Copyright 2016 Shannon Cooper, available as a free download at Smashwords
“Go go GO!” boomed the uniformed woman through the megaphone. Women and children climbed onto the trains headed north. Flashes of saris glinted in the oppressive sun. Children on hips, on shoulders, in long hand-holding chains followed Ammas and Chinnammas and Periammas, so many Aunties, as far as the eye could see. Miles of long black braids, some with jasmine flowers tied in, some hidden beneath veils or chadors or hijabs or the occasional niqab or the even less occasional burka, all these braids drifted up three steps to the trains.
All trains with women and children headed north to Nepal or Bhutan, the safest neighbors reachable on land.
“Mind the gap! Watch your step! Keep moving please! Kindly keep hold of your children!” another uniformed woman in a beige chador ushered hundreds of women and children onto the great ship. Cruise liners waited in queues at each major port of India. Chennai and Ennore were packed with women giving the sign of the cross, as was Tuticorin. Mangalore and Kochi on the west coast, all the way up to Kandla, were full of new arrivals, shouts, wails, directions in twenty-two Indian languages, as well as English, French, Japanese. Each port had a centralized Lost Children’s Center for those thumbis separated from their mothers and aunties during the evacuation. Ships in east coast ports headed for Malaysia, Singapore, and as far away as Japan. Ships on the west coast flowed around The Cape of Good Hope and north to Namibia, or further north to Europe.
The cities emptied first, then the countryside. Entire villages were emptied of women and children, loaded into lorries by uniformed women who spoke the local dialects. They were given fresh curries, clean water, and reading materials to pass the time on the long, rough rides over dirt tracks back to the cities.
The menfolk in both the cities and rural areas were supervised and interrogated by armed soldiers and psychologists, professional profilers, and criminal investigators. After their interviews, they were separated by result: Guilty, or Not Guilty. The Guilty were permitted to stay in their homes, the Not Guilty were transported to or through the cities on lorries and buses, and loaded onto trains northward, or ships outward.
In this way, the entire country of India was prepared for its dissociation from independent statehood. The complete evacuation took six painstaking months.
Ready for Phase Two, Julie, Shannon whispered in her sister’s head.
Got it, Julie answered.
India’s public transportation system was shut down. The ports and airports were closed. The men remaining in India were put to work transforming schools, factories, and hospitals into prisons. Those who fell ill were kept in hospital beds until they either recovered or died. Those who died were cremated in a Prototype.
Three months later, the population of Guilty had dropped by ten percent, and the efficacy of the Prototype had been demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt.
Phase Three is a go, Julie murmured.
Yesssss, Shannon hissed, this is the part we’ve been waiting for! she squeaked in glee. You have your Reapers?
I have Isabel and Chris. I figured better to keep the mother and her psycho kid together, Julie cast a sideways glance at her helpers.
Good thought. I’ll go pick up Ian and Steven and meet you in Geneva, Shannon answered.
Still dying at the thought of Geneva. You are a sick twisted bitch! Julie giggled.
We are a large multinational nonprofit organization entering an aggressive growth phase.
You are a newly dead, eldritch, supercilious, amorphous-form-in-flux.
We have a comprehensive training program designed to structure your future and yourself. We are six sigma, lean, and team-oriented.
You feel the need to reach out, touch base, shift a paradigm, leverage a best practice and join a tiger team. Our organization represents the bleeding edge of recruitment, and we’ll empower YOU to grow the ranks!
Your core competency? Taking people down.
Your swim lane? Getting your targets’ buy-in. Most people are not stoked about dying. Sell them on it. Planet Earth is a burning platform and it is ready for you to move the needle with the charge of Destiny!
Our business model is NOT a pinball machine. Take’em down, bring’em in. That’s all you need to do.
Are you ready to SIMPLIFY and AMPLIFY the future? Take the wheel!
Call 1-800-DEAD-NOW to speak with a recruiting specialist today! Immediate, on-site interviews, full benefits plus survivor bonuses apply. Call now!
Not all who fall from cliffs or planes
Or diving boards, or bridges
Will waken before hitting ground
Or hurling into ditches
You may find yourself most terrified
By the very notion
Of hitting terra firma
Before waking from the motion
I assure you though, dear dreamer
Some sleepers just don’t waken
The lucky ones recount nightmares
The rest are ours for training.
Ian Stephenson, awaken
From your six foot fall!
Apologies for that rope burn
Too bad your neck is mauled.
No, you weren’t descending
through a dreamworld flight
Your feet really did touch the ground
With gravity and might!
So happy to have you aboard
Our mission sets adrift
As soon as your co-travelers
Fall from their nightmare cliffs.
A medium did see you,
Your fall was apprehended
But only decades later
Was your exit comprehended.
Leeds and Uni led you here
From Edinburgh’s stains,
Too much, too soon, grown into man
You returned, but few had stayed.
You will not be lonely long,
Your brother follows soon,
The medium has yet to see
Your mum alongside you.
If you’re curious to know
The whereabouts of dad
He’s hanging in, with some new kin
(That pun was very bad.)
We seem callous, we seem too cold
Millenia we’ve been here
Awaiting our new army
Our empathy has smeared.
Now with your arrival
Our preparations met
More falling stars, our nightmare frauds,
No waking saves this set.
Don’t fret, don’t cry, don’t wail or moan
Your purpose is most dear
A war is soon upon us
Our weapon: our engineer.
There is a certain type of child
Whose ears don’t hear, but shake
He doesn’t see the future or
Connect the dots he makes.
This child is named Precocious
Or Monster, Brat, or Heathen
This particular Scot lad
Was Christopher Stephenson.
Always with his fingers in the sauce
His feet would dance
Unfortunately one field trip from school
Cost him his pants.
He also lost his shirt and jacket
No shoes found on his feet
For Christopher was horsing round
The crags at Arthur’s Seat.
Like his brother years before him
Gravity showed Chris
The laws of physics yet unbroken
He fell down the abyss.
Don’t whimper, cry, or moan, young man
You kinda had this coming
Never list’ning as your teachers
Begged “Eyes open, danger’s looming!”
No matter your cause of death
We’re happy you are here
Your brother Ian needs a minion
He’s feeding off your fear.
As you will feed from next week’s dead
The energy abides
Until it is transferred to armies
Ruthless and unkind.
Our army grows voluminous
And structured every night
We’ll soon be prepped to take in
All the souls who’ve taken flight.
It’s quite a monumental task
Gathering up the lost
Administratively a mess
We do our best to sort them out
But soon the plagues commence
We’re training new ranks thoroughly
War’s coming, no pretense.
So here’s your snack and here’s your drink
It’s transparent but familiar
OJ and saltine crackers
Brain tricks to ease your nerves.
Your mum will be here shortly
To fight beside her sons
Don’t worry, she’ll feel better
Once she’s arms’ reach of her loves.
Ian’s here to take you on
Tour of facilities
I have no doubt you’ll be impressed
With our capabilities.
You weren’t made of iron
Oh, Christopher the Scot
Soul’s energy is concentrated
While your body rots.
But that’s the way it works here
You’ll soon be comfortable
You’ve joined our Great Round Table.
Who have we here to join us new,
A fresh-faced smiling lady?
It’s so unusual to see
Such joy in those we bade here.
Ah, you’re Isabel of broken heart,
Two sons you lost hard-felt
One fell from disobedience
And the other from his belt.
Quite right then, please sign on this line,
We’ll get your papers sorted.
Christopher’s right over there,
And Ian’s busy morphing.
Notice your kids don’t appear
The same as they did living
What you see is energy
Your memories are serving
Now look here mum
We need your help to organize and lead
This bright young troupe of new Grim Reapers
They’re so eager to please
No sorry, your husband isn’t here
And won’t be for decades
He carried on among those walking
He sings your accolades.
You will have the pleasure
Of escorting him from life
At his appointed exit point
He’ll be relieved to see his wife.
This is the part of our harsh job
That bothers us the least
Fills our energies with peace.
We hope you have enjoyed your brief
Introduction to this realm
It can be discombobulating
Adjusting to this form.
Once you get accustomed to
Your disembodied essence
I think you will enjoy the freedom
Of empyreal presence.
Another fall, a swan-dive leap,
One more purposeful concession
Choices turned to standing orders
The pain was dulled in blind obsession.
Steven Davidson, before me
Another kid from round the way
Torn out of your childhood home
Bent and twisted that desperate day.
I knew you well and often, lad,
A first-rate compatriot and friend
You disappeared first from the street
And then your body chose its end.
Nightmare wakened someplace new
Not in bed, on floor, or loo
Brown sugar and ice to wake the bore
Then your body hit the floor.
Now forever young we run
This army gathers up the dead
To save that energy from Else
Eventually rebuild The End.
The war is coming, my old mate
Grim Reapers have singular fates,
Prevent the theft of human crux
Recycle it and save the race.
Our top new recruits are leading
The charge gathering newly dead
The coming plagues and wars and dread
Human kind is teetering
Soon to fall yet skittering
Knowing what will save them yet
They demand to make no move
To save themselves, instead they bet
On future generations’ work
Uninterested, unvested perks
These lazy humans, ungrateful jerks
At any rate, we save their souls
To save the species, regenerate
Smarter experiment, see the data
Humans 3.0 in beta.
A light breeze traveled over two white women as they sipped drinks on the roof of the Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues. Izumi served Japanese fusion faire, but these two classy broads ordered sandwiches and fries from room service and tromped their meals to the roof, past the open-mouthed maître d, and claimed a four-top table with a view of the lake. Servers gave them wide berth, subconsciously or otherwise. The air around them hot-coal-shimmered, and the empty chairs appeared to be occupied by a vacuum. Not a Hoover, that would be ridiculous. A vacuum in terms of anti-matter, an absolute lack of air and molecules. When human eyes fell upon this nothingness, literally nothing registered. No photons were returned to the viewers’ lenses.
The ladies with their supercurly otherworldly hair chomped fries and talked with their hands. They seemed to address the voided places as often as they addressed each other. The air around them swirled and whorled and warmed as their volume increased. Servers absconded their shifts, shuffled downstairs and into the break room. The maître d scurried about cleaning up as other patrons became aware of the weirdness and left before their checks arrived.
Business apparently concluded, they raised their drinks to each other, and then to the voids around them, and chugged. With a lilt of the wind, they vanished.
Shailesh Nayak woke up in a cold sweat with a cold gun in the center of his forehead. They yanked him out of bed and threw beige trousers and a white short-sleeved button-down shirt at his chest. Four more, six more guns pointed at various places of his body. He pissed himself as a large barrel poked him in the back and shoved him out his Candyland apartment door.
Mid-day in New Delhi. One hundred twenty-two degrees Fahrenheit. A soldier pointed Shailesh towards a pile of thick cement bricks.
“Move those from here to there,” the soldier pointed towards a low half-built wall. Shailesh and his potbelly and stick-thin legs hauled bricks until he fainted from dehydration. They dumped him in the hospital and unnecessarily chained him to the bed.
Reapers circled above the chimney of the Prototype. An hour later a Guilty one emptied the ashes from the Prototype into a bin. Another worker wheeled the bin of heavy, dense gray-white powder across the street to an empty lot. There it was spread on the ground until it covered every pebble, several inches of heavy whiteness, almost snow like. Peaceful.
No small irony that the Indian Police Force comprised the most physically unfit of all the Guilty ones in India. They dropped like flies when deprived of their insulin. More and more fields were layered in thick powder. The wind kicked up dust storms, the rains caused mudslides, but nothing could move that white powder once it was spread.
The cement block tower of public housing in Edinburgh was gray as the sky. The clouds were low above, the graffiti rose impossibly high on the six-story low-rise building. A landing ran along the front of each floor, hanging off the side of the building like haphazardly hung laundry. Metal stairs crisscrossed the ends of the building, connected each landing to the next, and to the ground.
Shannon Burnsem sidestepped a passed out skinny blond figure wearing torn jeans and a filthy hoodie on her way up the metal stairs. She pried open the third door of the second floor landing with a crowbar. The sitting room was small, dark, cramped with piles of magazines and takeout cartons. It reeked of cigarette and marijuana smoke, and something more bitter.
Her target was prone on a ratty plaid sofa. A rubber tourniquet lay on the floor. Shannon crossed the room in three steps and grabbed her target by the back of the neck. Her sneaker slipped on something that squelched and she glanced down: a used condom. A pile of them, like twisted disembodied tentacles, shiny and slick. Her eyes rose to the white brick in a plastic bag on the end table. All this passed in and out of her consciousness as she lifted the addict straight up from the sofa and boxed her ears. The addict’s eyes wavered, opened, red webbed, rimmed in pink.
Bev Yuli spat at Shannon and the droplets vaporized as they approached, then blew back and burned Bev’s eyes, acid. She roared and clawed at her captor but couldn’t make contact. She bicycle kicked her feet in the air but couldn’t land a blow. Finally, she slumped, dead weight in Shannon’s grip. Her chin-length greasy gray-brown hair fell in strands in her face. The flannel fabric between Bev’s shoulders and Shannon’s palms singed but didn’t catch fire.
She still alive? Ian asked. Shannon nodded.
Damn. She wasn’t even scared. I’m still hungry, complained Steven.
“You’ll have your chance, guys,” Shannon whispered to the voids. “There’s one on the landing you can grab on your way out.” She picked Bev up and slung her over one shoulder like a bag of potatoes. Her face brightened.
“Let’s go to India!”
At the bottom of the stairs, an ambulance wailed in the distance, grew louder as it approached. The Reapers grinned at each other and floated behind Shannon to the back of the building. The kids on the street corner at the end of the block saw the fire, and the homeless drunks warming their hands over it. They looked at each other, puzzled. When they looked again, there was nothing to see. Literally.
Damien got up as the doorbell rang, and Cornelia set the table and poured water into crystal tumblers. He opened the door to a busty pale woman with huge curly hair; a red, white, and blue visor tried desperately to contain her hair and failed. He took the pizza and did a double take behind her, nothing in the muggy Florida dusk, odd, that. He handed over a twenty-dollar bill and she pushed the two-liter of soda towards him.
“Thanks, but I don’t remember ordering this?” he muttered.
“Complimentary,” Julie Hurtsthings answered and turned on her heel back to the maroon Corolla. He stared after her, watched her leave. Ignored the see-saw jolt in his gut.
Back in the dining room, he waved the soda towards Cornelia, waggled his eyebrows. She sighed and shook her head, emptied the water glasses, refilled them with soda. As they ate, they talked politics, like they did every night. As they ate, they both developed indigestion. And sore throats. And fevers. And finally, explosive diarrhea.
Julie let herself in the front door and made her way towards the smell. “Just a snack, you two, we need them to get to India with hearts beating,” she admonished Isabel and Christopher. They sighed and each chose a victim. Isabel chose Cornelia, immersed the woman’s head in void, and consumed. When she backed off, Cornelia had a coughing fit that brought on more shit. Christopher cloaked Damien’s face and ingested, sucked, absorbed. A sharp jolt of energy from Isabel made Christopher recoil, and he released Damien back to the cold linoleum.
“Good save,” Julie nodded towards Isabel.
Damn kid, never listens, admonished Isabel.
Julie first lifted Damien over her shoulder, then picked up Cornelia by the hair.
A cause was never determined on the explosion that destroyed the small ranch home in Winter Haven, Florida.
It was unseasonably warm in San Francisco one bright December day when Twitter went down. And stayed down. Worldwide. It just… disappeared. The employees found themselves in non-Twitter jobs, as they always had. The CEO was on vacation in Aruba. The servers didn’t exist. The accounts, followers, DMs, joke formats, in-fighting, hashtags, Twitter-famous… none existed. And never had. No one remembered Twitter, although the historic events influenced by the social media platform remained intact. A four-inch thick coating of heavy white dust covered a million square kilometers of Indian jungle.
Justin Bieber and the members of Maryland-based Freeman family were dumped on the moist vinyl tiled floor in Mumbai. They were coming to, slowly. Biebs was already stoned and drunk when Julie arrived to pluck him from a Superbowl party. Julie and Shannon together ambushed the Freeman family after church services one Sunday, collared and tied them to each other.
“I got a certificate for ya, Papa Freeman,” snarked Shannon. “My certificate says ‘this bitch can pull a ziptie like nobody’s fucking business.’”
Papa Freeman started to speak, then stopped as he noticed Shannon’s hair smoldering.
Meanwhile, Justin writhed in a corner of the room, vomited a puddle, and rolled in abdominal agony. Shannon and Julie looked at each other.
“I don’t think pukehair is gonna catch on, pal,” Julie laughed. “In fact, you’re lucky you didn’t get eaten by that shark you jumped.” She giggled and elbowed Shannon, “C’mon, let’s go round up the rest, I’m getting bored.”
Heather and Kateea rolled and bumped across the wet linoleum floor. Super awkward considering they were tied together back to back, and their bottled red and yellow hair was tied together, their wrists and ankles bound to each other’s with a complicated system of ropes and pulleys. They skidded to a stop with Heather on top, facing the ceiling, and Kateea’s round face smushed into the slimy floor.
Heather unleashed a loud set of curses and thrashed against the bindings. Kateea groaned into the floor as her piggybacked partner rolled and whined. A pulley was grinding into her spine and her head was repeatedly bashed into the floor. She gathered all her strength and used Heather’s flailing momentum to flip herself over, rolling the redhead beneath her. She relaxed her puffy, soft body on top of Heather’s wiry gangly one, and Heather whined piteously into the slimy vinyl floor.
“Will… (huff) you… (puff)… shut… (gasp)… the fuck… (pant)… UP?!?” Kateea screamed. “What the hell happened? Where are we?” she moaned.
“I can’t breathe! Get off me you damned cow!” Heather muttered into the floor. Kateea bore down with her shoulders and upper body against Heather, using her legs for leverage. Heather groaned and thrashed. Kateea relented and rolled them to their sides.
“What the fuck, who are you?” Heather gasped. They traded names. They talked. Then they understood. Each woman broke out in a cold sweat, realizing the reason for their capture, and assuming the end was in sight and would be ugly to behold.
A series of clangs and doors slamming grew closer and louder. The sharp click click click of stilettos pierced the silence as Kateea and Heather waited. The metal door slammed open and bounced off the concrete block wall. Kateea’s eyes popped as she recognized a face. She squinted, tried to make out what it was around this person’s body, or wasn’t? She looked and looked but couldn’t register anything.
So hungry, moaned Steven.
Me too, agreed Ian.
Shannon walked over to Kateea and looked her in the eyes. Tears leaked down Kateea’s cheek, down and over and off the tip of her nose as she lay on her side. Shannon’s hair smoldered and floated around her like a halo.
“You’ve interfered for the last time,” Shannon glowered down at the blond. Her eyes glowed greener as her anger rose, and Kateea felt a burning in her throat and gut as goose bumps rose on her neck.
Heather tried to wrench her head around to see, and plowed Kateea’s face into the floor.
“Look at me, Kateea. LOOK AT ME!” Shannon roared. Kateea’s face whipped towards her captor. Her eyes widened and she pissed herself.
Shannon looked to her left and right. “Ian, you may feed now.”
Heather felt the warm wetness on her own pants and let loose a string of curses. Shannon click-clicked around the pair to face the redheaded til-now stranger. Heather’s face was flushed, hair greasy at the sides of her face, dark roots betrayed the cheap brassy bottle dye job. She thrashed some more and emitted a guttural growl.
Steven waited patiently at Shannon’s side, and behind her, and the other side. His form had grown as he fed, and he was an efficacious Reaper.
She is not fearful, she is full of hate and vengefulness and selfishness, he noted.
“Correct. She is not smart enough to be afraid. She is lacking self-awareness, yet utterly facetious and ingenuous. She will make a very filling meal, enough for two of you, once she has been flipped,” Shannon answered.
“Come, I will show you how to flip the truly evil amongst humans. There will be plenty more arriving soon, and you cannot consume them as they are, they must know righteous fear first.”
Steven made to shake his head and then remembered he had none. He smirked instead. What is wrong with her? Why is she so thoroughly terrible?
They unchained the women from each other and Shannon logrolled Kateea across the room and pushed her through the large metal door into a long, grey concrete hallway. The cheap fluorescent lights hummed and flickered.
“What are you going to do to me, Shannon?” Kateea whimpered.
Shannon shook her head, her hair floated around her. “Not sure yet. I’m really just not sure.” She turned on her heel and re-entered the room, the door slammed shut with a clunk. Kateea stared up at the ceiling and tried to ignore her warm, wet trousers and the ropes digging into her joints. She closed her eyes and screamed until her throat bled.
Mmm, delicious, thought Ian.
Back inside the room, Heather had maneuvered her body up against a wall and was grunting, trying to find the leverage to pull herself into a sitting position. Shannon strode across the room and placed the tip of her stiletto heel in the center of Heather’s spine, kicked her down to the floor, prone. Heather’s hands were secured behind her back, tight so that her shoulder blades extended upwards.
“Do you know who I am?” Shannon asked. Her hair burned and smoldered and floated around her. The temperature of the room increased by half again. Beads of sweat ran down the sides of Heather’s face. Steven expanded his form, displacing the breathable air.
“DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM!” Shannon roared. Heather looked up at her and shook her head. “Look at me carefully,” Shannon’s voice flowed like honey. Heather’s dull grey-blue eyes started at Shannon’s black spike-heeled knee boots, travelled up her denim-clad legs, noted the muerto skull on her black tank top, stopped at the tattoo on the left side of her chest. Let us unite, it said, over the shield and family crest. Shannon’s chest didn’t move, didn’t rise and fall with breath.
Heather studied Shannon’s face, avoided her eyes. Finally, she met the green glowing gaze. Immediately nauseous, Heather bent, retched up water, bile, dry heaves for a good five full minutes. Steven’s form expanded further.
Now? He asked.
“Patience,” Shannon whispered.
She untied Heather’s bindings, ropes, pulleys. Commanded her to lie on the floor. With a foot to each side of Heather’s waist, Shan bent down, stroked Heather’s cheekbones with her index fingers. The smell of burning flesh filled Heather’s nostrils. She touched her eyelashes, burnt them off. Heather whimpered.
“Why are you doing this to me?” she whined.
“Because you deserve it,” Shannon replied.
Shannon ran her fingers through Heather’s thin wispy hair, it fell out in bunches. She touched the scalp, left deep pockets of melted skin, melted into the skull in places. She ran her hands down Heather’s bare arms, trails of scabs and blood in her fingertips’ wakes. Heather thrashed but Shannon held her gaze, paralyzed her.
“Raise your hands,” Shannon commanded. Heather obeyed. Shannon intertwined her fingers with Heather’s and Heather wailed in pain. Thick webs between her fingers formed, inflamed and lesioned.
“I didn’t do anything to you!” Heather whined.
Shannon shook her head. “Will you ever learn? This will continue until you can demonstrate you have learned.”
“And then what?”
“That is for me to know, and you to find out.”
Shannon ran her hands over Heather’s body reiki-style, melting and fusing the fibers of the cotton-poly t-shirt to her skin. She fused her tight jeans to her legs, and dipped her index finger between Heather’s thighs as she trembled. Unbearable heat consumed her pelvis and hips. Holding Heather’s eye contact, she touched her between the folds of her labia, seared her clitoris and the nerves from the external organ up into the interior of her body, rendering it a dead organ. She cauterized her urethra, vagina, and anus with her middle finger, then fused her labia together. Finally, she placed one hand on the instep of each foot, and they swelled and swelled and burst her sneaker laces. After melting the rubber soles of the sneakers to the soles of Heather’s feet, Shannon stood up.
“Stand up,” Shannon commanded.
“I can’t,” Heather petulantly replied.
“You will stand,” Shannon commanded. Heather stood. Her skin crackled and dripped blood and intracellular fluid and pus. She sobbed and licked her dry lips.
“Did you learn?” Shannon asked again.
“I learned you’re a bitch, a psycho cunt who needs therapy,” Heather said with a bitter laugh. She spat at Shannon.
“Ah, so you do remember. Unfortunately for you, you have a lot to learn.” Shannon leaned in and kissed Heather’s chapped, crusty lips. When she pulled back, Heather’s lips were melted together, a sickly pink line drawn above her burnt and blistered chin. She screamed through her nose.
Shannon’s face shifted slightly. She spoke to the nothingness behind her shoulder. “You may have a snack, but there’s not enough for a meal yet. Tomorrow there will be a feast.”
Steven set to feeding as Shannon lifted Heather by the neck and walked lightly out of the room, past Kateea lying in the hall, to the end of the corridor. She opened the last door on the right and entered.
The room reeked of body odor, piss, shit, and old semen. The worst criminals of the world’s prison systems were held here without restraints, food, water, or toilet facilities. A group of men were gang-raping one inmate in a corner. A knot of women were busy gnawing off a school headmaster’s penis. A trio sang old Russian drinking songs in a circle on the floor, rocking back and forth, hugging their knees. It was a cacophony Heather had never experienced.
She tapped Shannon on the shoulder and looked at her with pleading eyes. She pointed to her ears.
Shannon shook her head. “No. You will never learn if you don’t listen. Goodbye.”
And like that, she and the Reaper were absent. Not gone in a puff of smoke, not up in flames. They just un-existed.
Heather turned to the room as a group of men approached her. She shut her eyes and thought back, thought of Scotland.
An hour later, Kateea’s interrogation ended similarly, without so many burns. Her mouth and vulva were melted closed, but the rest of her body had escaped Shannon’s volcanic touch. Her eyes darted around the prison room after Shannon deposited her, and she met Heather’s eyes with a gasp. A French woman noticed Kateea’s reaction and buccal condition, and took her by the elbow to the knot of women who had relieved the pedophile of his dick.
Blood poured from Heather’s crotch and mouth as inmate after inmate sought her openings. Upon tearing her lips apart, they found her teeth and gums gone. Her swollen tissues had overtaken her fingernails. There were three men in her vagina and anus, and two in her mouth. She vomited semen, and choked on it until they picked up her head and cleaned out her mouth. One man managed to stick his pencil-thin cock in her ear. When he came it felt like the warm olive oil her mother had poured in her ear when she’d had infections as a child. She prayed for death to take her. I don’t deserve this. That bitch should be here, not me.
Shannon shook her head. This might take more than a day. Oh well. On to the next loser.
Donald Trump, Tim Cook, and Christopher A. Sinclair disembarked Trump’s private jet in Mumbai. They were ushered into the private wing of the airport and served drinks in the executive lounge as they awaited their limousine. A porter arrived in the doorway to escort them to their car.
Once inside the car, they passed out. Out, cold. When they came to, Trump, Cook, and Sinclair each had the cold, hot end of a gun on his forehead. They were led from the vehicle to the prison, stripped, searched, and dumped into the main prison hold. They looked at each other, speechless. They looked at the soldiers who had brought them in. They looked at the inmates. Trump looked Kateea up and down, his eyebrows raised up and down, his hair raised up and down. Tim Cook noticed the headmaster with his hands on his crotch, trying to stem the bleeding. The gaze of Christopher A. Sinclair, the CEO of Mattel Toy Company, roamed around the room, settled on the woman on the floor with one, two, three, whatever, how many cocks in her? She looked like one of his Barbies that had gone through the high heat cycle in the clothes dryer. Missing patches of hair, broken, melted, burnt in places, she stared blankly at the ceiling.
Several burly men approached Trump as he made his way towards Kateea. He held his hand up, just a moment gentlemen, as he approached. He tapped her on the shoulder, she turned. Her eyes opened wide and so did his as he noticed her fused lips. She noted his reaction and she shrugged, turned away, back to someone else’s conversation.
Trump was lifted by the shoulders and hauled to a distant corner of the room. They inspected him up and down. No burn marks. Cook and Sinclair were similarly deposited on the floor next to Trump. Julie Hurtsthings’ marks were slowly revealing themselves on the trio’s torsos, necks, and spreading down their limbs. Blue-grey webs spread under their skin as her poison made its way through their bloodstreams from its absorption point in their small intestines.
“The drrrannnks, ze plaaaaane,” slurred Trump. The other two slumped on the floor. A fleeting image of the flight attendant whose ass he’d rubbed as she bent over to deliver his Tanqueray and tonic, he’d watched her bodacious tits as she set the sweating glass down on a cocktail napkin on his table. I’d like a sip of those too, he’d said.
Tim Cook’s eyes rolled to the back of his head. In his mind’s eye he replayed how he’d slipped his hand between Julie’s legs and caressed her upper thigh when she refreshed his coffee. Her muscles had flexed and his boner had been evident in his track pants. He’d waggled his eyebrows at her. Her face had been deadpan, set in stone. Smile, sweetheart, he’d admonished. I bet it’s not often you get touched by a rich man.
Christopher Sinclair drooled. He watched the spreading pattern underneath the skin on his legs. Formication took over his toes and spread upward. He scratched and clawed at the invisible insects to no avail. As his testicles and cock swelled with the poison, the memory of asking the flight attendant if she enjoyed anal flashed before him. I got a toy I’d love to give you, baby, as he poked where he approximated her asshole to be, it’s a perfect fit every time, guaranteed.
Donald Trump’s poison took full effect first. His tongue swelled fat and protruded from of his mouth. He fought for air around it as solidified and darkened to a shiny hard ebony. His spine straightened and the vertebrae fused, but his limbs remained limp and lifeless. The men surrounding the trio elbowed each other and smirked. Grey tears spilled from Donald’s eyes, and his famous coif, now greasy and stringy with sweat, was plastered to his scalp.
One inmate, Larry, extended a fingertip and touched the tip of Donald’s hard black tongue. Larry looked at Donald’s eyes. “Can you taste anything, man?” Donald nodded. Larry ran his index finger up and down the topside of the tongue. Saliva leaked from the corners of Donald’s mouth. Larry put a few grains of salt on the front side area of the tongue.
“What’s that?” Larry asked.
“Thalt,” Donald replied.
Larry’s smile split his face and he grinned wide. “Yous guys know who this is, right?” he addressed the group. “It’s Donald fucking Trump, man, with a fucking tasting dildo for a tongue.”
“Dude, Julie got a hold o’ yous. And now we get ta holdja,” snickered another inmate, Darryl. He started un-doing his jeans but Larry put a hand up.
“I’mma go first, man,” he said, and Darryl rebuttoned himself. Larry dragged Trump a couple feet to the wall and dropped his pants. With his ass in Trump’s face, he let go an enormous wet fart that elicited more tears from Donald. Then he slowly, carefully, spread his asscheeks and guided Donald’s 3.5” tongue girth into his moist anus.
“Do it, man. Pump my ass,” Larry said over his shoulder. “Do it or I’ll do it for you.” Trump’s head was too heavy now to nod or shake, he was paralyzed, grey as a statue. “Fine, I’ll do it mahself, I ain’t proud,” muttered Larry. And that was how Donald Trump learned to tongue-fuck poor blue-collar inmates in the ass and taste the shit he’d been feeding them over the airwaves for decades.
Tim Cook’s face went utterly slack. Drool and mucus dropped from his mouth and nose, tears flooded his cheeks. He was unable to swallow. He pissed and shat himself. Every orifice released body fluids in, on, or under his body. Wax poured from his ears. His body writhed of its own accord and finally stopped when it had contorted into a position of that of a woman in stirrups. He breathed hard, gusts of mist puffed into the air from his mouth as he panted, like a human fog machine. His mouth formed words but none were intelligible. His Adam’s apple twitched and swelled to the size of a grapefruit on his neck, compressed his trachea. Something in his stomach rolled, and mass peristalsis pushed everything he’d ingested in the last week onto the concrete floor.
Darryl nudged Tim with a foot. No reaction, no movement. He nudged him again. Tim’s eyes rolled over to meet Darryl’s. Darryl chuckled. “I guess we been bestowed a mighty fine gift here, fellas,” he looked around the group. Some were already stroking their hard cocks over their filthy jeans. Another Darryl already had his shirt off and wrapped around his forehead, and danced from foot to foot with anticipation as he stared at Tim’s pus-exuding ears.
“Ok, ok, pencil-dick, have first crack,” giggled Darryl to Another Darryl. In one swift move Another Darryl had his pants down to his knees, hard dick in his hand, and he shoved it into Tim’s right ear in one swift thrust.
“Oh fuck gotdamn yeah!” Another Darryl moaned as he pumped, one hand on Tim’s chin and the other on his forehead. His hips sped up, as did his breathing, but then slowed as he pulled all the way out then re-entered. “Fuck man, I ain’t never felt pussy like this, like it’s custom made, man!” Another Darryl slowly pressed himself in and out of Tim’s ear.
“I knew we’d find an app for you yet, bruh!” hollered Larry as he bobbed back and forth on Donald’s tongue, his own hard dick in his hand.
Three more inmates approached Tim and Another Darryl beckoned them, sure guys, join the fun, plenty to go ‘round. Soon one was seated on Tim’s stomach, settled down on his swollen cock, and another pressed himself into Tim’s ass, cradled Tim’s elephantine testes in his hand. The third prisoner jockeyed for position with Another Darryl and forced his cock into Tim’s slackened mouth. As the men pumped and thrust, small whimpering sounds escaped Tim’s mouth and the man in his anus felt Tim’s balls tighten.
“He’s gonna blow, bro, be ready,” he tapped the man riding Tim’s cock. He nodded and bounced harder as he wanked himself. The man in his ass squeezed Tim’s testicles and Tim came hard with a grunt, and each man thrust harder until all were spent, either in or on Tim. And that was how Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, learned how to get raped from multiple directions and fucking enjoy it.
Christopher A. Sinclair was all but forgotten as he writhed and rolled on the floor. Instead of the grey hue to other two had taken on, Christopher’s skin was pink and red, streaked with open sores and blood and blisters. He had layers of skin underneath his fingernails as he scratched at himself. He tried in vain to reach his back but could only rub himself on the concrete block wall.
Sinclair cried out, wailed for someone to help him and the piteous sound bounced off the bare concrete walls. His acid tears burned tracks in his cheeks that itched. The imaginary (?) spiders in his ears buzzed with party spirit. His fingernails finally dislodged and fell off, embedded in the skin of his thighs. He tried using his toenails to scratch at their opposing legs, but those soon fell out too. The skin between his fingers grew together, his hands stiffened into half-fists, thumbs curled to make an ‘O’ of each hand. His muscles straightened and solidified until only his neck turned ninety degrees left or right, his arms would only raise up or down, not outward. His ankle and foot bones fused tight, his toes grew together, and his hip and knee joints would only bend one direction: backward. His hair molded to his scalp. His face became immobile, his mouth a horrified ‘O’ for perpetuity. His urethra melted closed, his turgid penis doomed to its present state forever.
The ladies who had chewed off the pedophile’s cock made their way over to Sinclair. They circled him like vultures, looked him up and down. Kateea poked him in the arm, then dug in her pocket for a tissue, used it to knock off a scab on his nose. It didn’t bleed. He feels like plastic, she thought.
“Look at him,” Carol said. “He looks like a male blow-up doll.”
One that’s seen better days, thought Kateea.
Carol squatted on her heels, poked at his dick. Squinted as it weebled, wobbled, and didn’t fall down. She cackled and lifted her multi-layered gypsy skirts up as she stood and walked, one foot on each side of Sinclair’s legs. As she started to sink down, Kateea waved her arms wildly. She pointed at his dick, then her eyes. Look! She tried to scream. Carol bent down to more closely inspect the solid dick.
“Huh. No hole,” she noted, then broke out in belly laughs. “Ohhh hell. That Julie. She knows her punishments! This douchecanoe can’t cum!” she wiped giggle tears from her eyes. The she plopped down on Sinclair’s dick and rode it like a bronco. He squinted and tensed, abs apparent, nipples erect. Carol orgasmed on him, and he did not. Tears in his glassy eyes. Each of the ladies in Carol’s gang took a turn, Kateea even relented and rode him reverse cowgirl after wiping off his dick with a tissue.
When the ladies were finished, Darryl and Larry and their group waltzed over to check out this last guy of the trio of weird that arrived that afternoon. Evening. Morning. No one knew what time it was, since there were no clocks or windows in the room. After jamming various penises in Sinclair’s stiff ‘O’ hands and mouth, they all concluded that their new arrivals must definitely be some sort of gift for their good behavior. And that was how Christopher A. Sinclair, CEO of Mattel learned how broken equipment leads to unfulfilling toys.
A working toilet stall might have been a better gift, thought Kateea.
Isabel the Reaper hovered, watched, waited.
The inmates knew of the Nothingness that accompanied Julie Hurtsthings and Shannon Burnsem, but refrained from addressing it (them?) and avoided the area they perceived the Reapers to inhabit. They whispered amongst each other as to what those areas might be, where are they, is it a weird door to a different universe, a portal of some sort?
Chris the Reaper joined his Mother-ish Reaper in the prison room. He surrounded Christopher Sinclair, studied his eyes. Only anger here. He checked on Donald Trump: just bitterness and hate. Tim Cook? Any hope for a snack with this guy? Ooooo! Chris fed from Tim as Isabel watched. She had a snack as well. Sinclair fell into a deep sleep, covered in his own goo and the goo of others.
Heather lay on the floor in a puddle of congealed sticky body fluids. Ian and Steven hovered nearby, wondering what it was going to take to flip her, make her comprehend all the damage she’d caused to the people of her reality, the purposefully broken relationships for her own enjoyment. She seemed to have loved no one but herself, and took great pleasure in making others miserable by devious deeds and mind games. What would it take to make her see the consequences of her actions, and to also feel shame for them? What would it take to make Heather feel fear?
Shannon called the Reapers and Julie to her side in the sun’s corona. “Let me explain the problems we’re facing,” she said softly as she waved towards Earth.
One makes the assumption that two entities are separate, the immovable object and the unstoppable force. Both entities are immovable and unstoppable, by virtue of their singular capability; furthermore, there is no both, there is but one.
Love is unbreakable, unstoppable
Not the sword or the shield, but both
Not the fox or the hound, but both
The rock and the wind together.
Not creation and destruction, but transference
The energy of love travels and transforms and builds and destroys
Love does and is all
Love is action and inaction, creation and destruction
And most of all
Love teaches and teases and tortures and tends
Love’s corporeal effects on body and mind
Measureable with numbers
Immeasureable, unquantifiable in words
And yet we try.
Epic love drives epic pain and one surrounds the other
Is consumed, and then reborn
Teumessian fox and the hound Laelaps,
Static stars, or are they?
When Zeus realized his mistake,
He created another, as stars are not static by the very nature of the beasts
The energy in stars is the energy of love, one and the same
Always changing, born, reborn, reborn again
We are all stardust
Those who feel love’s flip side stronger
Send love’s destructive energy through the world
Without the light and logic
The yin and yang
The balance shifted, the pendulum swings
Overswings, overcompensates, as it always does
Energy is neither created or destroyed, only transferred
Love is hate is love, each side of the pendulum
There are those lacking balance, those broken and who
Cannot connote each side
The pendulum base is built off kilter
They feed off hatred, even happy, cheerful
Only in misery
Disturbing the universal balance, and so must be transferred
To feed the Reaping force
The harbingers of peace when Earth’s spinning slows at last
Time is man-made, relative to all physical forces, those relative to each other
Infinite as the universe and its mates are infinite
No artificial markers, no start or finish
The Reapers see and feel the depth of human pain and love
And restore the balance of the planet, as their creation in imbalance
Calms the pendulum sway
As the mother loves her inmate child
As a lover saves her heart
As a son may leave his father soon
None can drive apart
Unstoppable force, immoveable object
The fox and hound alive
Together, flaming, moving
Love cannot be overpowered, halted
T’is not the nature of the force
It dominates all energies
Universal shield and sword.
Julie nodded in agreement and the Reapers considered. Their un-masses intermingled and conferred, back and forth, a swirling lack of matter in the face of the sun. They returned to face the Torture Twins.
We have a plan.
Julie and Shannon nodded to each other, and they all returned to Earth’s surface. India. Slightly cooler than the surface of the sun. Just.
The Prototype overheated as a third Duggar was placed inside, so he had to be extricated. Josh lie hogtied on the bubbling Mumbai asphalt with a ball gag in his mouth. Two men in beige uniforms sprayed down the Prototype with fire extinguishers, then walked off into the distance for a smoke.
“Ya think maybe putting them in the Prototype still alive is causing it to overheat like this?” the tall one asked the short one.
“Nah. I think it’s just overworked in general. It works, we know it works. We’re just using it as a stopgap so the piles don’t get too big and stinky before the Main Unit is activated,” answered the small one with a confident nod.
“Timeline on that?” the tall one asked and nodded towards the smoking machine.
“Next week it goes online,” the short one replied through a puff of grey Marlboro smoke. “Next week is the beginning of the end, and the beginning of the beginning.”
“The hell, bro. It’s too hot for that deep shit out here. You be steamin’ soon,” the tall one punched the other in the arm. They walked back to the unit.
Josh wiggled and whined through the gag as the short man emptied the Prototype’s ash tray, and the tall one opened the lightweight metal lid and poked around the insides with a stick, clearing debris. Satisfied, he let the lid fall open completely and turned towards Josh.
“Batter up, bro,” he smirked.
Tears formed in Josh’s eyes as the tall one removed the ballgag. “Please don’t, please,” he begged. A chill washed over the Prototype and three men. The sun was still at full peak, the wind was still.
The short man straightened and asked the absence, “Need a moment?” He tiled his head, listening for nothing but the answer inside his mind, yet the physical habit stood.
You need not wait for us, came the answer. We are and shall continue feasting.
The men in beige nodded to nothing in particular. The tall one hoisted Josh upwards by the elbows, and the short one hooked his arms under Josh’s sweaty knees. On a count of three they swung him up towards the top of the Prototype, manage to get his head and shoulders in it, but the rest of his body was bent over the side. Gurgles echoed off the metal chamber as Josh’s back broke and the sharp metal edge sliced into his skin. The tall man pushed Josh’s ass up and over the side.
Steam and sizzling sounds escaped the chamber as Josh’s sweat evaporated and his skin stuck to the metal sides of the Prototype. He looked up into the blue, blue sky. No clouds, no birds, no noise. Then, the creaking of metal on metal, and the sky went black.
Powder was falling through a baseball-sized hole near the top of the chamber. It shimmered like silver glitter in the darkness. Josh breathed it in as the fired was lit beneath him. Powder coated his hot face, ears, eyelashes, skin. It got in his eyes but his hands were still tied behind his back, so he could only squint them shut. It filled his ears and nose and pores, it clogged his urethra and slinked its way around his body, penetrated his anus. Josh took a deep breath, a searing, deep breath, and the powder found its way not only into his lungs, but also into his esophagus.
Reapers surrounded the Prototype and the men in beige waited for the “complete” signal on the Prototype instrument panel. Smoke escaped its long metal chimney as residues and ash funneled off a bend in the pipe, into the ash tray.
I am STUFFED, exclaimed a Reaper.
That was AMAZING, squealed another.
It’s interesting how much more scared they are when they cook from the inside out, as opposed to the outside in, said the first.
Interesting, delicious, and filling, the second sighed. When’s snacktime?
Shannon returned to the prison and plucked Heather up by the neck out of a puddle of fluids on the cement. Heather flailed and kicked but she was too weak to land anything.
“We’re going to take a wee holiday, won’t that be fun?” Shannon smiled down at her prisoner.
“Fuck you, bitch,” came the reply.
“Tut tut, such bad manners,” Shannon shook her head.
Their first stop was the past. A Scottish lounge. As past Heather and a gentleman relaxed on a settee, current Heather watched with wide eyes. Past Heather came on to the gentleman. He was confused, sad, mortified. Shannon froze the scene, touched a finger to the man’s forehead, withdrew it, glowing, and touched current Heather’s blistered forehead. She doubled over in pain.
Another stop, a year later. A sister’s pain and heartbreak at losing her fiancé to past Heather’s flirtation.
More stops, thousands of them. Into the future, the far far future. All the pain Heather’s descendants caused others, their children’s victims, their children’s children’s victims.
Finally, Heather broke. Reapers gorged themselves on her shame and agony, as Heather looked up at Shannon.
“Your narcissistic and psychopathological side was hereditary. The pain you created in your lifetime was multiplied over thousands of generations. And now you feel every single instance,” Shannon replied.
Millions of Reapers were born.
When the Talktalk.net internet provider of the United Kingdom began outsourcing most of its helpdesk utilities to India, its customers’ outrage was audible and palpable.
Talktalk executives to a corporate jet to Thailand and rented a primary school’s worth of young boys for a week.
When the outsourcing idea failed and revenue plummeted due to completely foreseeable terrible Indian customer service, the Talktalk board of directors was chided and soaked in layers of “We Told You So” by both its customer base and the British media.
Talktalk executives organized a smaller outing in Amsterdam for themselves and accidentally transmitted HIV to a number of other drug addicts. The prostitutes they hired were smart enough to get them high or drunk to the point they couldn’t perform.
When Talktalk.net got hacked and bank accounts were compromised and emptied, a criminal investigation was launched.
Talktalk executives gathered on the CEO’s private yacht for a little R&R in the Canary Islands. Julie Hurtsthings was there to greet them as their personal Captain. Oddly, each linen-suited, camel-sandaled, hair-plugged man on the boat developed some sort of illness. Each had a different symptom profile. One presented with a fever, and incredibly itchy raised rash. Another developed hemorrhagic fever and cold sweats. A third suffered boils and woody warts all over his body, especially around each orifice.
They pleaded with the Captain to turn the boat around and take them home, and she did. They went the long way. Bad weather and such.
Emptiness swirled above the yacht as trainee Reapers learned to feed from easy gifts. As the trip lengthened, the cell phone batteries died one by one (“Why would there be a USB port on a yacht? And why you even askin’ me? It’s your yacht!” Julie barked at the CEO.)
Finally, the yacht arrived in Mumbai with its starving and dying, as well as with its well-fed and well-trained passengers. The sick were rolled off the boat on gurneys and trucked in ambulances directly to New Delhi. The Reapers and Julie stayed in Mumbai.
The Torture Twins embraced each other in the reception area of the Mumbai Main Holding Facility. Their grins and the cheerful flames that passed through them left dark chalky burn marks on the floor where they stood. Two masses of long curly hair defied gravity and floated around them, smoldering and sparking at the tips. The Reapers looked on with respectful interest.
“We DID it! We finally flipped that whore!” Shannon squeaked.
“You’re shitting me! You figured out a way to flip Heather?” Julie’s eyes widened. “What did it take?”
“Only a mind injection of each pure component of each emotion her behavior elicited in her victims. It took some time,” Shannon looked at the floor, then the ceiling, then the floor again.
Julie raised one eyebrow. “How much time?”
“Ten thousand years,” Shannon blurted. “But it was SO fucking worth it. Look at our crew!” The space was un-filled with Reapers, they swirled every corridor, filled every crack and crevice. “We have a blanket of them over every major city in India now. I told you that bitch would be the motherload. Her hate, along with her own selfishness, ran so deep, that the flip side was nearly pure peace.”
“I cannot believe this. You had to inject her while time traveling? How tired are you?” Julie giggled.
“I know, right? At least now that she’s flipped, it will take just as much, if not more effort, to flip her back,” she shook her head and brushed embers from her shoulders. “Not that she’ll have the chance. I’m running on adrenaline, if I’m honest,” Shannon nodded. “Let’s get a drink and some cheesy fries.”
The sisters exited the front door arm in arm into the now cool stillness of Mumbai. The dense presence of the Reapers displaced the humidity and most of the air itself from ground level. As they walked, they shimmered, and in the distance, they disappeared in a mirage of heat.
“Ok, who’s left?” Julie mumbled through a steak fry with gravy. Ian, Christopher, David, and Isabel, their personal reapers, swirled around them, as newer Reapers formed another circle beyond them. The perimeter of antimatter was so thick, the maître d didn’t even realize the Torture Twins had returned to his rooftop dining space in Switzerland.
“Well, let’s see,” Shannon said after washing down a wad of nacho cheese coated curly fries with a swig of Diet Coke. “We need to round up the rest of the Western problematic folks, but we can do that at the convention.”
“And that last online corporation, the one that ruins families,” Shannon went on, “and finally, the piece de resistance.”
Julie raised one eyebrow.
“You know,” Shannon murmured.
“Ohhhhhhhh, right, yes, duh,” Julie’s head bobbed with the realization.
A warm late spring breeze blew over the terrace, ruffled the other patrons napkins and hair. Julie and Shannon tucked into spicy pizza and sipped cool margaritas. Julie gazed at Lake Geneva, blue and peaceful, rimmed with greenery. Her hair sparked.
“Soon,” said Shannon gently, “soon.”
Three Boeing 777-200 airplanes touched down lightly at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi. Even with the presence of the Reapers, July in New Delhi was a scorching affair. Uniformed soldiers moved slowly through the streets, the animals which roamed freely in the city rested in the shade of the buildings, insects didn’t bother buzzing, not even mosquitoes. Coupled with the decrease in automobile emissions, the new aridity of the atmosphere was too sudden for many local creatures to navigate easily.
When The Donald failed to show at the GOP National Convention that summer in Houston, tongues wagged and hair whipped but no one panicked. None of the Bush family members arrived at their scheduled time, and eyes widened. The Koch brothers were marked as no-shows, and the murmuring started. Rush Limbaugh disappeared during a pee break from his radio broadcast, and people freaked the fuck out.
Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association stood at the podium. He waved his hands in a sit-down, settle-down motion and shouted for quiet. The conventioneers’ roar decreased in a downstairs-slinky manner: quiet, quieter, quiet-as-it-was-going-to-get.
A red dot wandered near Wayne’s receding hairline as he adjusted the microphone. The air grew empty as Reapers filled the Brown Convention Center. Uniformed soldiers stood just outside each exit with a hand on the door.
BAM! Wayne’s brains flew out the backside of his head under his ear, painted the wooden planks as he collapsed. Shiny, dark blood oozed from under the shards of bone around the exit wound, pink bits of brain matter spattered behind him. Wet cotton candy pieces on the ground at a county fair.
The conventioneers rushed the exits, pushing and pulling and trampling each other. Cameras and tripods went flying, people tripped over scattered electrical cords and took their own short thudded flights. CSPAN tried desperately to keep up with the action but in a fit of frustration, the director shut everything down and directed his employees to “stay safe and get the hell out of here.”
The stillness of the air grew. Reapers feasted. The temperature dropped, water vapor disappeared as red-white-and-blue stripes pummeled stars and sequins in search of safety.
“Go go GO!” boomed the uniformed woman through the megaphone. The irony was not lost on her as she directed this reverse cattle-drive and she smirked to her colleague. The conventioneers were directed down ramps into Greyhound buses. Each passenger was searched and relieved of his personal firearms. One old white guy was surprised to see he was still armed when asked for his weapon.
“Oh, here you go my dear,” he said wearily.
Houston felt a dry heat for the first time ever.
It looked for all the world like the Dallas Cowboys football stadium. Prisoners from holding facilities all over India were trucked to New Delhi and marched in single file lines into the building. The Kolkata group consisted mostly of corrupt Asian businessmen and politicians. The Tuticorin group held the African dictators and religious extremists who tried in vain to push Sharia law throughout the continent, as well as the African slaveholders whose workforce was comprised of children working in the mines. Western politicians, right-wing extremists, gang leaders, Facebook executives, and clergy perverts arrived from Mumbai. The European and Roman Catholic launderers of souls and services rolled in on the train from Chennai. Soon, the arena was filled shoulder to shoulder with the worst the world had to offer in terms of humanity.
“You’re our special guests,” Shannon announced to the prison cell holding Trump, Heather, Kateea, Sinclair, Cook, and friends. “You are the lucky audience members chosen to witness how we’re cleaning up after the terrible mess you made.” Heather, seated on a cinder block, couldn’t stop shuddering long enough to keep a steady gaze on Shannon. Kateea wept, and the others just stood, or sat, staring at the smoky women whose hair floated.
“Line up, assholes,” Julie yelled. “NOW!” she screeched as the prisoners shuffled. Fifty people limped, crawled, or scooted into a queue that snaked around the room. Reapers filled the air and settled in on each side of the line. Julie led the droopy mass through the metal doors; Shannon watched closely from the back of the line. The group followed Julie down the immense cement hallway, up a long metal fire-escape stairway, through a large metal double door. In the bright sunlight, the prisoners’ eyes grew wide as they crossed a metal catwalk several stories off the ground.
The catwalk ended at a narrow steel door in the dome of the incinerator. Julie opened it, and raised her arm to indicate the prisoners should turn left once inside. By the time the entire group was accounted for, the queue reached all around the perimeter of the dome. Single file, they lined up on the balcony around the dome, and looked down into the base. The floor level of the dome was swarming with people, shoulder to shoulder, looking around expectantly. The only thing separating the prisoners on the balcony from those on the floor was a thick transparent plastic wall.
Trump leaned his forehead on the window and searched the crowd. There was Mike Pence, his Vice Presidential running mate. There was Soros, there was Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh’s shiny scalp. The Koch brothers were down there. A group of white men looked up and pointed at Trump. He waved weakly and looked away.
“What are we doing here?” the pedophile demanded.
“You are going to watch us begin to save the world,” replied Julie. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, her hair stood on end and sparked the air. She placed her palms on the wall behind the onlookers. On the opposite side of the dome, Shannon flipped a switch, closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and made contact with the Dome.
Fine, silver dust fell from the ceiling of the dome, so faint at first that it could have been simply dust particulates, a mist. But it kept falling, thicker now, and faster, covering the crowd. Even as they wiped their eyes and blew their noses, the powder invaded the prisoners, into every pore and orifice. Some people scratched at it, coughed, tried to spit it out, but it was immediately replaced.
“What’s happening to them?” Sinclair asked.
“They’re suffocating?” mumbled an inmate.
“No, I don’t think so,” Sinclair replied.
Reapers filled the dome and feasted on the prisoners’ fear and anxiety. Julie and Shannon followed their movements by the paths they cut in the powdery cloud above.
The Torture Twins’ hair was on fire now, bright blue and white in the top of the dome. The heat from their hands penetrated the dome walls and traveled to the floor, before rising into the air and igniting the powdery dust. Prisoners slumped, fell, or stood stone still as the heat made the powder combust within each prisoner. Reapers multiplied and gorged themselves on fear. Eyeballs melted out of faces, tongues burst aflame, hair was reduced to ash, and the contents of the prisoners’ bodies were incinerated from the inside out.
Those on the balcony didn’t realize the internal combustion of their counterparts until the outer shells of each inmate finally caught on fire. Each one erupted in white-hot flame; some exploded in a shower of ash. After ten minutes, the floor of the dome was covered in a three-foot-thick layer of grayish white ash. Julie and Shannon straightened up from the dome walls, brushed their hands off, and brushed the ash off their shoulders. Shannon stretched and cracked her neck, Julie reached down and touched her toes.
“So, who’s next?” asked Julie.
Another several thousand were herded into the dome, and the prisoners on the balcony watched the process repeat. Isabel, Christopher, Ian, and Steven flitted back and forth around the balcony, snacking as the audience came to terms with their own finality. After the third group, Heather raised a hand.
“Are we just going to watch thousands of innocent people die? What’s going on?”
Shannon appeared behind her and tapped her on the shoulder. Heather jumped, startled.
“What makes you think these people are innocent?” Shannon asked, her voice hoarse with anger and smoke. “Are you innocent?” Shannon waved an arm at the queue, “Are any of your compadres innocent?” Heather’s eyes went to the floor.
“Surely you remember the lessons our little holiday taught you?” Shannon said as she raised Heather’s chin to make eye contact. Her eyes flashed red and green, as Heather’s pupils dilated. Her scarred face bobbed a small yes.
So, do you want to finish them off today, and take care of final business tomorrow? Julie asked inside Shannon’s head.
Shannon looked around. The Reaper legion had multiplied itself several times over within the dome, and was still hungry, judging from the vibrations in her skin. I think we can just finish the whole lot today, and get started on the spreading tomorrow. The sooner we get this planet back to basics, the better, she answered. Julie nodded in agreement and turned to face the queue of prisoners on the balcony.
“Batter up, motherfuckers!” she squealed and giggled.
Shannon laughed heartily on the other side of the dome. “Vámonos, assholes,” she hollered and led the group down a long ramp towards the floor.
Trump and friends balked, but Larry, Darryl, and the Other Darryl grabbed them by the armpits and shoved them along. The queue trudged down, down, down along the sides of the dome, the smell of sulfur and carbon growing in their noses. Kateea gagged and retched.
About 10 feet from the base of the dome, Shannon opened a portal in the plastic with a wave of her hand. The edges glimmered in and out of reality. Heather gave Shannon a look of remorse, but her only reply was a jerk of her head towards the portal. Resigned, Heather stepped through and sank into the ash. Another thirty or so inmates disappeared into the dome, and Shannon faced Kateea.
“You don’t have to do this,” Kateea begged through her torn-open mouth. “You have no idea how sorry I am! Please! Don’t make me die like this!” She grabbed onto Shannon’s shoulders and tried to shake her, pulled away instantly as her palms caught fire. Kateea screamed and collapsed, so Shannon picked her up and hurled her through the portal. She sank into the ash.
The prisoners shuffled about through the ash in the shallower areas, kicking it up into the air as Reapers swarmed them. The Torture Twins gave the Reapers a bit more time to feed before releasing the fine silver dust upon the crowd. Within fifteen minutes, the depth of the ash had grown to fifteen feet deep.
Ready to release the Kracken? Julie asked. Shannon smirked.
Excellent name, I like that a lot, she replied. Better even than codename Satan.
Shannon nodded and said aloud, “Yeah, I want to get this overwith, but, I want to watch, so let’s clean out the dome first.”
A portion of the wall of the dome slid open, and the opposite side of the floor tilted upward. Ash fell through the open door into a rail car below. Thousands of cars on hundreds of freight trains were filled with gray-white powder by the time the dome was empty.
Reapers filled the open sky for miles around.
A perfectly human white woman walked into the New Delhi airport arrivals area, her curly brown hair bound in a tight braid down her back. She wore a hot pink chudithar and brown sandals, and carried an army green canvas messenger bag. She ran to her husband as he walked through the security checkpoint and hugged him hard, kissed him harder.
“You’re finally here!” she whispered into his ear. He smiled back and adjusted his luggage. The woman hailed an autorickshaw and the couple climbed in. She gave the driver the address of the dome and grabbed her husband’s hand tightly in her own.
“Wait til you see this!” she exclaimed, “It’s a once in a lifetime kinda thing!”
He snickered at his wife’s excitement but indulged her in this side trip on the way to his mother’s house. Little did he know his mother had already been on this side trip. The autorickshaw putt-putted to a stop at the dome and the couple piled out. The husband asked the driver to wait but his wife interrupted, suggested they could just hire another one when they were done with the tour. The driver smiled and nodded at her lavish tip while her husband frowned.
The woman fairly skipped ahead of her husband up to the main visitor entrance and yanked the door open, waving him in with a “come one, hurry up slowpoke!” He followed her into the cool darkness of the dome, which, to his eyes, appeared to be a complete recreation of the Dallas Cowboys football stadium. Julie Hurtsthings appeared before the couple, hair calmed into a ponytail, eyes calmed to normal blue.
“Are you ready to start your tour?” she chirped, absently touching her tour guide nametag. The couple nodded and Julie led them through the facility. The kiosks, the snack bars, the betting machines, the trivia machines, the locker rooms, the executive box areas, and finally, the gift shop.
“We always exit through the gift shop,” Julie winked.
The husband sighed. “Of course you do,” he harrumphed. “Gotta make that extra buck.”
“Ooooh can I buy this?” the wife held up a snow globe with the dome inside. She shook it and silver glitter rained down on the scene.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he answered, “We’re not buying souvenirs of this place. Come on, we gotta get going,” he grumbled and grabbed her hand, pulled her towards the door marked “Exit” and slammed it open.
He stepped onto the astroturf and his mouth fell open in surprise. He looked around: the field was marked for American football, the giant screen television hung from the roof, and seating for a hundred thousand spectators surrounded him. He turned in a wide circle, taking it all in.
He looked back to his wife and recoiled.
“Who the hell are you?” he shouted. “Where’s my wife?”
A woman stood before him, her green eyes glowing. Her curly hair floated high in the air, sparking at random. Black boots, jeans, a black tank top with the muerto skull on it. She held out her hand, something shiny dangled from it. He took it.
His wife’s thali, her Indian marriage necklace.
“Where’s my WIFE?!” he demanded.
“I’m right here,” Shannon replied. “I’ve always been here, I will always be here,” she answered, calm. Her voice was melted butter.
The man began to sweat; he pulled at the collar of his shirt. He looked around, his eyes widened. He stood on a cement floor in the middle of an empty domed building. No executive boxes, no snack bars, no fan seating, no giant television, no astroturf. Just him, and this woman claiming to be his wife, in the middle of a huge empty building.
“Welcome to the Papadome,” Shannon said.
“Papadome,” he repeated. “You mean papadum? Like, the snack?” his forehead creased in confusion.
“Figure that out all by yourself, did ya?” Shannon smirked.
His hands reached for her, she took a step back.
“You have destroyed enough. You destroyed my human mind with your demands to conform and be a ‘reasonable wife.’ You destroyed my dreams when you wouldn’t permit me to write. In fact, you said ‘fiction is stupid, why you wasting your time with this?’ Remember when you said that?” she asked.
He nodded. Not so long ago.
“I did what you wanted, but it changed me. The anger and frustration changed me,” she said. “This,” she swept her hands over her body, up to her head, “this is what you did. You made me into this, with your selfishness and your demands.”
“I didn’t mean…” he started but she cut him off.
“Yeah, I know. You didn’t mean to. Nobody ever does ‘mean to,’” she used finger quotes. “But you were a shit spouse. You never supported me, never respected me, in fact, you tore me down every chance you got. You took what you wanted, with no thought to what I might want.”
“What do you want?” he asked. “Tell me, I’ll do anything, I swear!”
“Too late for that idea to pop into your head. It’s too late, this is who I am now, and you are still who you are. It’s done.” And she vanished.
From high above the dome floor, two glowing women watched and waited on the balcony. Reapers twirled and tossed in the air above the man. He turned in circle after circle, looking for a way out. Finally, he sat down on the cement, his head in his hands. Sobs wracked his body as he passed the golden thali from one hand to the other.
Fine silver dust drifted down from above. It covered the man’s balding, sweaty head, infiltrated his nose, irritated his eyes, made him cough. He stood up and raised his face to the ceiling. Finding no source, he pulled his shirt up over his head to protect his face, but still, the powder found its way in.
Ready? Julie looked at her sister.
Shannon nodded and placed her palms on the dome wall.
Isabel and Christopher feasted on the man’s fear as his heart spontaneously combusted and he collapsed. His intestines churned and burned, his brain and eyeballs melted and leaked from his head. Finally, his body caught fire. It burned itself out inside two minutes.
That’s odd, thought Julie. Shannon faced her, and Julie nodded to the dome floor. Both women cocked their heads to one side, tried to make sense of what they saw.
An immense pile of ash lay in the center of the dome floor. Enough ash to account for ten people. They stood looking at the pile for a few minutes, then Shannon turned to Julie.
“He had the fear of ten people, always trying to control everything everyone did and thought and said,” she whispered. Julie nodded her understanding.
Outside, New Delhi was cool with Reapers as the sun set.
Over the next decade, The Torture Twins worked on resetting Earth to its healthier, natural state. With the assistance of a worldwide population of generous, empathetic people, a new world order was established. The ashes of Earth’s rapists in their many forms were used to rehabilitate deforested areas, filter polluted rivers, and mop up industrial waste disasters. The Reapers’ presence was maintained until consistent, reasonable levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide could be achieved. Fossil fuels were abandoned, nuclear weapons were dismantled, and prisons were renovated as schools.
During what would become known as The Great Peace, scientists and artists developed a New Rennaissance. With the sun and wind’s energy harnessed, the planet had plenty of energy and food. Vulnerable species recovered their steady-state populations, and throughout the world, animals were no longer used as human food.
Although the people begged Julie and Shannon to teach them telepathy, the Torture Twins denied this request, and wisely so. The Papadome was still in use, albeit rarely, when a human could not be rehabilitated. Eventually, the Reapers returned to their own universe via the black hole in the Milky Way.
In the rooftop restaurant Izumi, two women with floating curly hair sat at an open air table, gazing at Lake Geneva. They ate pizza and drank Diet Coke.
“So, how long you think we can maintain this?” Shannon asked.
“Indefinitely, as long as the Papadome is there and we can get in touch with the Reapers,” Julie replied. Shannon nodded. “You ok with the eastern hemisphere?” she asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine with it,” Shannon replied. “West side doing ok?”
Julie shrugged, “Easy peasy. Just let me know if you get bored and wanna trade.” Shannon grinned.
“I might pay a visit to the Reapers, look around, see if anything else needs sorted out,” she said.
“Anything else?” Julie raised an eyebrow, then shrugged. “Ok, I know you get bored, I’ll hold down the fort,” she said with a wink.
“Thanks sis,” Shannon raised her glass to toast. They clinked, and Shannon downed her drink in one gulp.
She stood and swirled a hand in the air, opened a portal. Its boundaries shimmered in the light breeze. “See you on the flip side,” Shannon winked and stepped through.
The maître d approached Julie with a phone and a confused look on his face.
“Hello?” Julie answered.
“Hi, this is The Kracken, may I speak with Shannon?”
“Oh, you just missed her,” Julie replied, biting her lip.
An exasperated sigh. “Of course I did. Alright, will you please let her know I popped in to see how things are going?”
“Sure thing, whenever I see her again…” Julie trailed off and ate a cheesy fry.
Julie hung up the phone. In the distance, a long tentacle slapped the surface of Lake Geneva and disappeared in the foam.