Authors: John Shirley
THE BALLANTINE PUBLISHING GROUP
TABLE OF CONTENTS
For Richard Smoley
This book is a novel in two parts and two separate novels, at once. The second novel is a sequel to the first. It was written some considerable time after the first, but it could not stand alone—
Book Two is dependent on
The material on clandestine government and military projects, sent by Glyneth to Stephen in Chapter Four of Book Two, is all quite real.
Both parts of the novel were written before September 11, 2001, but—they are not without relevance. . . .
Massive leviathans but varying in shape at will; often are more or less like a giant slug with nothing like a head. Skin may erupt with mouths that steam. They show no sentience and may be controlled or dominated by Gnashers.
Three-legged but spiderish in shape, intelligent yet arachnoid/insectile in activity—airborne via sky-gliding parachutes of web.
Can fly via rows of smallish leather wings that shouldn’t be big enough to carry them but can. Head is
; body is ostensibly like a human female, but with clawed hands and feet. Pure savagery. May be dominated by Bugsys.
Shaped like bunches of furry rags big as VW bugs; can contort so they resemble some sea creature—no definite shape. Wrap and slowly crush victims, often with psychic/metaphysical/quantum continuum disruption.
Talkative; at times, appear to have an agenda; are verbally sadistic; telepathic. Humanoid but have four arms; jaws are like Sharkadians’ though the mouth parts are a little smaller, and with the addition of upper head parts; have human eyes. They possibly function in a leadership capacity, but no one is quite certain.
Giant grasshopper legs, insectile/human heads with curling horns, big grinding jaws that move sideways, at an angle, or revolve as they choose. They can generate great heat at will.
Parodies of humans; no two are alike but all are similar in style, complete with skin that resembles clothing but spotted with oozing sores. They can sometimes be stymied for a while by offering to play cards with them—they love gambling. Tend to chatter idiotically . . . Like the Gnashers, speak English or any language of Earth at will—or their own tongue.
Who is a holy person? The one who is
aware of others’ suffering.
It’s amazing what you can get used to. That was a platitude; now it summarizes life for everyone. It means something powerful now. People can get used to terrible privation, to famine, to war, to vast and soulless discount stores. Some got used to prison; some got used to living alone on mountaintops. But now . . .
This morning I saw a choleric-looking, pop-eyed sort of a middle-aged man in a threadbare suit stop his huffing old Volvo at a street corner, look about for cross traffic, accelerate slowly to creep across the intersection—the traffic lights, of course, not having worked for a long time, not through the whole north of the state. And one of the demons turned the street to soft hot tar, the demon rising up, howling, from the stuff of the street itself, rows of fangs in the creature’s absurdly big jaws gleaming and dripping. The demon was one of the Grindum clan—giant grasshopper legs, insectile heads with just enough human about them to sicken: curling horns, big grinding jaws that move sideways or at an angle or revolve on their skulls like an owl’s head on its shoulders. The Grindum swam in the hot asphalt with a conventional freestroke, humming some tune.
The Volvo began to sink in the steaming asphalt. The driver merely got a good grip on his briefcase, opened the car door, used the door handle for a ladder rung, ran along the roof of the car to the hood, and jumped to the curb. Landing rather neatly, he continued on his way, not even looking back, hurrying only a little. He didn’t even turn around as the demon, chattering in Tartaran, snapped the door off the car and sailed it through the window of a bank. The bank was long closed, as most of them are now.
A woman came out of a bar, too drunk to heed the warnings of her friends, and the demon heaved the car atop her, his iridescent green-black scaly torso still half buried in the molten street. I wondered absently if he were standing on a pipe down there.
I had already turned away from the street corner and saw most of this by glancing over my shoulder, now and then, in a measured retreat. If you ran in panic, the demon was more likely to notice you and pursue, especially the Grindum clan. The Sharkadians, on the other hand, are more methodical: When they’ve selected a neighborhood, they’ll stalk through it and cut you down as they find you—or toy with you and leave you sorrowfully alive, wishing they’d killed you—whether you’re running or not.
I made it around the corner. I heard another scream but didn’t go back to look. I had an appointment to teach art to children, and I was looking forward to it. Creating little personal works of art raises them, for a few minutes, out of the fear and depression that haunts the young now, though the art usually expresses fear of the demons. And when they’re raised up a little, in that moment of self-expression, they raise me up with them.
So I was not going to risk being late. Or risk, for that matter, being torn limb from limb or sat upon and whispered to for hours before being dispatched. My heart was beating faster as I hurried away, but I was all right. I was . . .
Used to it? I suppose it isn’t really true. You can’t be
used to them. You can only adapt, more or less.
But not everyone has. Certainly more people than ever before go quite mad, utterly psychotic, daily; driven mad by the presence of hundreds of thousands of flesh-and-blood demons who appear randomly and all too frequently among us now. Those who were mad before the transfiguration of the world feel more at home.
Some of those who were the babbling neighborhood schizophrenics sport a rather annoying look of smug vindication these days.
People sometimes tell jokes about the demons. “How can you tell a Sharkadian from a Gnasher?”
“Easy. A Gnasher doesn’t like a screw-top cap—he always uses real cork to stop up their necks after he pulls their heads off.” (You had to be there. Gnashers put on aristocratic airs.)
For a brief while, some said it was all a hoax. In the first day or two of the demonic invasion you could dismiss even the television footage as staged, perhaps special effects, a government scam to necessitate martial law. Often those who made such a claim in the media met a demon within minutes. They were then reduced—in the butcher’s sense of the term—or watched their loved ones reduced.
There are some who said, for a time, that the coming of the seven clans of demons—their random dominance of our world, in daylight as much as night—was a fulfillment of prophecy. If the commentator was Christian he said it fulfilled Revelations. The Jews, the Sikhs, the Muslims pointed to other prophecies. The Fundamentalist Christians, anyway, were easily refuted: The Second Coming part never came about. They waited and waited for the Judgment; for the angel with the flaming sword, for the Rapture, for the dead to rise (now and then the demons raise the dead, but not the way the Christians expected), for Jesus to come in his glory.
Jesus was a no-show. Naturally, the evangelists rationalized his conspicuous absence: The Sacred Timetable, don’t you know, is a little off, that’s all. But the most “righteous” of them were eaten alive, a limb at a time, in public, no differently than sinners. I remember when the demons rampaged through Oral Roberts University. The sniggering delight that some hipsters and cynics took in this brutal series of bloody atrocities was most embarrassing—for the rest of us cynics and hipsters.
People adapt; they have their little ways. Some adapted by giving the demons little classification nicknames, which later caught on—names like “Gnashers” and “Dishrags” somehow making the creatures seem less threatening—or by spinning theories about them, trying to evolve methods of avoiding or controlling them, none of which work. There were TV specials for a while, demands on Congress, the short-lived National Guard assaults, resulting in forty thousand dead soldiers. The TV series
The World in Crisis
came to a grinding halt when every reporter was slowly and lovingly masticated by giant Grindums.