me shit about what actually almost happened.

Anyway, if this plant monster wanted to burst into flames, too, that would be fantastic. I don't really want to die. Why am I just letting it eat me? What happened to the natural instinct for survival? Did that get kicked to the wayside?

"Okay, hideous plant monster, I should probably go home for the night. I'm not exactly feeling like myself. As for you, you should talk to a therapist; forcing people to not want to leave you, a term known as Stockholm Syndrome, isn't psychologically healthy." At this point I noticed that it had stopped trying to eat me, holding me above its gaping and gnashing maw. It almost seemed to be considering what I was saying.

I hung suspended for several tense minutes, as this plant creature began displaying some sort of just-above-sentience. Thankfully, this newfound thinking ability ended in my favor, as it wound up setting me down beside it, and pat me on the head a couple times.

It stopped me as I turned to leave, and I thought that what had happened had all just been some sort of clever ruse, but it didn't try to pick me back up, and a pungently sweet smell simply exploded into the air.

A smaller vine looped around my wrist, showcasing its actual speed, and I suddenly realized that if it had wanted to kill me, I'd be dead already. It started pulling me toward its bulb-head, by the arm, and when my outstretched hand made contact, another vine was pressed into my hand. The one around my wrist did some lightning-fast adjusting, and moved around my hand, closing it around the new vine.

"What's this? You want me to have something?" Another burst of a sweet scent that I somehow knew to be an affirmative answer. I pulled on the vine as the looped one unraveled and disappeared back below the surface of the marsh water. When I heard a snapping and tearing sound, I knew I had a whip made of a vine in my hand.

"A whip? I don't know how to effectively use one. Sorry, man."

In response, there was a "thwip" sound and my neck was punctured by a dart. I started in surprise, and pulled it out. I could feel my brain rewiring itself as instructions on how to use the vine whip bubbled to the surface of my brain.

"Oh...my...word. This is incredible!" The bulb-head bristled with excitement. Apparently, information in the dart also included how to understand its language. I actually had to sit down because I was so amazed, and when I did, I expected to sit in marsh water, but another vine came up and bent itself into a coiled seat.

"Thank you for this gift," I said, looking up at it. "This is absolutely incredible." In response, it shuddered out more pollen and told me about my friends, who were alive, with Tilly and Allendriel not captured, and the state of the neighborhood, fucked unless someone did something.

"Well," I said standing up. "I guess that someone is me. Time to get to work!"

08 June, 2013

Mid-Afternoon Snack

I wound up needing to go back, though, as I would never have made it back to the my neighborhood with one arm cuffed to the other leg. I eventually stumbled upon the burned corpses of my assailants, and rifled through their pockets, vomiting occasionally because of the smell. It takes a special kind of constitution to be able to handle that sort of thing, and I unfortunately did not possess such a talent.

I eventually found the handcuff keys I was looking for, and wasted no time freeing myself. It was roughly a fifteen-minute walk home, but if Cliff, Diego, Sal, and Tilly were already dead...no, I didn't want to think about that. Either way, I need to do something about those goddamn cultists. They hurt my friends, and I can't sit idly by, so I began marching toward home.

Fifteen minutes later, I came up to the section of the wall that wrapped around our neighborhood that was behind my back yard. There was so very much overgrowth that I initially thought I had the wrong house. I mean, it was in the same rough location, towards the back, and when I got to the wall, I did have to walk away from the main road. Also, just how long could I have possibly been unconscious, anyway? It had definitely felt like less than a day.

All these thoughts silenced themselves as I reached the top and peered over, into the community. I was so shocked, I jumped backwards and fell the fifteen feet down to the sloped ground. I couldn't find purchase on this hill, either, so I just tumbled down, all the way to the little marsh at the bottom, landing awkwardly, laying on my left side, half submerged.

I climbed out and began my ascent back to my backyard when I had my feet yanked out from underneath me. I hit the ground, hard, and found that I had some sort of vine wrapped around my ankles.

"Shit shit shit!" I leaned down to begin pulling them away from around my legs when the vine gave a violent spasm that launched me from my resting place on the ground. Easily, I must have risen about a good twenty feet at the apex of my arc deeper into the marsh. I twisted around to see my projected landing site, which turned out to be what appeared as a giant, leafy Venus Fly Trap head, only with more "storage" room in the bulb at the base of the plant.

Luckily for me, the plant's "mouth" wasn't open, so I just smacked into the side of it, and slid down into the swamp to my waist. Stunned, I try to get back to standing to leave when I get lashed across the face by a vine that seemed to come from nowhere. I staggered and put my hand to the impact site to find a puncture wound. I must have been pricked by a thorn, and a massive one, at that.

"What was that?" I asked no one in particular as I staggered back to my feet, only to receive another lashing, this time across the chest. It made me take a few steps back in shock. I had my back against the giant bulb-head. It was at least twice my height, so I decided to try another route by climbing up it.

The plant at least let me get three-quarters of the way onto its head before wrapping a vine around my waist and holding me in place. Apparently it was done playing around, as it thrust me down into the marsh water and kept me there for about a minute-and-a-half, which made sense, as much as I hated admitting it. Live prey may taste better or be more interesting, but dead prey won't try to leave or defend itself. So, this is it....

03 June, 2013

The Gardener vs the MMA Fighter

I did the first thing that came to mind: I stood, charged the nearest figure, and screamed bloody murder. Embarrassingly, I later was told that I literally screamed that as I tackled one of the cultists to the ground. I didn't care, I just couldn't let them kill Sal and Diego.

Before I knew what was going on, however, the person I tackled was back up on his, according to the musculature, feet, and above me. He picked me up off the ground and threw me over his shoulder, landing me at Diego's feet. I could hear my friend urging me to get up quickly, but I was stunned.

This guy was fast, very fast, and I suddenly had a very bad feeling about what was going to happen next, so I ripped one of the fumigation bombs from my belt and threw it at him. Like I suspected, though, it was knocked aside with a lightning fast arm thrust.

"Not even a hit?" I asked, watching the canister go sailing into the crowd. Wrong move, Jim, as I suddenly became very aware of the pain my ear hadn't been in until I turned my head. The dickhead MMA fighter (I still remembered the way he punched) had punched me in the ear. I grabbed it in agony and turned to face him, only to see a fist moments before it impacted my face with the strength of an asteroid collision.

"My hero..." was the last thing I heard, as everything slipped away into darkness.

An indeterminate amount of time later, I woke up with a throbbing headache. Right, no more booze. I rolled over to get out of bed only to find that just because it was morning didn't mean I was waking up under my covers. I was on the ground. Outside, in the sun. I bolted into a sitting position.

"The sun? Goddamn it!" I groaned as panickedly as I could. I leapt to my feet to look around. Or, I would have, if my right hand wasn't handcuffed to my left ankle. Instead, I just pushed metal into my wrist, breaking the skin easily, and did an awkward roll. There was laughter around me. Not the playful laughter of Sal and Diego; this was a malicious sort of laughter.

"Easy, princess. Easy." The MMA fighter. Fuck. I twisted my head to look at him as he continued on. "I've been given the task of disposing of you, wastrel. You're not wanted." He then spit on me as I laid in the dirt.

"I'm not wanted?" Before I could get the rest of the taunt out, his toes found my stomach.

"No! No talking! You will not ruin this for me! This is going to be a special, tender moment between us, and your mouth will not ruin it!" It was strange to hear those words being coated in a voice so full of hate, but I couldn't say I blamed him, to be honest. His wife was leaving him for me, after we had been sleeping together for two and a half years. Today was not going to be my day.

"Not...not wanted?" I panted. Stars filled my vision as his freight train of a fist met my face. I spit out blood. "You're the one whose wife is leaving him! For me!" I guess I cackled, because he barked at me to stop laughing.

"Listen, princess. I'm going to do to you what you did to me, then I will slit your throat, and leave you at the bottom of this pond." He produced a knife when he mentioned slitting my throat, then licked the blade before continuing.

"Maybe you've been hit in the head one too many times, but I don't have a wife! Or if this-" The air left my lungs as I got another boot to my stomach. "Heh, if this is a crack at Diego being my wife-" Another. "Then you're in for more of a struggle. He's scrappy." I smiled through what I imagined were bloody teeth, and gave him my most innocent look.

"No," he replied, voice chilling me to the bone. "You...you emasculated me."

"What? Where is this going, dude?" He undid his belt buckle, slid it from the loops, and whipped me with the buckle. I tried a little harder to roll away than I previously had, but he stood in my way. Really? Humiliated like this before I die? Is this my comeuppance?

I looked up, only to discover that his pants were undone. This really was where it was going. His foot came down and eclipsed the sun to break my nose. Red tinged my field of vision. I rolled back the opposite way, and found myself touching water.

"Just relax, Princess James, it will all be over real quick. Just shh."

"It's Jim," I sniped back, hoping that my voice didn't betray my nervousness. I felt my temperature rising. Just what I need, to be incapacitated by the burning sensation while this was going on. He reached down and punched me in the face. By the time I was done immediately reacting to that, I felt a loosening around my legs. My pants were undone.

I did the only thing I could think of and launched myself at him. I caught a lucky break by hitting him in the stomach and bowling him over, then I started to roll way. I made it maybe twenty feet before I rolled into another pair of shins. This wasn't going to end well, considering the circumference of said shins. One of them wound back, and soccer kicked me back in the direction of the MMA rapist.

"You remember Steve, don't you, James? You two met at my Christmas party last year." Yeah, I remembered him. He saw Tilly and I mouthing sweet nothings across the room to each other, and I guess he had been introduced as the MMA fighter's best friend, or something like that. Either way, if I got out of this with my dignity, it would be a goddamn miracle.

"Feisty! I like that in a woman!" This guy's gone delusional! He reached down and started grabbing at my pants, but I started thrashing as hard as I could. I wasn't going down (pun intended) without the fight of a lifetime.

I wound up wrenching my arm out of its socket and I cried out in pain. It was practically simultaneous. As soon as I did, no more than a second after I cried out, my voice was joined by the sound of two screaming voices. I kept thrashing.

It took me a couple beats to realize that there was no more grabbing at me, and I opened an eye and peered around. They really had left me alone, and had started shuffling and stumbling towards the water, both men covered by the same blue-green flame as my yard. Due to the slight hill, I couldn't tell whether or not they fell into the pond when they collapsed, but I didn't care to stay long enough to find out. I began roll-limping away from there as fast as I could.

30 May, 2013

Mightier Than the Sword/Cliches/Fatal Hesitation

It was dark. The front room was a disaster area, with debris scattered all around, and a wall was missing, allowing the only light in the room to come from the streetlights. I had a body laying on top of me, which I found to be rather startling, in and of itself. I shoved the body off of me, and sat up to get a better look at who this person used to be. It was a Ten's delivery guy. Even stranger. What was he doing here?

There was a gurgling sound behind me, and I turned to find Allendriel laying on one of the remaining walls, about halfway up, at a precarious angle that didn't make sense at first, until I noticed that he'd been pinned there by a piece of wood that protruded just beneath his ribcage that normally was never meant to be seen, hidden behind a wall. I swallowed hard.

"Al-Allendriel? What happened?" I looked around the room some more. "Where's Sal? Diego?"

The Fallen opened his mouth and immediately vomited dark, inky stomach bile. It cascaded down the front of his sweater-vest. It reeked of limestone, blood, and something rotten. I gagged almost instantly. He raised an arm and pointed out to the street.

"Sal and Diego are out there? Why did they just leave me? And what happened to you? Will you survive this? Jesus, what the fuck happened while we were, what, asleep?"

"Go," he barely managed to rasp out. More of what I assumed to be blood poured out of his mouth as a pained expression overcame him. He reached into one of his pockets and slowly pulled out a pen, feebly passing it to me.

"Uh..." I began, but he gave me as stern of a look as he could muster and clicked the pen before throwing it at me. Somehow, it landed neatly tucked behind my ear. Allendriel looked momentarily exasperated, then sighed. "Go!" he barely shouted, spraying me with his blood.

I grabbed then pen from my ear and looked from it to him and back again several times. Each time my glance turned his way, he looked more and more angry. Deciding to not incur his wrath, I instead figured I would work out the significance of the pen as I went along. I wasn't positive, but I didn't think I had ever been as unsure of anything as I was of going into a fight armed with nothing but a pen.

"As far as bad plans go, I suppose it's kind of comforting to know that they can't get any worse than this. I mean, if they expect you to be armed to the teeth, they'll act accordingly. If they expect nothing, you'll have the element of surprise, at least."

At that, I broke into a run and leapt through the hole where my wall used to be into my writhing lawn.

"Shit!" I never slowed down once my feet hit the dirt. I just kept on running, hoping that my momentum would keep me safe. A gash appeared on my cheek as one of the tangles of thistle vines thrashed at me.

Don't stop! Keep moving!

Once I made it to the sidewalk is when I came to a stop. I was bleeding, but not too bad. I had certainly suffered worse wounds before, so I wasn't going to let this little scratch slow me down. However, now that I was out of the house, I had to find Diego and Sal, find out why they just left me, do something about my lawn, and possibly do some fighting.

Luckily for me, the biggest clue I would need was the sound of voices coming from the bottom of the hill, near Cliff's guard post. I wondered where he was in all this. I hadn't seen him since the fire, and I never did thank him for the tip about it, as well as helping to try and put it out. Either way, the voices were in unison and seemed to all be in tune with one another.

"Chanting? I think I'm going to need a bigger pen...." I sighed to myself, starting down the hill.

...

I didn't really get very far before I realized that time may be of the essence, so I juked to the left, towards my yard, to find my Tank sitting at the curb, ready to be ridden into battle. I stopped short, to assess my situation. Fantastic. I was riding into a confrontation with something that could take out Allendriel with a golf cart as my steed, and a pen as my weapon.

"Here goes nothing, I suppose." Mindlessly, like one does with a clicky-top pen, I clicked it a couple times and slid it into my pocket before bounding over to the Tank and hopping into the driver's seat, and saw something in the passenger seat that made my night so much better.

"Bug bombs and a gas mask! Kick ass!" There was hope for me yet. I might last six seconds instead of three, but it was something, and my friends needed me to try. Maybe I could reenact the thrilling heroics of the garden gnome incident.

"I wonder what Tilly would say if she could see me now," I sighed.

"I think I would ask you what you're doing in your...uh...tank at three in the morning. Also, I would ask about all the noise. What's going on?" I spun to see Tilly standing just a few feet away from me, looking drop-dead sexy in her lacy silk nightgown with the split up to just above mid-thigh on both sides.

The things I would do to this woman if I had the time.

"Um, well, Til, I don't rightly know. I woke up to find Diego gone, a hole in my front wall, and chanting down by Cliff's. I'd offer to keep me company, but I think it might be dangerous." She looked at me and pouted. Here we go...

"Yeah? And a li'l ol' girl like me can't take of herself, huh? Oh, please. I can probably handle myself better 'n you can! Move over, let me drive." There was no stopping her when she got this way. As she went around the Tank, I moved into the passenger seat, and got a second gas mask ready. When she came around the truck, I handed her the mask.

"Here, put this on, darling." She eyed it bemusedly before looking back to me.

"You're joking, right?"

"Sorry, Til, it looks like there are more bad gasses floating about."

"Truly?"

"Well, not yet. That's what these are for." I held up the fumigation bombs. "Something big is going on. Really big. Most likely bigger than the gnome debacle."

"That was, quite possibly, the dumbest caper I've ever heard of." She crossed her arms and blew her bangs out of her face.

"Looking back on it, I think it's probably one of the most hilarious stories I've ever heard, but, back to this: I have a feeling I'm going to have to save Sal and Diego. The scope of this trouble, this danger, just feels...bigger, somehow."

"Oh, don't be so dramatic, Jim. How bad could is possibly be?" Her visage was so very innocuous.

"Really, Til? 'How bad could it be?'" I slumped in my seat. "Do you own a gun?"

"What? Why?"

"You just uttered one of the few statements that should never be said, along with 'It can't get any worse than this,' or 'I'll be right back!' In the first example, it always gets worse immediately after saying that, and in the latter, whomever says that is never heard from again. You've just doomed us to face...." I just stared in the direction of the bottom of the hill as the pieces fell into place.

"Fuck. Tandamum. That's why Allendriel showed us that. Tandamum is imprisoned here. Wait." I closed my eyes and pictured the scene again. The village where Pacifi made her last stand. It was this neighborhood, but where did the final act take place? Then, without warning, it clicked. "We're so screwed, Tilly. We are so very, very fucked."

"Why? What's tantamount to what? What, or who, is Allendriel? Jim, what's going on?" The streetlights, and the lights in every single window in the neighborhood, all simultaneously winked out, bathing us in the light of the full moon. Of course.

"Okay, time's up, Til." I started the Tank, and put it into Drive, pointing down the hill. "Short version: There's a demon buried here, and this part's a little fuzzy to me, but I'm keeping it asleep by doing the lawncare gig. When Sal and Diego went on strike, it began waking up. Now...I think we may have to kill something unbeatable."

Tilly's eyes went wide and her jaw dropped.

...

Some time later, I had snuck down close to Cliff's guard house. Crouched behind several large Tatarian Honeysuckle shrubs in the first lawn of the community, Mr. and Mrs. Frank and Judy Danforth, I could, very clearly, see what was going on. It still hadn't fully sunk in.

Literally everyone in the neighborhood, except "Mr. Marsailles," Tilly, and myself, plus Sal, Cliff (he couldn't afford one of the houses, and refused to move his wife and daughters into our flop house), and some guy I couldn't recognize, was in the torchlight around the grass clipping dumpster. They were all wearing grey robes. Fucking cultists! Son of a bitch, goddamnit.

I hate dealing with hive-minded sheeple under normal circumstances when they weren't trying to kill my friends, so I was practically seething now.

The only people not in grey robes were Cliff, Sal, Diego, and the stranger; they wore white robes, and they were all tied to posts roughly nine feet in length. Diego was ranting about the indignity involved with being stripped and redressed by the other denizens of the community. Mrs. Shea succinctly balled up his boxer shorts and shoved them in his mouth. Diego only redoubled his rabble-rousing efforts.

Sal looked like he was trying to get the stranger's attention, but the item that upset me the most was that it looked like someone had beat the shit out of Cliff. Why would a group of thirty- and forty-somethings need to rough up a man who was easily well into his sixties? It almost literally made me sick.

I toyed with the fumigation bombs on my improvised bandolier, waiting to see what, exactly, was going on here. Common sense told me not to wait, to just pull the daisy-chained pins, run in, grab my friends (and the stranger), and vamoose, but something nagged at the back of my mind. I didn't have all the pieces of this puzzle, just most of them.

One hooded individual stood up and began barking out that same heavily accented English that Allendriel and Tandamum had spoken in. I had to strain to make out what was being said, but it was something about either waking or not waking someone who was resting. I wasn't sure which it was, as the tenses sounded odd, almost as though this booming male voice was misspeaking the language. I was practically offended by the very idea. Why, though, I wasn't sure.

"Prepare thyself, weakling, to embrace your ultimate fate!" roared the leader at Sal, the closest to both the crowd and the dumpster. Several members of the congregation moved forward and lifted his post to bring him toward that fucking bizarre dumpster.

I had no real opening to attack, but I couldn't let them do anything to Sal, but while I was busy being paralyzed by indecision, they hefted Sal's post up over the lip of the dumpster and he hung as though from a spit roast. The leader began chanting random, seemingly nonsense words.

I had no choice, I needed to do something NOW!

27 May, 2013

Unseen Events

"Okay, it feels like four days have passed, Mr. Dillinger. Are you ready now?" Allendriel was reclining in his theatre chair, looking over me, and I felt like he was staring right through me. Diego had been staring at the remains of the scene in front of us, Tandamum's grave looking almost peaceful, and Sal was still unconscious. I was beginning to think something was wrong.

"Uh, yeah. I'm good to go. Diego?"

"Ready. Let's do this. I'm ready to get out of here." Allendriel sat up, locking the seat back, and clapped his hands, rubbing them together.

"Right!" he began, "One interesting subplot, coming up!" As he finished speaking, the ash tree shrunk until it disappeared down Tandamum's throat. He then, as though in a state of rewinding, got back up onto his feet in the exact manner that he fell. Being covered in small flowers and buds sort of took the edge off his evil, but only slightly, and when they disappeared, I saw a gleam of madness in his face I had missed the first time through.

His body eventually spit both Pacifi and Luma back out, and the latter began hopping around Tandamum, striking blows and throwing spells when openings were made. It looked incredibly bizarre to me, and I felt like I was losing my balance. Her bounces and movements seemed impossible given the speed and direction in which she moved.

It was then that I realized that the dialogue they shared was also being rewound. It sent chills down my spine, and looking at Diego, I could see he felt the same. I was fairly confident he was thinking back to our teenage years and playing records backwards. Every time, neither of us slept for four days afterward.

When the rewinding process finally finished, and "play" was pushed again, Tandamum was standing over Pacifi, laughing. I really didn't want to watch him destroy goodness again, but apparently this is where Allendriel's mysterious side-story takes place.

"So what are we looking for this time?" I asked.

"Watch Pacifi. She'll show you," responded our demonic tour guide. With that, he waved his hands and the picture distorted, and I vomited. It was some sort of non-Euclidean movement in which everything bent and warped around us, leaving us on the other side of the action. The wall at Pacifi's back had become like a viewscreen, little more than a foot in front of us.

The shaft of light speard Tandamum's shoulder, and he roared to the heavens. Luma landed nimbly once again, but my attention was brought back to the legless woman on the ground. She had her hands behind her back, and she was pricking her finger with what appeared to be a sharpened stone.

When she finally broke the skin, reaching blood, she worked more out of the wound and began tracing her fingers along the wall. On our side of the wall, it looked like a bizarre set of runes and hieroglyphs. Diego gasped.

"Luma taught her magick!"

"She must have. Heh, I guess that also further demonstrates the difference between Pacifi and Tandamum," I reasoned.

"Shut up and watch, you two." Allendriel sounded agitated. It was a brief, but sudden change in his demeanor, but even Diego could have noticed it.

"What's up, Allendriel?" I guess he did. Before Allendriel could answer, though, Sal disappeared in a enormous upward burst of air. All three of us shouted and stood. Pacifi, Tandamum, and Luma stopped moving.

"Where did he go, demon?" I yelled. "Where?" Before any of us knew what was going on, Diego was up in Allendriel's face, getting ready to inflict violence on his person. In response, the air temperature around us grew to a blistering heat.

"Sit. Watch. I'll return." Allendriel disappeared in a wisp of smoke. Meanwhile, Diego was screaming and hollering, and I just felt faint.

Burning, burning, burni-

"Jim, don't fall apart on me now!" Diego roared, smacking me across the face. "Sal's disappeared and goddamned Allendriel is making us watch Pacifi! Keep it together!" He not-so-calmly explained from so far away, at the end of a long tunnel. He smacked me again.

"Wake up! Come on, Jim! Don't do this to me now!" As he kept up the EMT's creed to a dying patient, I felt a coolness suddenly wash over me. It felt so amazing.

I don't know how much time passed, but when my orgasmic bliss ended, I noted three things. First, I needed to change my underwear, as 'orgasmic' wasn't hyperbole. Second, Diego was sitting in his own chair, two down from me. Finally, Pacifi was sitting between us, in Sal's seat.

What?

I pulled myself up, and they both turned to me, concern plastered all over their faces. Pacifi spoke first.

"Oh, my dear James, brave warrior, seemingly insurmountable odds are ahead of you. It is already upon you. The child is taken, and the Fallen is losing his grip. It is up to the two of you to save them both. The evil in you is close to awakening, but you can fight it. The strength is inside of you." She smiled as she sat back. It was a warm smile, and it reminded me of how Tilly looked at me.

"Wh-what are we watching you for, Pacifi? Allendriel seems very interested in watching what you did behind your back while your pupil fought Tandamum." I still felt like all of my nerve endings were switched to the "pleasure" setting. It was going to suck when this ended.

"He wanted you to see my saving the planet, keeping good alive. I molded three clay figures and gave them more than just a little of my spark, saving only enough for my final measure." She looked a little sad at that, and it made me want to hold on to her and keep reassuring her of just how okay it was all going to be until I could no longer speak.

"Wait," began Diego, "Allendriel wanted us to see that so we...would...understand...that there is always a way to win, even if we may die?"

"More or less, my child," Pacifi responded before looking back on the battle. "Now, though, I shall send you back to where you came from, so that you may save the Fallen and the child."

"Can you not come with us?" I asked. "You don't have to die here!"

"Oh, but I do, James. I do. Always remember that Pacifi and Luma perished in the fight against evil, but you might survive your final encounter with it. Do not give up hope, my darling dears." She held both my hand and Diego's, and I felt a gentle warmth spread up my arm, as though it were carried in on a zephyr. I closed my eyes to appreciate it better, and when I opened them, Diego and I were back in our sitting room.

Or, what was left of it, rather.

23 May, 2013

The Final Battle Between Good and Evil

After Diego, Sal, and I stopped screaming, we came to the realization that we were no longer in our front room. Nor were we on fire. We were outside, and it was dark. Standing up from the dirt and looking around, I saw that we were in some kind of small village with stone buildings, whose burning roofs lit up the night sky. The village looked familiar somehow, but I couldn't quite place the reason.

"Well, boys, we finally snapped. After inhaling too much fumigation gas, we hallucinated being attacked by plants and burned our house down." I sighed. "Welcome to hell, I guess."

Diego got up next, placed his hands behind his head, and began walking in a small circle around us, surveying the carnage. The look on his face definitely implied that he had no idea he would ever wind up here, and that he wasn't ready to accept the fact that he actually was. As soon as he finished the circle, he just dropped to his knees and began praying to the Goddess.

I kind of felt bad for the guy, but not as bad as I did for Sal, whose turn it was to rise and take stock of his surroundings. He actually looked scared, as he cast his eyes toward the sky.

"I take it back! That curse was something I only said in anger! I'm so sorry, James, I'll-"

"Jim," I interrupted, but he continued as though he didn't even hear me. Damn it. Even in hell I can't catch a break.

"-never do it again, I swear!" Sal began crying then, as he walked over to me and put his arms around my shoulders. I was too stunned to move or say anything, so I just let him get it out. He obviously needed it.

A few moments later, Sal pulled back from the hug, and looked me in the eye. "Do I still have to call you boss, or am I still obligated to call you that until I turn eighteen?"

I almost laughed. "Well, you'll never technically turn eighteen now, and besides, I think even demon lords want their houses to look better than each other's." The thought of the sort of preening that went on in our gated community being practiced by people with titles such as 'Defiler' or 'the Plaguebringer' made me laugh out loud.

"Hell's landscapers," laughed Sal. "Imagine making it back to Earth after that? Do you think we could use that as part of our marketing campaign?"

The both of us lost it then, doubling over in laughter. It was hysterical, but maybe we could do something else if we ever got back to the land of the living, as Diego and I were independently wealthy, which-wait, if we're dead, then once we get back, we'll have no access to our money. We'd have to start from scratch! I sighed.

"Holy shit! Jim, Diego, look over there! There are two people! Two...ladies! Who says hell will be so bad, eh? Ha ha!" He started walking over to them while Diego and I followed from a little ways back.

The whole situation felt strange to me. Mostly because I still had a pulse, but also because as we walked to the women, there was no heat coming off the flames. I even reached out to touch the fire, but my hand passed right through it, completely unburned. Either way, it was like I said: Strange.

Even the women themselves were odd. One, obviously younger than the other, stood proud and tall, golden hair braided. She held a long ash branch in one hand, and a main gauche in the other. Her golden armor hid her frame, but from what I could see, she looked slim. She had two swords hanging from her, one on her hip, and one on her back, with a large, round shield hanging over it all.

The older woman looked incredibly peaceful, but that was the second thing I noticed. The first thing was the fact that she was in some sort of primitive-looking wheelchair because she had no legs, save for maybe a quarter of her thighs, and that was being generous with the estimation. She was dressed in robes, and had no weapon with which to defend herself. I immediately wondered what it would be like to converse with her.

"Jim! Diego! They're not real! The women are illusions! This really is hell!" My thoughts were scattered to the wind.

"Sal, stop wailing, and stop occupying the same space as the beautiful woman. You're making me see non-Euclidean shapes. I may go mad and see into forever because of it."

"Cthulu reference? In hell?" Diego asked.

"Yeah."

"Nice."

"I thought so, too." I opened my mouth to say more, but I was interrupted before I got a chance.

"You three really are the morons you come across as, aren't you?" Allendriel's voice sighed from behind us. We whirled around to see someone who didn't look entirely dissimilar to Mr. Marsailles with tiny horns, folded wings, and red skin that looked as though it had a sandy texture to it walking up to us. In a suit. We all screamed, and Sal even fainted, but Allendriel just sighed again.

"Look, you already had it figured out that I wasn't Edvard, and that I had otherworldly origins, so could you guys just grow a pair already? Jesus H. and all the saints, you people are fucking ridiculous."

"What, aren't we in hell?" Diego asked.

"You're not even dead, idiot."

"What about all the flames in the front room then?" I asked.

"Can't I have a tendency to be dramatic, or is that a purely human notion?"

"All right, all right," Diego put his hands up in a gesture of mock surrender, "we get it, you're here, and proud, or whatever. No need to get all catty with us."

"Look, I'm trying to show you something, so go to the other side of the street and shut up, or you might miss something." Diego and I picked up Sal by the arms and carried him over to where we would be watching whatever it is Allendriel wanted us to watch.

Like an announcer introducing a play, he whooshed in front of us, and began recapping his story thus far.

"Tandamum had completely devastated the planet. Fields and forests burned, water turned into poison. All creatures either worked for him or died. In cold blood, Tandamum had single-handedly eradicated almost all known life when he found Pacifi, a woman with the spark of creation opposed to his spark of destruction, and two young twin girls, Luma and Nox, the all-plane's first mages.

"Pacifi made the deal of her life when she offered a duel between the girls when they became of age, as she was physically incapable of fighting. Each spark-bearer would raise one of the girls, and whomever raised the more powerful warrior mage would become the victor, controlling the fate of the planet.

"When we were last updated on their situation, Luma and Pacifi had just arrived on the battlefield, and were awaiting their dark opposites. Here is where we pick up our story!" With that, he bowed low, and walked up next to us in a row of four theatre seats that had suddenly appeared, facing the two women we had seen upon arriving here.

"Sit, and enjoy the show, boys. It's going to be astounding." Allendriel wasn't even looking at us anymore as he spoke, keeping his eyes steadfast on the illusory women. Diego and I heaved Sal into a seat before plopping into two of our own on either side of him. I sat between him and Allendriel, just in case the bastard tried anything.

When the last of us was seated, buckets of popcorn, sodas, and snacks all appeared in our laps and cupholders in the space of a blink. I looked at Allendriel, and he was suddenly wearing those cheesy cardboard 3-D glasses with the red and blue cellophane. He put a finger over his lips and shushed me. In the space of another blink, I was wearing a pair of 3-D glasses of my own, and I turned to Sal and Diego, who looked just as dumbfounded as I was.

"Look!" whispered Diego, pointing ahead of us as I was staring at him and Sal. I turned to face where he was pointing in time to see the two women shimmer and become solid. I was shocked to discover that I could hear them breathing.

"Patience, Luma," said the woman in the wheelchair, whom I was now assuming to be Pacifi, "your sister will be here soon. Her abductor swore to me on this spot, sixteen years ago, that he would bring her here."

Her voice was so soothing. It had the sound of someone running their hand over a smooth stone, which is when I remembered that this was a story of people made of stone. I leaned forward in my chair.

"Oh, Pacifi, I don't even remember her over the flames. All I can remember from that day is the burning, burning, burning of the village." Luma looked pained.

"Easy, my child. Listen, I think I hear their approach! On your guard!" There was a whistling sound in the air. The source was out of their line of sight, but we could see it clearly over the tops of the buildings behind them. Coming straight at us was a glowing blue-green dot. As it grew closer, it arced over the rooftops and down, making a 90-degree turn, directly between Luma and Pacifi. As it struck the ground, it exploded in a giant ball of bluish-green fire that sent the student into and through the wall of the closest building, and the teacher into the ground, off her wheelchair, into the mud.

Burning, burning, burning, BURNING!

The overwhelming fear dissipated moments later, in time for me to witness something incredible. A man was slowly (in comparison to the fireball, anyway) descending to the ground. I couldn't believe how massive this guy was. He looked like he could do curls with our golf cart.

As he touched down, I didn't need my eyes to know where he was, as his aura was all-pervasive and...familiar....

"Tandamum!" screamed the woman in the dirt, as she pushed herself up into a sitting position. "Where is Nox? You swore on your life that you'd bring her to this meeting!" Tandamum just laughed in response.

At this time, the front door to the building blew out of the frame at a weird angle, straight toward the aggressor. Luma then calmly stepped out, back into the street, sheathing the main gauche.

"Show me my sister!" The last word was almost barked out, and it caused Tandamum's head to rock to the side away from Luma. He was holding on to the ear closest to her, his left, as he leveled his head again. Glaring at her, he pulled his hand away, and looked at it.

"First blood," he was speaking at an awkward volume, and favoring his right ear. Interesting. I didn't have time to process it, as Luma had decided not to wait for her sister to show. She was going to make the abductor regret ever taking Nox, by driving the butt of her staff into his sternum, then swinging it around to connect with the bleeding ear.

All the while, Tandamum just stood in the same spot, taking each attack. Even when Luma went for the groin, all he did was deflect the blow. Luma began darting around Tandamum like a superbly-trained acrobat, striking at different spots, and he would just absorb it, soaking up the damage.

"Pacifi, did you not know how it would end? All you did was buy yourself an extra sixteen years in which to quake and quiver. Now, your champion shall meet her match. After all, how powerful could she be? There was literally no one for her to spar against." Tandamum was, unfortunately for Luma, seemingly unaffected by each strike, if relying on his calm demeanor as he chatted with Pacifi, moving toward the woman on the ground.

"Tandamum, show us Nox Magi now, or the inherent power in the contract shall punish you!" Pacifi shouted, which actually caused the mountain in a man suit to stop walking.

"You truly want to see Nox?"

"Yes, of course!"

"Then you-" he paused as he reached out and grabbed Luma by the throat, stopping her in her tracks, "-need to hold still." Tandamum, based on Luma's reactions, began squeezing on her throat, cutting off the airway. I started to rise out of my seat, when Allendriel grabbed my wrist.

"Stay seated, as there is nothing to be done here. You are effectively watching a recording. This happened many millenia ago, James. Sit." I sat back down, furious that I couldn't help.

Meanwhile, Tandamum had grabbed both of Luma's ankles in his other hand, raised her over his head, and threw her into the sky with little to no effort. At the speed she was traveling, it would, relatively, be a while before we saw her again. I swallowed hard.

"I am showing you Nox, my dear Pacifi. I am strong, very strong, and powerful, very powerful, but I could not do all this on my own. I have consumed the child mage!"

"You ate her?"

"He ate her?" Pacifi, Diego and I exclaimed our respective versions of that statement at the same time, in the same pitch. When we looked at Allendriel, he just put one index finger over his lips, and pointed the other at Tandamum.

"In a sense, I did. Not literally, of course. It was a ritual she discovered. It fuses two beings into one, and the one with the stronger will is dominant. There could be no other choice, obviously. I now have Nox's arsenal, as well as my own, at my disposal! I would command you to kneel before me, Pacifi, but...hehah!"

As soon as the last bit of laughter escaped his lips, a giant shaft of light, about as big around as my arm, bolted down from the sky, and pierced Tandamum's shoulder, lancing out through his arm pit, and into the ground. He roared in pain, and reached to grab the shaft of light, but he could not touch it without burning himself.

Not even ten seconds after the shaft struck the ground, so did Luma, landing on her feet. Her leather boots, breeches, and shirt had signs of being on fire recently: gaping holes and crisp, darkened spots of what remained. Had she truly been thrown through the atmosphere? And where had her breast plate and swords gone?

No sooner did I think that did a red-hot lump of steel impact the ground in front of us, as well as two somewhat smaller and thinner rods of steel. Suddenly I wished I could help more than I ever had, but I didn't have to wait long before Luma was back in control, if only briefly.

With Tandamum unable to remove his leash and his left arm useless, the women definitely had the upper hand here. Light began emanating from Luma's hand until I could no longer see it. As she raised it level with her foe's chest, she spoke.

"Tandamum, you are a murderer. You have taken the only true family I had remaining, and you killed her! For that, I will tear you limb from limb! Have you any final words?" Her voice was firm, powerful, and she had everyone's attention. Too bad Sal was still passed out, as she had more holes in her shirt than she had actual shirt. Tandamum must have noticed this as well, as his tactic changed.

"I can relinquish control of your sister, Luma. If you truly wish our species to survive, you cannot kill me! You need my seed! I will release Nox in exchange for that!"

"You will give me my sister back, and you will die!" She pointed two fingers directly at his heart.

"You have until the count of ten, Tandamum! One...two...three...." He remained motionless until Luma got to seven, then he spit his black saliva on her face, which acted more like rubber cement than saliva in that it clung to her high cheekbones and slightly upturned nose. As she pulled to remove it, it would spread.

Soon, she couldn't open her mouth. Her eyes had gone wide, and whatever spell she had been preparing had dissipated. She had begun panicking. In a bid of desperation, she just ran up to her prisoner and began punching and kicking him as hard as she could, and just like when they first squared off, he took the abuse, unblinkingly.

That is, until he had apparently had enough of her teenage whining, and dropped his fist from a windmill spin directly on top of her head. Instantly, she crumpled. As she did, the shaft of light dissipated, and Pacifi began weeping, as her life was now over.

"Finally!" Tandamum roared. "The end is come!" He marched over to Luma's limp body and knelt down over her, turning to Pacifi.

"She is mine, spark of creation. What do you think I should do?"

"Let her go! Take me instead! Just...please! She is so young!"

"And she is still ripe, my counterpart." With that, he slid his hands beneath her body, and began chanting in the same heavily accented English I heard Allendriel speak in our front yard. After several minutes, Tandamum pressed his conquest to his chest, and she began to melt into him. I felt like vomiting.

"You monster! You will not survive this day!" Pacifi screamed. Tandamum turned to face her, licking his lips.

"She tasted delicious," he said as he walked toward the woman with no legs.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa! Wait a second!" Diego exclaimed as the story paused. "How can this douchebag win? Is the moral of this story that evil really does win every once in a while?" I looked from him to Allendriel. It was a good question.

"Just watch, human," said our story teller, resuming his tale. Tandamum walked over to Pacifi, and picked her up incredibly gingerly. She wasn't fighting, and the dead look in her eyes made it look like she had completely given up fighting at all, hanging limply in his arms.

"It won't be that bad, I promise. Just relax, and it will all be over soon." This guy sounded like a rapist or something. What the fuck. I wanted to go over and beat the shit out of this guy, but apparently I couldn't have laid a glove on him, even if I had been there when this story was actually happening. Looking at Diego, I could tell he felt the same.

Tandamum held Pacifi to his chest, and began chanting again. When he was finished, and she began melting into him, something amazing happened: Pacifi fought back. She began her own brand of chanting. It hurt my ears, but it caused Tandamum to fall backwards onto the ground.

As Pacifi disappeared into his chest, her attacker began sprouting buds and grass and even flowers. It rippled up his chest and down his back. Whatever it was that was happening to him was clearly a one-time-use move. He opened his mouth to scream, but an ash tree sprouted out of it, breaking his neck.

It was ten minutes before anyone said anything at all, Allendriel included. We were all in shock. Well, Diego and I were, anyway. Sal was still out, and who knows how many times Allendriel had watched this. He looked more thoughtful than anything else.

"Before either of you says anything, there is one more piece to this story, the part you didn't see going on at the same time as this. Actually, it happened right here, but no one ever notices it until it's pointed out. You ready to see the final piece of the story?"

"Whoa, Allendriel," I began, "after the intensity involved in that, I think I need some time to comprehend it. Give me about a day, okay? Then we'll be ready."

21 May, 2013

Allendriel's Tale

"A long, long time ago, there was a race of people, made of clay and earth and stone, that inhabited this planet. They were a race of nomads, these little lumps of rock, gifted with the spark of sentience from the divine progenitor, personified however you wish, but never actually an entity of its own. It was always just there, like time.

"At times, there would be a member of a species across the vastness of all things that would possess more of the creative essence. Such people became glorified, deified, amongst his, her, or its own kind, and he would rule for the rest of his lifetime. I have seen many such kingdoms rise and fall.

"Sooner or later, due to the eventual balancing of all things, there began to be people born of the opposite ability: where one was creation and life, these new people were entropic in nature, born only to destroy. The first record of such, despite others coming before him, is of Tandamum Fel, whose birth killed his mother. The subsequent grief drove his father mad and he wound up slaughtering the whole tribe, Tandamum strapped to his back.

"Tandamum's father, Champion, became his son's proxy in all matters until Tandamum became of age in their society, and exactly fifteen years after his birth, his father committed suicide, and took out another two tribes in the process.

"From that point on, Tandamum wandered the planet he lived on, ending the life of anything he came in contact with as he saw fit. He was truly a force to be reckoned with. Twenty years after he began wandering, he had become a dark legend to his people, a warning, and a curse. Several pretenders to his throne, who wound up accelerating the genocide he had begun all those years ago by doing the exact sae thing he was, only by forcing recruits into service.

"Another ten or so years passed, and still the planet-wide rampage continued. Soldiers began turning on each other, as innocents were becoming more and more difficult to come by. The planet had become nothing but a war zone, fires raged across continents, corpses lay strewn everywhere. Even the ocean had begun turning caustic. The very planet was rebelling against Tandamum Fel and the darkness he carried.

"Another five years after this, Tandamum was so close to achieving pure nihilism. There was only one village left standing in his way. The first village, where the first person known to exist on the planet, drew her first breath. As I'm sure you can imagine, Tandamum then set his sights on this village.

"Little did he know that there was a correction to the all-plane meant to draw even more balance to itself: a pair of twelve-year-old girls, Luma and Nox Magi. As well as the creation-being. Unfortunately for this village, the creation-being, Pacifi, was physically unable to fight off Tandamum, so when it was her turn to taste the axe, she challenged him to a long-game style duel.

"The story says that Tandamum accepted the terms, but I don't buy it."

"Just tell us the story, Allendriel," I sighed. For someone who said there wasn't much time left, he sure was wasting a lot of it.

"Anyway, the way the story continues is that, as the last four people left on the planet, both Pacifi and Tandamum would raise one of the twins, and they would duel when they became of age, in sixteen years. The reason Pacifi chose them was because the twins had access to powers even greater than either her or Tandamum: magick. The reason they were the correction to the oversight that was the two of them was that they were given the ability to choose which side they worked for.

"So, sixteen years pass, and on the twins' eighteenth birthday, everyone returned to their meeting ground in the center of the first village. Pacifi and Luma were the first to arrive, the younger's armor sizzling, and the elder's nerves racked with guilt for the decision she had made, but it was the only way to protect the few lives that were left." He paused.

"This part is better shown than explained. Also, it's quicker."

Before any of us could protest, Allendriel sat forward in his chair, extended an arm, and filled the room with flames.

Terms of Employment

"Wait...um...what?" Edvard Marsailles, crotchety old neighbour, former (maybe) Nazi, the only real competition Diego and I had for the Greenest Lawn Competition, and primary sponsor of the Green Thumbs, our direct rival in the Lawn Games, was dead? How? And why am I getting so choked up?

"Ah, I see this news comes as a shock to you." It must have been displayed on our faces. Maybe former Nazi Edvard Marsailles' corpse continued. "For what it's worth, he died suffering. It was truly quite gruesome, I assure you. Even for me. Would you like to know the details?" He looked almost anxious to tell us.

"No! You sick fuck, did you murder him?" Sal was shouting at the new resident of Mr. Marsailles' body.

"Hah! Oh, no, child!" chuckled the possessed body. "He just called out to me as he faded from life. Now, shall we retire to your den for refreshments and polite conversation, or shall I convince your weeds to devour you? I really don't want to do that, you know. Truly. The paperwork involved-"

"Fine! Come in, then. Or are you like a vampire, needing a more formal invitation?" I choked out. No sympathy for the devil's paperwork.

"No, Mr. Dillinger, that will suffice. I hereby grant you my word as that of the Guest-" There was something about the way he said that word that made me think that there actually was something to this oath he was making. "-that neither you, nor yours, shall come to harm by direct or indirect action on my behalf." With that, he old-man-shuffled up the pathway that bisected our lawn, right up to the steps of the porch, at which point, he looked up at the three of us standing in his way, and said, "Well?" with the grin of a man who knew much more than he was letting on.

We turned around and silently led him to our front room, more than a little nervous about how this whole situation was going to play out. Controlling those murderous weeds was a trick I don't think we could have easily beat. Upon entering the room, he barked a word that sounded almost like 'chair,' but with an accent that very much muddled the actual word, and the vines slithered into the room and began assembling themselves into the vague shape of an armrest.

All at once, Diego, Sal, and I sat on the sofa, and stared at our evil guest, bewildered. It was all I could do to not laugh at the absurdity of it all. Diego cleared his throat, apparently more able to readily accept what was going on than either Sal or I.

"What's going on, former Mr. Marsailles?"

"A question for a question, then? We must hurry. There are days, at the most, left."

"Yes, fine. Question for question," Diego responded.

"Deal. As far as what is going on, well..." he paused to think. "Your...hiatus will most likely cost you your lives if it continues. Your neighbourhood rests above the burial ground of an ancient evil. Your source of employment was not of your own choosing. You were drawn here because you three are presently the most apt to keep the evil at bay. Your refusal to do your job, while noble in your reasoning, will doom the planet. My question: What would it take to get you three back to work?"

We all just looked at each other, mouths agape for several minutes.

"That's too big. Too big of a weight to be on only our shoulders. Three slackers against an ancient evil? That's unimaginable! For chrissakes, we barely even know what we're doing half, no most, of the time! Who are you to make this request of us?" I felt my voice tremble as I spoke, but this was something that needed to be said, and I couldn't just let it go on anymore. Not to mention that our free will had been sapped in order to contain something that was evil on such a supposedly unimaginable scale.

"I am...Allendriel, the Fallen. I have made it my duty to ensure that the evil never gets out, and will do whatever I have to in order to continue on this path. Who do you think you are, to put your own lives above the lives of literally everything you've ever known?"

"I already told you: we're three slackers from California who can barely feed ourselves, let alone-wait, a Fallen? I'm no religious scholar, but aren't you supposed to be on the side of said evil?"

Allendriel shifted slightly, possibly uncomfortably, in his seat. "Every fiber of my being wants to release that which lies here, but, well, have you ever read 'Good Omens'?"

"You've grown to like existing, haven't you?" Sal replied, ignoring the looks of shock Diego and I were giving him at the revelation that he knew how to read. He turned to us and began explaining his answer. "In the novel, there's an angel and a demon, I forget their names, but they both work for the...uh...Almighty plan, but they pretty much bungle the Apocalypse because they want to continue their own existences. Allendriel is in the same boat."

"Yes, you could say that," he leaned back in his vine chair and sighed. What were we going to do about this?

"How do we fight it?" I asked.

"The evil that's buried here? You don't."

"Comforting. Why us?"

"Again? Because you three are the most capable of doing this."

"Based on what, exactly?" Allendriel went silent. I'm not entirely certain that was a good thing. In fact, I was willing to bet on it.

"I am going to tell you a story, gentlemen, and afterwards, tell me what you think."

20 May, 2013

Axis v. Allies

I don't want to die! Whether I screamed it or just thought it didn't matter, as I was going to bite it here, regardless. Shit, I didn't even make it to Tilly's divorce. Also, some more irony: Diego, Sal, and I spent the last three years killing weeds, and weeds were just about to be the death of us. That's some circle of life bullshit, that is. Also, if, by some miracle, I survive this, I'm going to throat-punch a vegan. Or vegetarian. I'm not picky. It's pretty fucked up, the things that cross your mind when you're about to die.

As I was making peace with the Goddess, eyes squeezed shut, a voice called out from the street. It wasn't a shout or a scream, but a commanding voice. Even I felt a twinge of obedience flow through me. "Stop!" the voice exclaimed. It was a familiar voice, but I could not place from where. I braced myself for strangulation by thistle, as that was how I had always killed them, but when a minute had passed since the voice commanded this murder scene to stop and nothing happened, I peeked open a wary eye.

Diego and Sal were huddled on the stoop, the dickheads. If we got out of this, I was going to have to give them a punch for not including me in their death huddle, and leaving the burn victim to fend for himself.

The thrashing weeds in the front yard were now simply swaying in the breeze, which reminded me why I was so eager to get outside in the first place. I spun on my heel and saw the thistle vine snaked along the wall, like some sort of demonic hanging creeper. I reached up to touch it, because it seemed like the thing to do, and it shied away from me.

"What the-?" I spun back around and nudged my friends, who looked up, then around. Sal gasped out a laugh.

"We're alive! Sweet Jesus, we're alive!" he screamed before dropoing to his knees and kissing the ground. Diego, on the other hand, whipped around to face me, then buried me in a big, happy hug.

"Ack!" I barely managed to get out. "Can't....breathe...Di...e...go...can't...!" At this point, he let me go, grinning from ear to ear. I put my hands on my knees and bent over to catch my breath.

Before I sucked in my third deep breath, however, the voice from the street began talking again.

"Imbeciles, why is this lawn in such disarray? This neighborhood? Do you not know where you are? Who you represent?" Why was that voice familiar?

Unable to look up, as I was too busy regathering my composure, I answered him between gasps.

"Whom, actually. You meant to ask us if we knew whom we represented. It wasn't correct in my context, but-"

"Silence, moron, and answer my question." I looked from the ground to Diego to Sal, and eventually to the source of the voice, once I finally regained normal breathing patterns. Then I lit up a smoke. As did Diego. We can be stress smokers.

"Mr. Marsailles? You can barely talk without your breath mask! How can you summon up such a commanding voice?" I asked. And how can you control these demonic plants? I'll save that one for later. He looks pissed.

"You will answer my questions first, custodian, and then, if your answers are satisfactory, I shall answer yours." Diego and I shrugged at each other while Sal just sat down on the edge of the stoop with a stunned look on his face.

"What were your questions again, Mr. Marsailles?" Diego asked. I couldn't remember them, either. A near-death experience will jar the memory a bit.

"Explain the poor condition of this neighborhood. Quickly, as you are trying my patience," Mr. Marsailles stated with a subtly nervous air about him.

"Uh...putting aside the fact that you already know what's going on, but just in case dementia has finally wrapped its icy claws around you, a week ago, Jim was almost burned alive when our lawn caught fire. The fire marshal declared it arson, but no one from the community will come forward to claim responsibility, so Sal and I went on strike while he was in the hospital, and we're going to continue the strike until someone comes forward."

"You fools!" Mr. Marsailles bellowed. "Do you know what you're a hair's breadth from doing? You truly are every bit as moronic as Edvard Marsailles believes you to be!"

"What?" I shrieked. "Edvard? Diego, Sal, did either of you know Mr. Marsailles' given name?" They both shook their heads. Sal then stood up and held up his index finger to our crotchety neighbour in the symbol of 'wait a minute,' and huddled with us.

"A Frenchman with a German name? At his age? Guys, Mr. Marsailles has always been grumpy because his side lost the war!" Sal hissed. Diego and I looked at Mr. Marsailles, then back to the huddle. "What war?" we asked simultaneously.

"The war! Think about it! He's the perfect age! Mr. Marsailles is a goddamn Nazi!" Diego and I took a step back, like we were punched. It did make sense. After the three of us took a beat to let this new information sink in, we turned back to face him. He sighed.

"Okay, crash course time. Edvard Marsailles is dead. I am inhabiting his body. Invite me in so we can talk in private. Time is of the essence."

15 May, 2013

Aftereffects/The Next Day/Home Invasion

Ed. note: In apology for missing two days and being late today, I decided I would give you guys an extra long, almost triple-length, chunk of the story. Enjoy!

I sat through Dr. Mann explaining the severity of the burns patiently, trying not to lose hope in my plans for a modeling career. Maybe I could be like that guy who has the skull tattoo on his face, but is still a model. Apparently he was hired because he'll stand out in people's memories. Clever.

Anyway, the rest of my hospital stay was a blur. There was a physical therapy appointment scheduled for next week, how to care for the burned flesh until it fully healed instructions, and a whole bunch of other things I don't remember now.

The next fully clear memory I have is sitting in Diego's Jeep Wrangler with him and Sal. Since I wasn't Sloth-like in appearance, I apologized for threatening to kill him, but if his hex ever did bear fruit, I'd skin his face and wear it instead. He looked nervous after that, but now, he just sat in the back seat, sipping his Big Gulp.

It was our start-of-the-season ritual, getting the largest size of Big Gulps and running around on a sugar high. I was thankful for the cold drink, but didn't think I'd be doing any running around today. I looked at my giant plastic cup in the modified (to hold it) passenger-side cup holder, and just stared into the sugary goodness. It offered relief, so I picked it up and rested it between my forearms.

The chill was barely there, a sign of the nerve damage Dr. Mann told me about, but what little coldness seeped through took the edge off the (psychosomatic, the good doctor said) burning I still felt. It felt like my arms were incredibly warm, like I left only them in the sun for an extended period, but the Big Gulp helped somewhat.

Despite that, though, most of my thoughts kept returning to the lawn fire. The heat I felt when I ran between the two halves of the lawn, the nerve I didn't know I had to smash the window and reach into the fire to attach the hose. The utter destruction of my lawn that I had worked so hard and so long to make, wrapped in that fiery embrace that also held me for an unknown amount of time, I never asked.

Burning, burning, burning, burning, BURNI--

"Jim? You there? I'll call you James if it gets your attention, I swear it!" I hadn't noticed that Diego was calling my name. I jerked in the seat. We were home. Sal wasn't even in the Jeep anymore. Diego was standing next to me, outside his Jeep, with the door open.

"Wh-what? I'm here! What?" Diego twitched back in surprise as I almost screamed at him.

"Dude, are you okay?"

"Yes! No, I don't know. I think the fire fucked my brain up pretty bad." I rubbed my temples as I spoke. I felt like I was going to be sick.

"Don't say that too loudly. Mr. Marsailles wants to kick us out of our jobs due to mental incompetence."

"Fuck him, Diego! I was almost burned alive! Do you really want me to focus on the petty bullshit of some wrinkly old geezer who's going to bite it within two years at the most? Fuck! That!" I swung my feet out of the vehicle and brushed by him, storming across the charred remains of our lawn, up the front steps, and into the new front door.

I needed to cool down and rest. So I did. I went to bed at noon, and was perfectly okay with that. I fell into a deep, dreamless sleep almost instantly.

....

The next day, I woke up at ten in the morning. My twenty-two-hour nap did a lot to restore my sanity. I felt glorious until I noticed the bandage on my arms needed to be changed. Sighing, I meandered through the house towards the bathroom. Diego must have been working, as I couldn't find him anywhere.

"I'll find him in a bit. First thing's first," I muttered as I went into the bathroom, and filled up the tub to gingerly soak the bandages in warm water.

Once the water was set, I slowly submerged my arms to the elbows. It felt soothing, so I just sat there for almost an hour, until I noticed that the water temperature had gone down a little, so I began removing the bandages as gingerly as I could.

This was my first real look under the wrappings, and I was horrified. Scared to my very core about what sort of monster I'd become. I cannot afford skin grafts right now, so becoming hideous really doesn't work for me right now.

I pretty much had the bandages off completely before I opened my eyes to see the mess. It was plenty gross, without a doubt, but it was also kind of...hypnotic...in a way. I looked like I was made of melted plastic in that there were swirls and whorls and eddies in my skin. The patterns were, in a very sick sense, beautiful.

"Wow..." I gasped when I fully took in the sight by rotating my arms back and forth to see the whole picture. It was something unreal, the devastation to my arms, horrible and beautiful and strange all at the same time.

Burning, burning, BURNING!

Gasping in pain, I thrust my arms back into the water and it instantly became tinted pink around them, but it was also soothing, to a degree. I wondered how long these phantom burns were going to go on, and immediately feared they would never go away.

I kept my arms submerged for maybe half an hour, just thinking about what I would do from here on out. Maybe Tilly and I could retire someplace cold. That would be very nice. I never thought I'd want to live in the cold, but if this burning sensation continued, it might be the only option.

I sighed, withdrawing the devastation that was the lower halves of my arms, and ever so gently patted them down with a fresh towel. It stung, but I couldn't just sit here forever. Could I? No, I can't start thinking like that! Maybe there was a way around the pain.

"Oh, that would be lovely, wouldn't it, Jim? Just take the easy way out again," I muttered to myself as I rebandaged my atrocities. This was a nightmare, and I wanted out. That's never how it works, though, is it? Right up to the moment before impact, we're left screaming and crying and shitting our pants, a moment of abject humiliation before waking. Thank all that is that it's in the privacy of our own minds.

I eventually made my way downstairs, absorbed in my own thoughts, to make myself brunch. Breakfast burrito? Nah. Pancakes? Nah. Oh! I could use some eggs. I don't know why, but I'm really craving some eggs. I open the fridge to check out our egg situation, but I instead get white hot pain in my forearms that is intense enough to make me lose consciousness for just long enough to fall to the floor.

I pick myself up with just my legs and shuffled over to the island, hopping on top of it. My head was spinning, and I was reeling. My stomach and my brain had no idea whether they wanted to swap places or just perform a contents dump, so I just curled up on the island, and just waited for the cool metal to lower my internal body temperature to something a bit more manageable.

...

The next thing I knew, there was a scream from somewhere far away. I jolted back awake. Sitting up, the microwave clock told me only ten minutes had passed, but I felt like I had slept for decades. I was so very rested, and my body felt as though I were under a vent of cool air, as it started at the top of my head, and there was a slight rippling sensation down my body. The feeling was incredible!

I hopped down from the island, and went toward what I thought was the source of the scream. As I passed into the front of the house I noticed that it was untouched by the flames. How peculiar. I wonder if any of the facade survived the burning. As I passed the main sitting room, I took a couple seconds to stare at the boarded-up window, and I flashed back to launching a chair through it.

"Heh, epic," I chuckled to myself, and turned toward the door, only to have it burst open to let Diego, Sal, and about ten thousand of my hated enemies inside. For the six seconds the door was open, I sneezed four times. Pollen? What?

"JIM! JIM! Oh, thank Christ you're awake!" Saying Sal looked panicked didn't give justice to the look on his face. He made people on submarines taking on water look serene. The three of us had been part of riots more calm than he was right now.

"What's going on, you guys? What was that scream, and where did all of this pollen come from?"

"Dude, look outside. Just look, man. We're so screwed. We're so screwed." Diego was pacing back and forth. Whatever was going on, it had both of them spooked pretty good. I gingerly pulled back a curtain and reflex sneezed before letting out a cry of my own.

"Our...our lawn! It's overrun by weeds! Look at that; I've never seen thistle so large and gangly! How did this happen in a goddamn DAY?" Each word in my question grew in volume until I practically barked out the last one. I don't think I had ever been this furious. Even when Diego slept with my girlfriend did I manage to keep my cool, and again when Sal slept with her, but this...this was too much. I lost my arms, I lost my lawn, after this, I'd probably lose my job and my home.

"Diego! Sal! What the FUCK DID I MISS?" Sal stepped forward. "Tread carefully, as the state I'm in will allow me to snap your neck like a twig."

"Well, Jim, after you were taken to the hospital, and the fire was put out, the fire chief looked over the lawn, and after deliberating with some of the other firemen, they unanimously declared this an arson, but no one in the community would fess up." I felt my fists clench. "So Diego and I decided to go on a strike until someone came clean."

"And let me guess, no one's owning up to it?" I asked through teeth so tightly clenched, I was, for a few moments, afraid they would crumble.

"No, boss." Diego had just been nodding the whole time, or adding in corroborative 'Yeah's where necessary. He looked as pissed as I felt. I wondered if I looked as pissed as I felt.

"Get me my fumigation mask!" I barked at Sal, who scampered off to the basement. When he came back, he had not only my mask, but a look of terror on his face.

"Th...there's a mass of vines and thistle down there that burst in through the cellar wall!" Diego and I just stared at him, then at each other, and finally back at him.

"Everybody out!" someone yelled, and the three of us bounded for the front door, screaming bloody murder. Diego plowed through the door and stopped on the stoop as a thorny whip of thistle and poison ivy leaves slapped at the house.

Sal bumped into his back, and I bumped into Sal. The vines pushed on the cellar door until it exploded into splinters, a process taking no more than 30 seconds, start to finish, and began racing for the front door. These weeds were more than just alive, they possessed a malevolent sentience.

"Keep going, you morons! Just run through! Get to the street!" Apparently my words were useless, as they stood rooted (heh) to the spot. Irony of ironies. I began pushing against the slender youth, and Diego began pushing back.

The vines were closing in....