By Kyle Toucher
Virgil Fontaine was caught red-handed playing tetherball with a human head.
Immediately after the SWAT Commander Delois set one of his guys loose with the breaching hammer, the deadbolts snapped, and the Horror House of Faber Street―so christened in the local paper― was born.
The killer frolicked. Virgil danced in place on his wide fat feet, moving his hips from side to side in exaggerated, deliberate snaps. His toy was sheathed in an elastic net, gathered at the top in a series of hard knots. A nylon rope had been secured within these knots, then screwed into a pole made from human femurs set into a concrete-filled tire. The eyes were still open. The tongue sagged like wet rope. As it swung around to meet Virgil, he gave it another good punch back into orbit.
Virgil stood a pudgy and balding five-foot-nine. Beneath his slim nose lurked a tiny, puffy cherub mouth. He wore a woman’s full slip, stolen from a neighbor’s laundry line, like a butcher’s apron. Blood painted the front in a bizarre Rorschach inkblot.
Pop Goes The Weasel! played on a small record player balanced on the corner of a Black and Decker Workmate bench littered with bloody tools and severed fingers. A male body, decapitated, sat perched in an old fifties-era living room chair next to the Workmate, fingerless hands cuffed in front, a copy of the old children’s magazine Highlights opened on his lap. He was still wearing his blue Best Buy polo shirt. Virgil’s neatly folded khakis and poplin shirt sat atop a small folding metal chair near the big garage door. His socks, keys and Kools were tucked into his shoes. Scented candles burned in the corners of the garage.
Several human faces, flayed then pinned like masks, gawked from the rafters. Covered in thick layers of shellac, their expressions alternated between comedy and tragedy. Below each of these masks, a framed Gustave Doré illustration―The Stoning of Achan, The War In Heaven, Arachne, Satan In Council, and several others. The garage smelled of death and shamelessness.
Officer Kendricks screamed, “On the ground! Now!”
The cheap little record player blared on, the shitty speaker warbling in its tinny, insect voice―
A penny for a spool of thread…
Just as Virgil gave his pulped toy another good whack, Kendricks grabbed his outstretched arm, then kicked Virgil’s foot from underneath him. The man tilted backward, arms beating like chicken wings, that flyspeck mouth an egg-shape of surprise. He brought Kendricks down with him, and they hit the slippery floor with an ugly heavy thud, both men on their backs, Kendricks on top of Virgil.
Commander Delois grabbed a handful of Kendrick’s vest. Another D-Team member pinned Virgil’s shin to the floor with his boot. Kendricks wouldn’t budge, as Virgil had him gripped in a choke-hold.
He dragged his cupid lips over Kendricks’ stubble, all the way to the cop’s ear.
“Let him go, or we’ll shoot!” Delois screamed. Over and over, he screamed.
A penny for a needle…
“Witches!” Virgil barked. His breath stank like peanut butter and wine, his fingers smelled like blood. “Witches populate my wall―judgment―burned at the knife for being too kind. Fingers tap the time, count down the days. Well not in this house, Maestro. I passed Go, I collected two hundred souls. You hear me?” He yanked at Officer Kendricks’ neck with each following syllable: “YOU―HEAR―ME?”
Kendricks, who managed to still hold on to his pistol despite almost being choked unconscious, snapped one arm over his sizable gut and crammed the muzzle into Virgil’s ribs.
That’s the way the money goes…
“I fought the grade school crusades, but I still hear wings outside my window. Ever taste spider piss dripping from an angel? You want me to taste you, Fat Man?”
Virgil clamped his teeth down on Kendricks’ ear. Pain seared through the man like a devil’s promise, so Kendricks put a bullet, point-blank, into Virgil Fontaine.
Delois fired immediately. The bullet roared through the temple then sheared off the back of Virgil Fontaine’s head. He was the last to die in the Faber Street House of Horrors.
Pop! Goes the weasel…
…will be strictly enforced. Do not proceed until summoned. Obey all commands. Restrictions will be strictly enforced. Do not proceed until summoned. Obey all commands. Restrictions―
Virgil Fontaine heard the loudspeaker before he was able to open his eyes. His first thought was it was his mother’s voice, but that was impossible. He never knew his mother but had several stand-ins throughout the foster care system. The timbre kept changing; now he was sure it was Amy Henderson’s adolescent squeal. He often recalled how she’d screamed as he slammed her repeatedly against the apex of her beagle’s doghouse. Virgil had been nine at the time, and when questioned by her wild-eyed father, Virgil claimed they’d fallen out of the Mulberry tree, and she simply hit her head. First, the ambulance, then the announcement over the P.A. system at school, followed by his foster parents dodging phone calls. The funeral was three weeks later, but soon after, an ambulance came for him.
Virgil opened his eyes and saw only a dirt floor. The loudspeaker droned the repetitive message―Do not proceed until summoned.
Obey all commands, as the orderlies at Brighton Home had said not long after the Amy Henderson incident. We’re here to keep you in check, Virge. Stay smooth, and we’ll get you right.
Compared to Brighton Home, this place was a filthy dump. The dirt floors were bad enough, like some El Salvadorian polio clinic, he imagined, but the bugs, Good Gravy, the bugs were just untenable. Centipedes the size of jumper cables squirmed beneath the legs of his chair. A waspy-looking thing with bright green wings buzzed his face, then flopped down to the floor and stung itself over and over until it finally stopped moving. Although crawly things usually gave him the willies, he did not flinch or recoil.
“Fontaine, Virgil Simon.” The loudspeaker again, all tinny and cheap. A woman’s voice this time. Maybe Amy Henderson had grown up, the funeral had been faked. Without thinking, he stood at the sound of his name being called. He saw pools of light and blurry shapes, like when coming out of a dream and the world was still fuzzy and magical. Slowly things began to sharpen.
“This way, bright boy. Door nineteen.”
A labyrinth of brick archways yawned before him, the corridors eventually swallowed by dark murk. Dingy lights hung from the ceiling, crusted in filth and something that looked like fried skin. Steam seeped from floor vents and slithered with intent, separating into fingers and tributaries, then racing down the hallway and slipping underneath the hundreds of doors beyond.
He shuffled along, the dirt floor warm beneath his bare feet. He felt something crab its way over one foot. He didn’t bother to look, but part of his mind knew the little creepy-crawler had accessed his childhood nightmares. It knew about Santa Claus with the sledgehammer, the horse that swallowed a snake and eaten from the inside, and the microwave oven that splashed images of Virgil’s bloody future onto the black door glass.
Nineteen looked like any other old-style office door; lifeless green paint, brass knob, and that heavy glass he was used to seeing outside many a Principal’s Office, the kind with the chicken wire inside.
He raised his hand to knock, but the door opened by itself.
“Don’t bother, just come in,” the voice said.
Virgil walked into the cramped office. There were no windows but plenty of half-open drawers overflowing with papers and cards. Something that looked like an antique telephone was bolted to the wall, complete with sloppy, leaking cables that ran to the desk and slugged into a cone-shaped handset. Something that looked like a disembodied stomach lay in a dry fish tank, breathing slowly. The woman behind the desk had her face rearranged and apparently with urgent haste. A stubby horn grew from her forehead, and its edges were raw.
“You’ll forgive the lack of drama if you were expecting a drop into a fiery abyss and cloven demons with lashing tails,” the bureaucrat said. “If you already know your destiny is with us, there’s little point in the elevator ride. It’s far more terrifying when used on the clueless―they beg and insist there’s been a mistake. Some dig around in their pockets for money…money of you can believe that. The suicide bombers are fun―but monotonous―they always have the same look on their faces: utter incomprehension. They see eternity as some Sultan’s jumbo jet filled with adolescent sex slaves and all the booze they can swallow. Off they go to the rotisseries, and you’ve never heard such tiresome blubbering. Anyway. I’m Y’Zoreck. Welcome to Hell.”
“Uh, what?” Virgil said. His voice was full of mud, like he’ just been pulled from a deep dream.
Y’Zoreck rolled her eye. The other was missing.
“You really are a rush job, son. You have yet to exit what we call transitional shock. There’s no time here, of course―that is, after all, the core definition of eternity―but prisoners are rarely processed until they’re at least mildly cognizant of what’s happening to them. In 1988, when I staggered out of a rufie haze and stabbed Matthew Conner with a steak knife, I was in the exact same state you’re in now, kiddo. The bellhop found his eyes in the toilet and his balls in the Mr. Coffee. I guess my penchant for theatre did me in. Now straighten up, wipe that stupid look off your face, and try to keep up.”
Virgil couldn’t recall sitting down. The chair was terribly uncomfortable; it felt like it was made of thousands of tiny needle teeth. Hell, the bureaucrat had said. Welcome to Hell.
“Hell, Ma’am?” Virgil wondered how difficult it would be to remove her face. She didn’t seem like a witch…but one could never be too confident about such things.
Y’Zoreck tossed a stack of papers in the air in mock celebration. They floated down like confetti, catching fire along the way. “We have a winner!”
“I don’t believe you,” Virgil said. He wanted to be with his record player and tools. He missed is Gustave Doré illustrations. If this was Hell, it looked nothing like the artist’s etchings. What agony they captured―this was more like being at a shitty medical clinic in Baltimore. If home by suppertime, he’d be able to get in a round of tetherball before bed.
“You’d better believe it, bright boy,” Y’Zoreck said. She pointed an index finger at Virgil. To his eyes her finger seemed far longer than it should be. The nails dripped and the liquid squealed when it hit the cluttered desk. “No plummet into the maw of The Abyss, no feeling of the world sitting on top of you. Like I said, we save the theatrics for the dim-bulbs that never saw it coming. Shaman is another word for is showman, if you ask me. Look, cupcake―you’re stone dead. You took a bullet to the liver, and that SWAT commander blew your stupid brains out. Up until then, though, you had game.”
Virgil felt the back of his head. All there. He opened his mouth to speak, but Y’Zoreck raised a palm to silence him. Ah, there was her missing eye.
“You knew this is where you’d end up,” Y’Zoreck said. “You danced in blood and and now you’re paying the fiddler, as my dear mother used to say.”
Y’Zoreck opened a folder that held just one document and gave it a once-over. “Sorry, you didn’t have a mother. Well, you did. Terrible drug addict, she was. She abandoned you in a second-run movie theatre during a showing of Sixteen Candles. Eventually, she turned her life around, got off drugs―even married an autistic man, if you can believe that one―but never went back for you. She’s here, just so you know. Neglectful mothers are in T-Ward. Nasty spot. It’s more of a psyche torture center than anything else. You won’t be running into her.”
She slapped the small folder down on the desk and picked up the one stuffed with forms, photos, and what looked like newspaper clippings. A few loose fingernails and teeth fell out onto the desk.
“Oh, look relics. Anyway, let’s get to your file. It’s juicy. You were a busy boy back in the Meatworld. Some of the pictures in here are first-rate. Consequently, you’re being fast-tracked, Virgil Simon Fontaine.”
Mother, here. Virgil’s mind raced. “Can I see her, Mother, I mean?” I want to hug her, kiss her, then make a mask of her face.
“Remember when I said try to keep up? Forget about her. And no, you’re not going to be able to take her face for a mask. That’s my boy! Getting back into the swing of things. Okay, on to business.”
“Hell,” Virgil said. “And you’re the Devil?”
“Don’t you dare even breathe his Name!” Y’Zoreck hissed. “You’ll get both of us dragged around by our tongues. I handle admissions, dumbass. If you’ll shut up and pay attention, my job is to assign you to your Sponsor before I can move on to the next box of idiots. I have an entire backyard barbecue full of MS-13 gangsters killed in an El Paso drive-by. They’re going to be a gibbering handful. Now, again, pay attention.”
As Virgil straightened in his seat, he suddenly became aware of a new feeling: Fast-tracked? I may be important.
Y’Zoreck stood. Her legs were fat as tree trunks, rife with varicose veins, insect bites, and ugly bedsores. Even though he had seen bodies at their most mutilated, Virgil momentarily looked away.
“Yeah, well, I was vain to a fault,” Y’Zoreck said. “That and a willingness to sell my ass got me into a lot of trouble. I let it. The next thing I know, there are hotel rooms all across the Carolinas brimming with the eyeballs and testicles of various Johns. Now we’re here. On your feet, Baby Meat. I’m handing you off.”
She swung her arm over her head like a carpenter driving a nail, and with hard thump! stamped Virgil’s file in blazing red ink: ADMITTED.
Virgil sprang from the chair and looked at his hands, his clothes. He had on his khakis and his poplin shirt, the very ones he’d folded on the metal chair. He supposed he wouldn’t be needing his keys any longer, same went for the Kools. It felt good to be out of the needle-chair.
“I have clothes on,” he said. “But barefoot. If I’m dead why do I have a body?”
“Residuals of the mind. We were all in the Meatworld―muscle, blood, bone, and boondoggles. In the beginning, the dead were always buried unshod, but we take what we hold on to with us. That’s always used against you here. And never forget your soul is eternal. Hey, just look at me! Now, here’s your folder.”
Y’Zoreck pushed the packed file into Virgil’s chest. She drove a long needle through the stack and deep into his skin, like spiking documents in a patent office.
“Hey!” Virgil barked. “That hurts!”
“Oh, you’ll see. Come with me, bright boy.”
Peering through the narrow doorway, The Service Desk, to Virgil’s eye, was easily a hundred yards long and curved like a Mastodon’s tusk. Its work area bustled with people engaged in all manner of office work and depravity, the air rife with the humid stink of bodies, sulfur, and shit. Above, swung a hundred-foot pendulum, its bob a gargantuan goat’s head with twisted, barbed horns.
A woman with scorpion claws for fingers stood at the entrance. After pulling the door open she spat a coin from her mouth into Virgil’s hand.
“See that?” Y’Zoreck said. She winked―sort of. “Gold coin. Priority.”
Virgil had never won anything, ever―not even a Super Lotto Scratcher. “Do I get to keep it?”
The inscription looked like the scribbling he sometimes saw in movies, the symbols witches drew underneath someone’s bed. Y’Zoreck snatched it from his hand.
“It’s the name of your Sponsor,” Y’Zoreck said. She looked at Virgil and whistled. It sounded like the wind howling through the eaves. “You really have arrived, Virgil Simon Fontaine.”
Y’Zoreck held the coin like a torch-bearer. “I summon The Great One, Ebros Muthara.”
At the mention of the name, activity ceased in the cavernous room. All manner of faces and other mutilations stared at Virgil and Y’Zoreck. The pendulum stopped. The giant goat’s head watched them all through yellow, glistening eyes. The jaw moved as if it were chewing the cud.
A set of immense double doors hissed open. A dense fog billowed out of the opening, ushering forward a chattering choir of minute voices, hundreds of them squeaking and coughing in some atonal music Virgil could not decipher. Hard on the heels of the fleeing steam, the first glimpse of the locusts; dozens of them, large as bread loaves, lashed together like a team of horses, marching out of the gloom, gibbering and twittering in a mad insect chorus.
Though Virgil hated all manner of insect, he struggled to peel his eyes from them, but as he followed the harness work to its end, he saw not only the locust’s payload but who commanded them.
The wheelchair reminded him of the antiques he had seen in the quaint stores around town, but twice the size: tall wicker back, enormous wheels with fancy wrought-iron spokes, leg braces made from wood. In it sat a wreck of a Giant. Not just a big man, but a Giant, easily nine if not eleven feet tall if standing.
As the procession cleared the doorway and into the Service Desk area, Y’Zoreck and the entire office personnel genuflected. Not wanting to be the odd man out, Virgil attempted a clumsy, off-balance lunge.
The locusts screeched, and the wheelchair came to a halt.
“Rise to see me,” said Ebros Muthara in the the booming voice of a dragon. He spoke ancient Hebrew, but Virgil heard English. Murky liquid ran from the Giant’s lipless mouth and over his chin in a glistening waterfall.
When he walked the earth, Ebros Muthara stood over eight cubits tall and wielded a spear the size of a giraffe’s neck. Now, confined to his chair, he sat in ruined shame. His face had been dissected, flayed, the flesh held in its butterfly posture by a lyre of cables attached to the high back of the chair. The facial musculature and exposed teeth reminded Virgil of the anatomy models he’d marveled (and masturbated) over in school. Ebros Muthara’s eyes were bright as beacons and round as eggs, the color in constant flux.
The Giant’s teeth were huge by human standards, surely not fangs, Virgil saw, but definitely pointed. His garments draped over one shoulder as depicted in Virgil’s beloved Doré illustrations, exposing skin as alabaster as could be imagined. His body was hairless, unlike his head, where a thick reddish mane was kept at bay by the same wires that held the face open.
More wirework stretched out from Ebros Muthara’s generous biceps, pinned to his forearms, and then connected to his fingers by an elaborate system of gears and pulleys. As his bicep flexed, the wheels turned, and the fingers moved. Leather straps weaved around each finger and connected to the complex harness apparatus allowed him to control the locusts that pulled his creaking chariot.
Two attendants, wearing white robes cinched at the waist, followed the chair. Though clearly female, they were faceless, not flayed or defiled, just blank.
“I present Manbeast Virgil Simon Fontaine,” Y’Zoreck said. She and the rest of the office were now on their feet but standing at attention. “Flagged specifically for your charge, Great One.”
Y’Zoreck handed the coin to one of the faceless attendants, who quickly palmed the coin and made it disappear.
Ebros Muthara eyed Virgil. To Virgil, it was like being examined by the Sphinx. The facial wires tugged as the contraption only allowed a small range of movement. There was hate in that stare as old as the stars.
The other faceless attendant was on Virgil in a blur so rapid he could barely register it. She snatched the pin from his chest and took the file, then smeared back to her supplicant’s position just behind the chair.
“Stand,” Ebros Muthara said. His voice bubbled and boomed. “Follow.”
“You have been selected for mevr shed. Transition to Demon. The highest of honors in damnation, reserved for those who have shown great fealty, service to the Master. To be selected for this Knighthood is a celebration of defilement; blasphemies of the irredeemable soul.”
Virgil didn’t know how to respond, or if he should respond. He always dreamed of success and influence, recognition of brilliance and skill. The highest he’d ever ascended was Assistant Manager in the Accessories Department at Fry’s Electronics, which kept a constant flow of snuffmeat in front of his eyes. Prison movies had taught him one thing: with Hell inescapable, better to have a good job than be a bitch in GenPop.
“Manbeast Andrei Chikatilo has only recently completed Transition―a testament to its exclusivity. Your immediate entry is unprecedented, as the unswerving ability demonstrated in your chosen field. Of note is your unflinching dedication to your work, its immediate capture of your diligence. You shunned guilt, shame. The standard Manbeast escalations of violent sexual obsession, animal cruelty and petty social agitation were completely ignored. We look favorably at cadets that possess such strengths. Even some of your finest agents of slaughter―it disgusts me to use the term finest in relation to your pig species―were not chosen for Transition. Do you comprehend, Virgil Fontaine?”
“I think so,” Virgil said.
“You will address me by my full name, or Great One.”
“I think so, Great One.”
Ebros Muthara sneered. Muddy stagnant water boiled out of his mouth.
“Yes, Great One. Once I knew I could do my part, clean the world of conspirators, sneaks, vermin, filth, I knew what I had to do. Even though I hated them, I listened to the words from every spider. Two hundred souls. I heard all the music, I knew all the songs. A penny for a spool of thread, a penny for a needle. That’s the way the money goes…Pop! goes the weasel.”
The Attendants nodded. Their featureless heads looked to Virgil like a silicone bag he’d used to suffocate a waiter in Sacramento. Virgil had been eighteen at the time, fresh out of high school and cruising Interstate 5 looking for adventure and snuffmeat. He already had fourteen kills under his belt by then.
The locusts led the way and detoured them into another network of vast corridors―arched, bricked, sparingly lit by floating flames. If there were screams of the damned and pits of fire, the way Dore had illustrated in his beloved books, Virgil had yet to see them. He touched one of the bricks. There was a wrongness to the surface, and he pulled his hand away like he’d touched a snake.
“Those stones are from the Tower of Babel itself,” Ebros Muthara said. “Their numbers are in the millions. Hundreds of millions. Only three of them remain in your world, and the Vatican thinks they have them all. They are wrong.”
Gigantic, intricately carved doors lined the walls. Virgil stepped over piles of bloody chains, discarded cages, even a few well-used, enormous clubs. The locusts navigated them effortlessly; Ebros Muthara’s chair was seemingly unaffected by the obstacles. A distance away, one of the doors hung open, and Virgil heard the music of hard labor: hammers, voices in unison, the sound of metal on stone. Green sparks belched from the doorway.
“There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them, Virgil Fontaine,” Ebros Muthara said. He spat a jet of water from his mouth, and it stopped in mid-air then spread into a shimmering curtain. On this curtain moved images, ghost renderings from the previous age.
Ancient times, Virgil thought. Hordes of people ran from marble-skinned beings not unlike the Great One, their faces warped in terror. The horrified trampled one another as dust flew, women screamed, and gargantuan blades swept. Humans were sliced, hacked and butchered like sows. Giants reached into the flailing pile and shoved the stunned peasants into their gnawing mouths. Bones snapped like twigs. Garments fell, soaked in scarlet, and above them all, a great storm brewed.
“Our Fathers made it so,” Ebros Muthara said. Filthy water fell and sprayed from his mouth as the image show played out.
“The fallen sons of God taught your pig species the way of metals, the clockwork of the stars, secrets of the spirit realm, the motion of the moon―more than you ever had the right to know. They knew your women, used them as ovens to bake the fruit of the fallen. We slew our mothers in childbirth, then set to consume beast, bird, and reptile, stripping your world barren―dried and corrupted its womb. We set our appetite on men. Your meat was sour; it stank inferior as we gorged ourselves, never to be satisfied. Yet, with a single Word, He set His rage to fall from the skies, to wipe His world clean.”
“You’re talking about The Flood? That’s true?”
The curtain splashed to the floor, the images with it. All Virgil could see now was the smoke and green sparks ejecting from the open door. Closer now.
“Look around you, Virgil Fontaine. Do you not see that everything is true? It was an honor to drown on Mount Hebron where my Father fell to earth. I will never be free of the Flood waters, I will never draw breath without lungs swollen with the sea. I am Nephilim.”
Virgil remembered one of his foster families were deep into Bible study, so much so they’d ventured away from accepted gospels and explored apocryphal tomes such as The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, The Book of Enoch, and of course The Book of Giants.
“You were doing great work, I could have learned from you,” Virgil said.
Virgil genuflected―not the dopey lunge he attempted earlier, but with solemnity and reverence.
“And now you shall. Now that The End of the Age is at hand, your Knighthood will be part of the greatest offensive Sheol ever shat upon your world. A Tribulation of the highest order, a bloodletting so severe it will end only in fire.”
By now they were at the open door, where Ebros Muthara brought the chair to halt. The locusts chirped and clicked. A sea of antennae wiggled in the green light spilling from the mammoth doorway.
The open chamber was vast but cramped. An elaborate scaffold stood in the middle of the space, stairs, and landings running every which way, even, Virgil saw to his amazement, upside down and sideways, just like in those spacey Escher drawings the druggies thought were so fascinating. It crawled with the damned, some wielding tools, others lashed together in ropes and chains, hauling weight like mule teams. They dragged colossal pieces of machinery or used themselves as levers to lift immense, bleeding bags. Green smoke billowed; it stank of oil and rot, old blood (Virgil knew that scent), and the pungent sting of fuel. Forges glowed in the distance, hissing as bellows pumped fetid air.
Within the framework of this maze of scaffolding, Virgil saw a machine. Tank treads was the only analogy Virgil could make as his eyes lit upon the first thing familiar to him. The treads appeared fashioned from a rough animal hide, the wheels over which they lay forged from iron and carved of bone. A fantastic network of rods, pipes, and cables was attached to these mechanics, then snaked into the war machine’s beveled fuselage. Openings in the panel work revealed a netting of sinew and tendon, ligament and cartilage.
Virgil watched as segmented legs, also in that iron-bone hybrid, swooped down from the darkness to weld bleeding seams shut. Green sparks exploded from these gashes as they sealed with an audible howl. This weapon was somehow alive, and its birth brought pain just like any other. With the task completed, the arms opened, raised, and moved on to other tasks.
At the head of this glorious vehicle, a magnificent, conical auger. It tapered to a brute point, a giant screw covered in jagged barbs.
Virgil thought this machine, this mutilator of men, was strikingly beautiful; not only The Leeth but the entire slave system around it―a magnificent testament to slaughter.
“What a killing device,” Virgil marveled. Since arriving in Hell, he smiled for the first time.
“A tunneler,” Ebros Muthara corrected. “This will gouge the very arteries of Sheol into your world. Bring our blood to the surface. It will flood your cities scarlet, poison your oceans, and sate the gut of the Warbeast. There will be hundreds of Leeth, and only the most deserving shall lead them.”
Virgil watched as a mule team of the damned wrangled an immense albino worm. They struggled to shove it into The Leeth’s rear hatch. The door banged shut, and a warm hum emanated from the machine.
“A first meal,” Ebros Muthara gurgled. “The Leeth will serve.”
Virgil imagined himself rolling through Manhattan rush hour, its sidewalks swollen with pedestrians, then chopping them up like hamburger, and staining the skyscrapers red to the twentieth floor. He would sit atop the device like Ben Hur in his chariot, or the Great One Ebros Muthara in his, pulling the reins and steering the genocide where his will took him.
Doré in his genius never imagined such terrors, Virgil thought.
One of the Giant’s attendants stroked his tree trunk of a neck as floodwater choked him. He coughed and spat, straining against the wires. He hissed through that faceless, exposed maw. Panting with his tongue hanging out, he shot Virgil an icy look. I suffer. Do not mock me.
The locusts pulled the chair to the left, and they entered a sterile, tiled corridor. The thrum of ancient, hidden machinery was everywhere; thrusting pistons, venting gasses, and liquid sloshing of pumps. Ebros Muthara’s attendants retreated to their positions of supplication.
“As your pig species disintegrates, debauchery outpaces the number of Sheol’s minions,” Ebros Muthara said. “You will labor, Virgil Fontaine. You will elicit crimes of flesh, perversions of soul―from cruelty and forbidden sex to ritual murder and cannibalism. Escape is impossible; we will collapse your entire world. All will be corrupted and sentenced to Sheol before the Hammer of God falls.”
“Great One,” Virgil said. “Show me.”
“Great things are expected of you. If you fail us, you will be skewered mouth to rectum then roasted on a spit by lower imps. Sheol is forever.”
“You do not.”
Virgil’s extremities were seized by the faceless attendants, and he was surprised at their strength. Whenever snuffmeat resisted, Virgil was quick with a hypodermic needle or a tire iron. Their blank heads mewled and mumbled. He found it soothing.
“Show me, “ He said again.
Now, directly in front of the locusts, warm light and the murmur of an audience. To Virgil, the room resembled an old-time operating theatre, something out of the English dramas one of his foster mothers used to watch. He recalled plotting her husband’s dispatch in several ways, but the plan was scuttled upon his removal from their home. A night watchman at Green Gates Memorial Park had caught an eleven-year-old Virgil atop Amy Henderson’s grave, on all fours, plowing through the fresh mound like a dog. Back to hospital he went, this time for ninety days.
The attendants ushered him in. Ebros Muthara waited in the corridor.
“Vivisectus Aranea Medicus,” the Great One said from outside. He spit a bolt of sea water to the floor. The droplets transformed into thousands of spiders that skittered into the theatre and swarmed the floor. “And their dominion: The Infirmary.”
From the murk of the operating theatre, a murmur of approval.
An audience! Virgil thought. I have an audience! My masks and my drawings come to life!
As the attendants placed Virgil on the surgeon’s slab, his eyes rolled upward. In the limited scope of human understanding, he saw a face, a terrible face that boiled with ageless resentment, open sores of rejection, and the wretched sigh of isolation. The eyes―there seemed to be hundreds of them yet only two―bored into him, read his entire history, his waking nightmares, his need to wade in blood. From that face erupted legs that weren’t legs, claws that weren’t claws, the grappling hooks of a machine built for murder, an engine of suicide, redrawn by the mad pen of the Architect of Zero. Virgil Fontaine knew he was to be rearranged.
“Behold.” Ebros Muthara’s voice, choking on the ancient sea, but from far away, yet everywhere.
“Stand and be recognized,” the Great One said.
Virgil unfurled from the fetal position. The pain was absolute. He felt vertebrae crack, then twist in a way he had never experienced, as if settling into a new position. A new weight was attached there, a significant mass, he thought in a weird forensic way.
A human foot planted to the floor in front of his eyes. The toes were long like fingers. Tufts of coarse hair sprouted from the instep. Then another. Thunk. Then two more. Thunk. Thunk. As Virgil twisted to right himself, these feet moved with him. Although he did not consciously make the effort, he managed to raise two of his new limbs and move the toes. He could see a constellation of glistening, fleshy pads on their underside.
What mysteries, Sheol, he thought.
The man of the Horror House of Faber Street tried to stand upright, but that was not to be. He pivoted onto his back, and his eyes rolled back in his skull. Ebros Muthara was there, inverted.
Here on the bloody tile floor, Virgil was face to face with the team of locusts. Their screeching autistic music filled the room. Now he understood them.
I am altered, Virgil thought. He became aware that his new attachments possessed the strength to keep his nude back from touching the floor. He could feel hundreds of minute hairs had replaced his lips. The web sac of his balls felt heavy and swollen.
Ebros Muthara spoke: “Did you not know you were meant for greater things? Did you not hear the fate of the world calling you to its bosom? Did not the sting of blood and the faces gawking at you from your hovel, forever in their last scream, speak this to your fertile mind? No longer are you Virgil Simon Fontaine. You are Demon, in service to Lahash―the fallen angel who corrupts divine will. You are Virachnae.”
I am Doré’s Arachne. They took an image from my mind and made it so.
Virachnae crabbed along the floor, smearing his spilled blood, head hanging and vision inverted, mouth open, balls dragging like weighted balloons. Virachnae now knew the spaces between worlds, the dark simplicity of the blood-predator―and ways to foul the hearts of men to murder, and women to ache for the cataclysm of soul. He flexed his new muscles, adapted to his enhanced sense of balance. Lahash would command, and Virachnae would spin the web then suck the blood of the whole damned world.
“Sing to us,” Ebros Muthara said.
Virachnae’s voice was a slow-croaking derangement of hisses and broken syllables. He sang the melody of a child alone with nothing but the wind for company.
“I’ve no time to plead and pine. I’ve no time to wheedle. Kiss me quick, and then I’m gone. Pop! Goes the weasel…”
The theatre applauded.
* * *
About the author: Kyle Toucher (rhymes with voucher) wrote his first Godzilla story in grade school, read The Exorcist at the age of fourteen, then bought a guitar when Black Sabbath: Volume 4 changed his life. Through his twenties, he fronted the influential Nardcore crossover band Dr. Know. Later, he moved into the Visual Effects field, where he bagged eight Emmy nominations and two awards for Firefly and Battlestar: Galactica. He lives with his wife, four cats, two dogs, and several guitars in a secure, undisclosed location. He enjoys bourbon, porterhouse steaks and cigars, but fears baldness and obesity. firstname.lastname@example.org
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