Illustration by Marco A. Shatter
Table of Contents
It started up every night at twenty-one hundred, regular as clockwork. She could hear them whizzing through the streets, cutting the air with their winding blades, and all the while pumping out that damned music. It was supposed to be perky, up beat. To her ear, all those confounding boops, beeps and whirs sounded like a damned electric coffee maker throwing a tantrum.
“That ain’t music.”
They called them Spions, fitting enough name she supposed, because their whole purpose was to spy on the happy citizens of the Republic. Not a terribly creative one though.
Then she’d hear that voice, echoing through the streets. A suspiciously boisterous German voice, projected through the Spions loud speakers, calling out to potential playmates.
“OH, Are you down with BLUE?”
“What the Hell does that chatter even mean?” She scoffed, repeating the words in a mocking tone, “are you down with blue? Nah, I’m partial to red myself, you can shut up now.”
“OH, Are you down with BLUE?” The Spion sang out again in the voice of some booze-giddy Oktoberfest exile.
“Nothing lulls you into a good nights sleep like the soothing sound of Germans patrolling the streets.” She’d smirk to her cat.
He’d give her a knowing look back. Duke was her only companion, the only one she needed. He chuckled inwardly.
The reference likely would have been lost on most of the Republic. She’d come to believe that she was the last human being alive who’d seen WWII unfold with her own eyes. There was no one left to reminisce about old times with, and none of the young meat-bags these days would have believed her anyway. Things like war, and really any sort of skirmish the Republic dabbled a toe in had managed to be either swept from the collective consciousness, or simmered down to faerie tales.
They called her a liar when she told them how old she was. That, or they’d snort out a laugh, like she was some ranting lunatic, and shuffle on about their business. The truth was, no one lived that long now-a-days. Life had become just a meaningless amble, or not even that. Most people lived their life comfortably reclining in a neuro-snood, passively letting pornography, gossip and snippets of mollycoddled news-stories passively rinse through their grey-matter.
Like a tide eroding a river-bed, the heads of these “snooders” were quickly worn hallow. No one died these days but snuffed out their-own life over the slightest upset. Having grown up so damned accustomed to being pacified it seemed something as trivial as a headache was enough to jettison out of existence.
Life had no value anymore, except to Mary. She found it in frying up a plate of fish and chips, or watching John Wayne movies on her trusty reel to reel. They were corny as all Hell, but at least they had a plotline you could follow, and characters you actually gave a damn about.
She was doing just that tonight. “Red River” flickered and popped in all it’s glory on a more or less clean bed-sheet, tacked to the wall.
“You’re soft,” John Wayne drawled, “you should have let ‘em kill me, ’cause I’m gonna kill you. I’ll catch up with ya. I don’t know when, but…”
“OH Are you down with BLUE?” The wailing Spion echoed from the street.
Why did they have to make those worthless contraptions so damned loud? How can you expect to collect recon if you’re constantly announcing your fool self?
Startled, Duke hissed, arching his back and dissolving into a flurry of claws and teeth and he scrambled from Mary’s lap and into the entryway.
“Damnit Duke, you aren’t used to those flying kraut jalopies by now?” Mary groaned, lifting her arthritic body from the easy-chair and hobbling off in pursuit.
She never felt old until she moved. Then it seemed her body became a clumsy, stifling sack she’d been trapped in. All the efforts put into creating faster neuro-relays for horse shit snood-programs and flying nazi-rods but no one ever thought to come up with a cure for rheumatism? No, she reasoned. She was probably the only person living who was still bothered by it.
As she rounded the corner to the entry-way, labouring over each breath, she saw Duke. He was standing on the staircase, back arched, fur bristled, ears plastered against his head. What was left of his teeth he bared defiantly as he starred out the picture-window. Mary climbed the stairs, and followed his gaze.
There, winding back and forth in her front yard was one of the Spions. She’d never actually seen one before, not in person. It was smaller than she had imagined, barely bigger than the cat who snarled his challenge at it. The Spion hovered there, a pear cut jewel festooned with blinking blue lights, so brilliant they near scalded the sight from her eyes.
“Oh, are you down with BLUE?” It moaned to the emptiness of night.
Reflexively, she crouched down, uncertain if it had the capacity to actually see her, spine crackling and popping all the way. One especially loud snap seemed to alert the Spion to their presence. The watcher was being watched, and did not appreciate it one bit.
A brilliant flash of green light burst forth from the peaked nose of the craft. It spilled through the window in one solid beam, moats of dust swimming in the glow. The damnable beam then parted into a lattice, splattering an illuminated grid against the wall.
Mary found herself trapped in this web, and it was just that, a web. These beams of light had somehow crippled her muscles, holding her captive in her well-wrinkled husk. Duke gave a low-moaning wail, as if in defeat.
“Oh, You’re down with BLUE and you didn’t even know it!” That revoltingly cheerful German voice trilled.
No sooner had those words been spoken than her consciousness was thieved from her body, wrung out from her every pore by the compulsion of that green glow.
Ferron let his ever-vigilant Gyans ease him into his cathedra. It was just a fancy word for a chair, and Gyan really was just a trumped up term for a nursemaid. Being that he was a Ferric, no thing that he touched could dare be left unadorned with such humble names.
The Gyans had explained it to him, once long ago, before he had gone through the ritual. Now that he was a sanctified Ferric, his ears could not be desecrated by words from mere human’s tongues.
“The Ferric is the vessel, through whom the Neraidas’ may speak. The Heathens called them Gods, but we know better.” His Gyan had told him as she caressed his newly shorn head.
He couldn’t recall just why but he had been crying. He could feel his cheeks, hot and flushed, hear the blood pulsing behind his ears. Most of all, he remembered staring down at his tears, as they beaded upon his Gyan’s blue cloak. They looked like tiny jewels there, scattered upon the velvet. They might have been beautiful, were it not for the dim recollection in his mind that they had been born from pain.
“Why me?” He pleaded helplessly, his words swallowed into folds of velvet, “Why?”
“It is what you were born for!” The Gyan’s voice was so soothing as to guild the fact that her words they held no real answer.
“When you drink the Tar Wine,” She continued, “You, a Ferric, can cross into the realm of The Neraidas’. You can carry their words on your voice back to man’s ears, it is through you that they may make their will known.”
Ferron had memorized the faces of these many Neraidas, who stood as impassive steel statues in the rectory. Their metal flesh, like their faces, seemed cold and formidable. Their eyes, gaping black sockets, seemed to see through his skin and into the very pulp of his being…his soul.
He had heard from those who had lived in a time when these creatures walked among man, that their eyes were a glistening black from lid to lid. They did not use their mouths to speak. Instead, when they looked at you, drew you into the vastness of those seering black eyes , they seeded their very words into your mind.
Whatever it was that was squirming around inside of him, puppeting his body about, he was certain those Neraidas could see it. He had no doubt that they could just as easily destroy it on a lark. Best to keep them happy.
“But I can’t remember anything…” He protested, “When I drink the Tar Wine…just nothing. Why can’t I remember it?”
“Because when you return, you are bound by the flesh. “ She laughed, as if the answer were so ridiculously simple that only a child could have breathed such a question.
“Your mortal body cannot grasp the words of the Holy, but your soul…yes it remembers.”
To this day, Ferron remembered nothing of his journeys into the beyond, but his words must have been lofty indeed. As his Gyans latched him into his restraints, he gazed up at the teeming mass that had assembled to hear him speak. Spions whizzed through the air, creating extravagant light shows and shouting words of encouragement, punctuated by roaring cheers. Row upon row of people had assembled in the Histron. He realized there were even more attending virtually, via their Neuro-Snoods; all of them hopeful, yearning, seeking the reassurance of his words…no, The Neraidas’ words.
He himself was seeking too. He scanned the procession of cloaked celebrants who had begun to swarm around him, holy people, who served the Neraidas he voiced. He was looking for one in particular.
There, lining the adjacent wall of this sacred stage, he spied the Scribes. They were easily identifiable by their short-cropped hair, dyed black with sacred Tar Wine. All of them looked sleek, and imposing, save one, his personal scribe.
She was smaller than the others. Her hair, fine and frowsy, always floated about her head as though curiously inspecting the world around it. Indeed, her hair, much like herself, seemed completely indifferent to of the fact that there were edicts and orders others willingly abided to. Her wild mane gave her the appearance of a black thistle. It was the name he had come to call her, Thistle, for she had been made to sacrifice her own and all vestiges of her identity upon becoming a scribe.
In reward for her piety, she was allowed to commit the Ferric’s sacred words to text. Each Scribe was also gifted the rare privilege to speak with one, and only one of the Ferrics, Communion they called it. He had been the one chosen for her, and he was glad of it.
As his gaze met hers she committed the blasphemy of all blasphemies, she smiled at him. He was elated. It was the memory his mind clung to before the Tar Wine was funnelled down his throat, and The Neraidas’ took his body.
When his mind was his own again, that memory was the first thing he found flitting about within. As his senses returned to him, he could hear the squeaking wheels of his chariot, as the Gyans pushed him to the Communal. He found himself overcome with unabashed delight, knowing he would see Thistle there. Had he been recovered enough stand under his own power, he’d have leaped from the chariot and through the arch of that waiting doorway.
Thistle had learned well enough to keep any emotions she felt well guised. It was a Scribe’s purpose to serve the Ferric, record their words, give them counsel. Their own wills and desires were thus irrelevant. Yet while her face remained still, and deadpan she had never learned to fully hide the dancing of her eyes. Ferron hoped she never would.
She stood, and extended her upturned palms in welcome. The Gyans made a low bow, and withdrew themselves from the chamber, not holy enough to witness The Communion.
Thistle managed to stifle a laugh until they were well out of earshot. Once certain that they could enjoy the luxury of privacy, she took Ferron’s hands in hers.
“You were marvellous today!” She adulated, somehow managing to be simultaneously reverent and giddy.
“What did I say?” He begged, “please?”
Thistle let go of his hands and heaved a gargantuan leather-bound tome down from a shelf and into her lap. The scarlet hide that enfolded the thing was well worn, flapping free in places.
The site of it stirred up a long dormant memory within him, a memory of fall, and plunging into towering piles of crimson leaves, just the colour of that tattered leather, crisp and crackling. It was a memory of his life before he had been chosen, and he relished it.
It was sometimes hard for Ferron to conceive that this ancient book was the most sacred of all relics. This mammoth book held the record of The Neraidas’ actual words. The words he, and the other Ferrics had made known.
“Sieve. It is there,” Thistle began jubilantly, “of the meat, spoiled by the sore waters.
Fluttering, bright, stars are ghost timber, through which all now pass.
There is clay, punished, enslaved by an eye, a servant now.
Ugly and sour hands now trapped…shouting its pain in pure glee.
Silence! Silence! The sorry one is clutched. The hours are buried in flight.”
“It doesn’t make any sense.” Ferron sighed, “it never does.”
“No, no it does!” Thistle insisted, “but the language of The God’s is pure, and our words cannot fully express…”
She stopped for a moment, seeing that Ferron remained unconvinced, and began rifling through the pages.
“Do you see? Here?” She said, thrusting a finger into the thick of another garbled paragraph.
“Swollen Earths have drunk till lost, wave upon wave upon wave, from the sky.”
Ferron stared blankly at her.
Thistle took his hands once again. He was terrified that she could feel the way his body rejoiced at her touch.
“You spoke those words three days before the great flood came.” She explained, “because of you, we knew to prepare ourselves, many lives were saved.”
“You knew from that?” Ferron said in disbelief.
“Well, yes, it’s what the scribes do. You speak for the Neraidas and we translate…it’s very boring really.”
“Tell me!” Ferron beseeched.
Thistle smiled despite herself, relenting to her friends request. Any love she had once had for labouring over scripture had been lost long ago.
“We all sit at a long table and dissect every word…which mostly means we scream at one another until someone makes sense of something.”
She laughed. He thought to himself that he’d be perfectly content if the music of that sound were the only thing he ever heard again.
“It sounds nice.” Ferron practically purred his reply.
“No, it isn’t that.” Thistle heaved the words through a sigh, “all that bellow and banter, just talk, talk, talk!!!”
“You and The Viast are the only people who ever talk to me.” Ferron said sheepishly.
Thistle bit her lip. She was silent for an agonizing length of time, which may have in reality only been the passage of mere seconds. Then she gave him that mischievous look Ferron come to adore.
“Want to hear a joke?” She entreated.
Ferron nodded with such fervour that he managed to make himself dizzy, though perhaps the Tar Wine still dancing through his veins was to blame for that.
“Two brainless Grobs were sitting at a bar, in front of a mirror.
One Grob, seeing their reflection says to the other, ‘who are those dim-wits over there staring at us?’
The other Grob says,’ Yeah, we should go over and give them a piece of our minds!’
So they stand up to go confront them, then the first Grob says,
‘Oh No, let’s get out of here, they’re coming over!’”
Thistle giggled to herself. Her cheeks flushed a rosy pink, making her look deliriously beautiful to Ferron’s eye.
“Oh you never laugh!” Thistle complained, setting her bottom lip into a pout.
“I still like to hear.” Ferron justified.
“I could get in trouble for that you know!” Thistle said, crossing her arms across her chest in mock offense, “We’re supposed to speak of only holy things in Communion!”
“I like to hear your jokes, and stories. It makes me feel like I’m…I don’t know, something more than a Ferric. Besides, everything Ferrics say is holy. We’re fine.” Ferron teased.
This managed to draw the smile back upon his Scribe’s face.
‘What is a Grob?” He asked earnestly.
Thistle’s smile disappeared.
“A common person, the people we’re trying to save, we of The Blue Ardour.”
He stared at her. “Blue Ardour?”
“Yes, you..me, all the celebrants. You really don’t know?” She gasped, never attempting to hide her disbelief.
He shook his head, ashamed, dropping his eyes away from hers. He resolved to simply stare down at his bare feet, and even then he felt chagrined. His skin seemed so ashen and lifeless compared to hers. Spindle legs and knobby ankles, but then what was to be expected of a man who spent the better portion of his life drugged and unconscious?
Somehow sensing his ill ease, she lifted his chin to meet her eye.
“You do know what a mirror is, don’t you?” She asked jauntily.
“I know what it does, but we’re not allowed to have them. Neraidas can…”
“Watch you through mirrors.” She finished his thought.
“What do I look like?” He asked her with such naïve honesty that her tongue stumbled trying to find reply.
“Like…like a Ferric.” She muttered.
“I’ve never seen another.” He confessed.
“No, no you wouldn’t have.” Thistle said, waving the words away with a flippant hand.
“I gathered that.” He said, sliding his fingertips across scalp, “The Viast shaves me end to end every evening.”
Thistle cringed at the though. Then, her face became pensive, thoughtful, and slowly, she began listing traits, counting them of with a gentle flit of finger to thumb.
“Tall…very tall, thin, pale skin…”
“Like bloody chalk.” He interjected.
Thistle bit back her laughter and continued her catalogue, “Yellow eyes, black lips, black teeth.”
“My teeth are black?” He recoiled at the words, trying to stand but finding himself still too foible to manage.
“Your whole mouth actually, lips, teeth, even the tongue.” She said, tracing a hand along his cheek and around the shell of his ear, “it’s the Tar Wine.”
Her touch had a maddening way of soothing him when he really felt he ought be granted his anger.
“Ugly.” He muttered.
“How would you know?” She grinned.
“I see other people,” He snorted, “I see you.”
“And?” Thistle prodded.
“Your not…you…I” He didn’t have the words to convey how beautiful the woman before him was to his eye. He stammered out a few bleak attempts at the poetry that swam in his mind, none of which manifested as much more than a word, or even half of one, spasming of the tongue.
“I must be ugly.” He finally relented.
She shook her head in disagreement, drowning out any of the Ferric’s further contest with a kiss.
It was a strange feeling for him. The soft meat of her lips pressed firmly against his own. He didn’t fully comprehend the gesture, and yet at the same time, he didn’t want her to stop either.
He wrapped an arm about her waist, which so long as he remained seated in his chariot could be done comfortably. He realized that if he were to stand, he’d likely be a good three feet taller than her, monstrously tall.
Trying to force such thoughts from his mind, he commited his full focus to his fingers, the sensations awakening within they traipse along her spine, or what he could feel of it beneath her shroud. Even this he found fraught with peril, uncertain of how far he might move his hand before the gesture would be taken as vulgar.
Vulgar, Ha! She’s in a robe Neraidas Damn Me! There’s nothing to touch but cloth!
But what is she wearing under the robe?
Stop it! Stop!
Fortunately for him, Thistle was far less discomfited by such things.
The droning song calling all celebrants to gather rang out through the halls, all celebrants save The Ferrics of course, who were to be kept absolute. It was a fancy way of saying alone. It was only then that Thistle pulled her body away from his. Curiously, he found himself unable to relinquish his same reluctant hand from her hip.
“They’ve brought in a new Grob today.” Thistle whispered, “Did you know?”
“How could I?” Ferron smirked irreverently, “I was with The Neraidas.”
Thistle nodded in concord. “They say she’s old, very, very old and frightening to look at! I want to see her!” She said, bouncing on her toes.
“What…what will they do with her?” Ferron asked nervously.
“Save her. Save her from this world, save her from herself.” Thistle said, gracing him with one last kiss upon the brow before turning to leave.
“Ferron?” She asked to the back of his head.
“Yes?” He replied, trying to turn about and see her one last time before the hall gulped her away. He couldn’t crane his neck far enough.
“You really like hearing my jokes, my stories, all those silly things?” She pried.
“Yes.” He hoped the word conveyed his conviction, then thought to add, “They’re not silly to me.”
“Ferron…I’m writing a book.” Thistle said, he could hear her shuffling her feet in apprehension.
“Well, yes I know,” He prattled back, “I’m helping you, aren’t I?”
“No, not that book.” She clarified through what he imagined was a smile, “A, well a real one. Not that the Neraidas aren’t…what I mean is, a book with stories and…”
She sighed, obviously frustrated, searching for the words that would come next.
“Ferron,” She said after a long while, “Would you like me to read it to you, maybe sometime?”
“Please!” The word came almost as an explosion from his lips, “Yes, yes, please!”
“Alright!’ She said, her exuberance restored, “I will.”
With that, she turned and left, footsteps growing ever more faint until they melded into the frantic mumblings of the other celebrants off to gather.
He sat there, alone, sorting through the feelings that were churning within him. His thoughts seemed alien to him now, interlopers that rattled and scraped their way about his skull.
He hadn’t even noticed that his chariot had begun moving again till he heard the voice of The Viast.
“It is good there are no mirrors in there. The Neraidas would be shamed by what you have done.”
He turned to see the strange, gray-skinned figure of the man looming over him, red eyes filled with disdain. His skin was drawn over a skeleton that appeared to be too big for the flesh that contained it. So tightly pulled was The Viast’s skin that it’s stretch forbid even the slightest down of hair to take root upon it’s surface.
“Not Holy.” The Viast reaffirmed.
He hated to draw The Viast’s temper. On the one, he was among the only people with whom Ferron could speak and expect to be spoken back to. He was something like a surrogate father figure, tending to the needs of the flesh, which served vehicle to The God’s voice.
Then there was the fact that The Viast was one of the ancient race, The Sojourners. These were human men and women who had somehow taken the blood of The Neraidas into their veins and sanctified themselves. It was this act that had transformed him into the hulking creature that now wheeled Ferron’s chariot along. Angering one of The Sojourners was as close as a mortal man could come to feeling the true wrath and vindication of the Holy in this world.
Ferron found himself robbed of a voice for the many replies that gnashed through his cerebellum.
“How?” Was all he could manage.
How could The Viast have known? The answer was obvious really, The Sojourners saw all, the divinity in their blood assured that. He could only imagine what it must be like to hear your own pulse and know that the divine travelled within your very skin.
“Never you fear.” The Viast spoke gently, as he unravelled Ferron from his sacramental shrouds, “Your Viast won’t tell on you. No, need.”
Had anyone been looking on, they might have mistaken The Ferric’s frail, skeletal body for a corpse being prepared for funerary rights as The Viast lifted him from his Chariot and to his waiting bath.
“A man who’s going to make a stand for himself ought to learn how to stand up first!” The Sojourner chuckled, tossing Ferron unceremoniously into the warm, soapy waters.
He sputtered and choked a bit, taking The Viast’s meaning from this gesture. He was helpless without the assistance of those who served him, and should he betray their trust, death would be his reward. Not the blood splattered, brutal and blessedly quick death of the wicked, but the long, agonising climb of neglect. The torment of lying hungry and alone in his own filth, begging the Neraidas to snuff out his breath.
“Besides, we’ve seen fit to remove temptation.” The Viast said, staring down at the floundering Ferric.
Ferron choked the last bit of water from his lungs. Once recovered, he followed the Viast’s gaze down to the scar on his naked groin. It was a hideous, puckered slab of flesh. Once red and sore, the wound had faded to the sickly grey of a fish’s underbelly. He understood that what had once been there was what most of his gender constituted as their manhood.
He’d never thought much upon it, he was scarce conscious enough to do so at any rate. Now, with a forceful, ruthless abruptness, he remembered why he had been crying in his Gyan’s lap all those years ago.