[Ex-Ex-Ex-Oh] (glamoursnipe) wrote,

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Out of Order (An Original Short Story)


Eddie Polk has two wives, Dusk and Dawn; he named them himself. In the past they had regular names, the kind you’d expect from high school yearbook photos, but half the time he can’t remember them, and for all he knows, they can’t, either. They’re cousins, Dusk and Dawn, and the one thing they agree on is that neither of them can do better than him. So if he wants a piece on the side, they'll cooperate or go it alone. He's got his hands full trying to stay in his right mind and out from behind bars, he says, so as far as he's concerned, he has every right to assign somebody else the compromising detail.

For Eddie, pride boils down to three things: he has a street reputation controversial enough that he can pretend not to give a fuck about it, a series of macabre nicknames (“Blade“ sees the heaviest rotation), and two unofficial wives who‘ll let him try his luck with any female wretched enough to flip a hip his way.

It starts with one of his better days. It's winter, but the sidewalks are clear, and he hustles enough money to splurge on an extra-large coffee. Dusk gets mouthy while they're sitting in Dunkin' Donuts, so he roughs her around a little, first yanking her hair, then twisting her nipple, then grabbing her throat, until Dusk obediently squirms and shrieks, "I'm cumming!" for each assault. Of course she could be faking, but it turns him on to the brink of insanity, so he doesn't call her on it. Then they're up and out of there before the manager can boot them himself, Eddie cackling Score! at the top of his lungs as they make their way down Main Street.

Where, lo and behold, it's first time he sees her. She’s sheltered inside a thick grey fur coat--fake, he’s disappointed to learn--but he can tell from her face and legs that she’s quite the fleshy one, and her eyes have this elusive, haunted look he can work with, like her brain is picking up radio signals from a faraway dystopian future. Her perfume smells like it was born on a pricey cosmetics counter, but he’s to find out that she lives in a subsidized complex. She enters his life by walking down the street with a guy he's seen around, some short scroungy Irishman who keeps chattering away at her despite her polite, disinterested nods. She tells Eddie, in a faded Appalachian drawl, that her name is Fran Hardcastle, but that’s long after he adds up her features, chalky complexion and pitch dark hair, overripe lips stained a vivid apple-chomping red, to their symbolic conclusion. Snow White!

In his head, she’s already been tagged as Snow. And if she’s smart, she’ll let herself be reborn through it, rather than trying to live up to whatever fake name and identity she had before they met. He’s going to set her free, and his version of her will be the only one that matters.

When he tells himself these things, the voice inside is low and firm, still angry from bearing the weight of his past.

Just so happens that Snow won’t be molded as easily as her namesake substance. Not even into a projectile weapon.

She’s different from both his wives, different from all the girls and women who end up on his psychosexual agenda. Smarter. More set in her tastes, her identity, her worldview…no cultural affilliations, either: Eddie has to define “Juggalo” for her, then tell her who the Insane Clown Posse are, watching her assimilate then shrug off both like a one-two punch, and she gets sore when he describes her as a goth chick. For a horror junkie, she doesn’t bat an eye at his history of mutilation, rape, or mayhem; at thirty-three, she can get away with affecting one of those dismissive I'm too old for this shit attitudes, but when it comes to Eddie, she means it. There’s nothing there for him to get at, manipulate, penetrate, leave his mark on. They could exit each other’s lives tomorrow and she‘d remain unchanged, but he‘ll have to go around wondering if he‘s lost his touch. Unacceptable.

"I'm gonna steal you from that boyfriend of yours," he insists as he follows her down into Raven's Used Books. Because there is one of those, stashed back at her apartment, leading a double life of freelance computer repairs and comic book collecting. Snow has hinted two or three times that they sleep in separate rooms, and he rarely speaks to her except to give her the business.

"Don't waste your time. That would just defeat the purpose," she says, filing through science fiction paperbacks, her red-delicious lips shaping the words from inside the fragrant steam off her coffee.


She sips, swallows, quirks an eyebrow at him. "Leaving his ass."

Soon after, she vanishes.

To save face, Eddie tells people that Snow fled from him specifically, scared off by a heroin-induced panic attack that somehow convinced them both he had rabies. For extra credit, he mentions trying to bite her.

Maybe if he talks about her enough, he'll get as sick of her as he's making everyone else.

"I won't settle for the back burner forever, Eddie," Dawn says, her voice as ragged and squeaky as it always is when she's putting her foot down. "I've been on the back burner all my life, and I'm starting to boil over."

Eddie reminds her that she knew his needs when she signed on to be his woman. Then, just for the hell of it, he makes her say again that she'd gladly kill her family before she'd let them do the same to him.

My wives are incorigable, he later writes.


Rains come, chasing worms and trash and dog shit onto the sidewalks.

Eddie fantasises about having a swastika tattooed on his bicep, then not mentioning it until whatever girl he's with gets him out of his shirt. Knowing the girls he goes after, they might bitch a little, call him names, threaten his life, but in the end they'll still take his cock. This thought makes him smile more than anything has in a long time.

More often than not he finds himself sitting inside the kiosk at one bus stop or another, headphones on, chanting his latest rhymes. He keeps baiting passersby with his apocalyptic flow, threatening cannibalistic necrophile orgies, serial child rape, the Fourth fucking Reich, daring one of them to retalliate, cuss, come at him...

...nothing. Apparently their lives weigh heavier than the rants of one aspiring Antichrist.

Dawn tearfully moves in with her aunt in Hadley. He calls her sometimes, when he can borrow a phone. Dusk could be anywhere.

Eddie starts to suspect that one of his best friends has ordered a hit on him. Either that or he's bored and needs to be on his toes about something. Another feud, same-old-same-old, but desperate times, et cetera.

For a while he forgets about Snow. But his dreams, what he can remember of them, pulse with thin strands of lightning, ice-cold to the touch, and sometimes he wakes up seeing his breath, which smells of her perfume.


Spring blurs into summer, and more people emerge from Dunkin’ Donuts with rattling plastic than chuffing Styrofoam cups. One day Snow is among them, her lips neon pink and locked around a straw.

“Snow! You're really here!“ He races toward her, his hands flung out and aimed at her iced coffee, leaving Matthew Bosch to catch up. It’s been three days since he could afford a hit of caffeine. “Yes! I need some of that.”

And Snow yanks it out of his reach. He starts to beg, calls her honey almost three times, but then her glare, fringed in electric-blue lashes, cuts the third in half.

“I‘m getting married,” she says without preamble. “He’s from Austria, and he’s everything I’ve ever wanted. Brilliant, thoughtful, handsome…he makes me feel like the woman I always wanted to be, rather than the woman I was afraid I’d become. So, just a heads up, I’ll be moving back down south next month.”

In her eyes is a look he’s never seen before, except maybe in the mirror. Certainly not on any of his women. It’s lean and mean, almost vulpine, satisfied but far from sated. A heads, I win; tails, you lose look. It burns too bright for him, worse than looking directly into the sun, making him turn and face the traffic instead. It shifts over to Matthew, who’s just now rolling up beside him, and softens considerably as she offers her hand. Eddie was afraid of this. Matthew was born in Germany and spent his childhood bouncing back and forth between Europe and the States, leaving him sophisticated in a half-satirical way, the kind of guy who can kick back with anybody, requiring nothing from them but a name and some semblance of independent thought. Understanding comes naturally to him, whereas Eddie is only interested in how people relate to his dark side.

Matthew tells her, “Congratulations.”

She gives him a smile she’s never had for Eddie, wide and welcoming, then compliments his hat, an ancient tweed thing that’s passed through so many hands there’s no longer an applicable number. Matthew opens his mouth to make a conversation out of it, but Eddie quickly cuts him off. He doesn't want it getting to where the wheelchair intellectual feels entitled to call her Fran, or worse, Frannie.

“Yeah, I guess I’ll tell you the same, though you should know the words are bile in my mouth.”

For a moment Snow looks like she wants to clock him upside the head, but before Eddie can get excited, before he can ask her what she’s waiting for, she turns back to Matthew and offers him a sip of her coffee.

Bad enough that he realises later: the bitch didn’t even do it to spite him.


In the past two months, Dusk has been pregnant three times, miscarried once, and summoned him to her mother’s deathbed every week, probably from the life-bed of their former housemate. Dawn is here and there, calling him a heartless bastard to his face, then turning around and pledging her eternal love on his Facebook page. “One day you’re going to ask what’s more important, my life or yours, and I’m going to say…mine.” Fat chance. She’s made out of empty threats, same story, different wording.

Dusk has been reduced to chanting “Gum-bah, Edsy Pie,” whenever she sees him in town. “I miss my gum-bah, my oloranu and my nikimbi,” awaits him every time he signs onto a computer. Using the language he invented to regain his trust and sympathy.

Some of it might be true, hold water. All Eddie knows for sure anymore: he’s cold. He can’t remember how it feels to be warm.

In the mornings, they’re all herded out of the homeless shelter and scattered over town. Eddie doesn’t protest. It seems wrong somehow to do it their way, but every day, after breakfast, he stands up from a generic folding metal chair, crosses a generic cafeteria, passes through a generic community room full of couches, bookcases and a television, and hits the street. Wind hisses through the moulting trees, works its way thorough the seams of Eddie’s thin jacket. The sun looks the other way.

Between ducking in and out of stores, his monthly allowance from his estranged parents dissolving with each trip, people hail him in the streets.



"Seen Casper around?"

"...owe him more than you think, asshole..."

Shut up, he pleads, and that's when Snow's voice hatches from the recesses of his mind. Get over yourself. You get ill when they ignore you and you get ill when they don't. Then, to prolong the torment, she starts singing the old Cheers theme, fully aware that she's as tone-deaf as a bleached skull.

At sunset, someone walks up to him outside the Academy of Music. A girl about his age, wearing a crop top and cutoffs so short the pockets flap down over her thighs, an effort to draw people's eyes away from her sunken mouth and naked gums. "Eddie," she says. "I'm here if you want to talk."

"About?" He fumbles for the girl's name, can't find it anywhere.

"I understand what you're going through, but they're not going to put up with this forever."

Exactly, Snow agrees. You can't keep treating the opposite sex like your own personal pussy vending machine.

"I'm outta here."

"But, Eddie--"

"Knock it off, I said I have to go."

He runs. The girl chases, yelling his name, but Eddie just runs faster. Soon he's pounding up the front steps of the homeless shelter, the most no-nonsense building in a town full of mock-baroque flourishes and gingerbread Victorianism. He slams the door behind him and tries to remember which hallway leads where. Once upon a time, Northampton had seemed like the Promised Land for weirdos and rejects. When?

Panting and sweating, he finds his way to a bathroom. The door whams at his back and the lights blink off. He whirls and fights with the knob, but it's locked.

He's no longer a squatter, just a prisoner. A prisoner who's forgotten how he came to be imprisoned, or--for once--why.


Eddie dreams of snow. Sifting down from a sky the colour of a dead fire, stinging his skin, burrowing under, inside, freezing him from his bloodstream out.

When he opens his eyes, Snow--uppercase--stands in the doorway, her hair dyed as red as crushed pomegranates, her eyes and their cold amusement fenced in military colours: navy blue ink, olive green powder.

“It’s almost over, Eddie.“ Her voice isn’t cold. It isn’t warm, either, but for once it doesn’t make his teeth chatter. And her Daisy-Mae drawl is stronger than ever, which would stand to reason; she‘s supposed to be back down south, with Austria presiding over her future like a sunrise melting across the horizon. “I‘m telling you now so you‘ll know not to fight it when the time comes.” She crosses the room, moving casually, then perches on the edge of his cot as if to read him a bedtime story. She's lost weight, a lot of weight. Eddie shrinks back, not sure if he wants her to hear his side or go away. At least vanish into thin air, he wills her, so I can know for sure: you’re not really here. There are other people spending the night at the shelter, not all of them asleep now, but the only one who looks in Snow’s direction is focused on the window she should be blocking.

“Until then, my advice is to keep your dick dry.” She pats his knee, her chill seeping through the blanket and solidifying his legs. Then she takes her hand back, grimacing a little, and scrubs it over her thigh. “It‘s up to you, but at this point you can only make things worse. Curing your disease and infecting someone else are two different things.”

She stalks out, high heels ticking off the start of a countdown against the withered concrete, and shuts door behind her, suffusing the room in darkness. No one but Eddie seems to notice.


Fall deepens toward another New England winter. Eddie wakes to wind. Wind thrashing the trees, and the building. Not the window, however. That's something heavy, solid...alive? Eddie jumps up at the same moment the glass gives, cold hurrying inside behind the rain of splinters tinkling over the floor. Still, the window's jagged wound frames the same gnarled trees as usual.

Trees, and the flayed body of a chipmunk.

Eddie finger slides along the glass until it reaches a square of paper impaled on a shard, waiting for acknowledgement. He unfolds, wondering, as a calming tactic, why he never thought to load a standard pen with blood, and what the logistics of such a feat would be.

Hey there, big boy. How 'bout one more go-round? For old times' sake.

Vaguely he remembers telling Snow that his first sexual experience was jerking off into the guts of a chipmunk he’d just killed. As with a lot of his claims, he has no idea if it’s true or not, but he said it anyway, keeping his voice as matter-of-fact as possible, another failed attempt to shock that cool, skeptical look off Snow’s face. The angle of her head had changed, but not her expression. By that point he’d no longer cared what she believed, just…a reaction, something besides those deflective head and shoulder gestures, playing return-to-sender with all his comments, none of them interesting her enough to sink in.

There’s blood all over the window, and some on the floor, matching the ink on the note. Its stench hangs in the air like cobwebs. Eddie roams the downtown core clutching entrails in each hand, knowing he can use them for something, just not what. They leave reddish-brown crust on his palms, and when he raises them to his face, they’re the warmest things he’s felt in a long time.

Voices greet him outside Thorne’s Market. Today it doesn’t take as much effort to identify them, or understand what they’re saying.

“Husk came by here. Once more, she seeks an audience with thee,” Matthew Bosch pipes up from his wheelchair, the tassel on his fez splashing around in the wind. Dusk rhymes with Husk, and he’s been calling her that for months, insinuating that while the circuits are still firing, the motherboard is dead. “I didn’t touch the insolent baboon this time, just in case she tries to claim the opposite.”

“I’ll be at Riot tonight. Wanna meet up? “ That would be Rose, he can tell by the voice; she always sounds like she‘s bracing herself for rejection. Her name comes from the sweater she wears four days a week, a loose black thing crowded with red roses through which her outsized breasts and belly are outlined like shoals. Her hair is slowly rejecting a bad perm and her smile is blue with decayed teeth. Eddie fucks her once in a while, and everyone knows it--anybody can brag about laying a pretty girl, but it takes guts to do the same when she‘s twenty years older, with three stubbly chins and a unibrow. And can’t shut up about her cats besides.


“Hey, Blade, if you see Apeshit, run for your life. He’s ready to take his cell phone out of your ass.” Casper, another friend, but he uses that word loosely. Instead of explaining for the fuck-hundredth time that Dusk was the one who lost Apeshit’s cell in another street brawl over their marriage, he clenches his fists tighter, making the contents squelch. Gum-bah.

“Matt, has anyone fed you today?” And Laurel, Matthew’s girlfriend, who’d bring him the universe one star at a time, but wouldn’t rotate her wrist an inch to let Eddie read her watch. She’s touched him only once, with her cool, creamy hands, and that was to shove him out of her personal space. He’s never bothered coming up with a pet name for her.

“Tally ho, Lady Schick,” Matthew chirps, scrunching his brow a little as Laurel wheels him toward the intersection, her peasant skirt swishing violently around her smooth white calves in her rush to be away from Eddie. As usual, she doesn’t look back. Casper slinks off toward CVS; Rose sits down and stares, waiting for a response.

Bile burns away the heavy knot in Eddie‘s throat. He’s not in the mood for voices, recognizable or otherwise. He’s not in the mood for people he knows, or for that matter, the effort of knowing anybody. He winds the chipmunk’s intestines around his wrists and runs like hell down Old South Street, slipping on an ice cream some dumb kid dropped outside Herrell’s.

His hands leave dried red flakes on everything he touches that day.


He doesn’t want to go back to the shelter after dark. More than anything he wants to go to the cops, but he doesn’t know how to ask what’s happening, let alone who it’s happening to.

Tomorrow night, her voice whispers.

Snow‘s back.

Eddie plays with his makeshift chipmunk bracelets. For a second or two, he freezes stone-still in the crosswalk, people surging around him to outrun the two-note bleat of the “Go” signal.

But his feet start moving again, though he has half a mind fight them on this. He bolts ahead too fast and collides with someone, a big person, and spills to the ground on all fours. He crosses the rest of the road on his hands and knees, his tongue bitten and bleeding. From down toward Newbury Comics comes familiar laughter--Laurel, and probably Matthew, too. Traitors. All he can do is keep moving.

“I loved you,” he says to Snow‘s voice. “I never laid a hand on you. I let you live, even when you left me behind.”

Don’t flatter yourself. You think I’d let you hurt me, you think I’d tell everyone I had it coming, like a good girl? If you have anything else to say, save it for tomorrow night.

Eddie climbs back to his feet, stumbling, slips off the bracelets, and wads them into his pockets. Most of the skin has been erased from his knees, more blood escaping in thick slow trickles. He ignores them, and sets off to wait it out.


Tomorrow night is tonight. Eddie doesn't remember how he ended up outside Faces, doesn't even remember waking up, but once he gets his awareness back, he overhears a conversation, two guys and a girl laughing it up as they shoot the breeze in German. He isn't surprised to place Matthew Bosch's voice, but when he looks, all he can see of the other two is their backs. A lanky dude with a slight rock-star slouch to match his height, close-cropped dark hair laced with grey and ginger strands that gleam metallic in the harsh midday sun. A hefty brunette with a wide, heart-shaped bottom on proud display via skintight leather jeans. Their outer hands hold identical Dunkin' Donuts cups, the hot-beverage kind; their other arms are snugged around each other.

They smell of coffee and bakeries and bloodheat and shared showers, of warmth in general, but every word they say tracks ice over Eddie's exposed skin, on down into his bones and finally his thoughts, spaces where no one's words should be allowed but his own.

Now he has a decision to make. Run screaming, though goddamn if he knows why, or get a coffee of his own. Iced, because he's resigned to it, after weeks of feeling every cup of hot coffee he's ordered go frigid between the pot and his mouth.

Matthew is alone, smoking and smiling to himself, when Eddie returns.

With effort, he shambles up and asks the obvious.

"Who, them?" Matthew says, pipestem resting comfortably on the edge of his lip, all deception and cruel innocence. "Oh, that was Johann and Franziska Krassnig. They're sort of on their honeymoon. Thought I'd blow their minds with some of their native tongue."

Nodding, Eddie wonders if there's anything for him at Modern Myths today. But as he takes his first steps in that direction, Matthew addresses his back.

"Franziska sends her regards. You might remember her as Snow."


Please understand. Not once have I defended anything I've done.

Don't bullshit me. Eddie clamps his fists over his ears and mouths a scream. This woman is nothing but don't, don't, don't. You defend it by claiming it's who you are, who you were born to be. You've never even tried to consider alternatives.

There's music ouside his window at the shelter. High-energy stuff, compulsively danceable, more upbeat than anything he'd ever play for himself. He can hear Snow laughing over it, her mirth synchronized with Johann's, Eddie can only assume.

"You'll never get that taste out of your mouth/ You'll never get the paw prints out of the henhouse now/ And you can't go back same way you came/ Round all the pieces up, but they just don't fit the same..."

Before stepping out to meet his fate, Eddie shaves his head. There's already a bald spot, like a monk's, spreading over the back of his skull, good only for creative origin stories: once he got it from writhing on a carpet while a bad trip wracked his body for three days; another time, his father pinned him to a brick wall and jammed the handle of a rake up his ass and he sheared off the hair in his struggle to escape. But that's not important right now.

Maybe if he can convince this Johann that he's a crazed neo-Nazi skinhead--

Save it, baldy, Snow huffs, and it's no stretch of Eddie's imagination to picture her sharing an eyeroll with her shiny new husband. Just get down here.

Through the window he can see shadows writhing and merging on the sidewalk, but nothing else. Just voices alternating between English and German, showing off. Eddie abandons the mirror and puts one foot in front of the other, over and over until he's out the back door. Might as well. He's tired of wondering what's real, and what he's making up to fill his empty life.

"White knuckles/ Maybe it's not so bad/ So let your hair down now..."

First thing he notices is the change in Snow's looks, another one. This afternoon her hair was a cool tortoiseshell brown and loose in the breeze; now it looks darker, but that could just be a side effect of the streetlights, and wearing it up in a dancer's bun. She's drawn elaborate black lines around her eyes, and lacquered her mouth orange-red, the rooftop colour of a pagoda. Her jacket and pants are either black or deep navy, offset by a lacy white scarf, and every step toward Eddie agitates the fringe on her flat gray boots. Johann, after silencing the radio, has trouble keeping his eyes and hands off her, even driven as they are by urgent business. Nightfall has intensified the smoulder of his dark eyes, and his grin shines and shines with the allure of an experienced predator.

Right then and there he accepts the truth, without dramatising it. Snow has never loved or hated him, never had any intention of loving or hating him. She was never even Snow.

"Well, it's about time you got here," Johann greets him, friendly as a fox. Or a big bad wolf, take your pick.

"What the fuck is all this?" Eddie wants to know. "What the fuck are you people, anyway, some kind of coven?"

"We prefer 'society'," Johann corrects him. "If only because we're posted all over Europe and 'coven' suggests too small a group to do us justice. Though we do tend to fluctuate, as history shows--once, in the early decades of the twentieth century, a cult of chaos-worshippers posing as a branch of the Catholic church created a schism that nearly decimated us. Our holocaust didn't coincide with that of the Jews, but it gave the Fuhrer's agenda all the breathing room it needed to flourish and spread. We spent almost sixty years just trying to return to our original numbers, restoring the balance between human corruption and available warriors to consume it. That's what the High Order does, and that's what we've been doing since European civilzation began."

“Once you join the High Order, you surrender your humanity.” Snow--Franziska--explains. Her Southern accent is gone; her English sounds like it’s been broken and stuck back together with German glue. “We still have all the usual senses and desires, but they’re recreational. There’s a whole new set of practical survival needs. We can eat food, but it won’t nourish us. We can drink alcohol, but it doesn’t intoxicate us.” Moving closer to Johann, they share a lustful smile as she passes her hand down his back to his behind. “We can make love, but we can’t reproduce.”

For a second Eddie almost asks a stupid question: how do you multiply if you can't reproduce? Clearly he hasn't heard everything, that the High Order is just one division of this so-called society, and anyway, there's the fact that nuns and priests aren't allowed to breed amongst themselves, and yet the world never runs out of those.

"High Order?"

Franziska shrugs. "Happens it predates marijuana culture, as things sometimes do."

She continues, “You can choose whether or not you want to fight, surviving on mankind's evil as well as defeating it, but you have to be born into the society. Like me. And, small world, Matty, too.” On cue, Matthew trundles around the corner, wearing his trademark fez and smirk. Before Eddie can ask why, if he’s some kind of superhuman character assassin, can’t he get around on his own two feet, he notices that the wheels of Matthew’s chair are turning a good six inches above the sidewalk. Franziska regards him fondly. “His last name is no coincidence. Heironymus never joined the High Order, but he painted campaign maps of people‘s thoughts and dreams, which helped us locate our targets. In his day, people weren't as...candid about their misdeeds as you are. Fuck's sake, man, most of them still aren't. Religious scholars could only assume that Bosch's paintings were depictions of Hell.” She and Matthew take each other’s hand once he floats within reach, and Franziska guides him the last foot or so into their blockade. “Oh, and, he’s my brother.”

“Twins,” Matthew clarifies, squirming happily in his chair. “How cool is that? I always knew I had one, but my mother and I both spent the rest of her life believing Frannie was stillborn. Someone at the hospital must’ve known, and separated us to decrease our power.” His gaze is wistful, his voice brighter than any light source around them. “I can’t wait to tell Laurel we’re moving to Austria. She’ll be packed and ready before I can drop the real bombshell.”

“Laurel will be welcome at our headquarters,” says Johann, his English even more ramshackle than his wife’s. “She has seen true corruption, and she knows who the real monsters are. With us, she’ll have the freedom and peace of knowing that our purpose is to fight those who would harm people like her, and we will have gained a powerful mind and heart to help guide our missions.”

Matthew slices the air with his fist like a sports fan. “Yes!”

"None of this explains what you're doing here, or what you want from me," Eddie interjects, hating the petulant edge that distorts his voice.

“To prepare for the battle ahead,” Johann says, gathering Franziska in a one-armed embrace. “It's unfortunate that Franziska and Matthew were separated at birth, fortunate that they both ended up in this country. We were never supposed to interfere with America, you see. America was based on an agreement we made with humanity before the first explorers set sail: more than anything, it was a test to see if they could manage without us. For centuries we’ve stood by, watching your nation come to be, all the heroism and villainy in the name of its inception, then its perserverance. Your history books are an archive of horrors, but each time we resisted stepping in, and each time we were relieved when you found the way out on your own. It could have gone on like that indefinitely. There was no reason for it not to."

"For a while, you had us pretty impressed." Matthew. "Absolutely snowed, though I should pardon the expression."

Johann nods, speaks again. “But now…it looks as if our experiment may actually destroy the world.”

“So you’ve come to destroy us first.” Somehow Eddie's chattering teeth let him say that much. Fine luminous threads occupy the space between him and the warriors, like hairline strands of lightning, curiously exploring his body until they select a spot and latch on. It's like being bitten by dozens of tiny icicles. He tries to shake them off his scalp, his arms, but for every one that detatches, three more land where it used to be.

Franziska smiles within her corona of electric tentacles. “Not necessarily. Cream, they say, always rises to the top. Cream of the corrupt. We're here to skim it off; whether or not the suppliers self-destruct afterward is optional." Here she looks remotely regretful. "Some of them do. They come to realise how much they'd let their evil define them, and lose sight of who they are and what they want without it. If our mission goes smoothly, we expect heavy casualties, perhaps even an American holocaust. But it's a risk we will ourselves to take."

More tentacles stretch toward him, attach, thrum with cold blue light.

So why start with me? What's so special about me?

Who said you were special? Or, for that matter, that we're starting with you? If anything, we're starting at the bottom and working our way up. Franziska replies. Forged corruption counts, though. Hello, dishonesty. And what's a common practice among warriors before going into battle?

Matthew takes that one. Combat simulation training.

They close in tighter, hands linked, stare harder, approach. Eddie slams his eyes shut, ready to make the pain his own, ready to feel his bloodstream detach from his body; even now he can smile a little and relish the idea of someone stumbling over his gory remains, living on in their worst nightmares. Part of the song comes back to him and his brain repeats it like a personal manifesto, Maybe it's not so bad... But all he feels is a sensation of being drained, his energy sucked out, as if he's going through a hectic day on fast-forward, exhaustion filling his body in a rush. His heart goes hollow while he tries to think of something defiant, something twisted, something hateful. But his mind can only hum at him and when he opens his eyes, he watches the only thing he's ever loved seep from him into the glowing threads, turning them black.

They’ve already begun to feed.


Dusk and Dawn argue their way down Main Street, earning frowns from students and stewbums alike as their shrill accusations puncture the air. By now they're not looking for Eddie so much as for someone who can triangulate his location, so when they see him up ahead, walking perpendicular to them at the corner of Main and Pleasant Street, they're caught off guard enough to go silent and still as one.

That's part of it.

Mostly it's the robotic, nondescript way he's approaching the crosswalk. They're used to his noodly hip-hop strut, as if his bones are reinforced with elastic instead of cartilage. Sun glints off his shorn head, but doesn't reach his eyes. He steps off the edge of the sidewalk, his gaze swinging neither right nor left, and keeps trucking.

"Eddie?" Dawn calls after him, tears striping the acne on her cheeks as she breaks into a fast walk, Dusk pulling ahead.

“Edsy Pie…” She tries using excessive force. “Edsy Pie! Gum-BAH!

Eddie turns and grins skeletally at them, his eyes as blank as his body language, and says something in German. He hears no voice but his own, though Dusk and Dawn will both insist that a trio of combined voices, at least, came out of him when he stopped short in the deserted crosswalk. Dusk will even swear that she recognised two of them, and that one belonged, in fact, to Matthew Bosch.

Wir werden es nicht hungrig genug.

Punctuated by the bus driver leaning on his horn, mercifully drowning out the worst of the impact.

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