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Hinnom maissue 002, p.15

Hinnom Magazine Issue 002, page 15

 

Hinnom Magazine Issue 002
 


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  The countdown began, a luminous green five-sided holograph sprayed from a recessed beak in the pedestal. Twenty seconds. Nineteen. Eighteen.

  Suki’s cold little hands moved swiftly as she finished her rounds. She used a pink band aid to fix a mummified parrot wing to Pamelar’s thin shoulder blade and then briefly massaged Nixon’s face before settling a moist white cowl over it. Nixon was a big man, with a quiet voice and not much to say anyway. Water had never really been able to trust him, not completely, because Nixon’s transmog was his own face. He turned back to the new guy in chair five.

  “That a modem?”

  The new guy nodded and forced a smile. He was running pale, with sweat beading on his upper lip. Short, top floor office bulge around the mid-section, small hands and girly wrists. “Yeah. They wrapped it in wire from a Sri Lankan interrogation chamber.”

  “Won’t be any use if there’s a fight. Keep to the back until we get to the computer. Don’t look at Nixon’s face.” Water put the bit in his mouth and tightened the chinstrap on his crown.

  “I’m just tech support.” The new guy sounded breathless.

  The clock was down to ten seconds. Water watched as Suki put the bit in the new guy’s mouth and wrenched his electrocution crown snugly into place. He turned his eyes back to the clock, almost tasting the green numerals glowing over the steel pedestal. At seven seconds, the Jupiter coil under his chair spun up, tracing the dead man’s alley into the afterlife. He thought it sounded like a blend of wind pouring through the bare branches of a dark tree and his grandmother’s life of weeping.

  At five seconds, Suki backed away into the darkness and the pentagram under the antique electric chairs flared into visibility. The air flooded with ozone and long string polymers. Water held his hand over the big red dead man’s button. He was shaking.

  The clock hit three and time slowed. He felt a sharp pull at his belly button as the spider tether formed, spooling out Jupiter coils of his lifeline. It always amazed him how much went through his mind in the last few seconds, how long it all seemed. The tech staff told him it was bleed over, a time phase differential from the Jupiter coil establishing itself on his internal chronometer in a three second prelude to eternity.

  The ghostly green numeral two formed and Water flicked his eyes to the number five chair, lit from beneath by the numinous glow of the floor’s pentagram. The tendons in the new guy’s neck stood out like ropes in a rigging, his eyes as wide as eggs in a Cornucopian skull. His white hand was quivering wildly over the new red button on his old Texas Penitentiary smokey. He was all go. Water wondered how they had ruined the little man in the last few hours. Psychotransmogrification had been a hard process when Water had gone through it. It had taken the witchdoctors weeks to find some kind of Pavlov device he could spider in with him, and the resultant holistic descriptor itself always betrayed something profoundly personal about the carrier. He wondered how they had twisted number five’s mind to fit him with a modem, the very thing they needed. In Water’s case, it was the gun snake in his lap. The others apparently had more imagination, with the possible exception of Nixon.

  Water looked back at the clock. One. He sucked at the spit from around his bit and swallowed, then clamped down hard and swallowed again. When the clock hit zero he slammed his hand down on the red button in unison with the others as hard as he could. The currant arced through his freezing bones and his heart stopped mid-beat.

  Five dead men spidered down the alley.

  Stomachs vomit through the mouth, hearts through the belly button. Water could feel his spider tether in place, a silky braid of terror and raw, jagged insanity, suckling his abdomen like the hickey making party mouth of an ancient, blind fish. He opened his eyes on Beeker’s afterlife and screamed.

  They were in a high rise of some kind, standing before a window with a panoramic view of a part of hell Water had never seen before. Stretching out below them to the distant, dirty brass horizon was a forest of enormous, Crisco pale tubeworms with glossy black helmets. In a wandering cilia dance, they seemed to be passing small pink objects between them. Sinuous canyons of what appeared to be molten copper wound through their roots from the west.

  Water reeled with vertigo and fell back from the window. The others backed away as he did and professionally cut their own screams, except for the new guy, who had been so paralyzed with terror that he had not made a sound. He tore his eyes from the window and directed at Water an expression made unreadable by its sheer intensity, and then in a spasm clutched his still chest, having just noticed on top of everything else that his heart did not beat in that place.

  “We get to sleep in hospital beds tonight,” Nixon said softly, trying to calm him.

  Krilanovick clapped the new guy on the back. “Maybe Suki’ll give you a hand job.” Krilanovick had a lisp now that his tongue had merged with his transmog shard of headlamp glass.

  “Let’s move,” Water ordered. “Nixon, you’re on point. Pamalar, bring up the rear. New guy stays behind me. Krilanovick, you watch him and guard that modem.” He took one last look out the window as Nixon surveyed the blank, gray hallway from the roach playback through the eyeholes in his cowl and then set off to the left, his size sixteen boots just clicks on the stone floor to mark his rolling, bowlegged gait.

  They marched in single file, quietly following Nixon. The perfectly square hallway was just what they expected based on the roach feed. CEO Beeker had arrived only a short walk from his eternal post. The view on his arrival was no doubt a message of some sort, tailored to his mind alone.

  The gray corridor opened on the chamber from the feed, a massive room empty of everything except a desk in the center where a man sat hunched over a keyboard with his back to them. He raised his head as they approached and turned. Water recognized his profile from the CNN stream.

  “So soon,” CEO Beeker said calmly as they walked up. He was a smallish man, in a gray suit that matched his surroundings. The suit was one size too large and made him seem paradoxically older and younger, part old man and part baby vulture. He smiled, revealing a distillation of wickedness that took decades to cultivate. His teeth were horse-like and a dull yellow, etched with black fractals. His small, close-set eyes were rimmed with scarlet and the whites were a flat layer of jaundice, mucousy glass and blood film. “I’ve spent some time self-complicating here, gentlemen. Digging. Eroding. Burping. Unfarming. Your umbilicals . . . You don’t belong here.” He smiled again.

  “Just visiting,” Water said. Nixon and Pamalar flanked him, eyes scanning every direction. Krilanovick guided the trembling tech to Beeker’s computer and tossed a thumb at it, motioning him to get in and do the deal. The new guy didn’t make a move. He stared at the computer and clutched the nest of Sri Lankan interrogation wires to his chest.

  “Pensions,” Water said evenly. “You tell us where they are, maybe you get a second chance.”

  “How?” CEO Beeker asked, cocking his head. He pushed away from his desk and casually crossed his legs.

  “We’re here,” Water said. “We’re not permanently dead. We can spider you out on one of our tethers. It won’t be your body you go back to. That’s gone. You might wind up in a monkey or a cat. They don’t tell me what they have in the lab. If you’re lucky it will be some brain-dead bum or a blank dumpster baby and you can go for full integration.”

  “You said maybe,” Beeker repeated with a fractal flicker of humor. “And my choices range from animals to blind syphilitics of indiscriminate age.”

  Water narrowed his eyes and brought out one of his best lines, the one he considered the closer.

  “I hate this job, Beeker. No, really. I don’t like killing myself, however temporary it may be, just so I can rip on down to Hell to haggle with a total piece of shit like you. And they always haggle. Every time. But I write the reports, so spit up now and take whatever body they have for you, but do it fast, or I’ll report that you were a Hell-wrecked nut job with no possible retrieval. And I can report
whatever I want, because they aren’t going to come down here and check.”

  “Maybe he want to stay,” Krilanovick lisped, playing his part. “‘Thilly Coo Coo bird.”

  “What assurances do I have that you can get me out?” Beeker asked. The guy had balls.

  “None,” Water replied. In fact, there was no way they could bring CEO Beeker back. There never had been. Generally, these interviews went differently in that the subject grasped at any possible hope, no matter how remote.

  Beeker shrugged. “You can’t take it with you. Bearer bonds. Look for them in the southeast corner of my Aspen retreat. Big safe in a shallow grave.” He held his hands out, wrists up in submission.

  “Krilanovick,” Water ordered.

  Krilanovick bumped the frozen tech guy, who staggered to Beeker’s computer and stared at it, then connected the modem into the back with some kind of transmog worm with a tiny beak tip. Water watched as the ash-colored monitor pulsed and the Sony micro vaults spiking from dial modems blinked green with access. Beeker stood and backed away from the desk under Nixon’s cowled scrutiny. The tech sat down, hacked the keyboard for less than twenty rapid strokes and then turned to Water.

  “Big download,” he announced tonelessly. “I don’t think we can even get a fraction of it. I’ve never seen anything like . . .” He trailed off. “Maybe five minutes until the micro vaults are loaded.”

  “You shouldn’t have touched that,” Beeker said, sing song. He raised his hands and slowly backed away. “They won’t like that.”

  Water pointed the gun snake at Beeker’s forehead.

  “And you won’t like spending eternity with the IQ of a mushroom. Don’t fucking move. Heads up, boys. We’re about to have company.”

  The gun torsioned in Water’s grip like a dynamo. A mouth flared at the iron tip of the barrel. Spirals of crimson and wasp abdomen patterns rippled along the surface. Behind him he could hear the shard of headlamp glass clicking between Krilanovick’s molars. Pamelar had dropped his shirt to the ground and stood with his naked torso exposed, looking down the corridor behind them. Nixon was still, staring at CEO Beeker through his eyeholes.

  Water kept the gun trained on Beeker as he swiveled his head. Pamelar walked a dozen steps away and his wing flicked out, leaving a trail of smoke behind as he flexed. Match light fire flickered along the length of the sinewy thing. He curled it into a tight ‘S’ around his body and waited, a smoke-shrouded form lit in guttering light. Krilanovick backed up against Water and tested his tongue. It flicked out nearly fifty feet in a chameleon’s flycatcher snap. The barb of the now diamond hard glass left a long, scorching furrow on the concrete floor. Nixon just stared at CEO Beeker, utterly motionless.

  “Mother of—,” the new guy began.

  “Don’t,” Water snapped. “It draws them like fruit flies.”

  There was a tense silence, broken only by the load profile beep on the micro vaults and the chitinous pops from Pamelar’s wing spiral. The massive room had five entrances, including the one they had come through. They lacked the ornamentation Hell was famous for, and everything was International Style instead, which was a fresh form of awful.

  Five little girl dolls in matching orange prison coveralls stepped out of one of the square corridor entrances, carbon copy smiles on their identical sooty faces.

  “Daddy!” they chirped in unison. One of Water’s men just had dead mare, a very personal kind of bummer.

  “End ‘em all!” Water roared. The snake gun transmog had the longest range, so he drew a bead on the middle doll and fired. The muzzle of the gun flared like a rectum and spat a tooth that traveled the distance in less than a second. It hit the little girl in the center square in the forehead and she exploded into a pile of spiders. The darkness in the corridor behind her roiled like a mud pit full of eels and Nixon moaned softly as his face charged. Water fired a wrist pounding machinegun, bursting into the black cavity, and then wheeled to vomit some fire down the next opening. The gun snake was hot and the rounds came out as complete dentures that left foamy contrails of asparagus green.

  “Everyone behind Nixon!” Water screamed.

  CEO Beeker began cackling wildly. Pamelar wreathed himself in a flaming parrot wing and turned to Water, closed his eyes. The new guy looked at the computer and then at Water, beyond scared once again. Krilanovick caught it and tackled him. Nixon stepped in front of Water, facing outward as the main assault began. As the big man raised his cowl, Water realized why Beeker was crowing with delight.

  The dolls were nothing but spiders when the boiling thing came out of the dark behind them. It was more than ten feet tall, with stork legs thinner than the new guy’s wrists, moist as newborn bird necks and festooned with random and multiple knees. On top was a head shaped like the body of a guitar, big side up, with two rolling eyes. The jaw hung down a good three feet and clamped in its wobbling mouth was an antique mirror. The head swiveled right at Nixon as he raised his cowl. Water closed his eyes and fired blindly as the screaming started all around him. There was an explosion as he hit something and he knew, he knew he had to look, but he had seen what happened when anything looked upon Nixon’s transmog face, and it took more effort than electrocuting himself over a Jupiter coil in a Texas pen mercy seat to do it.

  The first thing he saw was Pamelar, frozen for all of eternity in a hell within Hell itself. His body was concrete, already gathering dust, and the look of horror on his screaming face, fixed at the peak of a spasm of something so wrong he no longer resembled a sentient being, broke something in Water. He lowered his gun and surveyed the ruin.

  The mirror walker was down, seizing violently. Beeker was still crooning, doing a jig with his eyes closed, capering in a loose circle. Nixon was frozen too, his transmog forever pointed at itself in some way, but his back was to them and whatever was broken in Water knitted itself in some small way when he knew he wouldn’t have to see what had happened above Nixon’s neck. The stony fingers jutting from the back of the man’s head were bad enough.

  “Water,” Krilanovick wept. “Water, Water, Water, Lt., shoot that song off.”

  Water raised his transmog and shot CEO Beeker through the Adam’s apple. His musical interpretation of his inner world only went dead for everything outside of his head, because he kept right on dancing.

  “Open your eyes,” Water ordered. “Krilanovick. Open up. Get New Guy and his wire box. Point at the sound of my voice and open your eyes.”

  Krilanovick shuddered and raised his head. The new guy, the geek, was prostrate underneath him and didn’t move. Since no one was breathing, it was hard to tell if he was dead dead, but Water didn’t think so. Krilanovick’s eyes went from Water to Nixon’s frozen back and then to Pamelar. His face twisted with rage and he turned his glare on CEO Beeker, who was still doing his touchdown spaz.

  “We. Are. Leaving,” Water said quietly. Some kind of pitter patter, the sound of a trillion white mice, was echoing out of one of the corridors. Something was coming. They needed to spool their umbilical tethers in as tight as possible before they sent a signal to have the Jupiter coil reel them back, which meant they had to get as close as they could to where they came in. Krilanovick’s eyes flicked back to Water and he stared without recognition.

  “C’mon, Kril. Get the new kid,” Water whispered. “Get that box.”

  Krilanovick rose and pulled the technician to his feet, thrust the wire modem into his hands. The guy’s slack face was so empty that it was clear that his mind was way, way gone. Water looked back the way they had come. It was clear. He took one more look at CEO Beeker and then shot the computer, pulling the trigger on his transmog hard enough to get the dentures again. The desktop exploded and Beeker froze. His red eyes widened and his smile vanished, replaced by awe as what had happened dawned on him.

  Cursed to an eternity of boredom, with nothing but spiders and mice for company, and without a voice to sing to them.

  Water ran. Behind him Krilanovick dragged their fa
iling zombie. In a tight cluster, they made their way like that, with Water in the lead, his transmog irised and held at arm’s length in front of them, pulsing and rippling, Krilanovick two steps behind pushing the new guy and keeping his own transmog poised. They made it back to the window and both of them looked out one final time as Water hastily prepared to draw the Jupiter beacon. Krilanovick barked something incoherent.

  The giant waxen tubeworms with the black helmets, rising from the river of molten copper, were more clearly visible now that the fine smog that had hung around them had cleared. The tiny pink things, thousands upon thousands upon endless thousands of them that they were passing along between them, were naked, screaming people.

  Water knelt and traced a pentagram on the floor, moving fast. It glowed with Jupiter light, but it was very faint. The alley was closing. He followed the lines again, quicker now, and the light grew brighter. Again, and again, he wrote it, faster and faster until his arm was an unnatural blur, and just as he heard Krilanovick scream that they weren’t alone, he slammed his palm down in the center of the diagram, the same motion he had made when he slammed the suicide button on his Lone Star Sparkey. His belly button burned like a collapsing star and—

  Water opened his eyes slowly. The room was white. There was a distant beeping. He licked his lips. He was dry. His eyes were dry. So was his mouth. He didn’t know where he was, but he knew he had been very, very sick. He felt light, like all of his muscle and fat had been burned away by fever. He blinked and almost didn’t open his eyes again.

 
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