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Gralhruk
14th of February, 2007, 06:05
The pleasant blackness was permeated by a hollow, musical sound. Somewhere, the grasping reaches of his mind pulled in the source: a glass bottle, rolling across a hard surface. Then nothing, except for the half-heard sound of his own heart. Distantly, above the street noise, he hears the tinkling explosion.

He crusty eyes crack open, letting in the blinding sun. The pebbled tar of the roof presses into his cheek as his brain processes his bird's eye view of the city. Jack staggers to his hands and knees, hawking and spitting over the too-close edge. It's a long way down. His head throbs once, then stills even as he feels the roof sag the barest bit beneath him.

He rubs a hand across his face, feeling stubble and the tiny stones he'd been passed out on. Still on his hands and knees, he backs carefully away from the soft spot in the roof, noting with some distaste how bleached the area looked. The heavy denim of his jeans is frayed. He casts his eyes about, looking for his boots. They aren't around.

He didn't bother trying to piece together the night before. It was all the same anyway. For some reason he had the tendency to climb when he was drunk. Best not to think about why. In fact, it was best not to think about anything. The world was still washed out, his eyes not yet adjusted to the glare. He wanted a drink. He looks at the desolate cityscape, the slums and the skyscrapers, then closer to home - the hot tar of the roof beneath him, broken by vents and - off to his left - a door that must lead down.

Barefoot, he moves towards it. Unsurpisingly, it is locked. He leans a shoulder into it and exerts a little force. It doesn't budge - barred from within, most likely. With a spasm of anger, he puts one hand near the lock, the other in the center of the door. He feels it deep in his vitals, a twisting constriction, and then a surge of power. The last vestiges of his discomfort cease, vanish in a spurt of vigor. The door beneath his fingers bubbles with a sudden growth of rust, like a cancer viewed in time lapse. He heaves back and then slams into the sagging door. The bar on the other side snaps and the whole caves inward with a sickening squeal.

It is dark inside, cool, like a cave. Disgust drizzles into his gut as he pushes past his handiwork and starts down the stairs. A drink was what he needed.

Gralhruk
23rd of February, 2007, 00:25
Jack sat at the worn bar, staring morosely into the bottom of the empty glass he held reverently cupped in both hands. The bottle of Jack Daniels next to him was likewise empty. So empty...

Behind him, the liquid guitar of Jimi Hendrix suddenly spurts from the jukebox.

There must be some kind of way out of here
Said the joker to the thief

He turned the glass in slow circles watching the last few drops of pungent brown liquor roll along the bottom. With the deliberate care of the inebriated, he hefted the bottle and held it inverted over the glass, watching in dismay as only the tiniest of dribbles trickled out. Frustrated, he slammed the bottle back onto the counter, casting his muddled gaze toward the bartender who was trying - unsuccessfully - not to notice he was out. Again.

There's too much confusion
I can't get no relief

"You ok buddy?" the bartender finally wandered a bit closer, nervously wiping his hands on his bar rag. Jack stared down into his glass for a moment before holding it up and letting the last few drops drip onto his parched tongue.

Businessman they drink my wine
Plow men dig my earth

"Just get me more," he says evenly as he points to one of the many bottles lining the wall. Good little soldiers. Some Jack for Jack.

None will level on the line
Nobody of it is worth

"Look pal, you've been here all day and..." Jack's glare cut his sentence short, a strange hollowness filling his eyes. In his gut, he feels a twinge. For a moment, he leaves the world, drawing inward. The feeling fades and he returns.

"Fine," the bartender says defensively. Grabbing another bottle of JD off the wall he deftly removes the silvery pour spout and sets it on the bar. "It's twenty five bucks," he adds, his hand still on the bottle.

Jack's eyes settle on the glass encased fluid before him. Everything else fades to grey insignificance.

Dark brown absolution.

No reason to get excited
The thief he kindly spoke

Seeming not to notice the challenge in the bartender's declaration, Jack sluggishly begins to rummage through the pockets of his pants and jacket, eyes never straying from his salvation. There wasn't much there - a few bills, a smattering of change. Even as drunk as he was he could tell it wasn't enough. His mind's eye peered over the edge of the internal abyss. The pleasant warmth of drink kept him flying above it, but it wouldn't be long before he came down, fell right into all the things that seethed at the bottom. Sweat starts out on his palms and he can feel his back get warm beneath his heavy shirt. He pushes his insufficient funds across the bar.

There are many here among us
Who feel that life is but a joke

The bartender gives a derisive snort, "Yeah, right." He pulls the bottle away and begins to work the pour spout back in.

But you and I we've been through that
And this is not our fate

Within the alcohol induced haze, Jack's brain tries to formulate a solution to this dilemma. He leans forward heavily, hands on the bar, half rising from his stool.

So let us not talk falsely now
The hour's getting late

"I'm good for it."

The bartender seems about to respond, then suddenly his eyes look past Jack.

All along the watchtower
Princes kept the view

His fogged mind registers the sound of the door banging shut, measured footsteps crossing the tiled floor.

"This should more than cover Mr. Taviani's expenses."

While all the women came and went
Bare-foot servants too

A crisp one hundred dollar bill appears on the bar next to him. Taking the money with a grunt and shake of his head, the bartender releases the bottle and wanders away to the other side of the bar.

Outside in the cold distance
A wild cat did growl

Jack turns a little too quickly and nearly falls off his stool. Clutching the bar he stares at the well-dressed stranger with bloodshot eyes. Through his opened black leather trench coat Jack can make out a dark navy silk shirt and matching tweed sport coat and pants. All of it looked hand tailored. One of the man's slim hands indicate the seat next to Jack.

"May I?"

Two riders were approaching
And the wind began to howl

G & J

Gralhruk
7th of March, 2007, 07:09
Jack licks dry lips, aware of the question, the implications, the bottle before him. Time slows; the choices parade before him, a cavalcade of consequences forming a mob in their wake. In the world below, the jukebox falls silent.

Like a man in a dream, he reaches out and pours himself another glassful of pain reliever then takes a long, needful swallow.

And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought

Without looking at the man next to him, he gives a curt nod.

-J-
5th of April, 2007, 14:11
The man's accent reminded Jack of Prague. Tight cobbled roads winding between tight white and cream colored houses covered with tight red colored tiles. The bleak gray spires of the Tưn church stabbing upward into the gray, rain-filled sky. Thunder mutely rumbling against the polished steel and glass flank of the Vlatava Experimental Medicine School.

He hated Prague.

The slight splash of cool alcohol against his finger snaps him from his brooding.

"Sorry," the well dressed stranger says as he finishes filling the lower third of Jack's glass. He quietly begins pouring a liberal amount of Old No.7 Tennessee Sour Mash into his own cup. Jack reflexively wipes his hand against his pants, cursing under his breath as he does so. He can feel the polyester fibers degrading under his touch, followed almost instantly by the cool kiss of air on his exposed thigh.

They were only a day old.

With little flourish the stranger takes his four fingers of whiskey like a pro, draining the glass in one quaff. The fact that he then reaches to pour himself another somehow endears him to Jack.

Brothers of the brown bottle.

The final strains of All Along the Watchtower fade in the background, followed almost immediately by something Bluesy and melancholic.

Perfect drinking music.

And after that song another slightly ironic and sorrowful song plays, and after that another, and then another. The two men sit quietly through another bottle of something brown and burning, each going through their own ritual, each of them seemingly lost with in the labyrinths of their own thoughts.

"Last call gents," the barkeep calls out from the other end of the bar. Jack looks around and suddenly realizes that its 2:00 am and they are the last two people drinking. Looking into the bottom of his near empty glass he also realizes that another day has been dissolved by this sepia colored nepenthe. Another day lost...another day just...gone. He stares into his cup, feeling the hollowness within him grow as he realizes that tomorrow would be just as empty as today. His knuckles whiten around the glass as he struggles to remember what day today is.

Fuck it...

With only a faint hesitation he slams the last of the whiskey, the black emptiness within him momentarily fills with the warmth of the booze - but only for a moment. All too quickly the dark void returns, now only all the more darker and emptier.

Jack's silent drinking partner pushes another Benjamin across the bar for the barkeep. Then turns to Jack with a strange, almost pained look on his face. The thin man holds his right hand out exposing a strange black dot in the center of his palm. The black spot begins to writhe sending small ebon coils wafting smoke-like toward the ceiling. The inky tendrils swirl and turn in on themselves until they are confined in the crisp borders of a black, featureless card about the same size and shape as a normal business card.

"When you're done with that," he nods toward the empty whiskey bottles, "give me a call."

"Why the fuck would I want to do that?" Jack responds hotly. He can already feel his hands tingle with energy as alcohol fueled anger suddenly wells up within him.

"Control."

The word slams into the thick haze of liquor and sends Jack's thoughts reeling. What?

"Control over your life, and, most importantly Mr. Taviani, control over your gift," the stranger says as he sets the black, featureless card on the counter. Jack finds he can only stare at its impossibly crisp, black edges numbly.

"Who are you?"

"Ahh the amnesia trick... Nice try Jack, but its still last call." Jack snaps his head towards the amused bartender. Slowly he looks back only to find the room empty save for a small black business card next to his solitary glass on the bar.

J & G

Gralhruk
17th of April, 2007, 04:22
Jack leans out his window and lets the cold air enter his lungs, eyes burning from the sudden brightness after the relative darkness of his room. He refuses to squint under the onslaught. No, the time for closing his eyes was over.

He pitches the inky card outward, watches as it drifts erratically down, all the while staying an incongruent flat black despite the glare. Fuck that snobbish bastard and his ignorant condescending offer for things he couldn't give and that Jack didn't need. Today was a new day, and it was the day he'd take a firm hold on the slippery reins of his life and pull himself out of the mire his life had become.

He'd woken up an hour earlier to harsh light slanting through drawn blinds, with only a dream-like recollection of the tail end of last night's events. In fact, on waking he'd thought the whole thing was a dream. That is, until he found the card next to him on the bed - a small rectangle, so black and precise it looked like a tiny doorway into his own private little endless void. He stared, dumbstruck, at this minute piece of twisted reality while spidery fingers danced upon the knobs of his spine. When his sleep fogged mind had cleared enough, his curiosity got the better of him and he briskly snatched it from the sheets, vaguely surprised that the too sharp edges didn't bite.

For a long while he sat there, turning the small, featureless rectangle over and over in his lean hands. His mind followed that same revolving course, treading and re-treading his hazy memories of that bizarre encounter some twelve hours previous, then back through the mist of the past six months of his life, back to that crystal clear day in the hospital. His teeth clench as his hands curl into white knuckled fists, the card bending with a suppleness that prevented any creasing.

Liz

She was there in bed, looking at him with those beautiful eyes grown dim.

All my fault

He wrenched himself from the memory lest he think back any further, remember the rest of the ghosts that churned in his wake. They were gone and he wasn't. That was all he needed to know, all he could bear to know. He looked again through blurred eyes at the card. It seemed no worse for wear. There was absolutely nothing on it - no ink, no embossing, no etching, nothing about who it belonged to or how to contact him.

The guy was probably just some freak - the city was full of them. But he was a freak with a point: Jack needed to get some control. His finances were pitifully low - lack of a job plus the frequency with which he was forced to purchase new degradables had drained his sizable inheritance as quickly as alcohol from an upended bottle. He needed to do something or he'd be out on his ass soon.

Moving away from the window he heads to his closet, rubbing the back of his hand along the harsh stubble of his jaw. He used a blade or not at all; he hated shaving in general, but electric razors were the worst. The contents of the closet were a mix of stylish clothes - some brand spanking new and the rest falling apart. He could do this, hold it together for eight hours a day. He could take care of this himself.

* * *

A long golden stream arced gracefully out and down, to splash mercilessly across the jet black business card floating in the white porcelain bowl. Jack tilts his head back and sighs as he empties the rest of his bladder atop the wildly bobbing card. He flushes and flips the spinning rectangle the bird as it disappears from view.

"Good fucking riddance."

So much for good luck. It had been five weeks since his "day of clarity" and things hadn't quite worked out as he hoped. It was 2am and he was banging away at the keyboard in his darkened room, the only light the ghostly glow from the flat panel monitor. Winamp was doing its best to pump Kryptonite out though his cheap PC speakers, but given the limitations of the equipment and the fact that he had the sound turned low the effort was doomed to tinny mediocrity. On the desk near him (but not too close) was a pad half covered with his own barely legible scrawl - notes for his current project. Somewhat closer is a glass half filled with a clear liquid that was considerably stronger than water and considerably less expensive than JD. He reaches out a surprisingly steady hand and takes a swallow with only an obligatory grimace.

Things had originally gotten off to a good start - he landed a consulting job quickly with an outfit called the Acres Group, a software firm that specialized in custom e-commerce solutions. On the way to the interview he had found that dull black card stuck to the sole of his shoe - he must have stepped on it after tossing it out the window. The oddity of it caused him to stick the thing in his pocket. He kicked ass on the interview and decided to hang onto it as a good luck charm. And at first it seemed to be working - he got a call back and within a week was set up in the main office, a tube and cube all his own. Not exactly prestigious, but it would be a check. Things had gone rapidly south at that point.

Software consulting tended to attract young people - they knew the latest technology and usually didn't have any family obligations to prevent them from traveling to some client in crisis at the drop of a hat. Plus the money was good - good enough to support a considerable amount of after hours carousing at the local bar scene. Jack didn't want to know them, but they were friendly and normal, the atmosphere and camaraderie enough to almost make him feel normal himself.

By the end of his first week he grudgingly agreed to grab a beer after work with Pradip, who had been assigned to show him the ropes. PJ was a good guy, a little different than most of the others in that he was married and had a kid. It seemed safe enough - grab a beer and then head home. One turned into two, and before he knew it PJ was leaving and there was Jack, all alone in a bar and with money in his pocket and mayhem on his mind. It tuned out that vowing sobriety and actually staying sober were two different things.

The following week was rough. He talked PJ into another night out, but he had commitments and wasn't really up for that kind of hardline drinking. That was okay - there was always Mike or Suresh or Dave or whatever the hell their names were.

It wasn't long before management called him in for a sit down. Their leniency about punctuality and dress code only went so far, and showing up smelling like last night's bar was definitely a bad thing to do. He promised to do better.

He did worse.

They fired him before he finished his third week. By then he didn't really care though, because he didn't need them with their fucking superior attitudes. He found a headhunter and got some coding he could do from home. It was better this way.

G & J

Gralhruk
7th of June, 2007, 11:47
A slow, ominous creaking rode above the surface heat and acrid stench, announcing the relentless onslaught of the seven ton Ingersoll-Rand roller. The huge wheels inched by, compressing and smoothing the still warm blacktop - and (not accidentally) the featureless black business card that Jack had tossed beneath the last dumpload of asphalt. He gives a humorless smile, then sets to work scraping the edge square with his tar coated shovel. Next to him Manny is leaning on a spade, still yapping about the woman he was with last night. Jack nods, not really hearing, still warmly infused from the alcohol he'd downed with lunch.

Manny finally tires of his listless audience or hearing himself talk - probably the former - and sets to work. The solid hickory handle snaps after his second thrust. Jack glances over at him with assumed disinterest. The other man curses good-naturedly in portuguese and then wanders off, presumably to find another shovel. Jack watches him go with hooded eyes - he'd made sure to pick up Manny's shovel after lunch instead of the one he was using earlier.

That particular problem was more or less how he ended up here. Jack had gone through a few computers before he stopped having the money or patience to replace them. And people were a pain in the ass to deal with anyway - nothing was ever good enough. Eviction followed after a slippery slope of failed promises and a rising tide of threats. To keep from being completely destitute he started hiring out as a day laborer. Nobody asked for identification, which was good since he had gotten sick of replacing that as well, and it paid in cash. It meant hours of shitty work for little money but it put a roof over his head and in some ways, it was better than the white collar work he was used to. Most people assumed he didn't speak English so he didn't need to do much talking and they didn't ask questions. Nobody raised an eyebrow if you had a beer now and then. Nobody looked too closely to see if it was more than that.

Fuck if he knew how that damned card had shown up again. It was in the hip pocket of a new pair of jeans - he went through degradables pretty quickly - and apparently none the worse for wear despite the ride through the city sewer system. Of course, this might not be the same card; maybe that prick was just messing with him. Somehow, though, he didn't think so.

Nearby, he could hear the DJ through the static ridden radio announcing that it was four o'clock and time to get the Led out. Bonham's pounding drumbeat meant the levee was about to break, with all requisite mayhem. Jack idly wonders if that is some sort of coincidence, then shrugs and resumes scraping.

Everything is symbol and irony when you've been betrayed.

***

Fire.

Revered, cursed - preserver of exquisite life, harbinger of cruel death, inspiration for countless songs throughout the ages.

The red flames coursed upward, throwing off a cloud of sparks, a haze of blue-grey smoke. Rising also were several thin, ribbon-like, inky-black tendrils that a casual observer would categorize as smoke. Jack knew better. He watched the tiny black rectangle dwindle in the flames - as if it were receding into the distance rather than being consumed by the blaze. His near hysterical laughter echoed off the sagging walls of the blown out shell of a building he called home this evening. He didn't look good, but then homelessness will do that to a person.

It had been a while since he worked - exactly how long, he wasn't sure. First it had just been a dry spell. Then all his money had run out and he ended up on the street. For a few days that bothered him, but drinking solved that problem too. He had come to the grand conclusion that the vast majority of people were fucking stupid. These pants, for example. Someone had thrown them away without a second thought and they were perfectly good. Well, they had been about 14 hours ago - now they were looking nearly as bad as he did. Anyway, the point being that people were filled with their own pointless ideas of right and wrong, good and bad. Filled with the insane desire to acquire worldly possessions, better jobs, nicer cars. It was all a load of crap. You didn't need any of that stuff. Some booze, a fire, maybe someone to discuss philosophy with once in a while. Father Mike, down at the shelter, for example.

He got it, sort of. He lived his life helping others and that was okay. Father Mike didn't want things for himself, or at least, he didn't think he did. Jack was fairly certain the man had simply replaced material stuff with something else - namely, some inflated sense of self for helping the "less fortunate". But whatever, everyone is blind to something. He didn't get preachy on the religion, which Jack liked.

He took another drink as the last of the card winked out of existence. Gone this time, for good. Like so many other things. He took another pull at his bottle, this one so long his eyes watered. Gone.

Yeah, all gone.

Gralhruk
10th of August, 2007, 11:32
The heavy wooden doors of St. James Roman Catholic Church exploded inward, raining decomposing fragments of resin impregnated wood over row upon row of gleaming pews. Through this once arboreal hail a figure half ran, half stumbled down the aisle. He was immediately incongruent in the clean and austere surroundings - dirty, ragged, wild - breaking the silence and decorum with a most rude awakening.

There was a resounding crack as one knee slammed into the back of a solid pew, causing it to unexpectedly lurch. The dark man caromed forward up the short flight of marble stairs, tattered shirt trailing behind like a ghostly afterimage. He tripped near the top step and sprawled forward, head thunking resoundingly into one corner of the squat, solid marble altar, spraying the gleaming surface and surrounding flags with viscous blood. His begrimed body spins and he rolls halfway around the altar, dropping to the tile with nary a groan, head pillowed by a widening crimson disk. Above him, the massive crucified Christ takes no notice, eyes rolled upward in silent plea to the Father.

* * *

The world tipped unexpectedly and Jack stiltingly adjusted his bearing to accommodate. Twisting ribbons of red and white trailed across his vision as a horn blared through the haze. Tires screeched as the cab swerved to avoid him, the agitated driver shouting incoherently. Jack smiled stupidly and tripped over the curb, catching himself against the rough brick wall. Someone else was yelling at him, though who or why he couldn't make out. Instead he just nodded, slid to the base of the wall in a sitting position. He could hear his shirt tear as it rubbed on the brick, could feel the sandpaper like texture as it likely did the same to his skin. That would hurt tomorrow, but right now it felt good. He squinted up at the sky, stars spinning like pinpricks of light reflected from a disco ball, the great round globe of the moon seething like a ball of florescent gas. His head drooped once and he jerked it sharply back up. His vision was clouded with dark moving pillars as a crowd brushed by, taking no notice of him. He nodded again and this time drifted away to unconscious land. Not a single thought went through his head.

It was still dark when he awoke, but late even in a city that was never truly asleep; he was still far from sober, yet the mind numbing level of drunkenness he had recently achieved had ebbed to the point where his brain was functioning in at least a minimal capacity. He struggled to a sitting position. The ground around where he lay was dusted with dead insects of a variety of species. He looks at them with something between horror and hatred, his face twisted cartoonishly.

He scrabbles to his feet, swaying precipitously, and begins to walk, thoughts gradually taking shape within the cerebral murk between his ears. He had an argument with Father Mike; well, scratch that - he had done the arguing, Father Mike had maintained a remarkable calm. When had that been? He had no idea. Days, it had to be, but that didn't mean much when you never really knew what day it was anyway. Jack hadn't been to the shelter since then, hadn't really even eaten although he had done more than enough drinking.

Show that fat fuck how Jesus provides.

His pace has moved from meandering to purposeful. There was no excuse, no way to explain, no possible God that could allow what had happened to him. That omnipotence bullshit didn't fly with Jack, not at all. All knowing, all seeing? What creator would make someone as diseased - as destructive - as himself. What possible purpose could there be in taking a sick boy and healing him only so he could become a monster and destroy everything he cared about?

Father Mike didn't truly understand the depth of his cynicism, the reason that lay at its core. Jack could tell the priest was trying to figure it out, trying to help in his own way. Jack couldn't bring himself to voice the truth about himself, about his abominable mutation. It was too much; he couldn't say it out loud and he couldn't keep it in.

So he yelled. He screamed. He accused everything and everyone except himself. A man could only be pushed so far before he snapped, and snap he did, lashing out with everything he had, looking for something tangible to fight with. He should have felt better, but it made it all worse because he still couldn't be honest, not with himself, not with this priest, not with the souls of the dead. It was there, buried, twisting inside, begging for release and the more he kept it in the more it hurt.

This isn't me. I'm not like this. It isn't my fault.

His aggression crashed against the calm exterior and understanding gaze of the Father. He was a man that believed in what he did, believed that by being active in religion we could change the world. It started with a commitment, a commitment to do better, to act as Jesus would have. 'We can't choose everything, but we have choices,' was all he said.

Choices.

Jack turns left onto Bleaker, then right onto Masterson, stride quickening. Didn't he see that everything had been chosen already? That if you believed in God, then you believed that this supreme, omnipotent being was malicious, cruel, evil?

He was running now, eyes fixed on the great arched doors that marked the entrance to the Father's domain. This wasn't life, this was hell. There was no saving to be done because everyone was already lost.

The doors loomed larger and his pace did not slacken. In his head, a chorus of ghosts stabbed his brain with malefic glee. He reaches out, palms forward, an instant before impact.

* * *

Jack lay, sprawled between the altar and the son of God, eyes rolled upward in unconscious imitation, prisoner inside a body that betrayed him at every turn. He was again trapped; neither asleep nor awake, his mind free to travel to places he continually buried with whatever potable was available. Today he went to Prague.

It started as a low hum, at the edge of hearing but powerful enough to feel in your teeth. He was inside a cramped tube, lined with white light and narrow, dead looking windows, doubtless backed by powerful imaging cameras. He was restrained - either to protect himself or the expensive machinery around him; he guessed the latter.

The hum cycled upward, the whine of an overpowered turbine engine just warming up. He twisted, straining against the plastic restraints to no avail. He could imagine the technicians and doctors lined up behind protective glass, observing, hear them talking to one another in their clipped accents. A freakish piece of meat to be studied.

No

The whine turned into an eardrum ripping howl as invisible beams pierced his body, seeking to capture and image every cell. He could feel it, feel the bones in his skeleton stretching, separating. It was like being turned inside out and run over at the same time. His screams were drowned out by the monolithic engine noise, snapped up effortlessly by the sheer power around them.

His body went primal, dug deeper than any escape seeking animal. He had to get out.

No

He could feel it, beneath the pain and shock and horror: the livid twisting deep down in his gut, like an evil serpent nosing his entrails. He clenched his vibrating teeth and with supreme mental effort tried to lock it down, push it back into the hole it had crawled from. The world was starting to tear apart at the edges; Jack in its center, trying to understand how he could be in such agony for so long and still remain conscious. The end was nowhere in sight.

Noooo!

* * *

His grip was slipping. He tried to hold on but the pain was overwhelming, the need for release a force beyond reason. Anything was preferable to this combined torture. The power leaked upward, his overwrought mind trying to remember why he kept it in check, why he refused to save himself. It was a weapon now, in his hands, to be used against those that would harm him. The bonds burst from his shoulders and with a scream he reached out and squeezed, sucking the life from his tormentor. He reached out . . .

Out of Prague, and into the present, where Father Mike had been trying to save him once again. The priest's eyes went wide, then slack as his skin began to wither. He mumbled something before his head dropped and his hair fell out, skin turning to paper and then dust, brown bones gripped in Jack's white knuckled hands. Jack scrabbled backward as the thundercloud of comprehension burst in his head. His back slammed into the altar and a low, gutteral moan issued from his mouth, his mind trying to avoid the reality that was suddenly so potent around him.

NoNoNoNo

He puts his hands to his head and squeezes, tears leaking from his dark eyes. Beyond the husk that had been Father Mike, the stout oak of the crucifix suddenly snaps; Jack jerks his head upward as Jesus topples forward in slow motion.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world

Jack watches, unable to move, waiting to be crushed beneath the weight divine righteousness, the scales of justice finally tipping to balance his life sum. Candlelight makes the shadows sluice across the alabaster statue like wisps of smoke, mass and gravity combining to turn it into a literal hammer of the gods. Jack bows his head, staring at the remains of the man who only wanted to help him.

Forgive me father, for I have sinned.

Like a crack of thunder, the mast of the cross strikes the altar and stops dead, leaving the looming face of Jesus inches away from his own. He curls up and sobs, filled with the knowledge that he is both human and weak. That he is a sinner. And that Father Mike was right.

From the corner of his eye he sees something black and angular flutter by. His head involuntarily turns that way and he automatically reaches out to pick it up - a rectangular black business card. He turns it over, expecting nothing and finding it. But suddenly, as he stares, red lines burn upward toward the inky surface, finally resolving into a number. And a name.

Polnoch.


G&J