Friday, October 19, 2018

The Confession

The Confession
by
Bobby Derie

"I was a profiteer," the voice was a watery croak "in the war of souls."

There was a gurgle and a smacking of wet lips.

"Do not bless me, for I could not stand it. I do not come to be shriven. I come because if I do not confess, then my sins will consume me. Perhaps it is already too late."

The night was silent for a moment, save for heavy breathing. Then a long pause.

"Every war has its profiteers. If you cast the conflict between Heaven and Hell into such a frame...but it is not quite a war of nations. Every church and sect has their truth, and all of them think their purpose is to save souls...to draft sinners onto the side of God...and they each work in their own way. Such confusion always creates opportunities."

A wheeze, wet and phlegmy, paused the speech.

"A war of souls...there is no territory. There are no soldiers. The ranks of the clergy, all they are is recruiters. They work to sell you on the good word. Sometimes they scare you, sometimes they entice you, but it's all to get you to sign yourself over to them. Like two used car salesmen, trying to get you over to their lot. In such a war, weapons aren't swords and bombs...they're ideas...pitches...marketing." Another gurgle. "Well, I made weapons. And I sold them to both sides."

Another cough, ragged and pained.

"Both sides. Hell. I was at Gutenberg's elbow when he set the type, and steadied the hand of the scribe as Muhammad dictated; I showed Smith those golden pages, and lent LaVey the typewriter to pound out his first draft...and ah, the rewards, as the Bibles flowed forth, texts holy and unholy, and how the souls flowed in...and me with my percentage. Well, it kept me in girls, I'll tell you that."

The cough racked into something like a sob.

"That was my sin, really. I had forgotten...forgotten my purpose. Then one day I turned on the news. I watched. And I didn't stop watching, for a long time. Till the dust settled on me, and the lights went out because I hadn't paid the bill. Then I crawled into a bottle. Because that's what I was supposed to do: watch. Watch over them, help them, guide them...and all I did was mislead."

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Friday, October 12, 2018

Cottontail

Cottontail
by
Bobby Derie

"Move your fluffy ass, thumper."


Joanna cringed a little and moved aside to let the man go past her. She had her mother's hips, wide and full, and it was sometimes easy to block the aisle on the bus. Still, she thought, as she wiggled the small tail like a ball of cotton at the base of her spine, that was no need for slurs.


Her big brown eyes fell on the scrolling line of advertisements that ran across the ceiling of the bus. Recreational cannabis. Hydrogen fuel cell amphibious cars. Cosmetic gene grafts. The usual run of brightly colored adverts, cartoons, infomercials. Like most people, Joanna had learned not to let her eyes linger on any of them too long, or the software would register interest.


She could feel the eyes on her ass. It was, from a certain standpoint, her best feature: neither of her parents had gone in for genetic breast augmentations, or at least hadn't paid to make them inheritable. That kind of thing was expensive. Her face...well, the lagomorph features set a few people off. More than one person had mistaken her pronounced philtrum as a cleft palate. The doe eyes, at least, could be mistaken for an affection.


Joanna's mother had never quite understood what it was like, growing up. She had been a third- or fourth-generation furry, proudly pointing to her great-grandparents at conventions in the '80s; she had saved up half her life to get the augments and genelifts that made her a "honey bunny" - which Joanna had inherited for free. But kids can be cruel, and pulled her tail and worse things.


Then puberty had set in.


Highschool was bad enough without the ticking genetic time bomb of carefully engineered augments suddenly shifting into high gear. Then there were the...expectations. There were a few other lagomorphs in school. Joanna's parents had known them through the community. Everyone just expected her to...keep to her own kind. When they didn't expect her to just be a horny little rabbit girl, straight from their hentai-fueled wet dreams.


That had been confusing enough. Trying to figure out whether she was a furry, just because her parents were.


The bus came to a stuttering halt at her stop, and Joanna turned to get off. She had to squeeze past a couple of people, her cottontail brushing against them. This time, nobody made a grab for it. Joanna hadn't always been so lucky.


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Friday, October 5, 2018

The Red Line

The Red Line
by
Bobby Derie

When the sun rose, the curse of Inanna fell on Em-met, and he lay as one dead.
When the sun set, the blessing of Erishkegal fell on Em-met, and he rose as a part of the night.


He thanked the moon, and ran with the lions,
He fell on thief and brigand, and drank of their life,
He haunted the tombs of kings and priests,
And no temple would receive him.


His seed was all dried up,
Yet he did not want his line to end.


On a moonlit night he came across a dying woman,
Hard were the marks of life on her!
He did not slake his thirst,
But gave unto her what was his.
He added his blessings and curse to her own.


This is the red line of Em-met.


Ka-ma-ra is not the name she had in life,
It is what we know her of in the walking death.


She went where Em-met would not,
She defiled the high holy places,
She seduced the daughters of kings,
They bathed her feet and scented her with oils.


Em-met could not understand Ka-ma-ra,
Nor control her.


In the end, she sat beside him as he faced the sunrise,
And held tight his hand.


Bashti was the red daughter of Ka-ma-ra,
Daughter of her old age.


She spoke the new speech of the invaders,
She haunted the new temples and the old,
She withstood the blades of bronze and iron,
And she began the litany of Em-met.


Did Ka-ma-ra pass beneath the shadow of the world?
Bashti holds her tongue, now and forever.


So the red daughter passed to new lands,
Loneliness consumed her.


Here is the crime of Hekam,
Whom Bashti fed out of spite.


He was first-named of the slayers,
He became what he had hated and hunted,
He was hunted by his brothers,
And yet Bashti taught him the litany.


Hekam abashed himself at her feet,
He became her dog.


As a beast he wandered the dark shores of the river,
Until he came unto himself once more.


Hekam begat Arras, who suckled redly at the dog's teat,
Arras the Scarred, soldier of many wars.


Arras begat Caius, one of many who drank from the red goblet,
Caius who survived Arras' thirst.


Caius begat Gwenwyfhar, the first to ask for the red gift,
Gwenwyfhar who honored her great-grandmother Bakshi.


Gwenwyfhar begat Arryn, who was strong with the beast,
Arryn who feuded against the children of Hakim.


Arryn begat Terese, her final daughter,
Terese who stayed by her and held her hand as the sun rose.


This is the red line of Em-met.


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Friday, September 28, 2018

The Gentleman and the Necromancer

The Gentleman and the Necromancer
by
Bobby Derie

"Would not a necromancer forego the expense of a craftsman and simply...obtain the materials they need more directly?"

The man tilted his cobwebbed hat at his guest, lost in thought. Then spoke, in a distinct voice.

"A necromancer might," he paused to let the echoes of the crypt die out. "But a gentleman never would."

The guest drew herself up to her full height—tall enough to stoop under most doorways, and with her hat and veil had to practically bend herself like a bishop to enter any room. Her dress was dark, and of good material, but hardly fashionable: no bustle or hoops, and very little in the way of petticoats. It had a high collar and her heavy boots, pointed as a cavalryman's, poked out from beneath.

"I think you put on airs, sir. We are not so different."

The man pointed at the pile of antique gold on the table.

"I do not devalue your labor, madame. Only our philosophy and motivations."

"You call forth the damned as surely as I do," she spat at his feet, a black glob that quivered before his dusty finery. "You may question them on matters of ancestry, aye, but where else do you get that geld, if not from forgotten crypts? We both make a living off the dead."

"You mistake me, madame. I take nothing that is not mine. You see, it has been quite a long time, and I forget where I put things." The gentleman smiled, dry lips cracking. "That's why I must ask the children where I put them."

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Friday, September 21, 2018

Black Hands and White

Black Hands and White
by
Bobby Derie

The heat of summer bled into an early October night, and the stubborn trees held onto their leaves. It was grim tidings, but the month was young and the moon was full. We drew the cots out onto the sleeping porch, where at least a breeze might give us a little surcease, and without prompting Houston began his tale.

"Being out on your lonesome can sometimes play on one's fancy—I don't know if you've ever noticed that, but I have. They grow inward on themselves, very queerly so. The strangest thing is that a person can go lonesome even when surrounded by other people! Why I know a town some hours from here...it is called Dead End, because the road stops there, at nowhere in particular, the town on either side of it, a little strip, with houses and a small wooden church branching off...but that is it. Folks live there because they live there, and some move off and don't come back, and some die and are buried in the church yard, or the little potter's field beyond it. I would go there, perhaps twice a year, to sell my goods, and that was always my impression of it."

"Father Busch was rector—I don't know the denomination, and I doubt it made a difference to the people of Dead End, for there was no competition. And though he knew everyone in town, presided at every baptism, funeral, and shotgun wedding, preached there every Sunday morning...he was as lonesome a soul as I had ever met. Because he wasn't from Dead End, you see, his church had sent him there. He had seen the world, and those folks hadn't, and as friendly as he and they had been, for perhaps ten years or more. I think perhaps he went a little mad, as a sailor might when denied the sea."

Houston sighed then, long and low and sad. "I think I knew it, too. But I did nothing."

"We were not friends, exactly, but we got to talking. Busch was grateful for outside conversation, though he was careful not to let on the fact. He projected contentment, but you could see it in his eyes—and his choice of subjects. The medieval church. The Inquisition. Witch hunts." Houston paused, and the night sounds came to us, the soft chatter of insects and the wind against the tall, dry grass. "It was a mixed population, you see. Some Mexican families, and the way the people intermarried, I think all of them had a little Mexican in them. So a curandero would come to visit, sometimes, often in the early summer and early fall. Busch didn't like it, but I thought that was mere professional disdain. Theological disputes."

"The next time I came to Dead End, it was over—and I had to pry the stories out of the locals, because not a one of them wanted to explain the burnt timbers of the church, or the black stake that was out in the potter's field. The cattle had been sick, and mold had gotten into the corn, and then a child went missing... I think, without Busch, they might have shouldered on all that a they did everything else, with indifference and corn whiskey. But they did something they were ashamed to tell me of, though I could guess it easily enough. Busch had shown me enough of his old books, Der Hexenhammer and all that...even told me he doubled as a Justice of the Peace in Dead End. I wish I could say I was shocked...but a sailor denied the sea might still still drown on dry land."

"The other part though...that I didn't understand. Not right away, anyway. They were all wearing gloves, those of them that I could see, which was odd for the time of year, because it was still warm out. Some of them didn't even have gloves, and wore mittens, or small sacks tied around their hands, and I thought that was quite queer too. I asked if Father Busch had died with his church, and they told me 'No,' so I went to his house. He was there, in his library. I stretched out my hand—plain and pink—and he stretched out his own, pale and white...and I could tell there was something on it, as I touched his palm to mine, and it came away at the touch. I heard him draw in a breath as I looked down..."

Houston swallowed.

"It was paint. Dry white paint, that had flaked off. And the skin underneath it was black as coal dust."

###

Friday, September 14, 2018

Revelations

Revelations
by
Bobby Derie




I found him on the grass outside, staring at the sky. His tea had grown cold.




"We missed it. I missed it." His eyes were wide, and tears trickled down out of the corners, toward his ears. "I didn't understand. They were always right, you see. Invisible to us, congregations of dark matter, beyond the range of our perception..." His mouth opened and closed, dumbly. "Black stars."




"Yes," I dabbed my handkerchief at his face. "I was wondering when you would understand. They have already awakened. They already left." She patted his shoulder.


Now he stared at her. "But...the cult. The idols."




"Cargo cults," she smiled sadly. "Things left behind. Like footprints and astronaut garbage on the moon."

"The dreams...Johansen's account! It can't be..." He saw her in a new light, then. No, he corrected himself, a new darkness. The night sky blended into the thick black curls of her hair; stars shined in the shadows of her face. Black stars...




"Echoes," the sad smile widened a little. "Semiotic ghosts. Things you want to see. Now come inside." A cold hand slipped into his own. "There is more to show you."


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Friday, September 7, 2018

Geasa

Geasa
by
Bobby Derie

"I lost it," he set the bottle down, a few red drops pooling in the bottom of the glass.


"The word. Sweet and musty and bitter and acid, that bites the tip of your tongue and rolls around the back of your mouth, the last sip of that home-brewed cherry cola, not yet tart or syrup-sticky, but thicker and floating..."


"Dregs," the voice called out from the seat behind him. A bald head was buried in a book, never looking up.


"Dregs," he savored the word, rolling it around in his mouth, lips curling up at the corners.


"Dregs," he took the last sip.


Through the window, the world rushed by, green blurs of leaves, dark shadows in between where the light did not reach.


"When I attained my majority," he spoke loud enough for the bald head to hear, "my mother took me to the druid, who laid on me four geasa: Never to take strong drink between dawn and noon, never to leave the toilet unflushed, never to buy a dog from a puppy-mill, and never to love a red-haired witch. I did well to abide by these restrictions for many years, and then I met Angua."


"Was she a natural redhead?" The book wavered an inch.


"Bright as spun copper, with grey eyes. Stormcrow eyes, I called them." He stared at the glass. "For her, I forsook much. Yet I received much in return. I laid aside the blessings I had been granted, the favors of spirits of wood and heath, the taste of heather ale between night and morning beneath the earth, the speech of mutts...I got a job."


The book was laid down now, and he saw the bald head belonged to a woman, bespectacled and somewhat gaunt, with an unhealthy pallor.


"It's what she wanted. Not for her the dark woods-between-the-worlds, the barrowdowns, to sit with old kings at midnight and speak of long-ago battles. Oh, we wandered amid field and graveyard when courting, but she wanted to settle down. I had an idea to set up my own forge...to make a go of it, making blades and things. It was good for a while...a long while, yes...we had good days."


One brow raised - there was no eyebrow on it. "The dog?"


"Yes. I was akin to strays, but she said that wouldn't do. It had to be a white dog, without a spot of black on him, with a pedigree. Stupid fucking animal. Inbred. Bowlegged and mad, could hardly breathe...and I paid for it! I had never paid for a dog in my life. They would wander up to me and I would take them home, but no more of that, she said. So it was." His voice was as bitter as the word he had lost. "And I could not hear them, after that. I think...I think that was what began to drive us apart."


"Not the toilet seat."


"Well now, that was something else again. Dinner party. She loved dinner parties. Invite all these assholes over...one of them broke the toilet. I couldn't flush it. I was actually more upset about it than she was, because of the geas...but it was too late. Far, far too late."


"Who did the leaving?"


"Myself," he stared into the glass at the admission. "Although perhaps we had both left, some time before, and our bodies had simply not gotten around to doing the physical act of separation yet." His gaze fell once more outside the window. "I don't wonder if I might not go back...after I've taken the long way round, about the earth, through damp forest and tall grass, over seas and mountains. For it is a hard geas, to not love a red-haired witch."


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