"We are all of us doomed to spend our lives
watching a movie of our lives,
we are always acting on what
has just finished happening.”
Tom Wolfe -- "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" (1968)
* * *Nowhere
It's after school in the cramped, overcrowded apartment he grew up in, and (REDACTED) is helping his terrifying grandmother make dinner.
"If you want to make people like you, you cook for them," the bent-over woman says, chopping the freshly-plucked chicken with her huge, wickedly-sharp cleaver for Cacciatore: "No one ever gives you a problem when they're eating your food. No one ever argues, either. You can tell them the sun is the moon and the land is the sea, and they'll just say 'yes it is, please pass the bread.'"
"But Grandmother," (REDACTED) asks as he stirs the vegetables in the oiled pan, standing on a stool so he can reach the top of the stove: "Grandpa and mom and dad argue with you all the time?"
"That's different, boy," she insists: "Family gets to argue, but it means nothing. Family might argue, but family loves. Family forgives. Family looks out for each other. Like you look our for your brothers, right?"
"Yes, grandmother," he says, remembering the last scrap they got into with those !@#$ Irish kids.
"Now, you argue with someone else? That matters. So you feed them, and then they don't argue."
"Don't argue with your grandmother," she commands, giving the chicken a really severe whack. He does as he's told, knowing she's likely to use the cleaver on him if he doesn't
* * *
obey me in all things? the sweetly hideous thing in front of Doctor Power asks, drinking deeply of the writhing, barely-alive supervillain he's brought her.
"I will," he swears, his heart beating a million times a minute from utter fear: "I would pledge myself to your service, as we have agreed. But I have some conditions I would plead with you to consider."
Do you... do you mean to try and truly deal with me? Niginaza of the Basalt Bed, queen of all sorcerers, asks.
"I do, yes," he responds.
In reply, she laughs, and it is not a pleasant thing to listen to. It sounds like the broken cackling of an insane, old man who's just done the most horrible thing imaginable to someone who didn't deserve it.
(Not that the Crimson Shadow didn't, but that's not a concern for him right now...)
Oh you poor fool, she says, paddling her hands in the ragged, bloody ruin of the man's heaving chest: So eager to exchange your smaller debts with other for a much larger debt with me. Do you really think I will be kinder? Do you really think my demands will be fewer, or less complicated?
"I think we can work together better as a team that I could with the others," he insists: "And I think you'll be interested in something I've learned, provided we have a deal."
Interested? she asks, supping on a still-warm kidney: Do you think there is something you know that I do not?
"I know about your previous servant," he says, silently relieved to see how surprised she is to hear that: "Kytor of the Silver Blade?"
What... what do you know of him?
"I know that he made a deal with you. I know that he turned his back upon you. I know that he's found a way to use your power without your knowledge, and has been stealing your energy for several years, and not giving anything back."
She halts in her gruesome, meaty feast and looks up at him, her golden eyes burning with suspicion: And what does telling me this have to do with anything, other than making me wonder if I should not end this discussion and leave you to your other creditors?
"Because I also know where he is, right now," Doctor Power says, smiling: "And if you're still hungry, I can offer him to you. Provided you're willing to deal...?"
There are a few moments where she just looks at him. He imagines a mouse trapped by a cat feels the same way.
I am listening, she finally says: Tell me your conditions, mortal man. But do not attempt to cheat me. It will
* * *
cost you more than you could ever know, young man," the old vampire hunter says, sharpening his stake by the light of his stone fireplace: "This is not a life to be envied."
"Envy?" the young man almost shouts: "Do you think I am some idiot in search of thrills?"
"Are you?" the old man asks, looking him square in the eyes for the first time since they've known each other: "What do you want, little boy?"
"I don't want this," the young man says, pounding his fist on the old man's cluttered kitchen table, making the bales of garlic hop up and down: "I want my old life back. I want my mother alive again. I want my sister... my sister..."
He grits his teeth and closes his eyes, trying not to cry. He spent too long seeking this man out, and longer still to get him to agree to talk to him. He must not look weak -- not now.
"They got her, did they?" the old man says, spitting a gob of bloody phlegm into his roaring fire: "Why are you alive, then?"
"I... I hid."
He doesn't even see the man's arm snake out to hit him. He's just that fast. A split second later he's on the floor, and when he looks up it's only to stare down the old man's crossbow.
(A silver bolt, of course)
"That's the first and last time you lie to me, you little pizda," he says: "You didn't hide. They'd have sniffed you out. What did you do?"
"I ran!" the young man screams, the tears coming now: "I ran! I wanted to stop them but I was scared! I... I ran. I ran. I wanted to... I ran. I ran..."
"And you think that if you join me that'll make it alright?" the old man spits: "Your family's dead. You're alive. You should be grateful you did the smart thing and go on with your life."
"No," the young man insists, his stare intense through the tears: "I want to make it alright by killing the thing that did it to them."
"And what of your sister?" he asks, still aiming the crossbow at the young man's face: "What do we do with her?"
"I don't have a sister anymore," the young man insists: "She stopped being my sister the moment she died. Now she's just a thing.
"And that thing needs to die."
The old man regards him for a second, and then reaches out a hand.
"Rule number one is you do what you're told, no questions asked," he says, pulling him up with a strength the young man wouldn't have guessed he had: "Rule two is you don't run until I tell you to. I'll shoot you myself if you try. And rule three..."
"Yes?" the young man says.
"No real names," the old man says: "Names are power. They find out who you are, they'll find where you came from and use it against you."
"I have no one-"
"You had friends?" the old man insists, putting a hand up to silence the young man: "You had neighbors? Anyone you cared about?"
"There you go. They'll find out who your friends are and hunt them down. They'll send out their servants to find them and then they'll make them vampires, too. They'll send your friends and neighbors against you, just to get you."
The young man nods: "No names. I understand."
"Your old life is over. Your new one starts now. Pick a title and stick with it."
With that, he extends a hand: "You can call me Dr. Ogien. And what shall I call you, apprentice?"
And the young man smiles, and says
* * *
blood everywhere," Jim Morrison says, taking a long hit off the cigarette he's been offered, and then putting it out on the plastic, fold-up desk in front of him: "Not really a good thing to see, at that age. Not a good thing to see at any age, I guess. But once I saw through it, and saw beyond... I saw myself."
"In the wreck?" Agent Ray Manzarek asks, tapping his pencil on his pad, and wondering how much longer he has to sit in this small, windowless room and listen to this looney talk.
"Beyond the wreck, man," Morrison says, smiling: "I saw my previous self. The one that'd been fighting demon redcoats in a different America. Out there in the deserts, amongst the people. He'd finally gone down, there. And when he died, he looked at me, and I looked at him... and, well..."
The long-haired man smiles, lifts his arms, and spins around in the swivel-chair: "Here I am!"
"Yeah, one James Douglas Morrison," the Agent sighs: "Look, I'm going to be frank with you, Mr. Morrison-"
"Jim," the long-haired guy says, leaning in.
"Jim," Manzarek sighs: "We've got people like you coming out of the woodwork, right now. They're all saying they got powers from their parents, or something like that. And so far most of them are just delusional."
"Oh, I am delusional," Morrison admits: "Totally !@#$ing gone, man. I mean, Jesus Christ, what a crazy story. Who would come in here and tell some fresh-faced little Economics major posing as a film student that he's some crazy eternal warrior?"
"How did you-" the Agent asks, dropping the pencil.
"The same way I know that, a couple years from now, we'll be partners," he says, his eyes deep, dark, and on fire: "You and me, Ray-Ray. Kicking !@#$. Taking names. Loving and laughing and lighting the world up. Can't you feel it?"
"How about this?" Morrison asks, reaching across the table and putting his hand on the man's heart: "What's that in there, huh? Is that fear? Fear of failure? Fear of someone telling you no?"
"No, you look," the man says, leaning in even closer: "All those years being told 'no.' You wind up here and now you're telling other people 'no.' The system ate you up and !@#$ you out, and now you're just poop in a suit, doing a !@#$ty job. But you were meant for more."
"More..." Manzarek says, something in him stirring: "Like what?"
"Like anything other than this !@#$!" Morrison insists, jumping up out of his chair and tossing the desk at the wall: "Come on, man! No more of this !@#$! None of this interviewing weird people !@#$! You were made for better than this, man! Let's go make it happen!"
"But..." Manzarek says, looking up and around: "I mean... I'm..."
"Afraid?" Morrison laughs: "!@#$, man. Fear's nothing to fear. It might look big and bad, but you know what? You expose yourself to what scares you -- what you think is your greatest fear -- and then it has no power. And when it has no power, your real fear, which is freedom? It shrinks. It goes away.
"And then you're free," he concludes, gesturing at the door: "So do you want to be stuck in this room until you're old and grey? Or do you want to gamble it all, man?"
Agent Manzarek looks at him, and then looks at the door, and then back at him.
"If you're blowing smoke," he warns, getting up from his chair: "If you're just some crazy !@#$hole..."
"Oh, I am a crazy !@#$hole," Jim Morrison laughs, putting his hand on the doorknob: "But once you start following crazy !@#$holes, you tend to get a little crazy yourself."
"I'll be sure to put that in my report."
"And you can start with this," the musician says, opening the door to what should be a staid, grey hallway, but is, instead
* * *
the jungle, endless and eternal.
"Any jungle," he says, his voice warbling in the heat and humidity. His fatigues are dripping with sweat and full of bugs. His grip on the rifle is uncertain, even though he's sure there's a jungle cat stalking him.
And with each step he wonders if he shouldn't kneel down and use it on himself.
They said he needed to lose himself, first. He should go onto a jungle -- "any jungle," they said -- and walk through it until he found "it." But, of course, they didn't say what "it" was.
Just what it promised, and all it entailed.
In the heat and the haze, all the vegetation looks the same. All the cries of animals blend together. All the smells are one. Just a big, hazy mess in his head, making him dry and nauseous and demoralized, and wondering if he's gone too far to turn back...
Back? Back to what? Beat poetry and bad junk? Bad sex with lousy friends? Art without reason, night after night, in the city that's tried to kill him since he entered it?
A city that would have killed him, sure as !@#$, if someone hadn't Operated on him?
The Grey Men said he had a talent. They said his cut-up poetry showed promise. They said he seemed like a man who knew how it could all come together, if he really tried.
But to find how it comes together, you have to see how it comes apart. And that required sacrifice.
So they told him to leave the city. Leave everything behind while he was at it. Leave his money, his clothes, his poems, his typewriter. Leave his so-called friends and certain enemies. Leave his love and his hate and his junk and his sex.
Leave his name.
And now he's walking through the jungles of South America with a stolen browning and someone else's clothes. He's not sure exactly where, or how he got here. He just put one foot in front of the other as the withdrawal !@#$ed up his head and made him an invisible man, and then he was here.
Here, wandering in what seems like circles. Eating what he can find and hoping it doesn't make him !@#$ himself standing up and drinking water that's too thick for his liking. Forgetting who he was and remembering things he shouldn't call his own.
(Avoiding being eaten by things he only ever saw in the !@#$ Zoo.)
He keeps going, though. Somewhere up ahead, he knows he'll find the answer. Or maybe it'll find him, somehow.
That's what they said, anyway. They said some things are more !@#$ certain than others, no matter how much they Operate. Some things are just set in stone, like it or not.
And some things come true today because we made them true tomorrow, and so they will come true yesterday.
(Is that why they insisted on calling him John? He kept telling them his real name, but they kept saying "John" over and over like they were chanting at Mass...)
"John," he says, truly realizing that all sounds are one sound, all things are one thing, all places one place, and all moments nestled within this moment: "Just John."
And then -- as he finally feels the Grey surround him -- he becomes aware that there's a big !@#$ jaguar right in front of him. But he doesn't really need the gun to feel
* * *
safe?" George laughs, smacking the nude woman across the face with one hand while grabbing her by the neck with the other: "You must be !@#$ing joking, Estelle!"
"You let me go," she hisses, trying to get away from the long-haired fellow in the blood-stained, black robe: "I'm not your girl, anymore, George-"
"That's Lord Puddock to you," he sneers, not letting her go: "Or Master, at least for tonight."
"Tonight," she says, stopping her resistance: "And then, tomorrow, we're all our own masters."
"Yes," he insists, letting her go at last but not breaking eye contact: "Tonight, we contact the Queen of the Dead. Tomorrow, we are un-dead. And after that, we can do whatever we like, whenever we like."
"Provided you got the spell right," she says, walking across the stone floor of the cellar to get her robe on: "Provided this Queen is who we think she is-"
"She is," he insists: "One of the Supreme Six, spoken of in the Deos Mortuos Revelationem. The Red Queen. She will give us what we desire, so long as we are strong in our conviction, and certain of ourselves."
"And so long as she's fed," she says, pulling on her robe, and then turning to regard him: "Do we have enough? Really?"
"One for each of us," he says: "Thirteen for thirteen. Unspoiled."
"You're certain of that?"
"Oh yes, I've had Nicky keeping an eye on them."
"Are you sure he can be trusted?"
"If they were little boys, no, but I decided to be traditional. He'll no more spoil them than he'd spoil you... in spite of your many attempts."
Estelle scowls at him, and then makes ready to walk past: "Thirteen for Thirteen at the thirteenth hour, on Walpurgisnacht. And then, we summon her to do our bidding. It seems straightforward enough...?"
"But you have doubts," he says, stepping in front of her: "Always doubts."
"What are you, really?" she asks, looking him in the eyes: "When I met you, you were just some rich clown who liked fast things and young women. You got other clowns to follow you, making mischief on your bikes, certain that your last name would keep the law at bay."
"And you loved it, for a time," he says, putting a hand on her arm: "Didn't you? You loved being my queen."
"Yes, I did," she admits: "And then you became a sorcerer, out of nowhere. Your clowns became your coven. Your women its first victims."
"Not you, though," he says. The way he says it seems like a threat, and she registers it, stepping back.
"It's almost as if the clown was an act you dropped," she accuses: "So who are you really, Lord George, Master of Puddock Manor?"
"Maybe the sorcerer was there all along, just waiting," he admits, looking aside: "Maybe I needed to see what this world had to offer before I assumed mastery over it. Does it matter?"
"If we're going to be partners in eternal half-life, then it does," she says: "I won't want to have to kill you in a few centuries when you turn back into a clown."
There's any number of things he could say about that, but before he can say them, she's gone, off to the ritual space they've prepared. When the door opens he can hear his coven laughing, and the sacrifices whimpering and crying.
But what would they say if they knew the truth?
What would Estelle say if she knew that George had tricked them all? What would she think if she knew that the only un-death that would be taking place tonight was George, himself? What would any of them do if they knew that the "sacrifices" were just for show, and that he would actually be offering up his coven, instead?
And what will they say when they feel the jaws of Hell clamp shut about their hearts and souls, and see him ascend into living death as they fall into eternal damnation?
"Never trust a clown," he muses, and -- grateful that none of the other members of his coven can understand medieval Latin -- heads for the door to the ritual space, ready to
* * *
Moscow -- The Beehive
April 30th, 1968
April 30th, 1968
fall straight down, out of the black and into the white again.
All six of them thump down onto a stone floor in a large, long room that trails off into darkness. The floor is sticky and smells of iron, and it takes some of them longer than others to realize it's drying blood. It also takes them a little longer to realize that the blood is seeping into and out of things that have been stuffed into the room's corners and edges.
Meaty, pulsing things that were once human beings.
"Oh !@#$," SPYGOD says, getting to his feet and pointing a rather large gun every which way he can: "!@#$ !@#$ !@#$!"
"That's putting it mildly," Dr. Krwi says, wishing his knees were better: "I can smell it, too."
"A trap," Doctor Power hisses, gesturing about him: "SPYGOD, I told you-"
"This wasn't Bulgakov," John insists, letting Morrison and the Hell Blazer help him up: "This is !@#$ Fallen magic. You can tell by the way the blood's not congealed all the way. The things need a fresh supply."
"Quite true," the Hell Blazer says, looking around: "But the result is what we should be concerned about. We cannot leave, now."
"Well, we'll see about that..." Morrison says, reaching his hand out. But the moment he does, he recoils back, as if he'd been burned.
Doctor Power looks at the Musician and smiles gently: "I don't think you'll be opening any doors, tonight, Jim."
"That's... wow," Morrison says, smiling: "It's never not worked. That's kind of exciting, man."
"Not the !@#$ word I'd use," John scowls.
"Okay, so how !@#$ed are we?" SPYGOD asks, pulling out another gun so as to cover more angles.
"Not any worse than we knew ourselves to be," the vampire hunter says, unslinging his pistols: "We win or we die, friends. We cannot escape even if we wanted to, but I do not believe that was the intent?"
"No," Doctor Power says, getting a spell ready to go.
"Never," John admits, as ready as he'll ever be.
"No way, man," Morrison says, a flaming sword appearing in his hand.
"Not on your life," The Hell Blazer says, his fists erupting in unearthly flames.
"You need to !@#$ing ask?" SPYGOD snorts: "Bring 'em the !@#$ on. Tonight the Beehive, tomorrow the !@#$ing Kremlin. Vodka's on me, after."
"Then we fight," Krwi says: "Do you hear us, creatures of Hell? Show yourselves! We have come for you!"
"And it would be ever so rude of us not to return the favor" a voice announces from across the room, coming from the darkness there.
Things move within it, just then -- six distinct shapes, all moving towards them with undue speed.
"Take your !@#$ partners for the dance macabre," John intones as they become identifiable.