Authors: Charlie Human
AND HE THOUGHT THE HARD PART WAS OVER …
The world has been massively unappreciative of sixteen-year-old Baxter Zevcenko. His bloodline may be both ancient Boer mystic and giant shape-shifting crow, and he may have saved the world, but does anyone care? No.
Instead he’s packed off to Hexpoort, a magical training facility that’s part reformatory, part military school. The problem is that Baxter sucks at magic. He’s also trying to control his new ability to dreamwalk, while being singled out by the school’s resident bully, who also happens to be the Chosen One.
But when the school comes under attack, Baxter needs to forget all that and step into action. The only way is joining forces with his favourite recovering alcoholic of a supernatural bounty hunter, Ronin, to try and save the world from the apocalypse. Again.
Charlie Human is a denizen of South Africa’s speculative fiction scene. He has an MA in Creative Writing and lives in Cape Town. His debut novel,
Apocalypse Now Now
received rave reviews.
is the follow up.
THANK YOU TO
South Africa’s writers, publishers, designers, comic-book artists, game developers and filmmakers for all the creative camaraderie and inspiration.
And to the international network of strange and wonderful creatures who recognised something of themselves in Baxter and told me so. Thank you.
I PLACE THE
barrel of the handgun in my mouth. I have lost everything and there’s no real point in going on. Karma is a bitch. Karma doesn’t care that I wanted to change my ways. Karma doesn’t believe in good intentions.
I have failed miserably at being good. I couldn’t even get that right. I’m the same nasty piece of work that I’ve always been, except now I can’t be happy with it. What has been felt cannot be unfelt. Even having saved the world doesn’t make me feel good about myself. Perhaps it’s something you get habituated to; each new world-saving moment has to be bigger and better than the last to give you that same dopamine and serotonin kick. Maybe heroes are just junkies.
I’ve killed everything in this life worth living for, so the only thing left to do is kill Baxter. They say suicide is a selfish, egotistical thing to do. It suits me perfectly. It all seems so clear now. This is going to be great. The steely taste of the gun. The explosion. The oblivion. I can’t wait.
Baxter was brought to the attention of the Hexpoort admissions faculty by the MK6 agent codenamed Tone. As with any potential student, careful attention must be paid to his genetic history, magical skills and psychological make-up profile. The following profile was compiled from extensive MK6 surveillance of the subject and interviews with all involved in his case.
Baxter is a unique case. His genetic lineage is a strange hybrid of Siener, the Afrikaner mystics active primarily during the Boer wars, and the Murder, the shape-shifting giant Crows that have been responsible for the deaths of many in the Hidden community.
We believe Baxter was first introduced to the existence of the Murder by his grandfather, ‘Grandpa Zev’, but that Baxter initially did not believe him. Grandpa Zev was of Siener descent but had none of their abilities. It is only in Baxter that the Siener powers of clairvoyant sight have fully manifested.
However, the reality of Baxter’s heritage goes further than that. At the centre of Baxter’s strange tale is the former head of MK6 Kobus ‘Mirth’ Basson, who went rogue and attempted to twist the organisation to his own nefarious purposes. Basson himself was part Crow and was implicated in a plan to gain control of two ancient inter-dimensional vehicles that had the power to rend space and time.
There has been speculation that these vehicles served to imprison two old gods but this has not been definitively proven by subsequent investigations. Whatever the truth of their history, these vehicles were undeniably powerful and in Basson’s hands they posed an unparalleled threat to the safety and security of our world.
Baxter was the pawn that was meant to cement Basson’s control of the vehicles’ ability to traverse time and space. We believe that Baxter himself is the result of Basson altering timelines to create a perfect combination of Crow and Siener, a mixture potent enough to pilot these inter-dimensional craft. To this end Basson captured Baxter’s girlfriend Esmé, posed as Baxter’s psychologist and managed to briefly convince Baxter that he was a serial killer.
These events culminated in a battle in an alternate dimension that destroyed an alternate version of Cape Town city and resulted in Basson’s death. This was ruled by the MK6 Blood Kraal as acceptable collateral damage in ending the threat of such a dangerous rogue agent.
The combination of this Crow and Siener genetic inheritance has resulted in extreme internal tension within Baxter’s psychological make-up.
Baxter displays elements of the so-called Dark Triad of personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy, and his leadership of a porn-dealing high-school gang called the Spider allowed him full expression of these traits.
However, the kidnapping of his girlfriend Esmé resulted in a late blossoming of conscience and ignited in him a desire to follow a more virtuous path.
Only time will tell whether this will be a permanent personality change, but a panel of MK6 psychologists has predicted that he will soon revert to his old ways. A leopard does not change its spots, after all.
Thorough interviews have been conducted with every agent who came into contact with Baxter during the Basson episode. We have included statements from the three agents who had the most interaction with him:
Jackson ‘Jackie’ Ronin
Agent Ronin works as a supernatural bounty hunter, a position that gives him great access to the Hidden Community. He has been suspended on numerous occasions for wanton violence and alcohol abuse and has more cautions, violations and disciplinary reviews on his record than any other agent in history. It is this committee’s understanding that he suffers from PTSD from his involvement in the Border War during apartheid.
‘Baxter? Why don’t you go ask the little shit yourself? OK, OK, fine. He can be a dumb little punk but the kid has real potential. Thing is he’s conflicted, you can see it sometimes on his face, the two sides of him battling it out. If he can sort out the shit he’s got going on in his head he could be a real force to be reckoned with.’
Dr Pat (retired)
Pat runs the Haven, a facility that takes in Hidden creatures that are under threat. Her record is full of disciplinary cautions for placing the needs of the Hidden above her work as an agent.
‘A very sweet boy, but with a lot on his mind. The bond he had with Klipspringer, an Ndiru bok-boy he met at the Haven, was very special as Klipspringer likes very few humans.’
A member of the all-female Hidden race known as The Flock, Katinka was born male and barely escaped execution. Now living as a transsexual, Katinka is the subject of a bitter political battle between The Flock and MK6.
‘He’s a cool kid, with a lot of power in that cute little head of his. If he’d just go a little easier on himself he’d realise he’s not as bad and hardcore as he thinks he is. But that’s teenagers, right?’
The committee accepts Baxter as a student of the Hexpoort magical education facility with reservations. He seems unable to fully control his abilities, sometimes displaying extreme competence at directing his sight, and at other times seemingly unable to use it at all.
Our primary recommendation is to have Baxter tested as soon as possible to determine the extent of his abilities. The kind of tension that Baxter experiences as a result of his genetics can result in either a total, permanent blockage of abilities or the almost unconscious mastering of new spells and abilities. Either way he must be treated with extreme caution.
IT’S MY FIFTH
session at Pornography Anonymous and I still can’t shake the feeling that the world owes me something. This despite the copious amounts of ‘sharing’, ‘talking about feelings’ and ‘apologising’ that I’ve been forced into as part of my rehabilitation.
‘Good morning, everybody,’ says Harold Emly, compulsive masturbator, reformed porn addict and leader of this little group of cinematic sex aficionados. Harold has a large moon-shaped face and strawberry-blond hair that is going white at the temples. He’s wearing a lime-green golf shirt and has a sparkly stud in his left ear lobe. He chews his lip as he speaks, which gives his words a slight slurring quality and makes it sound as if he’s on his fourth glass of cheap red wine for the night.
Harold was once a famous radio sports commentator, beloved by the nation, before he was disgraced when he accidentally left the microphone on while he indulged in his favourite compulsion during an ad break and treated cricket fans everywhere to a short but noisy performance.
‘Good morning, Harold,’ the weird little group intones solemnly, thus initiating the opening of yet another session. I see the smiles and nods of solidarity and I feel a wave of disgust pass over me. I’ve been accepted into the sordid, sweaty ranks of PA and they look on me as one of their own.
I should be a hero. I should be interviewed by newspapers, I should be considering competing offers by publishers and establishing a healthy social media following by being retweeted by minor celebrities. I should have my own meme, for fuck’s sake.
No. There’s no denying the world has been massively unappreciative. I mean – and I’m not fishing for hero-worship here – I struggled against my own inner demons, fought an inter-dimensional battle in a vehicle that was actually a prison for an elder god, and ended up saving the world from certain domination. No biggie. Does the world care? The unfortunate answer to that question is no. Not even a little bit. Now I know how Jesus and Ultraman must have felt.
I rub the stub of my little finger. It has become my signature move: rubbing my finger stump philosophically and thinking about everything the world owes me.
I look up and see the rest of the group looking at me. The rumour is that I cut off my own finger to stop myself from jerking off. They nod sympathetically and I quickly pull my hands apart.
‘Baxter,’ Harold says, hunching forward in his chair, causing the gold zodiac-sign pendant around his neck to swing back and forth hypnotically. ‘Why don’t you share with the group first today?’
Yes, why don’t I share? I should tell them that getting into a new school has been impossible despite considerable effort on my part to prove I’ve been ‘reformed’. Pornography Anonymous is just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve been to several psychologists and have been diagnosed with everything from bipolar disorder to ADHD to PTSD. I’ve been prescribed a rainbow spectrum of drugs to help me deal with my problems. Since my last psychologist tried to convince me that I was a serial killer and then attempted to murder me with a giant Octopus exoskeleton, I don’t think it’s unreasonable that I’m a little sceptical.