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IAT-Act06-Chapter03-Body

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 2 months ago


 

The Earth, itself untouched by hardship and virgin of the plough, offered up its ripe bounty unprovoked. And Men, contented with food created without toil, gathered the strawberries of the mountains, and currants, and blackberries sticking to their bramble-bushes, and acorns which had fallen from the wide-spreading tree of Jove. It was an eternal spring: the rivers flowed with milk and nectar, and honey—meli—sweated from every tree.

 

—Ovid (circa 8 AD), The Metamorphoses, Fable III: The Golden Age

 

 

 

 

 

"Master." Black Cherry writhes on the linoleum bathroom floor. "I'm in you now." She swallows food coloring and stains herself green, absorbs her wings to provide her slender body some heft, but she has no real talent for mimicry. She resembles a garish and gloppy copy of Galatea.

 

She rises, sighing, "I'm in you." The coloring fades and the va-va-voom curves dwindle as rubied wings sprout from her back. "I've been in you for hours, now, remember?" She shuts her eyes and pops open her mouth, tipping forward. "You took my tongue, so that I might speak inside you." Her mouth lies hollow and empty. "You drank of my breast, so that I might touch your soul." She cups her coquette's breast, watching the last of the green tint fade from her flesh. She stands with the wings of a bat and a cardinal's colors. She winks an abyssal eye. "Not very romantic, but the magic was there, wouldn't you say?"

 

She taps a fingertip against her lip. "You're dreaming, Master."

 

She spreads her wings and pirouettes on the toe of her candy-apple red Mary Jane clog. "Finally!" Her wings ignore the dimensions of the crowded bathroom, as things often do in dreams, and fly wide. "I thought your green whore would never let you sleep." The buffeting air is redolent with sex, and the unmistakable scent of baking cookies. "I thought she knew better." She winks, shrugs, "Her loss," and wing claws longer than daggers and sharper than any swords slice through the air.

 

Dee feels no pain, only a gentle chill, as the claws pierce his skull and meet with a click somewhere behind his eyes. Black Cherry frowns in a moue. "Well, that didn't work." She pivots her chin, inspecting with her light-swallowing eyes. "Something's keeping me out. Is it you?" She smiles, a proud pet-owner. "Are you really that strong, to keep me out, even now, when I'm so close?" She holds up a length of black braided rope, tied up in white ribbon. "Even when I have this?"

 

The knowledge comes to Dee now fully-formed, as if he always knew, a part of the dream's back-drop slotted into place. The rope is Ursula's hair. Over ten years worth of growth. Ten years worth of work: an hour in the morning, an hour in the evening with…

 

         [gates]

 

…combs of horn and ivory, every day, sitting at her…

 

         [altar]

 

…vanity, gazing into her own eyes reflected back out at her from a century-old…

 

          [scrying]

 

…looking glass. She performed this…

 

          [ritual]

 

…compulsive routine, twice a day, every day, for ten years. The subtlest knife could not cut the bond tying Ursula to her…

 

         [talismanic]

 

…trademark braids, any more than losing a limb makes someone less of a person. Black Cherry holds Ursula's life and power in her hand.

 

"Caught up?" Black Cherry asks. "Good. Whatever the reason, I can't get into your inner mind. I'm stuck here, in your imagination." She takes in her surroundings with a knowing smirk, and, as the bathroom vanishes around Dee, she muses, "What an odd place."

 

Linoleum bathroom tiles and specks of caulking and tumble upward in zero g. Fixtures and walls melt into wisps of menthol. Black Cherry brushes the drifting detritus away with a flick of a wing. "There are two gates of Sleep," she recites, skimming a finger across the page of a fusty tome that plops out of thin air and into her hands, "one said to be of horn, through which true shades given gentle passage."

 

She licks the pad of her thumb and flips the page. Dee knows she reads from the Aeneid, although he cannot fathom how he knows. Black Cherry grins at his confusion and holds the book out to him. Pages have been cut away to make room for a faded, four color comic book. "Classics Illustrated," she winks. "Is this how you BS'd your way through college?"

 

She returns to reading, "The other gleams with the whiteness of polished ivory." She pauses, raises a brow and harrumphs. "But through it the gods of the dead send false dreams to the world above." The book snaps shut. "Bingo."

 

Dee and the scarlet girl stand on a rain-slick city street before a door cornered off by red velvet rope. A sign above the door proclaims Lux in pale neon. Black Cherry flits over the rope and cracks open the door. Piano music spills out into the night. She whirls about and sings, her face a mask of sly delight, her soprano sparking and pitch-perfect:

 

I've just read of Cleopatra

The glamorous empire shatt'rer,

Who to Caesar lost her heart as well as her head,

But that stingy old Rotarian

Gave her nothing but one Caesarian,

So she fell in love with Marc Antony instead.

To worship two men in turn may be sublime,

But, oh, it's Hell when you care for both at the same time.

 

 

She twitters and dips her head through the door, one leg raised behind her butt. "Not the sort of ivory I was expecting. Where do you get this stuff?" She peeks back at Dee.

 

Dee's speech slurs, his mouth feeling full of peanut butter. "Innernet. Comic booksh."

 

"Never heard of it," Black Cherry mutters, then sighs. "Can't get through your Gate of Horn. Tried that already." One wing claw dimples the side of her skull before leaning through the piano bar's front door again. "Ivory will have to do." She squares her shoulders, unruffles her wings, and scampers inside.

 

"Welcome to your nightmare, Master."

 

The wake of her wings drags Dee across the velvet-rope boundary and into the piano club. Upon stumbling through the front door, Dee finds himself in a tiny kitchen, a cluttered twin of the kitchenette of Dee's own apartment. A tall steel mixing bowl keeps the refrigerator's door wedged open and its compressor running nonstop. A few dozen empty boxes of cherry Jell-O are piled atop the kitchen table.

 

Black Cherry perches on the kitchen counter, feasting on the last scraps of Bernie's—Bee's—flesh she is willing to eat. Pheromones of fear befoul the meat. Cannibalizing Bee for his collagen was no picnic. "But I did it, Master," she says, slurping down wobbly bits of gristle.

 

Dee's revulsion overcomes the sleep paralysis swaddling him like wet cotton. "Why, Cherry? Damn it, why?"

 

"To be strong for you. Strong enough to fuck you. To beat you." She sucks the dregs of marrow from a cracked femur. "To please my Master whether he likes it or not."

 

After a few final, lingering licks, she bites the thigh bone in two, chokes down one half, and drops the other into the garbage disposal in the kitchen sink. She flips a wall switch and the disposal coughs to life. The femur dances and descends into the disposal as hidden, dull blades whack it into splinters. "I ate all that I could use," she shouts over the racket. She glances aside. "Well, almost all."

 

She holds up a mason jar with the remains of Bee's manhood. Dee struggles to reach out and throttle Black Cherry's throat, but his arms plough through air thicker than treacle, and the scarlet girl rebuffs them with an impatient wing. He can still speak, and opts to scream for a long while before words come out. "Why show me this?"

 

"No choice." Black Cherry shuts off the disposal. "Through the Gate of Ivory, I can't make any true visions or new memories. I have to work within what's inside you already—my memories from before you consumed my novilunium. Plus, it's fun!" She gazes up at him through her eyelashes. "You should see how adorably angry you look."

 

She hops off the counter, mason jar in hand. "Now then, where is…Ah." She plucks up the tin of nanomek in the other hand. "Hm." She contemplates the two containers. "I wonder if the old trick still works."

 

She plunks the mason jar back onto the counter. The two gobbets of raveled flesh inside the jar roll and rebound off the sides of the glass. "I just need a little bit of offal." She fishes inside the mouth of the garbage disposal and comes away with a finger-scoopful of muck. She flicks a dollop of the stuff into the mason jar.

 

She pops the top off the tin and dread blankets Dee. "My God, Cherry. Don't…"

 

She shushes him and gives the tin a short shake. "No talking during my flashbacks." A slight shower of soft powder wafts down into the jar.

 

"You didn't really do that," Dee says, aghast. "This is a nightmare, a false dream. You're…you're making this up."

 

"Could be," she twitters, locking the top of the mason jar in place. "I think I'll leave this little guy for you, a guardian at the threshold of the underworld. I bet you'll completely forget about it until it's too late, just like in all the stories."

 

Dee presses his fists against his forehead. "Remember, remember. This is important. Forget everything else about this fucking nightmare but remember this."

 

Black Cherry laughs like she will fall apart. "I love loose ends, don't you?"

 

Dee lunges for her but he still moves in slow motion. Black Cherry laughs again and skips from the kitchenette into the living room. She skids to a halt. "That smell. I didn't notice it in the kitchen—Bee's fear was too thick—but now…" She turns back to Dee, eyes wide. "I know that smell, Master." She giggles. "It's another me, isn't it?" A frown clouds her face. She swallows her laughter. "No, wait." She tips her head toward the ceiling. "It's her."

 

Dee staggers after her. Black Cherry groans. Wing claws scourge her back, her chest, raising crisscrossed, weeping welts. "There are gaps in my mind, Master." Beads of brandy bleed down her legs. "Glittering caverns filled with only the shadow of memory. I am newborn but there are echoes of something older, far older." She hangs her head. Her bangs fall over her eyes and she sobs, "I'm so confused. I'm so alone."

 

Dee reaches for her shoulder. "Cherry."

 

Black Cherry glares up at the lime-stained ceiling, defiance shining through sanguine tears. "I should be alone." A wing claw stabs upward. "She should not be here. It's all wrong." She sniffles, hiccupping giggles. "You made a mess of things this time, Master. But I will fix them for us."

 

She strides to the living room window, wrenches it open, and scuttles out. Wing claws punch through aluminum siding for purchase. "Come along, Master. I mean for you to see this through."

 

The dream-world shifts around Dee. He drifts three stories up in the middle of the night air. Black Cherry suspends herself upside-down above an apartment window. She peeps through, her face illuminated by a jittering electric glow.

 

Dee's heart is in his throat. "Galatea?"

 

Black Cherry grips the windowsill with her hands, and pries the window open with one long claw. Inside, the sliding lock rips free of the window frame and clatters to the floor. "If all your neighbors are this cute, Master," she remarks, "I won't have to eat many more of them." She swings to the side to let him see.

 

The living room behind the glass is not his own, but he recognizes its occupant readily enough. Dee breathes, "Oh, no.

 

"Viggo."

 

Viggo Palm sits in a cushy lounge chair a few feet away from a wafer-thin television so high fidelity it needs to be calibrated against the magnetic disturbances in the Earth's crust. The only source of light in the room, the television's ambient glow casts Viggo's fine black hair in electric blue. His ears are swallowed up by boxy headphones. He is absorbed in his work, which, at the moment Black Cherry glides through the living room window, consists of killing zombies.

 

Dee finds himself beside Black Cherry, standing amidst stacks of video game and DVD boxes in low-slung wire racks. Black Cherry nibbles her lip, eyes roving over Viggo's own low-slung, wiry frame. Viggo sits oblivious to everything but the virtual tide of the hungry dead rising in HDTV on the screen. His fingers blur over a wireless video game controller with so many knobs and buttons it looks like a gleaming scarab beetle. The room is silent save for the clacking controller and the muffled death-rattles of the living dead reverberating from his headphones.

 

Black Cherry fixates on Viggo's nimble fingers. "He knows the Flying Octopus, Hooded Pearl Technique," she marvels.

 

"Cherry," Dee says, "don't do this."

 

"Don't do what?" she titters, trying to imitate the butterfly movement of Viggo's hands. "This has all happened already. Maybe you just don't want to see?" She perfects the finger motion, then lowers her arm and plays out the same pattern across her mons. She squeaks and jumps, the miniature wings above her ears frazzling. "Oh, my!" Her brows knit.

 

"Cherry," Dee says, "wait." But she is already stomping across the room in her jelly clogs. Black Cherry opens her wings, curtaining the television set, and folds her arms below her bare breasts. The plasma screen's lumina ignite her curves with an eerie nimbus.

 

"What's wrong with you?" she asks, head-wings fanned, mouth filled with crimson foxfire. "Spending the night alone when you have hands like that?"

 

Viggo blinks up at her. The controller falls in his lap. He toggles the volume control on his headphones.

 

Black Cherry tips her head and taps her foot. "Well?"

 

The demoness and dweeb stare in silence. Then, in hushed tones, Viggo wonders: "Morrigan?"

 

Black Cherry purses her lips. Her left wing fleets forward, claw hooked down. Dee shouts Viggo's name but the sleep paralysis returns, cramming Dee in invisible gauze. Dazed and unflinching, Viggo watches the wing sail toward him. He taps the PAUSE button on the game controller between his knees. The claw flies past his ear and flips the lounge chair backward. The chair's upturned footrest points Viggo's feet at the ceiling.

 

The scarlet girl, more shadow than substance in the televised witch-light, sashays forward. She sighs, "Read a book sometime, alright?" and straddles Viggo's lap. The lounge chair creaks once, then wobbles as Viggo nods his fierce, wide-eyed agreement. Black Cherry tucks a stray lock of hair behind her ear, bends down, and enshrouds his mouth with hers.

 

Viggo reaches down and tosses the game controller onto the carpet. Black Cherry molds her body over his, snickers, "Good boy," into his mouth, and guides his hands up from between his knees to her naked sex. "Find my pearl."

 

Viggo moves beneath her and she trembles, still kissing, kissing. The miniature wings above her head furl into pointed cones, becoming perky cat ears. Dee knows he watches a cat at play with her prey and an enervating sense of dread and guilt—I mistrusted Galatea; I gave away the nanomek; I am the cause of all of this—roots him to the spot as an impotent spectator.

 

Black Cherry breaks the kiss. Her throaty chuckle fills the silence, her wings outspread wall to wall. Her lips shine in the half-light, serous and wet. Viggo swallows, his mouth glossed with brandy. He worships the vision above him before whispering, "I'm Badjao."

 

Black Cherry scrunches her hips around Viggo's hand. "Hm?"

 

"My granddad: Badjao," Viggo says, his smile hazy, his voice slurry. "Pearl diving is in my blood."

 

Dee manages to spit a few words. "You're. Mindfucking. Him."

 

"Oh, yes," Black Cherry replies. She descends onto Viggo again. At first Dee thinks their kiss has become soulful and full of tongue. Then a trickle of cordial escapes Black Cherry's lips, drizzles down Viggo's cheekbone and over an ear. This is no French kiss, Dee realizes, watching Black Cherry gush and Viggo guzzle. This is a grotesque communion.

 

"You won't…eat him?"

 

Black Cherry rocks up. "Oh, no." She snaps the buttons off Viggo's shirt, one by one, and shrugs. "Well, yes. But not now. Why?" She turns to Dee. "Do you want me to eat him, Master?"

 

Dee plods forward a single step. "Damn you." Words flow a little easier now. "Stop this. Leave him. Alone."

 

"You and I should be alone, Master," Black Cherry insists. "But for that to happen…" She pauses and glares at the television—No, through the television, through the wall beyond, into my apartment, to Galatea—"There's someone I need to deal with first." She turns back to Viggo. "So, Badjao."

 

"Viggo," says Viggo.

 

"Whatever. Can you hear it now?" Black Cherry raps a knuckle on his forehead. "Blood music?"

 

Viggo's face blossoms with silent revelation, a broad Oh, so that's what that is expression. "Blood music," Viggo echoes, glad to give the strange sensation a name.

 

"For the next few hours, that's all I want you to hear. And this." She slips two fingers into her sex then smears them across his mouth and under his nose. "Is all I want you to think about."

 

Viggo groans, "I already am." He reaches for her but she pushes his hands back. "Don't you want to fuck?"

 

Black Cherry finishes undoing his shirt and plants her palm over his left breast. "Of course. But later. Master must be my first, and you're not him. You're for the Frenzy."

 

Dee startles. It's like falling off a cliff. For an instant, he seizes upon the truth. He sees. He sees everything that's happened, everything that she's said.

 

["…It should be you…My master should be my first…It should have been you, but I have no time…"]

 

The whole puzzle clicks together in his head, Black Cherry's whole, crazy, pointless, stupid game. The knowledge is ephemeral. Dee can already sense it slipping through his grasp, through the gate of ivory, the font of false dreams. "Dream logic," Yves called it. It rarely makes sense after you wake up. Yet the bitterness and bile welling up in his breast feel strong enough to last forever. He knows what he has to do. "Enough, Cherry."

 

Black Cherry ignores him. "Are there any guardsmen?" she asks Viggo. Viggo frowns. Droplets of Cherry's cordial spill down his chin. "I saw a guardhouse outside," Black Cherry continues, "but it was empty."

 

Dee advances on the overturned lounge chair. "I mean it. It's over."

 

"Central office," Viggo says. His fingers strive for Black Cherry's cleft but she pins him down and shies away. "Near the front gate."

 

"I'm ending this." Dee stands before overturned chair. For the first time, Viggo registers Dee's presence.

 

"Dee?"

 

Dee looks down and speaks with his newfound voice: "Frog blast the vent core."

 

Black Cherry's incredulous laughter dies in her throat as Viggo flays and swears beneath her. The scarlet girl stumbles off the chair. "What? What?"

 

Viggo rolls onto the floor and springs up, wild eyed. Dee chases him out the front door of the apartment with two well-timed cries of "I'm out of ammo!" and "Shoot me!"

 

"That." Black Cherry shakes her head. "That never happened. Whatever the Hell that was." She levels an accusing finger at Dee. "You cheated!"

 

"No," Dee shuts the front door, bolts it shut. "I out-geeked you. V's a diehard gamer, and some instincts go deeper than sex. Besides, my head…" The apartment evaporates into diffuse light. "My rules. Get moving."

 

Black Cherry twitters and casts about for a reference point in the white, sterile plane. She finds a worn, maroon leather recliner chair next to a counterfeit Tiffany floor lamp. "What is this?"

 

"A Matrix reference." Dee smirks as he circles around to the front of the recliner. "You'll never understand me, or—" He freezes. "Tomoe."

 

Tomoe goggles up at him from the recliner, a toddler caught with her hand in the cookie jar. Her hair is plastered with sweat against her cheeks. Her skirt is on the nominal white floor. Her fingers are jammed into her rose underwear.

 

"Oh, hey, Dee."

 

Dee spreads his hands, lost. "What the fuck, Tomoe?"

 

"I," Tomoe starts. "I was…" She looks down at her crotch. The panty is soaked through. "I was just…" Her fingers withdraw with a lewd shlick noise, and she blushes strawberry red. "I was just leaving," she squeaks, hops out of the chair, wraps her skirt sideways around her waist, and crab-walks away.

 

"You're right," Black Cherry says, watching Tomoe vanish from view. "I don't understand you. Yet. But we'll have all the time in the world soon enough."

 

"That's what I want to talk to you about," Dee says. Black Cherry cocks an eyebrow at him and he gestures at the recliner. "Sit."

 

Black Cherry alights upon the recliner and crosses her legs. "Still warm. Well?"

 

Dee stares off after Tomoe for a moment, then shakes his head clear. "You want your master," he says, "all to yourself. I want all the mindfucking and Frenzying and—God, damn you, Cherry—the killing to stop. No more."

 

Black Cherry narrows her eyes. "So?"

 

"So," Dee says, and leans up against the recliner's armrest. "I think we can work something out."

 


 

 

Dee woke to debauchery.

 

Tomoe stood in stunned silence on the sideline. He had dreamt of her as he first met her: a short slip of a girl with dark, merry eyes. Now those same eyes sparkled from a face almost level with his above a body from a boyhood wet dream, an airbrushed pin-up girl with skin tanned to chocolate perfection, eye-popping curves, and waves of raven hair flowing down to her ass.

 

Dee ambled up, still groggy from sleep, trying to make sense of the spectacle Tomoe was watching. "What'd I miss?" Tomoe opened her mouth, but just shook her head, spread her hands, and shut it again. Long shadows moved behind Dee. He turned around and bumped his chin atop a bust crammed so close into a coppery one-piece dress he could hear the fabric squeal under the stress.

 

"There was a little purple one," came the voice from above the boobs, "and a big, minty one." Dee stepped back to better look the newcomer in the eyes, but old habits died hard and he found himself drawn to the sunlight reflecting off the skintight material hugging the huge globes right in front of him. The girl swung her arm out to point. Dee stared at the muscle gliding under her creamy skin instead.

 

"Then Unyx fucked the minty one so hard she came apart," the girl gabbled. "So now there's a yellow one—right there, see?" She pointed to CeeCee, lying flat on her back in a little pool of melted creamsicle, her face stamped into a blissed-out smile. "And a green one." Here the girl paused, licked her lips, and bent down to whisper to Dee, in hushed, almost reverent tones. Flower perfumed, honey-brown hair tickled his nose. "And the green one? She just keeps going, and going, and going…"

 

Dee swallowed. "Where's Raz? The purple one?"

 

Tomoe found her voice. "Up in the tree."

 

"I've been fucked by a train!" Raspberry hollered back, slung over a high branch in the one tree remaining upright. She pumped her fists. "Woo!"

 

"Hi, Dee," Eurydice sang down from the heart of a glistening black nest, a writhing web of clutching arms and questing snakes. "Unyx, put me down, Dee's awake…Wait." Eurydice twisted until she hung suspended by her ankles and wrists bound in ebony ropes. "Hey, Dee," Eurydice called. She bit her lip in concentration. A pleated, myrtle miniskirt unrolled over her thighs and a prim, tea green schoolgirl blouse skated up over her chest. "Wanna watch?"

 

Ursula, wearing a glossy raccoon eye-mask and nothing else, rose out of the obsidian mass, a porcelain pale mermaid bobbing up from an inky sea. Her lips were liquid black. Her high cheekbones, bare breasts and flat abdomen ghosted with silver as if the night had become her life's blood. Ursula's mask—Dee corrected himself: Unyx's mask—crooked up in arch inquisition.

 

Dee contemplated Unyx's outie navel and Eurydice's cheeky, jade grin before turning back to Tomoe. "You were right," he deadpanned. "My life does suck."

 

The tall girl eyed Dee up and down. "Wow." Her gaze locked in the "down" position. "You are very naked right now."

 

"That's Mine, Jo," Eurydice declared. The black cabling binding her unraveled and Eurydice drifted down to the ground.

 

"Why hullo there, Mine," Jo breathed. "I've heard some very good things about you."

 

The name and face of the tall girl clicked. "Jo?" Dee squinted. "Jo Echo, the volleyball captain?"

 

Eurydice bounced over. "You're a girl's volleyball fan?"

 

Dee and Tomoe chorused, "Yes."

 

Unyx nodded. "oh - yeah." The tesseract of Unyx's gel-flesh folded into itself before flowing up and around her ivory curves, collapsing into an onyx bodysuit, thigh-high go-go boots, and thick choker collar. "Zup, Dee?"

 

"What happened to you?" Dee glanced around. "To all of you." Jo shrugged and Dee froze, watching the cords of Jo's neck grow taut and her breasts battle with her dress. "Especially you," he told her.

 

Raspberry spread her legs to peer upside-down at Dee from her perch in the tree. "I got fu—"

 

"Not you," Dee dismissed, and waved off her two-fisted, one-fingered salute.

 

A distant motor purred. Tomoe turned toward the sound, her smile wide and sensuous. Eurydice stepped up to fill the silence. "You happened, Dee. When you fucked me." She blushed wine-dark, quivery with memory. "Oh, God, when you took me, you went all out. You didn't just fuck me." She gestured at the chaos of wildflowers around them. "You screwed the brains out of every female thing within seven yards." She patted him on the cheek. "No wonder you passed out."

 

Dee took her hand. "I slept."

 

Her brow knit. "Did you…"

 

"A little," Dee said and kissed her palm. "Went hypnagogic." Eurydice cradled herself against his chest. "It's okay."

 

"'Hypnagogic'?" asked a doubtful Unyx. The motoring noise drew louder, closer. "Where'd that come from?"

 

"Alan Moore," Dee said. Unyx looked blank and he added, "Really tall. Huge, crazy-ass beard. Writes comic books. Shacks up with his wife and her bi girlfriends. Talks to snakes."

 

"Owes me five dollar," Tomoe muttered as the roaring engine dropped to a low rumble.

 

The sound tickled Dee's memory. "Just what happened to Yves, anyway?"

 

"Hey, guys."

 

Dee, Eurydice, Tomoe, Unyx, and Jo turned.

 

"Ooh," said Jo.

 

"Gay," Tomoe whispered.

 

"Aw," said Jo.

 

A tall figure slouched in the heart of the copse of fallen trees, blades of blond hair falling over his face, a portrait of effortless elegance. A brilliant white shirt, loose and open over his tan undershirt, caught the sun's rays one shining thread at a time. His hands dangled over a long curved sword in a coral sheath, slung across his back like a yoke. Behind him, a rose colored roadster idled, crouching in the wild grass, a predatory monster of polished metal and glass.

 

"We’re superheroes," Yves said.

 

Wood rustled and snapped overhead. Yves sighed, let the sword slip from his fingers, and closed his eyes.

 

"Yves!"

 

Raspberry hurtled down, an amethyst lightning bolt, bowling Yves over in a blur of violet limbs and orchid hair moving too fast for Dee to see. Yves ended up flat on his back. Raspberry's naked body sprawled against him, her arms locked around his neck, her face buried in the hollow of his shoulder. She sobbed his name once, twice, then sat bolt upright. "You smell just-been-fucked," she said askance.

 

Behind them, the roadster's engine revved.

 

"Can't I get laid every once in a while?" Yves asked.

 

"Sure," Raspberry shrugged as the engine's revving became a syrupy burble. "But only if I get to watch."

 

SB strode passed them, coppery one-piece dress adhering to her curves and bulges. "Took me hours to get that man's dick in my ass."

 

Raspberry dug her knees into Yves ribs and crossed her arms. "What's she got that I don't? Or can't strap on?"

 

SB's stride broke when she crossed the threshold of the flowerbed. "Whoa." Her dress snagged on a rosebush. "Dee, do you have any idea what you did." Her words died in her throat when Tomoe stepped forward. "Oh." SB's fingers flew over her mouth. Her diamond eyes sparkled wet as Tomoe towered closer, her hair swinging in counterpoint behind her back. "Oh my God, T."

 

"Well met," said Tomoe, her voice melodic and strange. "We are well met in the navel of the world."

 

"So long." SB reached up to trace Tomoe's cheek. "It's been so long."

 

Tomoe glanced down. "It's getting even longer." SB swallowed a teary chuckle. Tomoe pressed their foreheads together. "I'll never look away again," she whispered. "Never. I swore, remember?" She stepped back to take SB by the hand. "Dee," Tomoe called, "we gotta go. You got things covered?"

 

Dee slipped his arm around Eurydice's waist. She nodded at him. "I think so."

 

"Gotcha." She led SB away. "Try to avoid the demiurgic stuff, okay? World navels can attract all kinds of attention. Know what I mean?"

 

"Not a clue," Dee replied, shaking his head. Unyx laughed.

 

"Good." Tomoe and SB stepped out of the flowerbed. Without looking back, Tomoe said, "You coming, Jo?"

 

Jo glanced up from her study of Dee's package and Eurydice's chest. "Who, me?"

 

"No, the seven foot tall muscle girl with huge tits behind you. Yes, you. And bring your three five dollar."

 

Jo dashed and bent over to grab her wad of bills, and it was Dee and Eurydice's turn to stare. "I've got fifteen dollars," Jo said, standing up. Dee and Eurydice glanced away.

 

"That's what I said," Tomoe said as she and SB entered the copse of fallen trees. "Later, Yves."

 

Beneath Raspberry, Yves gave her a sarcastic salute. "It's been surreal."

 

"It's just getting started," SB said. "See you around, Sir Valiancourt. Remember your choice."

 

Jo bounded after Tomoe and SB. "What are we doing? Where're we going?"

 

"Clubbing," Tomoe answered. "And a little shopping."

 

"But first," SB said, taking stock of Jo's dress and the assets within, "one of us has got to lose her skirt."

 


 

 

"What choice?" Raspberry glowered down at Yves. "And what was that about bellybuttons?" She toyed with the fabric of his sleeve. "And gimme your shirt. I sorta burned out the other one."

 

Dee picked his way into the copse of trees. "Let him up, Raz. It's time for Yves to stand."

 

Yves turned his head. "I don't like the way you said that, Dee." His ear pressed to the leaf mold, Yves could feel little ground temblors, vibrations on the cusp of hearing. Dee thudded toward him. "Jesus."

 

Raspberry curled a lock of Yves' hair around her finger. "I'll release him for a kiss." She blushed violet. "Please?" Yves propped himself up on his elbows. Raspberry scooted back until she sat in his lap. Yves sat up straight, took the now trembling lavender girl by her shoulders, and planted a warm kiss on her forehead. She bowed her head, wreathed Yves in orchids and the smells of early summer. "I would have been there for you," she whispered, "even if Dee had never bound me."

 

"I don't understand," Yves said, feeling awkward under her regard.

 

"In the Jeep," Raspberry explained, "right before the crash." She cleared her throat and spoke in a tinny imitation of Dee's voice. "'Raz, to Yves. Now.'" She ducked and kissed him back, soft but chaste, on the mouth. "Now and always." Yves stammered at her, but she winked, swatted him, and hopped to her feet. "Don't gimme none of your faggotry." She angled her thumb at Dee waiting a few feet away. Dee was inspecting the sword, careful not to draw it much more than an inch from its sheath, whistling and wowing. "King schlong demands an audience."

 

Dee handed him the sword after Yves dusted himself off. "This sword doesn't make you a superhero, Yves. Don't get me wrong, it's freakin' awesome, but it won't make you a Batman."

 

Yves shrugged. "Figured as much." He hooked the sword into the silk sash tied around his waist. It rested against his leg, blade curving down. "I don't feel any different, and when SB made me this outfit, she didn't bother with a utility belt."

 

Dee shook his head. "SB didn't make you a superhero, Yves, because you've already been one for years."

 

They stood in silence until Yves asked, "Are we supposed to kiss now or something?"

 

"If you two start making out in front of me," Raspberry breathed, "I'll finger-bang myself until my twat falls out, swear to God."

 

Dee thought it over. "I think the homoeroticism of our friendship is supposed to be latent."

 

"Latent?" Yves leered. "You're buck fucking naked and I'm wearing a long, pink scabbard. That's blatant, not latent." Dee's face remained thoughtful but blank. Yves' smile fell. "Yeah, I'm stalling."

 

"Back on the road," Dee said, "you told me I already knew what to do. Well, I think someone has to die today, Yves." Dee clasped Yves by the forearm. "And I won't let it be you."

 

Yves closed in. He felt the heat of Dee's breath and bare skin. "Dammit, Dee." His free hand seized the pommel of his sword, ready to draw. "It's not your decision to make." Dee maintained his stolid expression. "What is it?" Certainty chilled Yves to the core but he asked anyway. "My God, Dee, what have you done?"

 

Dee turned. Raspberry shivered and shrank back. "Raz, leave us for a minute." The lavender girl protested but Dee spoke unmoved. "Yves is safe from me." Raspberry purpled. Dee sighed, "Go, Raz," and the lavender girl fled. Dee released his hold on Yves' arm.

 

"The decision has already been made, hasn't it, Yves?"

 


 

 

Dee crossed the curving perimeter of the flowerbed. Goosebumps danced across his skin. Walking beside him, chin pressed to his chest, Yves shivered and shot him an inquisitive glance. "Tomoe said something about 'world navels'," Dee said. "I haven't a damn clue what she meant. Sounds like a drink."

 

Raspberry, Unyx, and Eurydice loitered in a circle around the snoozing CeeCee. Eurydice smoothed her skirts. "Hey, Dee." Dee thought her smile looked plastic. "Sounded like you two were having a Hell of an argument. What's up?"

 

"Macho bullshit," Yves spat.

 

Eurydice's brow crinkled in confusion. Raspberry slunk behind her and would not look Dee in the eye. Dee shook his head and turned to Unyx. "Yves says you can see the future. How does that work?"

 

"You explain it better than we do," Unyx answered.

 

"I did?" Dee scratched his head, parsing her reply. "I mean, I do? When?"

 

Unyx reached for Yves. "When Yves tells us Black Cherry raped him." Behind Eurydice, Raspberry drew in a sharp breath.

 

Yves pulled away. "I never told you she raped me. How the fuck did you know?"

 

Unyx blanched, her raccoon mask fading into her skin. "Oh God." She gaped. "Black Cherry raped you?"

 

Yves spluttered and swore. Everyone started talking at once, but Dee's calm voice cut through the babbling. "Unyx perceives fourth dimensional space-time from a fifth dimensional perspective. She saw that, in the future, Yves would tell her about Cherry. But Yves still had to tell her, otherwise she wouldn’t have seen it in the first place, and create a paradox. So Unyx can know something before it happens, as long as it still happens to her for the first time at some point in the future. She still has to be surprised to prevent paradox, so she winds up living a kind of backwards time universe." Dee perked up. "Just like Doctor Manhattan." He noticed everyone had fallen quiet sometime during his little speech and was staring at him. "What?"

 

"That's exactly right," Unyx marveled. "Except we're limited to about ten minutes for some reason. But who's Doctor Manhattan?"

 

"Oh," Dee shrugged, "he's a comic book character. Alan Moore again."

 

Eurydice and Yves exchanged a look. "Dee," Eurydice said with exaggerated care, "how did you come up with the name Galatea?"

 

"That's what they call Power Girl in the cartoon," he said. "Seriously: What?"

 

"What about 'Pygmalion'?" Yves asked, both curious and cautious.

 

"I got his name off the Internet." Dee faltered. "Googling, uh, for Power Girl porn."

 

"And 'Eurydice'?" asked Eurydice.

 

"Ah!" Dee waggled a finger. "I know all about Eurydice and Orpheus. There was a Jim Henson special about them. Orpheus sings her out of a tree. The tree opens up, it's all sticky inside, and, uh, and." Dee mumbled something.

 

"It got you hard," Eurydice giggled and Dee nodded.

 

"Are you telling me," Yves demanded, "that you've had all your insights and leaps of intuition these past few days because you love comic books, cartoons, and porn?"

 

"And muppets," Unyx chimed in. "Hey, Ursula whacked off to softcore vampire sex." She stroked Dee's sagging shoulder. "We are Unyx; we sympathize."

 

"That's nice." Raspberry's voice was little more than an acid hiss. She moved out from behind Eurydice, her hair whirling in an unfelt breeze, her body haloed in radiant reds and violets. "Now excuse me, I've got a psycho-twat to kill."

 

Dee sighed, "No, Raz."

 

"Shove it, brick-dick." Raspberry marched for the road. "I am going to burn new holes in the bitch just to shit in." She spat at the upright tree as she steamed passed. It toppled, vanishing into purple vapor before it hit the ground. "And then I'll get nasty."

 

"You will not hurt her, Raz."

 

Raspberry stumbled as if tripped, then spun around to face Dee. Her gemmed eyes burned black and ultraviolet. She snorted and made a guttural ch-hock! noise deep in her throat.

 

CeeCee bolted upright but it was Yves who ran between Raspberry and Dee. "Raz, don't," he said. "It's too late."

 

Eurydice cried out, ran to Dee, and clutched at him. "No. Not now. Too soon."

 

"It's time," Dee whispered to her. "It's already been decided."

 

"Dee's giving himself up," Yves said.

 

"No." Eurydice burrowed against Dee's chest. Her tears left trails of liquid emerald down his bare skin. "I've known you less than a week. As Eurydice, not even a day." She turned her cheek against his chest and listened to his heart. "I want years and years. I can't lose you now. I, I won't survive."

 

"You will." Dee held her tight. "You're strong, Eurydice." His hug slackened. "But I have to go to your sister now."

 

Raspberry clenched her fists and kicked a stone into high flight. "Why, for fuck's sake?"

 

"Black Cherry's holding too many cards," Dee said. "She doesn't just have Galatea." He nodded to Unyx. "She has Ursula's hair." Eurydice groaned and hid her face.

 

CeeCee frowned up at the two of them. "A wig doesn't make much of a poker hand. What am I missing?"

 

Unyx opened her mouth to speak. Dee interrupted, "Cherry can mindfuck Unyx any time she wants, can see through her eyes and hear through her ears," He looked to Unyx for confirmation. She nodded.

 

"Basically? Yeah," Unyx said. "Technically? Very no. But we don't have time to lecture." She pouted. "Bummer."

 

"Cherry knows," Dee said. "She knows Unyx is the only one who can really stop her." He glanced at Yves. "Stop the Frenzy, that is. She's ready to kill Unyx. I won't let that happen. And I can't let the Frenzy happen."

 

Raspberry took a few baby steps toward Yves. Yves held an arm out and Raspberry nestled under it in the blink of an eye. "I don't get it," she said. "She's already got the Easies. Isn't that the Frenzy?"

 

Dee shook his head. "That's just the beginning. Cherry's gone total psycho-supervillain." He eased away from Eurydice. "You were wrong, CeeCee, about the party. Cherry doesn't plan on killing or eating any of the guys showing up tonight. It's bigger than that." Eurydice crept back into his arms. "She needs them for nanomek—lots of it. She's going to weaponize the Frenzy. Load the Easies up with nanomek until they're contagious all by themselves, by fluid-borne infection. And then, she'll loose them."

 

"It'll be just like all those zombie movies," Yves explained while Raspberry breathed in the fragrance of his shirt. "Except there'll be a hundred Patient Zeroes. And they'll be horny, not hungry. And, uh, hot bisexual coed skank-bots, not corpses." He scratched his chin. "So it won't be anything like a zombie movie. It'll be much worse."

 

CeeCee mused, "A hundred maenads?" She drooped back onto the flowerbed. "Well, send one home." She closed her eyes. "I'm tired."

 

"There will be millions of them soon if I don't go to Cherry now," Dee said, squinting at the mid afternoon sun. "I have to get there before the party starts, and that's just a few hours away." He peeled away from Eurydice again. "So I'm going. Now." Dee looked Eurydice in the eye one last time. "I love you."

 

"Fuck you," Eurydice said, jaw set firm even as she wept. "If you're going to go, then go." Her finger stabbed forward. "But don't you dare look back."

 

Dee turned away from her. He shuffled out of the flowerbed, absent his usual, steamrolling strut. He passed Raspberry and Yves without a word. He thought he heard a gentle susurrus of gel-flesh behind him. Was Eurydice following? His ears strained for any sound, but he heard only his own breathing and the undercurrents of outdoor noise.

 

He crossed the fallow field, hearing nothing. He tripped up onto the road, hearing only the sound of his bare feet slapping against the pavement. He bent down to scoop up his clothes. He heard nothing behind him, felt nothing but empty air. He shook out his pants and muscle shirt as best he could and dressed as he walked toward the yellow SUV hidden beneath the overpass. The remaining grime from his premature burial gritted against his skin. And still he heard nothing, nothing, nothing.

 

Then: "You're supposed to be the one."

 

Eurydice sounded quiet and alone and right behind him. Dee straightened at once. He tipped his chin toward his shoulder. He listened to her silence, then bowed his head, grabbed hold of the SUV's front bumper with both hands, and tugged sideways.

 

The vehicle pivoted on its rear wheels, crunching asphalt as Dee swung it around, always keeping his eye on the road ahead. The driver's side door was wedged shut into the its bent frame where Dee had dropped onto the SUV's roof a few hours before. He punched out the window then tore the door in half. Dee clambered inside, forcing the canted roof to pop upward with the flat of his hand. Metal squealed and glass shattered and sprayed down in nuggets. His wrist flared with pain, a brief, phantom sprain. He ignored it.

 

The keys were still in the ignition. It took three twists for the engine to turn over. "Just like in the movies," Dee muttered. He shut his eyes, drew a ragged breath, then finessed the SUV into gear.

 


 

 

Eurydice watched the SUV pull away, drive under the overpass, up the onramp on the far side, and accelerate down the highway and out of sight. The engine's protests faded as the distance between her and Dee grew. Someone padded across the road behind her, quiet as a ghost. Eurydice spent a few thousand nanomek—she had so much now it frightened her, and she took every excuse to burn some—and heightened her hearing. She recognized the approaching heartbeat immediately.

 

"Eurydice?" Yves asked.

 

She turned to him, starry-eyed from weeping, her lips trembling.

 

"He didn't look back," she said.

 

It's time

We saw a miracle.

It's time

For something Biblical.

To pull us through

And pull us through

And this is the end

Oh, this is the end

Of the world.

 

—Muse, Apocalypse Please

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