Authors: Benjamin Kane Ethridge
Jared’s jaw fell open.
“Not impressed yet? Let talk about your habits. When you aren’t eating your neighbor’s cooking, you eat shredded beef tacos from
like you’re expecting a global tortilla shortage. You smooth out ketchup and hot sauce packets while you wait for your food, and then you stack them in neat little piles. You lose your keys at least five times a week. Old Spice body spray is your go-to cologne when you actually do have dates. Let’s see, hmmmm… Your favorite lotion is Jorgen’s Cherry Vanilla, but you only use it for—”
“That’s enough. I believe you.” He hung his head down, blushing.
A bitter, razor-blade taste flooded the banshee’s mouth.
. The fates of many individuals had suddenly changed. Like a series of bells, one after another… death schedules had changed. Only
could be responsible for such a thing. It meant they were given permission by the Silent Kings. They were using their three grants.
She tugged on Jared sleeve. “We ought to quicken our pace.”
“The Assembly? Are they close?” He glanced around breathlessly. “I thought they still hadn’t found out. You said—”
“Don’t flip out on me. Keep calm, for crying out loud.”
“I can tell in your eyes—you’re worried.”
“Don’t overreact,” she said.
“You think they’ll find us, don’t you?”
“Just walk faster. I’ve got to plan something.”
“We can take a bus, you know? I have a pass and it doesn’t cost much. Where are we going, anyway?”
“I cannot ride in vehicles,” she said. “We have to run.”
“Really? How far? Where is this destination you keep talking about?”
“The nearest beach.”
Jared spluttered. “Wow. That would be Seal Beach and that’s one hell of a run.”
“Darling,” she said, “with the Assembly tracking us, you can bank on that.”
Things change over thousands of years, but there is always a constant in that love guides our Assembly and always will. It is, however, important not to become too muddy-minded with adoration when approaching our task. On this planet, in this reality, our presence is tenuous and we must keep our feet as near to the soil as possible. This is an unfortunate circumstance, but we will recover our gift, nevertheless. We can only establish where our scout first disappeared: an alleyway behind a modest two-story office building.
It was a mistake being too aggressive with sending the scout, and we possibly deserve having the creature now embedded in a reality transom—but the confounding anguish of losing our property and our lack of patience were the compelling factors. We could not help being possessive, but we could try to be less impulsive. And smarter. We left our work in mid-cycle and that’s why that Disturbance Paradigm unfolded. The main fault rested with that lying, betraying
. We salivated for the moment when our serrated saws ravaged that beautiful voice box from her neck. It must be said, she did inspire wonder in us. Yet, how? It was wonder, not admiration, for that we knew. It had us perplexed though. How did that deceitful scourge accomplish all that she had?
Our ten formed a semi-circle around the fire escape. The proteinous scent of a gift was faint on the rusted iron fixture. The breeze through the alley had disintegrated its exact signature, but we had a suspicion our gift climbed down here shortly before the scout discovered him. Alas, we could not track him with this limited information.
Simultaneously all ten of us craned our heads up to the window at the top of the fire escape. In that room up there, we could get a full nose of him. What an unexplainable marvel! How did the
get our gift to descend? Most of her more invasive screams we would have detected at once and she was smarter than to send such a signal. She couldn’t have climbed the fire escape, because she’s bound to the dirt and rock just as much as we are in this reality. So what happened here?
“Physical connection with another body will keep our residence in this reality,” we said. Some of this morning’s spoils of torture had settled down the left side of his face, making an eye-patch of hardened gore. “We can make a ladder of bodies. Need at least twelve—no—twenty to stack high enough to reach that window. We can climb up then.”
“Alive?” we asked ourselves, all ten of our mouths saying the words in unison.
“Dead would be easier,” we replied.
Then laughed together.
“That would change the death schedule. It would mean asking the Silent Kings for one of our grants,” we went on. “Do we wish to use one so soon on this mission?”
“The banshee and our Gift draw farther away as we debate.”
“It will still be painful for the climber,” we added. “It will not be a firm enough connection.”
“There is no time for pain.” We sucked the foreign air past our blood speckled lips and closed our eyes. “For our first grant, we wish to change the death schedule, oh Silent Kings. It will serve our purpose.”
A moment later a pulse of affirmation went through our bones.
Looking at the coin-op laundry mat across the way, we then found our resolve.
Two of our number, the Second and the Fifth, circled the building to post at the front door, and one posted in the alley. One at a time, the remaining seven pulled machetes from corridor shadows near our scarlet soaked feet. The Ninth took hold of the backdoor handle in his fist and ripped it clean out of the wood. The sorry piece of metal clattered in the silent alley. He reached into the hole and pulled the door open. Single file, we entered the laundry mat to gather the materials for our ladder.
It was a busy laundry day, luckily for us.
* * *
We rolled the bodies out the back door at a furious pace, but in the process, we still tried to study the deceased. Those who had kept their faces, we honored with a brief look of awe. This was a special day, and even though, inevitably, when the blood begins to fly all sense of the individual is lost, the least we could do was appreciate some of these spectacles of life uprooted from their mundane tasks.
A young blonde man with a white shirt speckled red with the words BABY CAKES across the chest in Old English font. His wallet was still in his hand. His driver’s license indicated his name as Jason Stolarik.
Pleasant travels, Jason. Thank you for being one of our rungs
Unlike this one, the others remained nameless to us.
A bearded man in his forties, short cropped hair, black Harley Davidson t-shirt. He’d been smiling at a woman when one of our machetes bifurcated his forehead.
The lady he spoke to was a sixty-three year old woman with dyed auburn hair, overweight, and in a loose-fitting yellow blouse. Her eyes thinned when she laughed at the Harley man’s joke, so she didn’t see the first blow coming for her neck.
A younger brunette woman in flower patterned bell-bottomed jeans had run for the exit. The blade went through her gut fluidly and spread crimson immediately over her white tank top. She started coughing and grunting until we lengthened the wound to her breastplate.
Others went down more quickly: an elderly African man with yellow-tinted sun glasses and wearing a golf hat had his neck snapped without ceremony; with precise chops to the spine, an obese middle-aged couple dropped like enormous flour sacks; a well-built man in Army fatigues that should have lasted longer than two seconds ate the end of a machete when he screamed out; and the others became a delicious blur to us, as always: screaming faces, bloody teeth, bulging eyes, a kaleidoscope of pain and delight. We hoped they enjoyed it as we did, for the short while it lasted.
Even though we stood in a different reality, we could feel the vibrations of
screams sending these people on their way. We pondered if those banshees were anything at all like the traitorous scum who spirited our gift away. Possibly so. They might all be treacherous in nature. And that would be our defense to the Silent Kings for needing to come here! The blame would squarely fall on that miserable thing’s shoulders. After all, it was she who knocked over the domino stones. This massacre is an echo of her vile actions, and grant or no grant, if changing the death schedule became a point of contention, we would certainly let the Silent Kings know where the guilt rested.
Yes... we would never trust any of those golden-voiced women again. They were all sinning thieves lying in wait, ready to take our cherished prize. We would forever give them sidelong looks. We would never forgive or forget this. We were gullible to allow them access to the fortress archives. Had we been shrewder, the gift decree would have never been discovered. But it wasn’t our oversight—we hadn't thought this an issue before. The
did their jobs and kept in line. Deceit, we had thought, wasn't in their nature, and for that, we were completely blindsided.
, we whispered, three hundred and twenty teeth clenched at once.
will we be foolish enough to trust them
Yet this wasn’t the time to lose focus. The variety of the eighteen corpses’ shapes had made for an awkward ladder. The bloody slime between the individuals made them slippery and the pile unstable. We leaned into the body ladder, giving the support needed. The Eighth and the Fifth climbed up, one after the other, while we dug our heels in and crushed our backs against the quivering mass. Grunts of pain turned into barks of agony as the Eighth and the Fifth felt the disconnection from the ground catching up with them. Without the bodies providing some buffer they would have likely burst into flames by now and their ashes scattered in the wind. We were getting our gift back though, and this pain could be endured a while longer.
The Fifth climbed onto the Eighth’s shoulders, bringing him eye-level with the window. He leaned over the fire escape and took in a ragged breath. The next moment, the glass shattered as his fist went through it. This was a doctor’s office. But no doctor, nor patient, was present. The Fifth snorted and laughed. He licked his lips, tasting, enjoying, loving the smell. Through him, we all tasted it. A second later he descended from the Eighth’s shoulders and the pair of them made haste to return to the ground.
Once they were safe, we pushed away from the dead people. More than ten bodies slipped off, twirled, and crashed to the ground. A few skulls did not take the landing very well and broke open.
The scent in our noses was powerful and developed into something quite tangible. Immediately we discovered a remnant odor of our Gift drifting on the wind. Our nostrils flared. Our fists clenched to the point of knuckles splitting. We broke into a sprint down the alley and took a left at the street. Our feet flew underneath us. Faster. And faster. Buildings blurring at our sides, we ran for miles, cutting in and out of traffic, ignoring the stares of onlookers. At one point we believed we might have lost the scent, as it was fleeting.
But then we stopped at a trashcan and found treasure.
The wrapper inside had large, stinking salt crystals in it, but otherwise smelled of two individuals. Our Gift, definitely, but the smell was hers mostly. That damnable
Nonetheless, all that mattered was our Gift was detectable on the wadded paper. That meant they were still together, at least at this point. A new breeze kicked up and we smelled him again. He was near enough to taste now. Oh, it was entirely too enchanting.
We’re coming for you, Jared, and we’ll love you more than she does
When Jared was five years old…
He would walk to the park on Grand Avenue with his father. They’d bring a Ziploc bag with two heels of their weekly Wonder Bread. Jared was actually the only one in his family who liked sandwiches with the heels but he sacrificed them to feed Fatso, the seagull. Seemed other people at the park had the same giving nature, hence him being the most rotund and shiniest gull in the entire park—he was probably the size of two and a half seagulls by Jared’s estimate.
They had been feeding Fatso for months before the lake closed for restoration of its pumps. When the lake reopened, Jared went back for a schoolmate’s birthday party and he and some other kids discovered Fatso had become thin and sickly. If Jared hadn’t spotted the little bald spot under the bird’s chin, he wouldn’t have been recognizable. The seagull had taken to living under a crevasse in the sidewalk. The entire turn of events disturbed Jared and on the way home his dad explained that since Fatso didn’t have any handouts during the restoration he had starved. This further disturbed Jared that Fatso could die so easily without help, so he decided on the next trip he’d bring three slices of bread to get his friend healthy again.
Then one afternoon, his dad went down to the park for a company softball game by the lake. Jared’s mother was working late, so he had to stay at the sitter’s. That night his parents had an awful fight and his dad came in to say goodnight before leaving. Before he could even say a word, Jared asked about Fatso. His dad looked at him, blinking, as though he didn’t understand the question. He said he hadn’t looked for Fatso that day, but it sure seemed like his dad knew more, like there was something he wouldn’t tell Jared. That’s how adults were. They never thought kids could handle knowing everything.
Especially when it came to their relationship. Even though they didn’t say so, Jared knew his parents were having big troubles. For this, he found himself more and more at the sitter’s house. Bella Boyd. The woman had to be on meth or crack or something speedy, but nobody could say she didn’t always put that hyperactive heart to good use. She was affordable and took Jared at the drop of a hat, never cared if he got sick, would never make him stay home. And he
Bella. She was funny and had more energy than his two parents combined.