Friday, December 8, 2017

Rue Charade

Rue Charade
by
Bobby Derie

"The alien had a ray gun. So what? One ray gun, doesn't matter. But it's not just one, is it? Because if one ray gun is built, that proves its possible. Ray gun research is a thing. Militaries get interested. There's a ray gun gap. There may be one ray gun now, but not for long."

Cathan stopped his monologue long enough to sip his coffee, the pale cream-colored china cup clicking gently against his teeth. Bespoke said nothing, but looked idly around the little cafe on the Rue Charade to make sure they weren't attracting too much attention.

The Rue Charade was the only street in the city with a French designation, and it had attracted, in a quiet and disorganized way, a group of like-minded individuals. Shops had opened with French names. A series of buildings had been rebuilt, promenade style, with wrought-iron railings and balconies. Little cafes with fold-away tables and chairs guarded the entrances at either end of the three-block strip. Even the local church, a quaint Catholic relic from the previous century, which guarded a little graveyard older still, sang masses in French.

It attracted that kind of artsy crowd, the ones which either didn't have much money or had enough to be gloriously weird without trying to cram a McDonalds serving Le Big Mac in. The Rue Charade crowd didn't take to any tourist-board efforts to mark them as Little France or the French Quarter. There had never been any substantial French immigration into this part of the city. That was the point. When Bespoke heard about it, he came sniffing, and found Cathan.

"That is what a lot of folks don't get about uniqueness. Anything that can be done can, with time and effort, be replicated. And if you can do it, you can remix it. Modify it. Enhance, corrupt, degrade. Where they tend to fall down is then equating anomalous phenomena and items as technology. That isn't how it works."

Bespoke turned his attention back to the man speaking. The older side of twenties, the pale hard skin with deep dirt that spoke of hard work or hard living, but not in the sun. Tall but stooped, hair kept close-cropped so that you could only vaguely see the fine map of scar tissue that gave his head a bit of an angular appearance. A grey suit whose legs and sleeves were always spattered, as though he'd been painting in them - though they never smelled of paint. Johnathan Cathan could have been a drug dealer or an art dealer, until he smiled.

The extractions had started when he was six, Cathan had explained once. With a pair of pliers. Something to do with religion, at least initially, but after Child Protective Services had removed him from what remained of his living relatives, he'd finished the job himself. The implants were his own work too - white, sharp incisors, sourced from a local veterinarian. A row of sharp teeth, planted in the pink sockets. Smaller than human teeth, so there were gaps. It left a smile like Hell's own picket fence, the thin pink tongue caged and waiting to strike. Bespoke figured that the difficulty in actually chewing anything with those teeth was part of the reason Cathan was so thin.

"How does it work?" Bespoke asks, sipping his own cold coffee and nibbling a beignet.

"Technology is based on readily observable laws. Anyone can do it. Anomalous processes aren't. The laws are either obscure or occult, but they're particular. The results are only accessible through a given process - ritual, spell, alien agency, whatever. The ray gun, you see it work and assume that since you can see it work, you can work out how it works - but that isn't always the case. There's a barrier to the possible there, because it functions on a system which isn't compatible with our regular experience of the world. To grok it, you need to step out of that headspace for a moment - try to comprehend a different system. Sometimes, those systems can sense that, and respond to it. Imagine looking through a microscope and an amoeba gave you the flagella. Which is why a lot of the...more pervasive systems, they tie it all up into ritual and thaumaturgy. Those are relatively safe paths, mapped out and defined by explorers. They're idiosyncratic, and most of them are not optimized for efficiency or effect, but they work. That's the important thing. Fuck with them, and the systems that you're playing with can fuck back.

Cathan was a connection. A low-level one, but he had been in the game since he first got out of juvie, if not before. Bespoke knew how to treat connections from his days dealing in college. You let them talk. You bought the coffee, or the beer. Sometimes they said too much, and you pretended you hadn't heard - but you had to listen carefully enough to ask the right question, to show you'd been paying attention. Because connections didn't like having their time wasted.

"So some of these anomalies can be...manufactured. Or replicated, with the right materials. Even modified, if you have the skill, know-how, and balls." Bespoke said. She smiled. "What have you got for me?"

Cathan peeled the lips back from his teeth to expose the gums, like a horse. He had, Bespoke knew, acquired a vomeronasal organ through one of his anomalous processes - or maybe in a trade; it was like the smell equivalent of being able to see infrared light, a superhuman ability to detect and analyze the chemical constituency of particulates in the air. Bespoke believed him when he said it helped him sniff out bullshit.

He laid a small object on the table. A netsuke, on a loop of black silk with dark brown rosary beads, in the shape of a smiling Budai. Except the Budai wasn't smiling. It's head had been carved in the grinning likeness of a skull, looking odd on the corpulent body.

Bespoke stared at the morbid trinket, but knew enough not to touch it.

"A memento mori - literally. Count back the beads, you get - flashes. Being beheaded. Stabbed. Burned. Drowned. Shitting your guts out. Last five minutes of a lot of lives. Mostly feudal Japan or China, maybe. It stores final impressions, and you can play them back." he said. "Could be useful."

"Useful." she said. "Can you hack it? Replicate it?"

"No." the connection replied. "Not my area. But I can put you together with somebody that can."

"What do you want?" she said. Because for anything this weird, money was usually the last thing that sealed a deal.

###

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Consultation

The Consultation
by
Bobby Derie

There were no corners in the shopfront. The edges had been molded or sanded down and rounded off, although it was otherwise your basic retail office space. Big front window, single glassy door, the rounded corners fitting into what looked like a rubber seal. Julia had the impression the whole store had been exuded by some mutant oyster, spat out like a half-finished pearl. The door gave way with a bit of stick and a sucking sound.

Julia crossed the threshold into a world of warm, dry air. The scent of drying herbs and fresh earth. The carpet crept up the walls and down from the ceiling. No corners, again. A kind of cavernous space where nothing was exactly parallel. Opposite the door, a low table, littered with...offerings. A plate of gold. Decanters of cut crystal glass. Small plates and bowls with arrangements of plants, dried herbs, wood shavings, cigarettes. A glass jar in which nightcrawlers turned in black earth. An assortment of very plain, functional knives with handles of different metals. Behind the table, staring at her, a beefy young woman in a business suit that was cut, frayed, and burned at every edge - deliberately, she thought. Behind her, a curtain.

An office laid out like a temple, a secretary guarded the holy-of-holies.

"They see you." the secretary said, rising from behind the table. She towered a head over Julia. Guided her around the table, drew back the curtain. "They see you now."

The way behind the curtain was dark. Darker than it should have been. Yet there was a light.

Julia hurried past the secretary, ducking under her arm. She caught a scent of something wet and animalistic as she swept past. Like a wet fart of pure musk. Swallowed a gag as she stepped forward. Then the curtain fell. She was alone in darkness.

A twenty-watt bulb burned, perfect and red, frozen in space about five feet off the ground. Julia took a moment to let her eyes adjust. There were walls, which formed a rough corridor with a sagging ceiling. Ran a hand against rough fabric. Sloping walls, like a tent. Or skin hanging off some strange, angular skeleton. The air was warmer here, the herbal smell giving away to something a bit more...harsh, medicinal, with overtones of old nicotine.

Julia walked, feet sinking into something like denim covering thick carpet - a strong, yet giving surface on top of something softer. The floor was also off - she felt the ascent, though it couldn't have been more than a few feet.

Then she was in the space. She saw the...

"Consultant." The figure said. "You are here for a consultation."

The figure was naked beneath their business suit, Julia thought. Skin showed through the jacket when they moved. No shoes, or socks. No undershirt. The tie formed a ribbon of blackness that hand between the small breasts. The hair and face were carefully androgynous. Full lips, a ribbon of black around the eyes.

"Sit." The consultant said, and Julia did - on an amorphous shape like a piece of exercise equipment wrapped in layers of blankets. Soft edges, hard skeleton. Ergonomic, but not exactly comfortable. The consultant moved something, revealed a small flame burning beneath the bare bulb. They tossed a wet leaf on the flame, which immediately began to smoke. The nicotine smell increased, and Julia began to sweat.

"Historically, people understood magic in a very different sense than is common today." The consultant said. "The Babylonians, we know they had witches and exorcists, priests and astrologers. Yet this was not all understood as magic in the way we think of it today. We think in terms of spells and conjurations, cause and effect. We separate sorcery and sanctity, science and religion. They did not. To them, it was all a spectrum. Parts of the natural and supernatural world interlocked, interacted. They had superstitions - rituals and beliefs by which people could interact with that supernal world, the seen and unseen. When that was insufficient, they would consult others. Specialists in those interactions. Intermediaries trained in the lore. You want tigers, you hire a hunter." The consultant's eyes flashed. "Today is like yesterday. You have encountered a problem you cannot handle, perhaps one you do not understand. You need help."

The smoke stung Julia's eyes, but she was starting to get a buzz, like from your first cigarette. "I want..."

The consultant held up their hand. The nails were tapered, sharpened. She could easily imagine them scraping across her thigh, drawing blood. "You need to absorb this consultation first. Digest the information. Define your problem. Then, if you need it, there will be another consultation." The consultant came close, hand grasped Julia's chin, drew her in close...to stare her hard in the eyes. "There will be a price. The things we deal with, have their price, and that cost is passed on to you. Think on this."

Julia let the consultant take her arm and guide her up from the chair-cum-torture device. Her ass hurt, and her head felt funny. The ceiling seemed like it was going to collapse in on her. Finally, there was a door. A fire door. Steel covered with paint. A bar at waist height. Instinctively, Julia reached for it. Felt the cool metal beneath her palms. Something pushed her from behind. Julia stepped forward into the light.

###

Friday, November 24, 2017

The End of the Night

The End of the Night
by
Bobby Derie


Amid the ruins of broken crystal, stained with lipstick, ran a river of spilled champagne, soaking gently into the floodplain of the carpet, the fallen panties their delta where it pooled and fizzed before going flat.


There had been a small murder in the night. The useless rope now untied from around her throat, lay careless and inviting on her still breasts. She had watched her lover's stiff nipples soften as the blood pooled toward the bottom of the body.


With deliberation, she placed her allowance on the bedside table. Crisp bills next to the empty bottle, the scattered pills, the crumpled diaphragms and disposable gloves.


From the closet, she selected her husband's two best ties. Raw silk, very long and thin. A birthday present, she remembered, from leaner days. She used to tie them for him, sealing each fresh morning with a kiss. The ties knotted in her hands, becoming a rope. Black and red stripes twisted together. She couldn't remember the last such kiss.


The business was the doorknob was more difficult. She had to kneel, at last. On her knees again, the crack of her ass pressed against the edge of the door. Assuming the familiar position. From her point of view, opposite the bed, she was eye-level with her lover's splayed legs, the cold wet mystery hiding beneath that curling hair. She breathed deep, and leaned forward.


The knot tightened. The ties held. The burning started before she thought it would. Like diving into a pool, holding your breath as long as you can. Until you can't. Tears came, eyes stinging, mascara running.


She wondered at the tableaux, and who would see it. Her eyes floated for a moment from her lover's still glory, to glance at the clock. Wondering if he would arrive home on time. A slight delay in the plane. A few extra minutes at the baggage carousel. Can't get a taxi. Traffic. A moment to tip the doorman. The slow rumble of the elevator, neighbors getting on and off, off and on. Her vision narrowed as she stared back focusing in on her favorite corpse. It had to look right, when he came home. If he made it in time...


###

Friday, November 17, 2017

Timeless, Mexico

Timeless, Mexico
by
Bobby Derie


The coyote's bones bleached in the sun. Dust rolled through a town painted in earthy tones, succulent greens and bright stucco, the brilliant red of roses, lips, and spilt blood. Bare feet trampled hard dirt roads and well-worn paths. From the shadowed halls of the cantina came the strum of a guitar, the clap of hands; punctuated at times by the dim, somber roll of church bells.


Jose stood outside, holding his burro. White stripes were painted against the dark skin, the better for the cameras.


"Must there be a Jose?" he said to the burro. The animal regarded him with the flat wisdom of such beasts, who always know who holds the reins and where the next carrot is coming from. "Is this night not an illusion?" he asked, though the sun shone steadily overhead.


Shadow-shapes blinked over the town. The mission church with its sole bell-tower on the square was overlaid, briefly, by a stone teocalli, the grinning brown-skinned priest in a bloody frock as he held the fresh-strewn heart above the communion chalice. Masked men in capes strolled boldly, chests bare, muscles glistening. A shadow, also masked, lurked on a rooftop, standing for a brief moment to pose, the very image of a don, one black gloved hand resting on the pommel of his sword, the other stroking his mustache. Then they were gone.


A gringo came, dollars in his hand. Jose smiled and held the rope, maneuvered the burro into better light for the camera. The flash came, the welcome greenbacks. Halting Spanglish, loud and slow; Jose pointed toward the zonas, at the end of town. Past the cramped jail where Americanos slept off their drink. The end of town, where all semblance to Mexico ceased, to become the carnival-caricature of itself: tequila and flashing skirts, native talents for sale.


Jose watched the gringo go, and in his wake saw the shadows again. Brown-skinned Indian women screaming as they were drawn beneath sweaty, hairy men with eyes full of god and gold; empty-eyed boys who stood at the sides of roads, bloodstains on their American-made jeans; gawdy mariachis serenading the young football team that had come down to Texas to pound the screaming whore; tattooed children with their father's eyes, bloody hands grasping at weed and coke.


The shadows passed, the church bells rang. Barrel-bellied farmers brought their crops to market. Grey-haired professors from the university came to join the throng that circled the square. Books passed back and forth: Spanish, English, old codices, fragile and livid, which few could read. The professors clucked to their students in dead tongues, elbow to elbow with the brown-skinned villagers that chatted beside them in the same language. A girl sat on a stoop, listening to music; a boy sat next to her, reading a comic book.


Jose's eyes strayed north, drawn by some magnetism, gravity, irresistible compulsion. The shadows clustered there, across the border, a long train of them tramping silently to cluster above the border.


"How much of Mexico, is Mexico?" he said aloud. The burro did not answer him.


###



Friday, November 10, 2017

An Unpleasant Guest

An Unpleasant Guest
by
Bobby Derie


Mooney was on duty in the lobby when the call came in from the concierge at the desk. The lobby of the Goodman Hotel was a short hall in black marble, white tile, and dark wood, inlaid with traceries of brass in an Art Deco style that partook of a certain Gothic trend; lots of fluting and sharp edges, stylized human figures that devolved into leering gargoyles that concealed light sconces, so that they were backlit. The walls narrowed slightly as they approached the desk, making the lobby look a bit longer than it was, and, coincidentally, meaning that there was space near the entrance for a black leather chair, so that Mooney had a good view of those guests arriving before they saw him. It was his favored spot for tracking escorts as they came and went, but he stood immediately when the concierge put down the phone and nodded at him.


The house detective stood six inches under six feet, and had learned only a single rule of fashion: everything goes with black. His black three-piece suit was matched with a black collared shirt and a thin black tie, drawing attention to his pale hands and face, red-brown hair shaved down almost to the skin in a military-style buzzcut. Mooney walked with purpose to the counter, where the concierge held out the rectangular plastic card that passed for a key these days.


"Fourteenth-oh-twelve," she—no, Mooney corrected himself, he, because the concierge was transitioning—said. "Again." the concierge added, brown eyes wide.


"Mister Ranevy is proving a most unpleasant guest." Mooney remarked. "Third time, isn't it?"


"Yes, Mr. Mooney."


"And how much longer is he staying?"


"Booked through the 16th."


"The full moon." Mooney clucked his tongue. "Paid in advance?"


"Yes sir."


Mooney smiled, then rounded the desk towards the elevators, taking the turn slowly. The hallways in the hotel were generally angled so you couldn't see around the corners—sometimes couldn't see the corners, until you were close on them—and Mooney knew how easy it was to bump into people if you weren't careful. Stepping in to the carpeted box, Mooney caught his reflection in the mirror-polished brass walls for a moment. Then he turned around, facing the doors, and carefully tapped the rectangular ivory button—reclaimed from an old piano, he knew—next to 12. The concierge gave his tight-lipped little smile as the doors closed on Mooney.


On a plaque about the buttons was the brief legend of the hotel; built on Goodman's Lot, the only patch of real estate that the Colonists hadn't wanted or dared to cut down or build over. Mooney's own researches had suggested there were some other issues with the building site, and certain incidents during construction, so that there were almost certainly a body buried beneath each corner of the foundation; that was long before his time as the house detective, but his position afforded him access to certain files which even management and the current owners probably were ignorant of. Suffice it to say, it was the sort of place that attracted the occasional unusual guest at a higher rate than others. Management took that in stride; all old buildings have their quirks.


The rooms on this floor began their numbering with zero-zero-zero—Mooney's office, when he wasn't holding down the lobby—and oh-twelve was one of the suites. He knocked on the door for politeness sake, then checked his watch and swiped the card; the lock clicked open with a pale glimmer of a green LED, and he turned the brass knob and opened, but did not immediately enter.


14012 was dark—not simply because the lights were off, but because the heavy velvet curtains had been drawn across the windows and tied tight by the sashes. The suite included three rooms, plus the bath and a walk-in closet; Mooney had long-since memorized the layout and could probably navigate it with his eyes closed, but waited a moment. From the direction of the largest room, a piece of shadow detached itself from the rest and strode forward. Mr. Ranevy was a head and a half taller than Mooney, dark of complexion but not tanned, and bare-chested, the dense hair nearly covering his arms and chest in a thick mat, like the old photos of those very special people from circus sideshows.


Mooney caught his eye. "Good morning, sir. I am the hotel detective. I am afraid we've had a complaint regarding your suite. Would you mind if I came in for a moment to talk with you privately?"


"Enter freely, and of your own will." Ranevy said, a trace of one a North Umbrian accent in his speech—one that those who knew little of such things might have thought Scottish, before they learned better.


"Very droll, sir." Mooney smiled as he stepped inside; the door shut behind him swiftly, and they were in darkness.


"Shall I turn on the light?" Ranevy said. Mooney turned to face the voice, senses on edge. There were familiar smells in this suite—blood, raw meat starting to turn, and the fake strawberry scent of the lubricant discreetly sold in the hotel pharmacy, which was little more than a dispensary for pills and prophylactics.


"Some things are better if I don't see them, sir." Mooney said. "Regarding which, I must say regretfully say that there is an issue with your stay. While it is not the policy of the Goodman to interfere with our guests, and to respect their privacy, there has been a question from management about the...occupancy limit of your suite."


Mooney could not hear Ranevy breathe, but a certain tension seemed to rise.


"There is no one else here." Ranevy declared.


"Security cameras, sir. In the hallways, the elevators, the stairwells, the bar and the dining room. You have brought three people—known to us and the local police as escorts—into your suite over the last three nights. And they have not left."


Mooney felt Ranevy smile, and quietly took a few steps into the main room, laying a reassuring hand on the heavy felt drapes. "You are hear to arrest me?" the voice came from behind him.


"No, sir. I am a house detective. I am not a member of the police, and I do not have powers of arrest. Nor, for that matter, am I here to help resolve issues that the guests might have regarding lost or stolen items. I am employed to protect the hotel."


"Is that a threat?" Ranevy's voice was directly behind him.


"It need not be, sir. Provided that there is no particular issue that threatens the interests of the hotel or its reputation."


"I think you have no power or authority here, detective. I have paid for this room, and I know the laws: you cannot evict me. What I do here is my affair. Go, and tell that to your management."


Mooney closed his eyes and ripped back the sash on the curtain, stepping away. Sunlight, bright and warm, flooded through half the room. Ranevy did not even have time to scream, falling backwards, stricken by the light. The house dick kept to the shadows as the light did it's work. The bare chest seemed to go translucent as it soaked up the pulsing rays, then began to quietly smolder from within. Pockets of flesh between the ribs fell in, revealing glowing coals like a cigarette. Moonlight, Mooney knew, rejuvenated some of them; and moonlight was only reflected sunlight. Too much was like an overdose...


He waited until most of the surface flesh was reduced to gray ash, which began to float upwards on drafts of warm air from the still glowing bones. Then he carefully lifted a lamp from the table, unplugged it, and began using the heavy base to pulp the dry, gray bones until nothing left resembled a human. The teeth he picked out with a handkerchief and stuck in his pockets. A few more minutes with the Goodman's particular version of Gideon's—a curious affair that was bound in real dark green leather, and which contained a special appendix with red-dyed pages covering several useful formulae—settled the most pressing matter. Then Mooney began a systematic search of the suite.


What was left of the escorts were on the bed, in no shape to leave under their own power, but alive. Mooney picked up the phone and dialed the front desk.


"This is Mooney in Fourteen-oh-Twelve. Mr. Ranevy is checking out. He has left a bit of a mess in the suite, and has left some luggage behind, as well as a few companions that are the worse for wear. Send up a few wheelchairs, and we'll get take them down the freight to the loading dock: call a few cabs to get them home. When that's done, have the bellboy fetch the luggage downstairs, and tell room service to tidy up." He paused, and stared at the state of the suite. "Charge the damages to Mr. Ranevy's credit card. I'll take some pictures, just in case, but I doubt they will be disputed."


###

Friday, November 3, 2017

Goatcat

Goatcat
by
Bobby Derie

Farul was a goatherd. At times, she met with the shepherds; they would invite her to sit and eat with them, sharing bread and cheese, kumis and cold coffee, tobacco and gossip. One warm summer evening, they got to talking about their dogs - for every shepherd in the village had at least one sheepdog.

"Farul, my friend," said Shabash, "do you have a dog for your goats?"

"No," said Farul. "You cannot heard goats with a dog. The dogs cannot climb the mountains or trees like the goat, and the billies are likely to turn and gouge with their horns if pressed. No, I have a cat."

That drew a small laugh from the women and men, but Shabash asked: "I have never seen you with a cat."

Farul shook her head and sipped her kumis. "The goatcat does not stay with the herd. She stalks in the tall grass, or on the ledges above the path, her eyes watching everything. The goats know this, they feel that gaze upon them, and so stay together. Like all cats, she is not a pet, exactly; she is a working animal, some generations removed from the wild cats that strangle the kids and rip and tear the bellies out of wild goats. The teeth and claws that can chase a goat anywhere, to corner them in a tree or up a mountain, to outrun them as they go into the valley, the devil that takes the hindmost." She sipped again. "Would you like to see her?"

The shepherds had gone quiet as Farul had spoken, for this was a lore they had never known. All eyes turned to Shabash as he nodded. Farul let out a cry - or maybe a low hiss ending in a yelp. A piece of the evening detached itself from the grass and stalked toward the shepherds.

It was taller at the shoulder, longer and heavier than a housecat - and striped, dark brown on black coat, fading lighter toward the tip. Farul reached into a pouch at her waist, palmed something pink and wet, and tossed it toward the goatcat, who rose up on its rear paws to catch it. The teeth flashed and bit into the meat, then slipped back into the tall grass.

"What did you feed it?" Shabash asked.

"Goat meat, of course." Farul replied. "They have to get a taste for it."

###

Friday, October 27, 2017

In the Night

In the Night
by
Bobby Derie

The Night City slept during the long, bright day. Above their heads, the day people moved on the burning streets, and slid through wet gardens where water the heat of blood splashed against ankle and calf. Their laughter and tears and rage came down to the night people and worked into their dreams.

In the summer, the sun was a long time dying. The early risers sat guard, eyes burned from too many peeks as the twilight came on. In the gloaming the Night City awoke. Multi-colored lanterns were lit as the stalls unfolded, and the drains gurgled as they discharged their sleepers. The day people locked their doors to the sounds of the Night City, the heat of the day draining from the streets beneath the tread of those who dwell beneath.

All save for the adventurous few, the foolish, the mad, and the unfortunate. Here a husband who quarreled with his wife, locked out, wanders into the Red Market; there a woman has drunk too much, has stumbled into an alley for a piss, and a dweller seeps up from the sewer to try out its new home. A prince with sword drawn watches the nightly consecration of the temple, and shudders at the Queen who rules by night.

In the night, a day child hugs the shadow that was once their brother; they have only this time together, in the twilight of dawn and dusk. Until one day she too goes down into the Night City, to sleep away the burning time, until it is their time once again.

###