Friday, September 23, 2016

Unfinished Things

Unfinished Things
Bobby Derie

The pen scratched against the paper, like something from outside trying to get out. Behind the pen, the man who followed its curves and loops was not particularly gaunt or harried in appearance, aside from a tiredness about the eyes and a pouch about the belly and jowls that spoke of too little exercise. Not unkindly, the attendant turned up the light so they both could see.

"What are you writing tonight?" The attendant wore a perpetual dreamy smile.

"Fragments. Half-visions that float past my third eye, programs already in progress." The pen-holder hardly gave him a glance.

"Do you mind if I see?" It was their little ritual.

"Not at all." He pushed a small stack of papers towards him. Putting on his own glasses, and turning towards the lamp, the attendant read.


It was hours before titrise, and the titcats stalked the base of the Grand Teton, seeking the titmice that nestled against the warm flesh...


The goddess moved, a stone skipping across the surface of the world. Her presence rippled throughout the city. Women found themselves eyeing knives and scissors; the exhausted eyes of newborn mothers grew bright as the babies wailed once and calmed themselves; at a thousand urinals, men felt their piss run cold.

The witch stood unmoved as she approached. "I will not bow," she spoke as one might speak to the wind and the moon, the tides and the forest, "Not even to you."

The goddess smiled. "Good."


"Zombies," she said, "are different, all different. You can hear the difference. The flat-footed stompers, the shuffling shamblers that drag along the ground, the clackers that snap and chew at the air until their teeth chip and break, the wheezers and huffers who puff and pull air out of their lungs spasmodically, though they have no need to breath, the mumblers whose misfiring neurons endlessly repeat snippets of speech, over and over... the scramblers who crawl, pulled along by their fingers, nails scratching at the ground until they snap off, then the soft pads of the fingers worn down, until bone scrapes on wood and cement and stone..."


"They took my sense of humor. Cut it out of my brain. Told me it would make me a better soldier. Saw my friends die, my family die. For what? Now, I only have one thing left to live for: revenge. On those who did that to me. My last friend, I told him what I planned. He smiled and said it was a killing joke. I didn't get it. That smile still haunts me, even after I closed his eyes. I don't get it. I can't get it. For that, they're all going die. Every last one of those motherfucking clowns. The only thing is...they'll have the last laugh. Because I can't."


The knife kissed the back of her neck. "Your mother told you to beware the man with scars," the voice was like an oboe with a broken reed, "but not all scars on the outside."


A huge fist clamped down over her own. It was warm but firm, and the edges of the coin bit into her palm.

"Young lady," he said. "That money is not for spending."


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

The man titled his cobwebbed hat at his guest, lost in thought. Then he said, in a distinct voice: "A necromancer might," he paused to let the echoes of the crypt die out. "But a gentleman never would."


The attendant set the pages down. "A flare for the dramatic, as always. You know, some of these could be parts of the same story."

"They are not. They aren't anything. Snippets, pieces without a larger whole." There was a tired bitterness in his words.

"I might like to read the story, if you put them all together. You like putting words in people's mouths, to describe their actions without assigning motive. Leaving all that work up to the reader." The attendant offered. "It might help you focus your creative energies, to create the necessary bridges between individual scenes, pieces..."

The pen stopped scratching. "You don't understand. I can't."

"Now that," the attendant said, as he shuffled the papers and got up to leave. "I do not believe."


Friday, September 16, 2016

How Oman Won His Sword

How Oman Won His Sword
Bobby Derie

"It was the end without end. The echoes of the last calamity had scarce faded. New towns grew, quarrying old cities. Dust covered the old roads, and new tracks were laid. There was harmony, except when there wasn't."

The skald triggered a tune, the synthesized pop blaring tinnily from his instrument. A pair of boots stopped in front of him: hard leather showing much use, yet trimmed with fair.

"Ho there, friend," the voice boomed from above the boots. "What tale is this you sing?"

"I sing of How Oman Won His Sword," the skald wrapped his instrument, a pulse of bass rippling through the pavement. A clink sounded in his head, as obols were deposited in his account.

"Sing it then," the boots stood impatient to listen.


Ozuun squatted on either side of a delta, a town built on pilings above a shadowed, ever-sifting swamp that was drowned and exposed with the tides. The fleet of Ozuun set out to mind their patches that floated upon the waves, and the alewives rendered beer from starchy seaweeds.

Here was a whoreson, whose mother would not let him take her name, and left him with the prostitute that sired him to raise. Oman played in the under-Ozuun, the shadowed muck beneath the walks, where all that could not be witnessed was witnessed. The Night-Market rested there in wooden hulls that would rise once more with the tides, scavengers and night-soil collectors sifted through the trash that citizens absently threw into the empty abysses that served in place of streets, thieves cut their way into houses, drugs were brewed, sighs of passion were given lustily as bleached buttocks bounced against tanned thighs.

To Oman, these were as the playthings of his childhood. He had knelt before the fat merchants, and sucked their toes as they probed; cut purses from sleeping sailors, tickled the sons and daughters of alewives, picked through rubbish for salable treasures.

Now some say there was war in the North, that the merchant-soldiers wished to merge with Ozuun; others claim there was a fey child, intersex, that Oman wished to rescue from a high tower, where they were courted; yet the Master Ricco...


"Ho friend, what Master is this?"

"Ricco was Master of Terath on the Hud, and crossed the river to brave the libraries there, and was indoctrinated after many struggles. His dissertation was written in the blood of a scholarly foe."

"And you knew this Ricco?"

"Master Ricco was my own guide on indoctrination, though I fell lame before the final trials," his instrument gave off a muted sad melody, and he plucked idly at the humming strings.

"Enough, friend, I did not wish to reopen old wounds. Tell us more of Oman, and how he won his sword..."


Friday, September 9, 2016

The Memory of the Snake

The Memory of the Snake
Bobby Derie

Most cultists run a tight budget.

Jack stepped under the police tape, and moved inside, scanning the double-wide. "Wood" veneer and fiberglass, every surface scratched and dented. Cheap plates and chipped glasses piled up in the sink, the gentle pervading odor of stale shit from the toilet. Against one wall, a sort of cage made from a broken playpen, scattered pieces of brightly-colored trucks; crayon-drawings of stick figures in red, orange, and green; waxy blobs melted into the cheap carpet.

The shrine was in the bedroom. The altar was a formica tabletop, nailed to the headboard. Incense sticks and stubbed-out cigarettes stuck out of dozens of little hand-made ceramic pots, on every flat surface, the walls and ceiling were smoke-stained, and almost covered up the stench of raw sex from the bed sheets. The floor and bed weren't so much sticky as glazed, and molding in spots. Beneath the off-white splatter of the altar he could see a line of symbols, marked right around the edge of the altar in sharpie.

Jack couldn't see the offering, but he could smell the jizz - and all smell is particulate. The though made him angry. He pulled out an evidence bag, carefully opened it, and drew out the .38 with the runes carved into the side. Cocked the hammer with an audible click.

"I'm going to count to three." He aimed at the center of the bed. "Then I'm going to start firing."

Above the altar, a hazy presence coalesced. Little more than a torso and arms, an apparition that just seemed to hang in the hazy air; dust particles in the loose shape of a man. Meth-head skinny, homemade ballpoint tattoos from knuckles to elbows, like coiling multiheaded serpents. Haunted eyes with permanent shadows under them. Bad teeth, peeling skin on the shoulders. Jack could just about recognize the image of the corpse on the slab.

My people remember the snake.

"Don't get me fucking started." Jack muttered. "Snake-handler offshoots that tapped into the wrong current, and it got you in the end. What did she want?"

A baby. So bad. What I couldn't give her. The doctor said, she was too fucked up inside, after the last time. But Papa Yig...we knew the stories...the Children of Yig...he would come for them...

"Oh shit." Jack didn't blink, but the apparition was gaining more focus and detail. Looked younger than he'd thought at first. "Did she know what she was in for?"

She was kinda into it.

"Wonderful. How many tries did it take?"

We had to find it first...that was the hard part. They're all his children, but he has to be there, you know? Or close.

"Snake nest, got it. So that scene at the reptile zoo?"

Yeah, that was us. I don't know what went wrong.

"Nothing, dumbass. It actually worked. You know the end of the story, right? What happened to her husband?"

"Well, that's why what's left of you is on a slab in the morgue. Where is she?"

 If it worked...the baby...she'd be making a nest, I think.

Jack put three bullets through the altar, and dropped the gun back in the evidence bag. The specter ceased almost immediately, dust particles floating back in their normal patterns.

"Fucking snake cultists."


Friday, September 2, 2016

Nothing Left to Fear

Nothing Left to Fear
Bobby Derie

The city was blacked-out. Smoke hid the moon and the stars, and the night was lit only by the reflection of fires from the clouds, the flash of emergency lights from ambulances and squad cars. On the roof of the police headquarters, a beacon sat black and lifeless.

In the gutter, he looked for the stars but could not see them. Sprawled between two rusted cars, he clutched his gut. He could hear the city. The crash of breaking glass. Screams of women and sirens, a long way off. The howl of dogs, who sang along of the danger to the pack. A spasm of pain sank through him, worse than the perpetual ache in his hands, his knees.

Cancer was the diagnosis. He had always thought it would be his heart, maybe hoped for it. To die in the ring, just take one punch too many...but that wasn't to be, not after the sad-faced doctor had broken the news. Blood in his stool. The pain would get worse, the doctor had said. You knew you were in trouble when the docs pushed the pain meds on you. Evans had lost count of how many pills he'd gone through, the bottles he'd emptied, the nights he'd spent on the street. Depression had given way to acceptance.

He opened his eyes, tears welling up in the corners, and looked once more for the stars.

A tiny green light burned down through the clouds. It seared his eyes, but he didn't close them against it; the light seemed to come right down to hover over him, trailing emerald fire.

Manuel Evans. You have nothing left to fear.

Green light invaded his brain. Visions. A little blue man with thinning white hair, lined face old and tired, hammered at something on a small anvil. He held up a circle of fire - a ring - and pressed it onto the talon of a six-foot insect. Then the insect lay broken on a battlefield, surrounded by the fried bodies of dark grey ant-like things, and the flame unfurled from that talon, flying off through the light upon the tentacle of a nine-limbed octopus that swam in the darkest seas. Then the forepaw of a hair lupine, whose emerald spear pierced the sable coat of the saber-tooth stalker in the night. The claw of the beautiful bird-woman, who crept through the silent colony-ship, her lantern chasing the shadows from her sleeping charges...and so many more, until Evans saw himself, lying on the ground, and a burning pain wrapped itself around his ring finger.

He stood, and the benighted street was lit in a green glow. Looking down, he saw that it was coming from him, his broken body glowing like a torch, a flickering aura that chased away the shadows. Evans walked through the darkened streets. It wasn't that the pain in his gut had faded, but he seemed to be able to focus beyond it, and his body responded. His step was lighter than it had been in years, since the last time he was in the ring...

A laugh caught Evans off-guard. Ahead of him, walking down the street, was a scarecrow, straw sticking out from beneath poor clothes, stick-thin. It giggled and swayed in an imaginary breeze.

"What's this?" The strawman hissed. "A nightlight? That won't do, that won't do at all."

The figure swayed drunkenly toward him. Evans drew himself up, clenched his hands into familiar fists. The aura around him flared brighter, illuminating more of the street. He could see, behind the scarecrow, men and women in the street, curled up on the ground. Some were sobbing, some weren't moving at all.

"What...did you do?" He asked.

The scarecrow smiled. It was a Jack-o'-lantern grin painted on sackcloth, but it curled up and down. Evans stood his ground as the gangly figure sauntered closer, 'til he could almost smell the sweat that must have been coming off of him. The eyes flashed green circles - glass, Evans realized. Goggles. Some kind of mask.

"Do? I diagnosed them. I diagnosed this whole city. Nyctophobia. Fear of the dark." The mask leaned in close. "What do you fear?"

From the scarecrow's mask burst a plume of dark smoke - and in a second, Evans burst out sweating. His heart pounded in his chest, his gut churned, his bowels squirmed. It was stark, and primal. The light around him seemed to dim, the dark began to close in on his vision. The scarecrow was all he could see, following him with obsessive interest, dark cloud spewing forth from its mouth. Evans backed up...could barely stand, lungs burning. The green halo was almost gone now. He had felt like this in the ring...right before he hit the ropes, the canvas. Blindly he reached out behind him with his left hand, and something solid. A dead lamp post.

Evans opened his eyes, though the sweat stung him. He looked hard at the scarecrow, which still leered over him. Saw the seams of plastic beneath the ill-fitting clothes, disguised by the pale straw. A man hiding in a suit.

"I'm not afraid of the dark. Let's see if you're afraid of the light."

Green lightning surged from Evan's left hand, up and down the pole. All along the street, the streetlights began to glow a dim emerald green...and then the whole city took on a verdant glow as the light spread through every outlet.

In front of him, the scarecrow took a step back, then another. Staring up and down the street which was now almost as bright as day.

"'re ruining it! You're ruining everything!"

Evans smiled, and took a step forward. Green gloves covered his fists, and his clothes were gone, replaced with green trunks and boots. "Ese...I'm gonna ruin your face."


The green light lasted until dawn, when they flickered and finally died. Normal power was restored a few hours later.


Friday, August 26, 2016

The Astronaut Had Been Drinking

The Astronaut Had Been Drinking
Bobby Derie

Out on the empty launch pad, flat on her back, staring up at the stars. Weeds poked through the cracked cement, bottles and rusty cans littered here and there. This wasn't the first time.

She heard me coming, never looked up, but pulled herself up enough to take another long pull from the bottle of Red Eye.

"You want to hear something funny?"

The weeds swayed under the breeze, some waist-high. The Florida night was arm and humid, we both had lines of sweat under our armpits - just out here in our work shirts and crew pants and boots, nothing else. I could hear the ocean lapping, not far away. Too close, and ever closer.

"When they sent Voyager up - the Golden Record, you remember that? Out into the deep darkness. Our greeting to whomever, whatever might find it. Little scratches. A nude man and a woman. A planetary system. How do you express those things to something that might not even exist, that might not even have eyes to see? I knew the model for the woman. Later, of course. She used to do the pose, if you asked her to. Would shed her clothes at the drop of a hat. That's not the funny part."

She passed the bottle.

"The funny part was, I found Bill out here one day, just like this. Right here, drinking and staring up at the stars. I think he wanted into my pants. But he looked at me and told me it was all a lie. Such a childish, stupid fucking lie. The Golden Record, you see - the high ups, not the guys at NASA, but in the White House or whatever - they were scared. They were stupid and small-minded and scared. So they made a little change. Everyone tried to tell them not to. Everyone that knew about it, I mean. Bill near fucking had a heart attack. It was so fucking stupid. You can tell when people are really stupid because they think they're being so fucking clever. The worst are the ones that are stupid but powerful and efficient. Oh, they showed everyone the Golden Record, yes, but the one that actually went up with Voyager? It pointed to the wrong planet."

The astronaut's laughter was bitter.


Friday, August 19, 2016

The Evil Book

The Evil Book
Bobby Derie

It was springtime in the dark lands. Poisonous flowers blossomed, blood-sucking insects swirled in their mad mating dances and screamed out their chittering cries, sharp-beaked birds filched ripe berries from among the thorny bushes, and the snow was melting on the mountains of doom, swelling the streams that trickled down to the pestilential swamp that bordered upon the bitter sea. In his stone tower, built on a foundation of ancient, blood-caked stones on an islet in the middle of that strange, treacherous river, the would-be-prophet worried over her manuscript.

"It's harder than it looks," she spoke aloud. The worn brown skull on his mantle said nothing, but a shadow flickered in its empty sockets. "It is very easy to say, 'oh that is an evil book,' but what really is evil when you get down to it?"

Books filled most of the shelves, and were stacked in piles upon tables and chairs around the first floor; even the narrow, crooked stairs that led to the second floor were lined with their fair load of tomes, leaving only a thin path between them that permitted her to pass by. The only surface without books downstairs was the work-table, and that is because it was where she had determined to assemble the book.

The prophet suffered, she knew, from a certain pragmatic nature which rather undermined the evocative nature of her work. When she had set out at the task to create the evil book - not just an evil book, but the evil book, the kind of thing that would be whispered about for centuries and cause the doom of generations of necromancers and innocent souls, if not nations and, with luck, the entire world - she had immediately begun to draw up a list of desirable characteristics, and begin to study and work out how, exactly, the book should be constructed and what should go in it.

This had entailed a period of long study, including a protracted internship at the university library and an internship with a local bookmaker. Durability was one of the key things she'd been keen on, and this demanded a few experiments with regards to which materials were most resistant to water, mold, and fire; she'd even published a monograph on the subject which had been short-listed for an academic award, though she had lost out to a doctoral student who had spent three years learning how to properly bake Sumerian cuneiform tablets. The prophet did not begrudge him the acclaim.

In the end, she'd decided on rather traditional vellum and leather. Granted, human vellum and leather - and only the first twenty leaves or so were from virgins, because she got tired of checking after hitting the syphilis victim - and she'd boiled the glue down from human bones - which had taken quite a bit of work; there was a shed around the back of the tower which she'd built to handle all the chemicals as far as tanning and whatnot, and she'd had to build it to catch the breeze or else she couldn't breathe in there. Experiments with using sinew to bind had been a bust - it looked rubbish - and she'd gone for silk. Not, silk spun by blind spiders in darkness or any of that, because sourcing that would have been a nightmare, and she'd already put most of her student loans into this project as it was; she'd settled on silk thread used by certain oystermen who hadn't switched to nylon yet. She'd also managed to use quite a bit of polished bone for the spine and fittings, which she thought looked well, no matter how traditional iron or gold might have been.

She'd left off the traps for now - you had to reapply poison, since it went bad, and all of the sheer mechanical options were prone to wear and had to be reset by hand- and assembled the dummy book; a full-sized mockup, basically - which sat on the work table in front of her. It was to be her inspiration.

Unfortunately, that was about when the writers block had hit.

What do you put in an evil book?

Most of the books in her tower were grimoires of one sort or another, and she had initially conceived of a sort of greatest hits album, a compendium of the powers of darkness. A brief survey had quickly revealed that even an index to the existing demonologies would take over a thousand pages, and involve much cross-checking and redundancy. Few of the witches and warlocks of old, it seemed, had been content to verify their work by consulting with someone else. More than a few of the better, more systematic ones were actually written by The Other Side, as she tended to think of the holy water-and-thumbscrew crowd. Actually, they had better indices to forbidden arts than most of the actual necromancers did.

The prophet had briefly flirted with practical manuals on poisons, weapons of murder, engines of war, how to brew drugs and that kind of thing, because the various anarchist manuals and guerrilla warfare pamphlets were usually dubious, but it was debatable whether mere criminality constituted evil, at least in her mind. Worse, it was the type of information that tended to go out of date rather quickly. Strategy and tactics of warfare too would probably be received a trifle too enthusiastically. Marketing flittered up briefly in her brain, but this was merely lying writ large as far as she was concerned.

No, sheer practicality wouldn't do. It would lack the je ne sais quoi of true evil. She needed to get creative. She stared at the blank pages before her.

"Any ideas?" She asked the skull again. The runes carved into the skull made her forehead itch in sympathy. "Oh, you're so helpful."

She consulted her notes again. These were, more or less, all the things that had come to her in her visions - the creeping episodes when she opened herself to the infinite, and things answered. The diary of her travels in various cults, their initiations and forbidden rites; the formulas that worked. Some of it was obscure even to her; even on a good day the prophet needed something to dull her senses to the floating consciousnesses, just to get through the day. Fortunately, no one at university cared if she smelled a little funny or refilled her "tea" from a thermos that smelled like thyme, basil, and kerosene. In one particularly lucid episode she'd roughed out a sort of outline - figuring it would be easier if she could figure out the structure of the thing. There were headings for Sex Rites, and Prophecies; Forbidden Feasts, and Incantations After Death; a True History of the World and the Cosmology of the Old Ones.

It all seemed rather too prosaic. It was the sort of thing a comic book writer might have come up with, but they would have done it in four colors, with some underground comix guy doodling obscene alien figures in the margins. Hieroglyphs that made boys get strange erections when they saw octopi, Sigils that burned the brain of whoever opened a random page...

She felt herself slipping then, another episode coming on. The prophet eased herself to the floor, hoping this would prevent her from spilling anything on the manuscript as her jaw locked up and the lake of piss in her bladder seemed to freeze into a solid block that would never pass. Snakes danced down her spine as she quivered on the rough flagstones of the tower, eyes rolling into her head as the unseen things re-familiarized themselves with the primitive neural system they were colonizing once again.

This is all wrong. Was her last coherent thought for a while.

Cold alien logic seemed to swamp her understanding. There was this perfect image in her mind of what the book should - must be - a sort of programming document for evil. A system of systems, each page, each paragraph, each word and rune and diagram designed not to offend, but to fulfill a terrible purpose. She saw the illusion of time vanish before her, the infinite spiderweb of dark knowledge a single black spiral. But how the hell was she supposed to write that?

Without conscious thought, her hand grabbed a quill. And began to write.

Consciousness came to the prophet shortly after pain. Her hand was a frozen, withered claw, the calluses worn off and locked around the broken quill. The arm it was attached to didn't feel much better. Hunger clawed at her stomach, and she began to tremble in that weak, shuddery, fevered way that said her blood sugar was low. The smell and unpleasant squishiness in her pants told her she was laying in her own filth. Her head hurt, and arc of pain across her forehead. Gingerly, she tried and failed to get up off the floor - she had been asleep on her side, the writing arm numb and dead, and her hair and face seemed glued to the stone work. She shifted and gave another effort.

With a sticky, painful, hair-pulling exertion she tore herself free of the floor. Her numb right arm felt rubbery and senseless. She looked at the black scab on the floor, long gray hairs embedded in it, and gingerly reached up a hand to touch her scalp - and screamed at the open wound there. Well, at least I know where the blood came from. Then the pins and needles her her arm, and she began to flail around at the long-delayed pain.

It was quite a while before she was quite fit for anything.

When, eventually, she returned to the work table, she found that the dummy book lay open. Its pages were covered by her careful scrawl. She flipped idly through it. There were pieces that had been literally cut out of some of the books around her. Illustrations. Random letters. Yet it all seemed to fit. Her eyes lit on a word here or there that seemed to just have the right meaning. A few things she recognized from her copious notes, but not her outline. She turned to the beginning, and found that the first three pages consisted entirely of an elaborate book curse, one that drew the eyes and prepared one for the great revelations ahead...

There were little obscene doodles in the margin. It was, she knew, a sexual position you could only undertake with a corpse, and had certain necromantic usages that not many people knew. On the skull, next to the bloated pecker poking through the eye socket, was a number in brown ink. She took this to be a page number, and turned to it. The illustration on that page included a skull with a cantrip connected with the practice on the first page...and another number. She flipped through a few few more. It quickly became obvious that the text had at least one code enciphered within it - she recognized the outlines of a treatise on necromancy and necrophilia, sort of filling in the spaces between things, connected to them by numbers...

The prophet closed the book. Out in the dark lands, sharp-beaked birds were singing. It would need editing.


Friday, August 12, 2016

Bonus dormitat, Alhazred?

Bonus dormitat, Alhazred?
Bobby Derie

"Why did he write it?"

I had asked the question aloud, though I had not meant to. I meant, of course, Abdul al-Azrd, and his most famous work, the Kitab al-Azif, which had been rendered into the Greek as the Necronomicon. This work, in its various recensions, has been the subject of my studies for some years. I have accumulated something like seventy-five editions, fragments, and commentaries on the work in various translations. Stacks of xerox copies of blackletter pages, scans of manuscript pages from university libraries, cheap paperback editions from New York, London, Prague...

Most of my work is not about the text itself, as such. The cosmology, the prophecies, the formulas, and history...I am more concerned with the context of the work, the transmission. I compare sections of text from different manuscripts to the extant editions, compare the wording, the time and place and circumstances of the the content. Parallels in gnostic scriptures, poorly sourced hadith, fragments of stories retold in collections of the Thousand and One Nights.

Yet that day, at the coffee shop in the lobby of the library - is no place sacred? - I had been working my way through the Kitāb al-‘Uzzá - the librarians hadn't been willing to scan or photograph any of the pages, so I had to arrive in person at the special collection, present my credentials, and sit quietly as they went through the whole instructions on handling the manuscript - complete with white gloves! - and I was allowed only a pencil and notepad for my notes. Four hours of that and my ass was numb, my bladder was fit to burst, and I was getting that slight tension in my temples that presaged a caffeine-deprivation headache.

The question, muttered as I sat down in the coffee shop, hands wrapped around my personal lifegiving grail, came out of the depths of my consciousness. It was the kind of thing I could have meditated on for hours and days, but as often happens in any serene moment of contemplation, I was interrupted.

"Because it was what he was expected to do."

The voice belonged to a face, the face was studded with bits of metal in each lip, in each nostril, in each eyebrow and ear. It was carefully assymmetrical, the ragged cafe-au-lait birthmark over one eye juxtaposed by the dark black lines overlaying the other one, black ink on chocolate skin. The sides of her head were shaved, hair faded into something more involved than a high-top and too short and broad to be a mohawk. He smile was gap, toothed, broad, and immediately attractive.

I didn't say anything, but a wordless querulous gurgle buzzed into my throat.

"Alhazred, right?" I didn't correct her pronunciation, just nodded. "Mona told me you were looking it up in SC. Yeah, he did it because he had to."

My eyes tried to focus on her again. "You've been studying al-Azrd?"

She slurped her ice coffee through a straw, swallowed and nodded.

"Yeah. Dual masters in history and library science. I've been working a thesis on Manichean textual tradition, you know? Like, taking John C. Reeves' work and reworking it with the new manuscripts and archaeological sources we have now, right?"

I nodded.

"The thing is, in the Middle East back then, you couldn't just have a divine revelation. I mean, you could have this reputation of being very wise and a great magician and everything, but if you wanted people to take you seriously, you needed a book. Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Manichaeans were all ahl al-Kitāb, People of the Book. The people didn't just want a prophet, they wanted scripture."

She sucked back at the iced coffee. I felt mine getting cool in my hands.

"There's no real information on Alhazred's followers, right? But he had to have them. Who else recorded the details of his life, his death? The Al Azif, that's a serious book, right? Takes a lot of money for that much vellum, more money for artists for all the diagrams and illustrations, the illuminations, the scribes to copy it. You think a poet is going to have the coin for all that? No, he had his own little cult. This mad poet. Okay, maybe not a cult cult, but you bet he had some rich merchant's widow or something footing the wheels - and that's who he wrote the book for. They wanted a scripture. They wanted a book to refer to, copy, pass on."

"That's...very interesting, actually." The wheels were spinning. "You're not the first to suggest al-Azrd had followers and assistance in preparing the manuscript. Some of the earliest extant fragments show different colors of ink, some of it silver or gold..." Her brown eyes were wide, the glasses pushed down on her nose. "But what makes you so sure it was some sort of scripture, historical work, like the Kitāb al-Așnām, the Book of Idols written by Hisham Ibn Al-Kalbi? Or a collection of forbidden materials, like the Unaussprechlichen Kulten of von Junzt?"

"Parallel construction," she popped out, flashing the smile again. "The way the Al Azif is ordered, it's informed by the structure of Judeo-Christian-Islamic texts, right? Because the manuscript copies, the original organization of the Al Azif texts wasn't fixed until way later, when it was printed in Toledo, right? The early handwritten copies, you've got your Genesis-parallel clumped together, and your psalm-parallels grouped together, but it wasn't ordered like it is today in the printed; the Al Azif's contents might be way alien to the Judeo-Christian-Islamic milieu, but it was written like a latter-day gospel, right? You can tell because some of them work the parallels really hard - the whole thing about the rebellion in Aldebaran or whatever it was - its all like the Enochian literature of the Manichaeans again, the stuff that the Yahwists redacted and tried to minimize in Genesis, but Mani was all over that stuff, and the texts like the Book of Enoch and the Book of Giants. Secret scriptural history! That's what it's all about."

She sucked on the straw again, dark lip gloss shiny against the clear plastic straw, quickly giving way to a slurping as the iced coffee ran out of coffee, leaving just a thin brown film clinging to the half-melting ice.

"Miss...I'm sorry I don't even know your name...this is actually really fascinating, and I'd like to talk to you about it more...maybe over dinner?"

She shot me that gap-toothed grin again. Her canine teeth bit down on her lower lip a little when she smiled. "Cthulhu fhtagn, baby. I get off at eight. Meet you here?"