Friday, October 30, 2009

(Recommended Reads) "Succubyebye" by John Wiswell

Aisling panted and collapsed onto his chest. She was about to disappear when she realized that chest was still warm. She slid a palm up his bare sternum. His ribs rose and pressed into her fingers...

click here to read the rest

"Mexican Roboterrorists just captured your mother."

If you aren't reading MY SUPA LIFE then get started!

5 Second Fiction Five Hundred and Eighty Two

Some said Ted was a sick for what he did to that Shetland pony, other folks just thought he was just feeling a little horse.

5 Second Fiction Five Hundred and Eighty One

The evil ninjas threw Fuego head first into a jukebox, a song started to play and ironically enough everybody was Kung Fu Fighting.

5 Second Fiction Five Hundred and Eighty

It spoke volumes that no one in marketing realized naming a new kids drink 'Donkey Punch' was a bad idea.

5 Second Fiction Five Hundred and Seventy Nine

It spoke volumes that no one in marketing realized naming a new kids drink 'Donkey Punch' was a bad idea.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Tales From The Oddside : The Girl Can't Help It

The Girl Can’t Help It
Al Bruno III



Every morning she promises herself she’s not going to kill anyone but by midnight, somewhere, somehow she has another corpse on her hands.

And most nights it’s more than one.


Lora Cusack ended her shift at the offices of Midon Incorporated, she worked in the Human Resources department and irony of that never failed to irritate her.

None of the men working in the office ever gave her a second glance so she was able to leave without questions about how she was going to spend her weekend or worse yet some clumsy gallant offering to walk her out to her car. She hid her beauty beneath plain looking skirts, blouses and glasses that completed a look the other office girls called ‘librarian chic’. Of course they only said things like that behind her back but Lora heard them anyway.

All around her were decorations; orange streamers, rubber spiders and gaudy pumpkins. Alone in the hallway she paused to tear a particularly festive looking cardboard skeleton from the wall.


Holidays are the worst; no matter how much she tries to incapacitate herself with eggnog every Christmas is marked with a home invasion, Arbor day isn’t so bad but the less said about Friday the thirteenth the better.

And Halloween? Halloween was the worst of all.


Once she arrived at her mirrorless apartment on Lark Street she busied herself with laundry and fixing dinner. She kept the radio tuned to the news channel and paused occasionally to savor a particularly grisly story.

Soon enough her doorbell was ringing away with early trick or treaters, the young and the timid. She kept candy on hand to be neighborly but never answered the door on the first ring.


It was generations ago, a story of witchcraft and betrayal, a story a sisterhood and loss. In the story she had a different name, a sacred name that she had loved. She had carried herself with such pride but she had been brought down, her beauty and her skin peeled away.

And though her fingers had been broken and her tongue torn away the daemon lord Gesichtschatten heard her call.


By sundown the butterflies in her stomach had become a full fledged anxiety. “How many?” she asked herself, “Why didn’t I keep count from the start?”

All the self-reassurances and justifications can’t relax her, the six glasses of wine didn’t help either- she’s still sober and afraid.

Lora always kept a box of knives under the sink, she selected one and changed into an outfit as dark as it was simple; she took her car keys but left her useless glasses behind. Once she was on the interstate she pulled off her wig; the gray locks that fell to her shoulders were a sharp contrast to her youthful features.

An hour or so away from Albany she parked the car in an unfamiliar town and began.


The daemon lord Gesichtschatten is tall with skin the color of smoke and eyes like winter starlight. He’s more than happy to hear her plea and grant her request for one more day, one more day of life and strength to avenge her coven and herself.

In fact he offers her even more than that and like a fool she accepts.


On a quiet street a Lora asked a man for directions and as he answered she stabbed him in the throat.

That’s one and this time she’s kept count, for all the good it will do her.

In an alley she stomped a vagrant to death as he begged first for change, then for mercy. There’s something familiar and satisfying about the way each crack of bone seems to travel like a shiver up her leg.

Then it’s off to the Wal Mart…


One day.

One day for every 13 lives.

And that was more than enough.

More than enough to strike down the so-called forces of decency; more than enough to visit horror upon their loved ones and burn the entire town to the ground.

And then?

And she waited for the end.


The security guard was just showing off, just daring someone to stop her but as always luck, skill and the gifts of her patron protected her from prying eyes. She stowed his body in a bathroom stall and avoided her reflection as she headed back out into the night.

A little while later and a few streets away Lora strangled a woman at a secluded bus stop with her own purse strap; then she disemboweled a convenient man standing in a convenient doorway.

All the while families went door to door with costumes and bags of candy never knowing there was a nightmare in their midst.


She had never had a head for numbers and never bothered to keep track of how many she had snuffed out and as the first week of her restoration wore on thoughts of her death and its aftermath began to trouble her. Would the daemon lord make a meal of her or a concubine? And which fate would be more terrible?

Soon enough she starts killing again, piling body upon body but this time out of fear instead of rage.

If only she had kept count…


By midnight she’s left a house party in ruins; blood clots in the sink, bits of skull cling to the fireplace poker and the fireplace itself is clogged with bubbling flesh. Red stained the carpets and ran in symmetrical rivulets along the kitchen tiles, there are body parts in the washing machine, pets in the dryer and the microwave door hung open letting the remains of what she had found in the bassinet seep out.

The festive costumes her victims are wearing make the scene all the more surreal.

If anyone saw the woman leaving the darkened house on Kings Road all they would remember was her red hair bright as fire.


And now she lives century after century in fear, weary of living but afraid to die, giving herself over to bloodlust in the night only to curse herself in the morning.

She sometimes wonders if this is what the daemon lord wanted all along- a legacy of death and fear. She had never wanted to be a monster or worse yet a legend..


Home again by morning, she left her bloodstained clothes in the doorway and climbed into bed. It was just a few hours before she had to get ready for work.

Soon enough she would have to move on again before someone realized the circle of bodies centered on her, on the woman children called Hell Mary.

But she hadn’t called herself Mary for generations and every night she paid the price for her life rather than pay the cost of her sins.

I may live 100 years and write 1,000 stories but I will never be able to come up with anything as disturbing as this...

The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions): A Heart Full Of Dust Part Epilogue

The Nick Of Time

(and other abrasions)

A Heart Full Of Dust


Al Bruno III


It was just starting to snow.

Jason Magwier leaned against the fountain, chain smoking menthol cigarettes and trying to look like just another tourist. But he wasn't some idle tourist, he had an agenda.

There was a bus in the visitor's parking lot, squat and yellow with a dragging muffler. He smiled thinly and breathed smoke from his nose, in a way it amused him to see how far the Hammond Institute had fallen. In another way it made him sad, Seth Hammond had been a valuable ally- but like most heroes his taste for glory had far outpaced his taste for bloodshed. It had been a tragic loss to the Cause but Seth had been a pawn and pawns were replaceable.

The assistant headmaster was looking frantically this way and that, one of his charges was missing. He could almost hear the argument going on in the man's greasy head, wait and abandon his timetable or leave behind a student who was, to put it kindly, troublesome?

Magwier tapped ashes from his cigarette and whispered stage directions under his breath, “That's it, look up the boulevard. Now look down Fourth Street. Shake your head, curse to yourself. Ok, deep breath. Call her name once...twice...three times. Order all your other little sheep back onto the bus. Get on yourself...wait...wait. One last look back. No that wasn't her. Close the door. Drive away.”

The yellow bus' suspension squealed as it slowly rolled out of the parking lot. He watched it disappear down a side street.

The sun was setting, the streetlights flickered to life one by one up Redbeard Lane. He wiled away the moments by smoking and counting snowflakes. Fifty snowflakes and the rest of his cigarette later he heard the abandoned girl come running up the street.

Jason Magwier’s heart began to hammer in his chest, it always did at moments like this. He let the cigarette slip from his fingers and put on his warmest smile.

She was coming.

He wondered what her name might be this time.

The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions): A Heart Full Of Dust Part Thirty Six

The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions)

A Heart Full Of Dust


Al Bruno III

(Thirty Six)


The scent of dust and rose petals hangs heavy in the air, like funeral incense.

The Hanged Man sits at the makeup mirror, studying his own reflection. He is wearing a Zosimus type mechanical heart on a string around his neck.

The Magician paces behind him, “Now you understand?”

“That this was not my last adventure but my first? That all the things I was told I did, I haven't actually done yet?” The Hanged Man labors over his makeup.

The Magician nods, “Only you can save the world because only you understand the mistakes that will be made.”

“But in doing so I've made sure that fresh new mistakes are made.”

“Well...” the Magician shrugs.

“How many times have we been through this?”

“Dress rehearsal?”

“No,” the Hanged Man takes a tube of green paint and paints runes on his palms and sigils on his eyelids “How many times have we gone from start to finish and back again? How many times have I saved the world only to destroy it?”

An irritated look crosses the Magician' features, “You may as well ask me how many letters were in the books in the library, how many glass beads are buried in the sand out there.”

The sound of booing and hissing fills the air. They turn to see the Hermit being pelted with vegetables. The Magician frowns, “He should know better than to rely on just smoke and mirrors.”

The Hanged Man paints his eyes something wide and colorful, “Why me?”


“I'm not you first attempt to create a savior am I?”


“What happened to the others?”

The Magician watches as other Hermits step out of the other mirrors and set to dismembering their master. “Work-related injuries.”

“Why me?” satisfied, the Hanged Man stood and began to pull on a pair of baggy trousers and a shoddy coat.

“Why you what?” the curtain lowers, the faceless stagehands hurry to clean up the mess.

“Why have you given me so many chances?” Stagehands bear him up hanging him from a scaffold by one leg. They tie one arm behind his back and leave the other to dangle free.

The Magician looks him over, he brushes away some lint, “Maybe I like you. Maybe its because every time you do this it’s different than the last.”

Before the Hanged Man can reply the curtain goes up.

The spotlight that envelops him is harsh and unforgiving.

The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions): A Heart Full Of Dust Part Thirty Five

The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions)

A Heart Full Of Dust


Al Bruno III

(Thirty Five)

After he was done smashing the robotic bitch beyond repair Kurt ran for the tower, watching what was left of this little fucked-up drama play itself out.

The Wandering Fool was all bloodied trying to climb up the cable he was hanging from to get to the Splinter. Kurt liked that. There was this weird fucked-up thing after him, slashing at him and roaring. Was this a Monarch?


Of course that meant that there was probably no way he could stop it from destroying the world.

“Fuck.” Kurt muttered under his breath as he dropped his club and started to climb the tower.

He hadn't even climbed a foot when the Hanged Man hit the ground with bone-jarring impact.

“Oh fuck,” he mumbled to himself, “That's gotta hurt.”

Kurt looked up, expecting to see the Monarch on the verge of ripping a hole in the fucking universe. But what he saw instead was the thing disintegrating. Its agonized screams filled the air. Kurt watched in awe as it came apart like a cloud in a storm.

He watched the space where it had been for a long time.

Now this was a fine turn of events. The Monarch was dead, the world was saved and the only people who could say he didn't do it all by himself were history! All he had to do now was get the Xenon Splinter and the fool’s head and return a hero.

Kurt smiled, fuck that- he was gonna come back a GOD!

Pulling the knife from beneath his robes he walked over to where the Hanged Man lay all curled up. His clothes were soaked with blood and there were nubs white of bone poking out of a dozen places.

When he turned the Hanged Man over he got an even bigger surprise.

He had the Xenon Splinter.

He'd fallen on it and it was half buried in his chest!

Kurt had to laugh, talk about the punishment fitting the crime!

He grabbed one of the crystal's rounded ends and tried to pull it loose, but it was jammed between two ribs. It came free with a snapping noise. He stared at the Splinter, the end of it had snapped off cleanly and to a point.

What the Hell was going on here? Wasn't the fuckin' thing supposed to be like this?

Kurt looked back down to see how much had broken off, but the wound had closed itself.

All the Fool’s wounds had closed themselves and he was staring up at Kurt with cold, cold eyes.

The Xenon Splinter started to glow of its own accord and suddenly Kurt was enveloped in its light. He tried to drop the thing but every muscle in his body had locked.

“Enough of you,” the Fool stood and pulled the glowing crystal from his hands, it seemed to hover at his fingertips. The glow began to brighten until it burned, peeling away Kurt’s flesh and the layers of reality away with equal ease. The Ruins of Creation roared to life, “Enough of all this.”

The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions): A Heart Full Of Dust Part Thirty Four

The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions)

A Heart Full Of Dust


Al Bruno III

(Thirty Four)

Vagabond howled at the sight of Lily’s head erupting into a shower of sparks. He could hear Kurt's harsh laughter as he brought the club down again and again.

He couldn't save her.

He never even had a chance.

Knowing this was ten times as painful as the wound on his leg. He nearly lost hold of the cable from shock and a moment later he considered just letting go of his own volition.

How could he be expected to save the world when he couldn't even save the woman he loved?

Adiramled/Ltolox slashed at him. Vagabond hissed at the deep gashes being cut into his back. The attack started the cable swinging and every time he swayed close to the tower the beast made another attack. Laughter filled the air and Vagabond's mind as Adiramled/Ltolox slowly cut him to ribbons.

Something hot and wet dribbled onto him from above, searing his scalp. He quickly glanced up and looked away again. The Splinter was melting its way though its prison, one of the ends jutting out of the soft metal. Rivulets of heated metal were raining down on him.

In spite of everything Vagabond started to climb the cable, hand over hand with agonizing slowness.

A confused grunt escaped from Adiramled/Ltolox, by the time it realized what was happening he was more than halfway there. It climbed after him, roaring and cursing.

The molten rain increased in tempo, burning away at the flesh of his skull. He could feel his scalp peeling away like layers of old paint. When he was directly beneath the downpour he reached up and grabbed.

Summoning the last of its strength Adiramled/Ltolox slashed at the cable holding its adversary.

The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions): A Heart Full Of Dust Thirty Three

The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions)

A Heart Full Of Dust


Al Bruno III

(Thirty Three)

Lily raised her arms to fend off another blow but her damaged body was slow to react. Her vision was reduced to static and a few fractured images.

She concentrated and took one last look at Vagabond, his life quite literally dangling by a thread. The monster was leaning out from the tower, swiping at him with its talons.

It can't end like this. she thought to herself, It just can't.

Lily tried to scream but Kurt brought the club down a final time and silenced her forever.

The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions): A Heart Full Of Dust Part Thirty Two

The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions)

A Heart Full Of Dust


Al Bruno III

(Thirty Two)

His scrabbling fingers managed to snatch hold of one of the thick cables that was drawing power from the Splinter. It stopped his fall but the strain snapped the thick wire free of its moorings. The containment unit was the only thing left holding the wire in place. Vagabond found himself hanging from the cable fifty feet in the air. He looked down and saw Kurt raise the club over his head for another blow.

The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions): A Heart Full Of Dust Part Thirty One

The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions)

A Heart Full Of Dust


Al Bruno III

(Thirty One)

Lily rolled onto her back as Kurt swung the metal club a second time. A fresh spiderweb of cracks worked its way across her vision.

He looked like a monster- his flesh mottled and gray, his teeth jutting from his lips like shards of broken glass. His rheumy, uneven eyes were filled with hate.

The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions): A Heart Full Of Dust Part Thirty

The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions)

A Heart Full Of Dust


Al Bruno III


Adiramled/Ltolox chose that moment to strike.

It threw its misshapen body against the underside of the platform, snapping at Vagabond's protruding fingertips.

Reacting without thinking Vagabond pulled his hands from the lattice. He pinwheeled his arms wildly as he began to fall.

The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions): A Heart Full Of Dust Twenty Nine

The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions)

A Heart Full Of Dust


Al Bruno III

(Twenty Nine)

Her run though the swamp left her coated with mud from the waist down. The dress her mother had made for her was reduced to tatters and everywhere on her body there were nicks and dents. But that was all right, she had known she was falling apart from the first crack. Mother had taught her all about entropy, in lots of little ways. All she cared about now was getting back to Vagabond.

He might think he didn't need her but Lily wasn't convinced. Especially now, he was changing before her eyes in so many ways; once he had been like a magician to her but now he seemed as vulnerable as any other man.

Tremors shook the swamp, knocking Lily off balance. A nearby sycamore tree and a lucky grab was all that saved her. She hung there a moment, her screen inches from the water, and felt sick at the thought of how close a call that had been. Ordinarily water wasn't anything she had to worry about, but all it would take to finish her off now was one trickle of water though her cracked screen. All the magic in the world couldn't save her from a short-circuit. The tremors increased, she righted herself and clung to the tree, watching with terror as the swamp collapsed around her.

When the last of the aftershocks had passed she cautiously let go of her sycamore- one of the few left standing- and continued. It was hard going, there were snapped trees everywhere and huge slabs of stone had been thrown up here and there. She worried that there might be sinkholes waiting for her to take a single ill-fated step. But before that could happen she found herself at the edge of the swamp.

Lily gasped as she surveyed the destruction the quake had visited on the hive. It was half-consumed by a crater, the tower that crowned the hive was teetering wildly to the right. An aurora shone down like a beacon, washing red light over the destruction, she could see the few surviving Myrmex by the light. They were blundering through the wreckage, trying desperately to rebuild what they had lost. It made Lily feel a twinge of guilt for every anthill she had ever stepped on.

The light simply died, leaving her dazed. The dawn was just beginning to wash over the scarred horizon. Did this mean that Vagabond had gotten the Splinter back? Lily looked up and saw that he was indeed at the summit of the tower, but there was something coming up fast behind him.

“Vagabond!” she cried out in warning but it was too late, the monster had hold of his leg and was shaking its head like a blood-crazed dog.

Lily ran for the tower, the mud on her feet instantly becoming coated with a fine layer of dust. She didn't know what she could do to save him, but she had to try.

Of course Lily didn't feel the blow that knocked her to the ground. But she did see the world knocked out from beneath her, and she did hear a guttural voice snarl “Fucking mechanical cunt!”

The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions): A Heart Full Of Dust Part Twenty Eight

The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions)

A Heart Full Of Dust


Al Bruno III

(Twenty Eight)

As Vagabond drew closer to the tower, he was nearly blinded by the intensity of the scarlet radiance, by the sweltering power of its alien heat. The Myrmex drones ignored him as he ran past wearing one boot and one sock.

Standing at the base of the steel scaffolding he let his eyes trace a path up the thick bundles of wires that wove their way over and around the steel beams, leading up into the blinding radiance. The Queen Myrmex's song dwindled from his lips. The light seared his eyes. From this vantage point it was obvious that this was no ordinary aurora. The very fabric of reality was churning above him, getting ready to rend itself in two. The Xenon Splinter was in the middle of it all, waiting for him. He had to fight the urge to turn his back on it all; he was caught in a Mobius Strip, locked into a dance that was both intricate and improvisational.

And this was the first step.

Would it be so bad? Couldn’t someone else restart history again? Couldn’t someone else sacrifice one world for another?

The Earth shuddered beneath his feet. Dust poured into the widening sinkholes. Without thinking he leapt onto the metallic ladder.

He sighed with resignation, “Free will indeed…”

Metal screamed as the tremors increased and the hive began to collapse upon itself. Everywhere the Earth was tearing itself open. Vagabond stopped climbing and clung to the ladder. The tower lurched to the right and then stopped, leaving it at a seventy degree angle. The screams of the Myrmex filled the air. Some of the tower's crossbeams snapped and fell away, one of the rivets holding the ladder popped free and bounced off the top of his head.

The tremor passed, he loosened his grip and waited for his heartbeat to leave his throat. The sudden shift in the tower's angle left him dangling. He blinked and took turns wiping the sweat from first his left and then his right hands. Vagabond started climbing again, climbing fast.

With every rung he climbed the right side of ladder rattled forebodingly against the tower. It brought back unpleasant memories of his little climbing adventure back at Rhea's Quonset hut.

Still no sign of pursuit. That was good, it meant that the bulk of the Myrmex had been in the swarm.

A shudder shook the tower. A tiny squeal escaped from Vagabond as his legs kicked out from under him. He lost his grip and fell three rungs back down before his scrabbling fingers caught another support. Torn ligaments of his shoulder signaled their presence with a fiery ache that seemed to double in intensity with every beat of his hammering heart. Vagabond looked down, expecting to see the tower's lower supports on the verge of crumpling.

Adiramled was staring back up at him.

No, not Adiramled- just his face. The rest was a distorted amalgamation of both human and inhuman traits. The proportions were twisted out of true, the face was normal but the head it sat upon was a bulbous oval. Its neck was long and snake-like, leading down to a body that was both towering and angular. Its thin arms ended in cruel-looking prehensile talons.

Vagabond reeled in shock, he was too late. The alchemist and the Monarch had assimilated each other. He steeled himself, knowing that any moment a blast of cold gray energy would rob him of everything he had even known or dreamt.

But instead Adiramled/Ltolox gave the tower another savage shake.

Vagabond was so surprised that he almost lost his grip, but he managed to catch himself and held on for dear life. He looked from the monster to the Xenon Splinter and back again, his eyes widening with realization.

“What's the matter?” he shouted down at the composite beast, “The old batteries running dry?”

Adiramled/Ltolox roared back at him, its segmented eyes flashing with rage. A pair of insectoid pincers slipped from its mouth and clicked together. It started to climb up after him.

This was a mixed blessing at best. While on one hand the creature beneath him was fragile and weakened; a weakened Monarch, or a half-Monarch as the case may be, was still capable of doing a great deal of harm. Only now it had to get up close and personal. Vagabond doubted they could hold that form for very long on their own. They needed the Splinter to stabilize themselves.

And that was something he wasn't even all that sure the Xenon Splinter could do. He started climbing again, his shoulders screaming in protest. His eyes were starting to water, the light was too bright. With each step on the maintenance ladder he had to rely on his sense of touch more and more. By the time he reached the top he'd be blinded.

Adiramled/Ltolox bellowed and gave the scaffolding a shake. The ladder rattled against its moorings and another of the restraining bolts gave way. It started to swing wildly, held in place only on the left side. Unable to see, Vagabond nearly slipped from the ladder.

His eyes narrowed to watery slits, he clambered from the rapidly deteriorating ladder to the tower itself. He scaled the rungs, his stockinged foot threatening to slip with every step. The light burned.

Soon it was painfully bright, even with his eyes closed. This was too much, he needed to be able to see where he was going. There had to be a way around this.

He felt for the next crossbeam but all his grasping fingers could find was air. Balancing on the tips of his toes he stretched and found the next handhold. He cautiously pulled himself up.

Suddenly his mind was filled by a cool inhuman consciousness,
”You want to see?”

The light began to dim. Vagabond opened his stinging eyes and blinked. He was just close to his goal.

He looked down, Adiramled/Ltolox hung in place, staring raptly at the horizon. Vagabond couldn't help but follow its gaze.

From his vantage point he could see Lily making her way out of the swamp. How? He didn't know but realization that even after this last betrayal she had come back to him made his heart swell.

It was like a blessing, like a sign that he would succeed. When all this was over he would-

Vagabond screamed as Adiramled/Ltolox's teeth sunk into the flesh of his calf. He felt himself being dragged down, his sweaty hands slipping from the metal of the tower.

Hooking his arms over a crossbeam, Vagabond shook his leg franticly. Pain shot through him like a rocket. He wondered how much blood he was losing and how much more he could stand to lose.

Somewhere in the distance he was sure he could hear Lily calling his name.
Adiramled/Ltolox tore a mouthful of meat away from Vagabond's lower leg.

It gulped hungrily and reared to attack again.

As fast as he could Vagabond pulled himself out of reach, his right leg now a useless bolt of agony. Adiramled/Hanged Man snapped at his heels.

“Look! Look!”

The platform was tilted sharply askew. Vagabond had to abandon the ladder and attempt to scale the platform. The platform itself was made from sheets of ash-colored grating that had been hastily welded together. The Splinter's light shone though the network of metal and wire. He slipped his fingers between the lattices and tried to pull himself up but it was no good. He needed a foothold to climb further and even with two healthy legs he would be have been hard pressed to find that- the Xenon Splinter was less than a five feet away but it might as well have been a mile.

Look! Look! The hateful and unearthly voice filled his mind again.

He stared through the bars of the grating and sobbed his lover's name.

The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions): A Heart Full Of Dust Part Twenty Seven

The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions)

A Heart Full Of Dust


Al Bruno III

(Twenty Seven)


Consciousness resides in the cells.

He knows this. It's in the scriptures.

What scriptures? He isn't sure, not all the synapses are complete.

At least he can remember who he is and what he needs to do.


That's all it will take is willpower.

That which is broken can be mended.

If he truly believes, then all which is broken can be mended.

He must believe this.

He must.

Flesh congeals. Synapses mend.

But there is pain.

But he remembers that pain is just a reminder that you're alive.

He concentrates harder and his senses bloom.

The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions): A Heart Full Of Dust Part Twenty Six

The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions)

A Heart Full Of Dust


Al Bruno III

(Twenty Six)

The first Myrmex guard swung at Vagabond but he ducked under the blow. The second swept low at his legs, toppling him. The third and fourth grabbed hold of him and tried to hoist him into the air but Vagabond simply slipped out of his coat and scrambled away.

Just as he had thought, the majority of the Myrmex were workers and took no notice in him. The glare from the tower beat down on them like an artificial sun. He ran for the hive, the four sentries hot on his heels.

Alerted by the commotion more sentries were leaving their posts. They converged around him as he neared the hive. In moments Vagabond found himself surrounded. They closed in, whistling their curious high-pitched whistles.

Vagabond licked his lips and began to whistle himself. The Myrmex regarded him with confusion but continued to advance. An alarmed look crossed his features and he tried again. The Myrmex drew in closer, tendrils slipping from their proboscises. A panic was rising his chest, he was losing time.

A pair of clawed hands wrapped around his waist and his whistles became screams. His ribs felt ready to shatter and the Myrmex's claws were digging into the flesh of his sides. Blood ran down his wildly kicking legs. Another of the insectoid creatures tried to grab him by the feet but only managed to pull off one of his shoes. It stared at the boot with confusion, its tendrils probing beneath the tongue.

There was only going to be this one more chance, Vagabond took a deep breath and whistled.

And this time the tone was just right.

The Myrmex reeled with confusion; some stepped back and some drew closer. The one holding him began to make high pitched squeals and let go.
The impact with the ground was jarring enough, the wounds on his sides only made it worse. Vagabond gasped.

This only served to make the Myrmex even more disoriented. They had been trained to intercept all intruders, but this strange intruder had sung to them with the voice their Queen. Their eyes told them they had a human in their midst but they were hearing their mother's song. The song of they had hatched to and heard all during their pupal stage, it resonated with warmth and love and memories of a simpler time.

And when he began to whistle again, they fell to the ground and began to mewl like hungry hatchlings in need of the sustenance that only a Queen could give.

Five minutes more of the song was all it took to completely undo their conditioning. Vagabond ran for the complex, knowing that by the time replacements arrived it would be too late.

One way or another.

The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions): A Heart Full Of Dust Part Twenty Five

The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions)

A Heart Full Of Dust


Al Bruno III

(Twenty Five)

The screen read
DIAGNOSTIC IN PROGRESS but the image was beginning to flicker. Storms of data flashed across the screen, each lasting longer than the last until they had erased the message from the cracked glass. Moments later Lily's face resolved itself out of the storm and she slumped against the tree she'd been leaned against.

She'd never tried to come back like that before, it had been exhausting. Even now she wondered why she'd even bothered, he'd betrayed her. She'd outlived her usefulness and he'd turned her off like an unwanted toy. If she had been alive she would have raged and wept. Lily wiped the grime from her monitor. Those memories, the memories of the original Lily had made a fool of her again. She had trusted him, even loved him and what had it gotten her?

A dead mother and a cracked monitor that's what.

The redness of the sky deepened. Lily looked to the east, the sun should have risen by now but there was nothing on the horizon but darkness. She mused that maybe it knew something she didn't.

“I love you Lily.” his voice echoed through her stored memory, taunting her. He had seemed so sincere, the way he'd held her and tried to protect her. The whole amnesia thing was probably just another one of his lies!

She straightened up. Of course she had to wonder why he had done it and his admission before hand. Was it simply the result of a guilty conscience? Was he trying to make her hate him? Was he trying to get rid of her?

Lily paused in mid-step. That was it. Of course!

He was trying to get rid of her.

“Oh no.” her voice caught in her throat as it all became clear to her. He had done it all on purpose! He left her behind to protect her!

He really does love me! She thought as she started after him. If her eyes had been real they would have been brimming with tears.

The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions): A Heart Full Of Dust Part Twenty Four

The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions)

A Heart Full Of Dust


Al Bruno III

(Twenty Four)

Alone on the outskirts of the Myrmex Hive Vagabond tried to push thoughts of Lily from his mind. It had been a cruel thing to do, but it was better this way. Bad enough he had gotten her killed once, he damn well wasn't going to let it happen again! But of course, if he failed at this it wouldn't really matter would it?

The hive was anthill-like in structure, built from stone blocks and scrap. It was fortified with weapons and technology scrounged from the remains of the New City. The Myrmex toiled ceaselessly on it and the tower that rose up out of the center. The tower was the source of the brilliant red aurora that blazed down over the land, casting strange hive shadows. It would take an army to get in there, Vagabond thought to himself.

And that army would take heavy losses.

Vagabond retreated from his vantage point and sat up against an outcropping of weathered stone. He wondered aloud, “What would the Hanged Man do in a situation like this? Or Jason for that matter?”

Cackling grimly, he chided himself. How could he know what to do when he didn’t even know who he was at times?

A maniac gleam filled Vagabond's eyes. Scrambling to his feet he began to run. The Myrmex had two weaknesses, the first was that they were simple-minded; the warriors fought, the guards guarded and the workers built. That meant that while sheer numbers of Myrmex might seem impressive, the majority of them wouldn't react to him unless he threatened them directly.

The four sentries at the edge of complex tensed at the sight of him barreling out of the swamp. Their proboscises quivered, they raised their clawed hands. He was coming straight at them.

The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions): A Heart Full Of Dust Part Twenty Three

The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions)

A Heart Full Of Dust


Al Bruno III

(Twenty Three)

There was enough hard radiation in the chamber to kill a normal human in seconds but Adiramled was beyond such concerns.

Once, over a millennia ago this had been the reactor chamber for the Monarch's glorious New City. Delivering heat and light to the sprawling thirty mile wide, seventeen level deep underground complex. It had been a sight to see, a city of the future they had called it, monitored and protected by technology generations beyond what was available anywhere else. There was a digitized library full of wonders to rival Alexandria, there were mechanized sentries on every street corner, there were hospitals that could cure any ailment, heal any wound.

And there were pleasures to be had as well.

Such pleasures. Adiramled smiled as he entered the reactor chamber and began to disrobe. There had been drugs of every type and virtual reality pleasure domes where you could defy the laws of morality and anatomy. The Monarchs' favorites- the privileged few such as himself- had the power of kings. They could take whatever they wanted, they could kill with near-impunity and their credit was always good.

Those had been such good times. Adiramled stepped forward, trembling slightly, his bare feet padding over the floor.

The remains of the New City were a mile above them, nothing more than a tomb now. It had been destroyed when the Monarchs' Jihad had spilled over to Earth. The destruction was not the Monarchs doing but their arrival and subsequent battle had caused cataclysm after cataclysm. The reeling nations of man immediately suspected the others of attempting a first strike and launched their missiles. The New City had been simply been too close to one of the strike zones.

Adiramled remembered that night as well. He remembered standing on the outskirts of Tientsin, watching as the waves of flame washed over everything, scouring the land. It might have been a trick of the flames but he was sure that he saw a pair of the warring Monarchs in the heart of the firestorm, their pincers flashing, their mandibles locked.

Those glorious giants carved in fire bore little resemblance to the creature nested in the back corner of the chamber. Ltolox had been gravely wounded when Adiramled found it, forced to cannibalize itself in order to survive. Gone was the mammoth god-beast, it was no bigger than him now.

Standing in the center of the room he watched as the shivering monstrosity slowly made its way towards him. Its pale emerald hide was stretched tightly over its ovoid skull. As it drew closer Adiramled found he could actually see his reflection in Ltolox's round segmented eyes. It reached for him with a trembling pincer.

Adiramled drew it up and held it in an awkward embrace. Ltolox's mandibles spasmed as it used what little power it had left.

There was an almost imperceptible hiss as their atoms began to mingle.

The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions): A Heart Full Of Dust Part Twenty Two

The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions)

A Heart Full Of Dust


Al Bruno III

(Twenty Two)

Vagabond spoke little as they trudged through the swamp. The mire was knee deep and reeked of stagnation. Half-dead sycamore trees sprouted from the water, their gnarled branches hanging heavily. Both he and Lily carried metal bars salvaged from the trawler, primarily to use as walking sticks, but also because Vagabond was worried about what could be spawning in this squalid bog. The glow from the tower was close now- its light filtered though the trees like an artificial sun.

“What do we do when we get there?” Lily asked as she wiped the grime from her monitor.

“Storm the hive, steal back the Splinter, escape with our lives and live happily ever after,” he said, “the usual.”

“I hate it when you make jokes at a time like this.”

“When this is over I’m going to change my name into something more… ordinary.”

“You? Ordinary?”

He stopped suddenly, “You should choose it.”

“Why?” she asked.

“Because if you pick the name then a part of me will always belong to you,” he winked. “Sweet enough? Like the old times?”

“How about Jason?” she paused looking at him uncertainly, “Is that ok?”

“I like it fine.” he kissed her screen gently.

She wrapped her arms around him, “I love you.”

Vagabond looked like he might burst into tears at any moment, “You would forgive me anything? Even now?”


“I love you Lily.” They kissed, Vagabond crushing her to him. Then whispered, “Orchid.”

Lily froze, her loving face replaced by the words
DIAGNOSTIC IN PROGRESS. Vagabond carefully leaned her against a tree and then continued on his way. That last kiss had nicked his lower lip, he dabbed at it and then continued on alone.

The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions): A Heart Full Of Dust Part Twenty One

The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions)

A Heart Full Of Dust


Al Bruno III

(Twenty One)

The steel scaffolding of the tower stretched up into the night. Its top level was engulfed in a whirl of crimson luminosity that tinged the sky like an aurora. Adiramled stood in the heart of the churning incandescence, his vision protected by a pair of tinted goggles. This uppermost level was no more than four yards across and only accessible by a service ladder. He carefully checked the containment unit, a rectangular mass of thick wires and thicker metal.

The light from the Xenon Splinter bled through the walls of its prison. It didn’t like being told what to do. He stepped back, avoiding the cables and wires that snaked along the floor, and admired his work.

There were no railings on this uppermost level, so he had to step carefully. He stood there, sandwiched between the raging incandescence and the open air. Soon this ancient artifact would rip a hole in the universe, and he would leave to begin his new life. Ltolox had already shown him glimpses of this so like what this world had been like but pure and innocent.

Innocent or not, they would pray to him.

Hungering for another glimpse of his future subjects Adiramled stared into the glow, reaching out with his mind. Anyone could posses the Xenon Splinter but to control it was a test of willpower. And he had no shortage of that. If he wanted to see the future he'd see the future, if he wanted to rain down lightning and thunder, all it would take was thought.

He could feel the Splinter trying to resist his presence, trying to fill his mind with nonsensical images of High Priestesses and crucified clowns.

Adiramled would have none of this. He redoubled his efforts, raping his consciousness into the crystal shard.

“What are you hiding?” he whispered, “What are you hiding?”

There was a sound like thunder, the tower trembled. For a terrifying moment it seemed as though Adiramled might lose his balance, but then he caught himself.

He glared at the containment unit then turned and began to climb down the service ladder. Below him in the crumbling remains of the New City the Myrmex worked silently. He paused and watched them wondering if they had any inkling that their lives were nearly at an end, or if they cared. Unfortunately there was no time to investigate that or the Xenon Splinter's little peccadilloes; Ltolox was hungering to consummate their alliance.

He began to climb down the ladder, careful not to slip.

The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions): A Heart Full Of Dust Part Twenty

The Nick Of Time (and other abrasions)

A Heart Full Of Dust


Al Bruno III

(Twenty) Vagabond to wakefulness.

A green-eyed cat gazed down at him.

Vagabond blinked, utterly disoriented. The black cat licked at his cheek, cleaning the wound she just made. He looked up, the night sky was still tinged with red. The dusty ground was speckled with blades of grass, to the east the Barrens slowly transformed into a stagnant marsh. They were close now, he could feel it in his bones.

But where were his travelling companions?

“Lily?” he called as he sat up straight. There was wreckage everywhere. The storm had torn the trawler to pieces and quite frankly he was surprised that it hadn't done the same to him as well. The cat bounded from his lap and quickly lost itself in the swamp. Something stumbled from beneath a pile of debris. “Lily?” Vagabond asked again.

“No, it's not fuckin' Lily,” Kurt said. There were massive wounds all over his body, a huge swatch of flesh had been torn away from his chest and though the damage was healing itself rather quickly, for a moment Vagabond was transfixed by the sight.

“Are you all right?'

“Why do you give a fuck?” He said as the wounds sealed closed one by one.

“I was just asking.”

“Yeah well thanks to you my trawler is fuckin' history.”


“And is that all that happened to you?” Kurt sneered with disgust and pointed.

Vagabond frowned, he dabbed at the blood seeping from the wound on his cheek. “Actually this happened after the crash. A cat scratched me.”

Derisive laughter filled the clearing, “That's fuckin' bullshit Fool and you know it. There are no cats anymore, they're all dead.”

“Whatever you say Kurt. Whatever you say.”

“Are you mocking me?”

“I wish you'd just...” his voice trailed off, he cupped a hand to his ear. Vagabond turned and ran back towards the wastelands, Kurt followed him.

They found them over the next dune.

A huge section of the deck had slammed into the ground here, shards of metal stuck upright out of the dust like primitive tombstones. Parts of the wreckage were still smoldering. Lily was stained with smoke and dirt but was otherwise unharmed. She cradled her mother's body, weeping tearlessly.

Vagabond drew closer, unable to speak.

“What the fuck happened to her?” Kurt asked. Rhea's body looked as though it had been ravaged by fire. Her blackened lips and nose were caked with blood as though something within her had hemorrhaged. Her eyes were glassy and open.

“She protected us,” Lily sobbed, “shielded us from the crash and made the storm go away. But it was too much for her. The Maelstrom... the Maelstrom...”

Cursing under his breath Kurt knelt at her side and began to check for a pulse. Vagabond tentatively touched Lily on the shoulder and she flowed up into his arms. “Why?” Lily asked, “Why did she do it?”

“She didn't want us to die.”

“But why did she protect me? I'm not even real!”

Vagabond cradled her monitor in his hands, “You were real to her, and you're real to me.”

Lily loosed a loud wailing sob. He held her tightly, whispering comforting words.

“Fool...” Kurt stood and aimed Rhea's Desert Eagle at them.

Vagabond froze, Lily looked up in confusion. She tensed and stood protectively in front of her lover, “No!”

“This'll shoot right through you sweetie. And If that's what it takes... I don't give a fuck.” his eyes were deadly serious.

It was quiet, as though the wind itself was tensing in anticipation. Vagabond smiled and stepped out from behind the girl, “Kill me and you’re a bigger fool than I ever suspected.”

Kurt zeroed in on his throat, “Fuck you! Every time you talk I'm just gonna aim lower.”

“Ltolox still has the Splinter, do you honestly think that you'll be able to go and get it all by yourself?”

The only reply Kurt gave was to lower his sights to heart-level.

“Why do you think Rhea spared me from the crash? Out of love? She hated me ten times more than you ever could. It's because of me that Lily is in the condition she's in.”

Kurt stepped forward and dug the muzzle of the gun into Vagabond's gut,

“How far do you think the spray will reach? One meter? Two?”

Vagabond winced but kept talking, “Does the name Adiramled mean anything to you? He served the Pendaroth once - he's the one controlling the Splinter. That’s treason.”

Kurt lowered his aim further and twisted the barrel of the gun into Vagabond's crotch, “Shoulda' gone for the fuckin' head shot, it's gonna take you hours to die now.”

“The only reason that Adiramled hasn't killed us already is because the Splinter is struggling- trying to protect me.” Vagabond stared intently into his adversaries' eyes.

Kurt pulled the trigger.

Lily screamed.

Kurt pulled the trigger again, unable to believe that instead of an explosion of blood and screams all he was hearing was a dry click.

Vagabond's arms flashed out, he grabbed Kurt by his robes and threw him to the dusty ground. The pistol tumbled into the dirt. With a snarl he leapt atop him, his hands locking around his throat, “Did you honestly think that I could be killed by the likes of you?”

Her cracked monitor registering nothing but stunned disbelief, Lily watched as Kurt struggled to escape the choke hold. He swung his fists wildly but Vagabond held fast.

“I doubt you can heal brain damage,” he hissed at the man beneath him, “Maybe I'll just keep this up until you're a little stupider, or maybe I'll just keep working on you till you have the IQ of an eggplant. Would you like that? Hmmm?”

The red tinge in the sky darkened, Kurt hissed and gnashed his teeth. Lily rummaged through the wreckage until she found a chunk of metal roughly the size of a baseball bat.

“Listen to me. We don't have time for this.” Vagabond loosened his grip, “I don't want to kill you. I will if I have to, but I don't want to.”

Drawing a long ragged breath, Kurt released his grip on Vagabond's wrists, and let his right arm fall to his side. He and slipped it into his robes.

“There,” Vagabond sat back, trying to smile reassuringly, “Now maybe we can-”

Kurt yanked the knife from beneath his robes and lunged. Vagabond tried to block the attack but only succeeded in catching the blow in the meat of his upper arm. He shouted with surprise, watching with disbelief as Kurt drove the blade in to the hilt.

For Vagabond everything seemed to shift into slow motion; the blossoming of the wound. Kurt wrenching the knife free, a streamer of blood trailing out after the tip. Vagabond grabbed for the blade but only managed to cut his fingertips to ribbons.

Lily swung the chunk of metal at Kurt's head. There was a sickening wet crack and the back of Kurt's head caved in around her makeshift club. He fell back to the powdery dirt, his limbs twitching.

With a savage cry Lily bought the club down again and again until Kurt's face was a caved-in ruin.

Vagabond staggered over to Lily and restrained her. Her monitor and camisole were spattered with gore. He held her as tightly as he could with his uninjured arm and whispered, “Shhh. It's all right now. He's dead. Let it go. He's dead.”

The length of metal slipped from her grip, she made a choking sound and sagged against him. “He... he and mother they were going to...” she said as he pulled her away from the gory spectacle.

“Don't worry about it,” he said softly.

The warm blood from his wounded arm was soaking through her dress, but of course she couldn't feel it. “How did you do that?”

“Do what?”

“The gun.”

“Ah,” he said, feeling as though he was going to need to sit down very soon, “I guessed it wasn't loaded. Your mother used sorcery to create bullets for her guns and when she died her bullets faded away.”

“You guessed?” she looked at him, “You took a terrible chance.”

He smiled weakly and began to search his pockets for something he could use as a bandage, “All life is risk.”

“If anything had ever happened to you...”

His pockets were empty save for a single rectangle of thick paper. Cautiously he drew it out. It was a tarot card, the Hanged Man was wearing his face, “Well bless my buttons and call me Columbus.”