Some days you wanna rip your fuckin' eyes out.
I hate seein' things. It sucks. Sucks real hard. I'm
here, trying to hang out, have a nice afternoon, pass the
time of day, all that shit, and there's three ghosts in the
place, a giant spider in the rafters, Neville's around, and
he ain't got a fuckin' soul (leastways not one he keeps in
his body), and here comes Penny, who's usually bright and
happy and cheerful and one of the few people who actually
makes me glad I'm still alive (if you call this livin'), and
she's got this black cat perched on her shoulder, lookin'
'round as if it owned the place, an' for all I know it does,
'cause whatever it is, it ain't a cat.
An' there she is, smiling for all the world like it's
Show-and-Tell Day and she's brought her new pet in for the
class to see, an' she comes right up to me, an' I don't
think she knows what the fuck she's got on her shoulder.
I look at it, and it looks back at me, and its eyes are
as bright as a couple of emeralds, and just about as old. I
lick my lips. "That ain't a fuckin' cat."
The cat that ain't a cat looks at me and cocks its head
like a real cat would, then turns to Penny and says, "Is he
usually this rude?"
Penny rolls her eyes and takes the ain't-a-fuckin'-cat
down off her shoulders and cuddles it like a baby an' says,
"Worse." She looks up at me and makes a face. "Really,
Peter, do you have to be such an Eeyore? What's your
Eeyore. Yeah, right. She's calling me a fucking
donkey, while she's there cuddling a bunch of black fur
that's older than the pyramids. But all I say is, "You'd
have a problem too if someone stuck a rusty thumbtack in
I stomp off while Neville's saying something calm and
logical to Penny like you'd expect from someone who ain't
got a fuckin' soul, an' then I suddenly have to deal with a
soul that ain't got a fuckin' body, not that Thaddeus ever
shows much more feeling than Neville.
He tilts his hand, hardly a motion, an' catches my arm
with the hook of his cane. "Hold a moment, Peter," he
says--as if I could do anything else, with a ghost ivory
dragon's head snagged on my elbow, ready to poke its fangs
into my soul if I so much as move an inch.
Thaddeus reels me in like a fish, then unhooks his cane
and takes off his spectacles on their little ribbon an'
starts polishin' them like he always does when he's about to
say somethin' he thinks is real wise and pithy an' somethin'
he thinks I haven't heard a dozen times over, even if I
haven't been around since before Queen Victoria kicked off
like he has. "I believe you owe the young lady an apology."
"What the fuck are you talking about, you ghost
Thaddeus inspects his spectacles for dirt. "In my
day," he says, like he usually starts his lectures, "a young
man would never take his leave of a lady without at least
begging her pardon and excusing himself. To say nothing of
refraining from vulgar comments regarding thumbtacks and
one's nether regions."
"She called me a jackass."
"No, she made a literary allusion which implied that
you were being a depressing little donkey. Hardly the same
thing." He sticks his ghost spectacles back on his ghost
nose and smiles. "Why were you so rude anyway?"
I stand my ground. "That ain't a fuckin' cat."
"Not an ordinary one, at least." Thaddeus inclines his
head and sneaks a glance. "I believe Penny has gained the
services of a witch's familiar, and from that we may surmise
that Penny is quite a bewitching young woman--a fact with
which I know you are already well acquainted."
I don't need some fuckin' Victorian-Age Robber Baron
dirty-old-ghost lawyer telling me when I've got a hard-on.
I walk the fuck out of the Waydown an' let him trail after
me, swaggering his cane, heel-and-toe, heel-and-toe, ever-so-fuckin'-proper, Mr. High-and-Mighty, better-educated-than-you'll-ever-be ghost.
And you wonder why I wanna rip my eyes out sometimes?
There are dead leaves everywhere, skeleton leaves, and
cobwebs and broken stone, and the light's dyin' early, four
days after Thanksgiving, and what the fuck is there to be
thankful for? An alcoholic father? A dying grandfather? A
bunch of old aunts who think they know everything, when all
they know is recipes and gossip and old lady shit like that,
and not the weird-assed evil shit that goes down in the
world every day, like ghosts and spiders and Neville not
having a fuckin' soul and Penny getting a witch's cat to
play baby with?
I sit down hard, between the headless deer and the
headless lamb that sit at the feet of the Marie Antoinette
St. Francis statue that stands outside the old church, and
it's cold and hard and just the way I wish I felt inside,
but I don't and I can't and I can't even talk about the
things I see 'cept around people like Neville an' Penny an'
her cat, 'cause then they think you're crazy an' they come
for you an' take you to the nut house. An' if you think the
world outside is cold and evil, you ain't seen what it's
like inside one of those places.
They've got demons there, and imps, and little things
that crawl on your shoulder and whisper bad things in your
ear. Kill! Kill! Fuck your mother! All that shit. And
then there's the men in the white coats and the men in the
black coats, and the ones that don't have demons in them
don't have any souls either, and they look at you with their
empty eyes and show you their little cards and ask you what
does this look like to you, and what does that look like to
you, and what do you think when they say that and when they
say this, and fuck, they ain't got any souls, an' not like
Neville either, 'cause they seem glad they lost theirs,
which ain't like Neville, 'cause he just acts like, whether
or not he's got a soul and what he's done with it, is his
business, not yours, and he ain't about to go askin' for
anyone else's or tellin' you what you should do with yours.
Which ain't a thing like the nut house, 'cause when you
go in there, they want you to show them your soul so they
can suck it out, or stick one of their little imps in it, or
do some other fuckin' evil shit. But don't you let them.
Tell 'em what they want to hear. Tell 'em you don't see
anythin'. Not the demons, not the ghosts, not the little
imps crawlin' into people's ears. None of that shit. Just
tell 'em you dropped some bad acid, but you're fine now, and
you won't ever do it again and they'll let you go, 'cause
then you're as boring as the rest of the world and your soul
won't be very tasty.
It's happened to me before, and that's the way I got
out with my soul intact, and my skin too. If, like I said,
you can call this living.
Thaddeus is there, smiling, and one thing being in the
nut house taught me is you don't talk to ghosts, leastways
not if you don't want to go back in. But Thad isn't like
most ghosts. If he wants an answer, it's usually just a yes
or a no, not something more, and like a lot of living
people, he likes the sound of his own voice, 'least when
there are people to hear it.
"Really, Peter," he says, "are my lessons on propriety
and decorum for naught? I've told you time and again, speak
politely, nod, answer when you are spoken to and not before,
always be gracious, especially in the presence of a lady,
and whatever you do, do not voice facts about others that
they do not wish to be reminded of or made public. One's
illusions about oneself are sacrosanct, and people resent
having them shattered. And the only thing they resent more
is being told unpleasant truths of which they are already
"You're dead. Fuck you. Go away."
Thaddeus clucks his tongue, but I'm the only one who
can hear it, even if I weren't the only one outside.
"Really, Peter. What have I just been telling you?"
Like I said, Thad likes the sound of his own voice, and
most of his questions don't need any answers. He's already
got them all himself.
There's weird shit in the air. You can smell it going
down. Omens. Dead leaves and cobwebs. All that shit.
Like having a finger on a spiderweb. You can feel the
spider move her feet if you're sensitive enough, and I am.
Always have been, even before Thad and the rest of the
rotten ghost bastards nearly got me killed. That just made
me more sensitive. Like bee stings. A little poison, a
little death, makes you know it when it comes around again.
You can feel the buzz. Wings caught in webs. One prick and
it's death, or sensitivity and pain.
Bet you can guess which I got.
And it's twilight and a car pulls up in front of the
Waydown, black as pitch and twice as shiny, with silver
mirrored windows that you can't get legally, and the door
opens up and a man gets out an' comes 'round the back, his
coat as black as the car but dead as night where the doors
are shiny, and it's one of the bastards without any souls, I
know it, even though I can't look in his eyes to tell for
sure 'cause he's got mirrorshades on, shiny like the
windows, reflecting everything but the soul he ain't got.
But he ain't payin' any attention to me. He goes to
the rear door and opens it, holdin' it open for this huge
Japanese guy, like a giant sumo wrestler with a crewcut, if
sumo wrestlers wore twelve-hundred-dollar grey pinstripe
suits instead of giant white diapers and sweat. An' the
sumo guy gestures to him like he was just some normal
chauffeur, 'cept I can tell the sumo guy knows he ain't
(Don't ask how I know. I just know these things, okay?),
and he says, "Bring the car back around midnight."
The man in black just nods and goes and gets back in
the car and it drives off, as silent as it appeared, and
here it is, still twilight, and the sumo guy is walkin' over
to me and I can feel the buzz in the air like a bee caught
in a web.
"Now this," Thaddeus says, "is a gentleman. Observe
him, Peter, and you may learn something."
Observe him. Yeah, right.
The sumo guy hasn't noticed Thad, but Thad's smiling
like he knows when he sees a kindred spirit, 'cause the big
Japanese guy is smilin' the exact same, ever-so-proper
diplomat's smile, and I know if he had a cane or a cigarette
he'd be playin' with it or lightin' up to give him another
minute to stand there and pose and look polite, except he
ain't the type who smokes, and he'd break a cane if he used
one, so he just folds his hands and nods and makes this
funny little half-bow to show that he's noticed me and
considers himself above me, but he's still being polite
'cause he wants to ask me a question and he doesn't usually
come to neighborhoods like this one and wants to make sure
that I know that he doesn't.
So what's to observe? I got his number, it's the same
one Thaddeus uses, and the only thing I don't know is why a
flash dude like him is in a place like this an' what he
wants and why he's so important that he's making my sixth
sense jangle like a keyring in the hand of an epileptic.
"Excuse me," he says, "is this the place known as the
Talks just like Thaddeus. "This is the place known as
the Old St. Francis." I jerk my thumb back at the headless
statue. "This is St. Francis. He's seen better days." I
wait a beat. "So's the church."
Mr. Sumo looks around, taking in the leaves and the
cobwebs and the burnt-out hulk of the church we Hollowers
use as a crash pad sometimes and he nods and smiles. "I-- I
was given to understand it was a nightclub."
"You were given to understand wrong." I lean back
against the deer and kick my boots up over the lamb's back.
"Does it look like a nightclub?"
Mr. Sumo has to admit that it does not, and the Waydown
hasn't been held at the St. Francis since Halloween, or All
Hollow's Eve like Penny and Blackrose like to call it when
they get silly and start makin' up stupid Goth names for
everything. Samhain isn't anything to joke about,
'specially not this past one.
Even if the Waydown were open more often, though, it
wouldn't be open tonight. Mondays are for Death Guild over
at the Trocadero, and if the Waydown were going down
tonight, it would be going down there.
Mr. Sumo smiles again and says, "Actually, I am not
really looking for a nightclub," but Thaddeus smiles and
holds his finger to his lips so I don't say "No shit" like I
want to. But the lawyer ghost's got good instincts, 'cause
one of the things he's taught me is that if you hold your
trap shut, people tend to blab on and tell you things they
The Japanese guy bobs his head again, realizing he's
not going to get a response, and says, "Dr. Ken Himiitsu,
U.C. Medical Center" and holds out a hand that looks like a
slab of bacon, 'cept that slabs of bacon don't usually have
diamond pinky rings.
"It is customary," Thaddeus says drily, "to shake a
hand that is offered in greeting, and to give one's own name
in exchange." I ignore him too, and he says, "If, on the
other hand, one intends to give insult by not accepting such
a gesture--as I assume you wish to refrain from giving him
your name--then it is particularly effective to make some
meaningless pleasantry and observation so as to defuse the
Like I said, the lawyer's got good instincts. "Nice
pinky ring," I say, and Dr. Sumo looks flustered and plays
with it and gives a "Yes, I'm flustered, and I hate you
'cause you've snubbed me, but I can't actually hit you
'cause you've complimented me on my pinky ring which I
actually am fond of" look, then squares his shoulders, which
are about as wide as he's tall, and says, "We appear to have
gotten off to a bad start here. I am one of the
Progenitors. You have heard of our organization?"
"No." I shrug. "Was I supposed to?"
Dr. Ken Himiitsu, Mr. Sumo Progenitor, gives a "Well of
course you weren't supposed to hear about our secret
organization, but . . ." look, and plays with his pinky ring
some more, then says, "You have no idea who the Progenitors
I wobble my boots back and forth, kicking back. "Some
wacky fringe group of Operation Rescue?"
"No." He puts his hands down and squares his
shoulders. "Let us not play games. The Progenitors are a
Convention of the Technocracy, and you, I am certain, are an
awakened mage. You are one of the ones who call themselves
the Hollow Heads?"
Thaddeus laughs, and I chuckle a little bit inside at
the same time as I feel the anger start to build up behind
my eyes. Someone had fed this bastard a line of bull,
'cause we Hollow Ones don't take kindly to the fancy-pants
bastards in the Technocracy. Hollow Heads. Heh, that's a
good one, and it's all the information the Technos deserve.
But it's more than one of us Hollowers would say unless one
of the Technos stuck a gun in his face, and a pretty big gun
But I take Thad's "If you can't say something nice,
don't say anything at all" shtick and wait and see what Dr.
Progenitor is going to say next.
"I know you might have reason to distrust me, but
please, be assured that I have everyone's best interests at
"Glad to hear it."
"--but--" He pauses, flustered, then starts over.
"Young man. I truly do not wish to trouble you or any of
your fellow Hollow Heads, but I was wondering if perhaps you
had seen a spider lately."
I point to one of the cracks in St. Francis's robe.
"Yeah, right there. 'spiders all over the place."
Dr. Himiitsu smiles. "I meant a larger spider. Much
"You been droppin' acid, mister?"
"No." He smiles graciously, though I'm pushing him to
the breaking point. "I was referring to a pattern spider.
A very large pattern spider. Her name is Weaver, and I had
a hand in her creation."
I kick my feet off the headless lamb and come up quick,
but Thaddeus has his cane barring my way. "Steady, Peter.
The anger's buildin' up behind my eyes, and the pain,
and some of it's startin' to bleed through, and fuck, it
hurts. Hurts like it always does, and everythin's turnin'
red. "You pig," I say. "You're the pig who turned Norna
into that thing."
"Ah, so she is here!" Dr. Himiitsu beams, and fuck, the
only thing that's keepin' me from jumpin' him is Thad's cane
in my throat and the fact that the pig weighs about three
times as much as me and not all of it's fat. Well marbled
And fast, greasy bacon too, 'cause the next thing I
know, Dr. Pig's hand is pushin' me flat against St. Francis.
"Please, young man," he says. "I have no wish to harm you,
as I had no wish to harm Norna. It was simply necessary for
the safety of the City that she become a pattern spider and
reweave the broken threads of the tapestry. Regrettable,
but necessary. I have already died once in this business,
and while unpleasant, it was hardly permanent, so please, do
not take any rash ideas into your head as to taking my life,
as I must assure you, that will not only be difficult, but
impermanent. Which would not be the case if I were forced
to take yours, for you do not have the luxury of having
clones on file, as do I." He smiles. "I am a doctor, and I
prefer to preserve life when possible. I only wish to
collect Weaver and leave."
"You're a fucking pig, that's what you are," I say, and
fuck, the pain's burnin' behind my eyes, and it hurts.
Hurts like a motherfucker, an' everywhere I look everythin's
gone red as blood. "I don't care how many vats you crawl
out of, or how many times you come back, you're a pig and
you always will be. A filthy pig! You know what? Just
before you came back last time someone tossed a bag of pork
rinds in the tank, 'cause they couldn't tell the difference.
Pig skin on the inside, pig skin on the outside. You're
nothing but a pig, through and through, and no matter how
many times you come back, that's all you'll ever be. Pig!
You're nothin' but a fuckin' pig!"
There's this story I read when I was a kid, 'bout a
girl who had a magic finger, an' when she got mad, it zapped
out and turned her teacher into a cat, and some kids into
ducks, and it happened whether she wanted it to or not.
Just when she got mad.
My magic ain't in my fingers, but you don't want to get
me mad either. An' if you do, don't look me in the eye.
There's a lot said 'bout the evil eye, but the main thing is
that you don't want it, and don't want to get whammied by
Dr. Pig stares at me, gettin' even redder in the face,
or really pinker, and his eyes get all squinty and his nose
gets more piggy and his canines start stickin' out of his
lower lip. But he ain't noticin' until his pinky ring
starts cuttin' into his ham hand and he pulls it back and
stares at the blood pourin' down it as it starts turnin'
into a pig's trotter with a diamond ring stuck in the side.
I jump up on the base of the statue and point my own
magic finger at him and shout, "Pig! You're nothin' but a
fuckin' pig, and that's all you'll ever be!" and Dr.
Himiitsu squeals and drops to all fours and his suit pops
open as he gets even bigger and fatter an' then there's this
giant fuckin' razorback hog starin' right up at me and St.
It screams an' goes after me, but then it realizes that
pigs can't climb fuckin' statues and it glares at me with
its evil little eyes and turns and starts rootin' through
its clothes, but not like a pig would, but like it's lookin'
for somethin', an' then it rips open a pocket an' out pops a
prescription bottle that goes skitterin' across the
cobblestones in front of the church. An' Dr. Pig goes
trottin' happily after it, like he knows what's in it, but
then Thaddeus says, "Allow me, Peter," an' jogs over to
where the pig's about to get the prescription bottle an'
whacks it with his cane--the bottle, not the pig--an' the
bottle goes skitterin' out into the middle of the street,
an' the pig looks at it, then looks at me an' does a double-take, 'cause Thad's a ghost an' it can't see him, then it
goes after the bottle as Thad's skippin' along, laughin',
gettin' ready to use his cane as a nine-iron again.
"'Thou elvish-marked, abortive rooting hog,'" Thaddeus
says an' gives the bottle another whack just as Dr. Pig is
about to get to it, an' fuck, I don't know what he's talkin'
about, but it's a cool-sounding curse, then Thad waits until
the pig is just about to get to the bottle one more time an'
he whacks it right down the storm drain like you'd shoot the
ball into the little castle at the miniature golf course.
An' the pig screams an' Thad just takes out his pocket
watch an' smiles an' looks at it an' says, "Just on time,"
an' steps back, an' fuck, I can feel the web jangling like
the spider's dancing a rumba on it, an' the next second the
pig screams an' the brakes scream an' a San Francisco
Examiner truck plows right into the razorback an' skids out
an' smashes it into a fire hydrant an' blood an' water
Thaddeus stands there and smiles an' says, "Even timely
news is seldom pleasant," an' I see Dr. Himiitsu's soul come
out of the pig's body an' fuck, it's one of those moments
when I ain't the one pullin' my strings, 'cause the next
thing I know I'm pointin' and sayin', "You are a pig, you
were a pig, and you always will be a pig!" an' the web snaps
and thunder claps and Thaddeus stamps his cane three times
on the ground and says, "It has been witnessed!" an' fuck,
Dr. Himiitsu's soul winks out of there, off to the vat in
his lab where he'll become a pig all over again. I just
know it, okay?
Then it's all normal again, or at least as normal as it
can be, with a fire hydrant gushin' water and pig's blood
all over a newspaper truck, and the driver comin' out and
wonderin' what the fuck's happened, an' whether he should
call the police or animal control, an' one of the driver's
eyes is blood red an' fuck if I know what that's supposed to
mean, an' Thaddeus is there grinnin' like he planned the
whole thing, or at least knew it was goin' to come down, an'
I think he did, and then there's Neville an' Blackrose an'
Penny an' her cat comin' out of the church to see what all
the commotion is about, an' fuck if I know how I'm going to
"Rather vulgar but effective nonetheless," Neville
says, cold as ice, as if a man hadn't just been turned into
a pig and butchered all in a minute's time. "I'm surprised
you're not reeling from the paradox, Peter."
"Ain't my problem, ain't my fault, ain't my paradox,"
says I. "Bastard turned Norna into spider, an' if I guilt-tripped him into turnin' himself into a pig, well, that's
his problem an' his paradox, not mine. Karmic scales
balancin', Threefold Law, all the rest of that shit."
Blackrose's lightin' up one of those clove cigarettes
that I know's goin' to be the death of her, an' she takes a
drag and looks at the pig an' the fountain an' the newspaper
truck an' says, "I thought it was rather like the Witch
Queen's spell in Willow. Or what Evil did to the dwarf in
Penny rolls her eyes, sayin', "Remember the Duchess's
baby? Lewis Carroll beat them both to it," an' she pets her
cat an' it purrs like a normal cat would, but under the
purrin' I hear it say, "A very ancient curse. Nicely done,
young master," an' fuck, I can't take it anymore.
I turn to Neville. "A guy without a soul's goin' to be
back here 'round midnight. I'd get myself lost if I were
you." An' I turn aroun' an' walk back 'round the church to
where I parked my car, 'cause I don't want to deal with the
guy in the black trenchcoat when he comes back to pick up
Dr. Himiitsu an' all he finds is a ripped suit an' a
An' Thaddeus is taggin' along like he's been doin' for
the past month, but he's not sayin' anythin', an' neither am
I, 'cause if you stopped to tell off every ghost you saw,
you'd never get anywhere. Leastways I wouldn't.
An' the trees aroun' the back of the church are hung
with spiderwebs an' skeleton leaves an' dewdrops the size of
pearls like in one of those old fairytale-book pictures like
Penny likes, an' fuck, it's all gettin' weird again, 'cause
instead of the back of the church an' the street where I
parked my car, there's a forest grove with trees with
cobwebs and diamonds and skeleton leaves, an' I step into
the grove an' a star comes down from the constellations
overhead, 'cept it ain't a star, it's a giant silver spider,
an' the constellations have lines in them like they do in
picture books, an' the spider's turnin', turnin', faster and
faster like one of those crystal window danglies they sell
down on Haight, goin' into a sparklin' silver blur.
Then it slows down, an' instead of spiderlegs, I see
silver cords, woven together into one of those hammock
chairs like they sell at Ren Faire, an' in the chair is
Norna, like I remember her, 'cept that she's dressed in
cobweb lace that's made out of real cobwebs, silver an'
grey, an' she's got a spiderweb tattooed across her cheek,
an' silver chains going from the rings in her eyebrows to
the cords in the chair, an' her eyes are blue as sapphires
with pupils in the shape of black widows.
"Nice contacts," I say, but fuck, they ain't contacts,
they're the way she really is, though it looks fuck-all
better than the giant spider I've seen runnin' around the
vault of the Waydown. "Long time no see, Norna."
"Norna," she says. "A Norn. Weaver. Fatespinner.
All are me. I am Three."
"You're fucked in the head, that's what you are," I
say, an' Norna laughs, a tinklin' sound like bells and
crystals, but whatever it is, it ain't human, an' she says,
"Urth. Clotho. Aglaia. Call me what you will. This is my
Destiny and Dr. Himiitsu was but its agent." She pauses an'
laughs again an' I see a glimmer of the old Norna. "Dr.
Himiitsu has met his Destiny, and you were but my agent.
Thank you, Peter."
Then she kicks back in the chair and it starts spinnin'
again, an' she chants more names: "Skuld. Atropos. Thalia.
Grandmother Spider, there is need!" an' she spins in a blur
of silver and crystal, but instead of slowin' down to a stop
like before there's this sudden Snap! an' the hammock drops
to the ground an' there's this old bag lady gypsy-witch
fortuneteller with a pair of big iron scissors over her head
like she was a flamenco dancer an' they was castanets or
somethin' an' the thread Norna was hangin' from is snapped
in two an' Norna's gone.
"Shuttle and Loom. Destiny. Doom. Free Will or Fate?
Which will it be, young man?" an' fuck, I know this old
biddy, she told my fortune just before the ghosts nearly
killed me the last time, an' she smiles an' says, "Ah yes,
you will remember Madame Cleo Verthank, won't you, young
Peter? Here, see, I will remember you too," an' she reaches
into her sleeve an' pulls out a snag about as thin as a
piece of spiderweb an' as long as your arm an' she says, "Ah
yes, here will be your thread. Try to cut it, we do, but
see, it will be stubborn," an' she takes the big iron shears
an' goes Snap! right on the thread. Snap! Snap! But it
ain't broken, an' she shakes her head an' says, "Stubborn,
stubborn, stubborn. There will be Destiny spun into it.
Frayed it, we have, but it won't be broken. Not till we get
She looks up and smiles an' her teeth are all snaggled
an' rotten. "But we will have sharper shears now. See,
young Peter?" an' she holds up her scissors an' they're
glistenin' silver like they came brand-spankin' new from
Ginsu, an' fuck, I know they can cut me faster than they can
cut a tomato, an' she holds the scissors close to the thread
and moves them gently back and forth--snip! snip!--but she
ain't cut my thread yet, an' she says, "It is such a strong
thread, though. It will be a pity to cut it short, even if
Destiny will be all that holds it together. But perhaps it
will find a useful place in the tapestry and we will not
have to cut it just yet. Yes?"
She smiles like a housewife on TV an' looks at her new
shears an' says, "Such pretty scissors. We will enjoy them
very much," an' then she tosses them in the air, open, an'
they get bigger an' bigger and they come down towards me an'
Thad says, "Do not move, Peter," an' the next thing I know
the blades are bigger than Christmas and twice as bright an'
they come down on either side of me an' I'm there right
between the blades.
Then everythin' shimmers an' I'm there on the
streetcorner, with rain on the street on either side of me,
shinin' in the moonlight like the old witch's scissors.
"What the fuck was that?"
"That was an omen," Thaddeus says, an' stands there,
polishin' his glasses. "The Fates have informed you that
you will shortly come to a crossroads in you life, and how
you decide in that matter will determine whether you live or
Fuck, I already figured that out myself. Like I said,
Thad likes statin' the obvious, an' there's only one thing I
haven't figured out yet: "What's it to you?"
"To me?" Thaddeus is taken aback, then takes another
second to polish his glasses and put them back and flick the
ghost dust from his suit. "I was wondering when you'd get
around to asking. I am your spirit guide, young
necromancer, duly bonded and deputized by the Fates."
"I didn't ask for a fuckin' spirit guide."
"You get one nonetheless." Thaddeus stands there,
grey-gloved hands on top of his dragon's head cane, top hat
tilted to one side. "I meddled in your Destiny one too many
times, I'm afraid, and one does not toy with Fortune's
Favorites unless one is willing to pay Her price.
Thankfully for me, the Fates recognized my talents, and the
position is one to which I am well suited."
Thaddeus is a lying bastard when it suits him, but what
he's sayin' right now has the ring of truth, and I don't
like it. Don't like it one bit. "So you get to play Jiminy
Cricket for me?"
He adjusts his gloves. "Hardly, Peter. You already
have sufficient conscience, and certainly more than I
possess." He taps his hat with his cane and smiles. "I
believe my job in death is rather the same as it was in
life: counselor, advisor, occasional agent and go-between.
You need tutoring in diplomacy and tact, wisdom and manners,
things that I can provide, if you are ever to become a
"I ain't a mage; I'm just a kid who nearly got killed
and has had weird shit happen to him ever since."
Thad gestures with his cane. "If that isn't an
admirable definition of a journeyman spiritualist, I don't
know what is. You talk to wraiths, you see omens in the
everyday, and you associate with two young witches--one of
whom has a very potent familiar, I might add--as well as a
wizard who has succeeded in the ancient magic of removing
his soul from his body and placing it elsewhere for
safekeeping. And you just cursed an enemy sorcerer such
that he turned into a pig. Tell me, if presented with such
a case, wouldn't you define the person in question as a
"Fuckin' lawyer," I say, but he's got a point, an' I
shiver as I feel the spiderwebs around me. "What do the
Fates want me to do?"
"That, unfortunately, I cannot say," Thad says, an' I
look at him an' he quickly puts up his hands, fingers
spread, cane held in one thumb. "Not, mind you, because I
cannot, but because I honestly don't know. The Fates, if I
may be so bold, are rather like politicians: They are
deliberately vague, such that they cannot be held to any one
thing in particular. What is before you is a matter of free
will, and they will decide whether or not to cut your thread
based upon your decision. To tell you exactly what the
crossroad is, however, would be to affect that decision, and
thereby impinge on free will. Q.E.D. I'm am therefore as
much in the dark as you."
Shit. Fuckin' lawyers everywhere. "Alright then,
Thad. You're my spiritual advisor. Advise me."
He doesn't look as flustered as I'd hoped, but then
he's a fuckin' lawyer an' he's used to being put on the
spot. He reaches into the pocket of his waistcoat an'
checks his watch. "I would advise, Peter, that we leave
this place posthaste. Time flows rather quickly around
Madame Cleo, as would befit the Muse of History, and it is
currently a quarter to midnight. And as I would suspect the
gentleman in black is highly punctual, that gives us only
fifteen minutes to get ourselves away from this place."
Good advice, I'll admit, an' I get in my car an' start
'er up an' pause just a moment to let Thad in, 'cause ghosts
can't open doors unless they get real pissed, an' even if
they do, they tend to slam 'em somethin' fierce. So we just
get the hell away from the Waydown and go off to Death
Death Guild, like I said, is on Mondays, at the
Trocadero on Fourth, an' it's a lot like the other Goth
clubs, but more low-key than Usher an' less kindergoth than
Temple. I find parkin' on the street, an' that tells you
how dead it is, an' Thad an' I make our way down as he keeps
up this lecture on respectability and propriety and decorum
and how to be a stuffy, pompous wizard and fuck-all who
knows what else, an' then I see her an' whoa-mama an' holy
There's a lot of weird stuff goin' down tonight, that's
all I can say, 'cause there, hangin' out in front of the
club like she's waitin' for me, is the most righteous Goth
chick you ever seen, with black leather an' black lace an'
thigh-high bitch-boots with buckles all over the place an'
jet black hair down to her waist, and it ain't none of it
dyed 'cept the lace an' leather.
That's what you see at first glance. But when you
blink you see the same outfit--bitch-boots, leather, lace,
ankh, all the rest of that shit--but the woman in it is so
old she makes Madame Cleo look like a prom queen, and the
fortuneteller witch is so bagged-out she makes a sack of
rotten potatoes look good. The woman here is shriveled up
in her skin, which'd be dried up like a mummy's if it
weren't so wrinkled, and her head's bald 'cept for some long
wisps of white hair, so fine they look like spiderwebs, an'
the only thing that looks young about her at all is her left
eye, which is bright as an agate an' lookin' at everythin',
an I mean everythin', but I don't mean it's precisely young
either, just that it's not covered with cataracts like the
other one, 'cause the look in that eye is twice as old as
Penny's cat an' a lot hungrier.
An' then I blink an' I see the righteous Goth chick
again an' she's smilin' an' laughin' an' whoa-mama, is she a
kick in the crotch, but when I look in the reflections in
the windows of the shops next door, all I can see is the old
bat strapped into the young chick's clothes.
At least that's what I see, 'cause everyone else is
smilin' an' laughin', or not as takes their fancy, but no
one is takin' any notice of the righteous Goth chick 'cept
as one hot babe who's too cool to touch.
I pause at the end of the line an' nudge my spirit
guide. "Thad, check 'er out. Watcha see?"
"See?" Thad echoes. "I can only assume you're
referring to the woman standing next to the door. I see a
woman divided; the left side of her is young and beautiful,
but strangely repellent, while the right is ancient to the
point of death, though much more natural. Strange. I can
only assume that she suffers from a divided fate as do you,
Peter. Also, take note of the intriguing tattoo on her
forehead; a signet of some form, but I must admit that I
find it singularly disturbing, though I've never seen its
I usually don't like lookin' any harder than I do
already, but Thad's piqued my curiosity, an' I give her the
hairy eyeball, an' holy shit, Thad's right, right there on
her forehead are a couple circles filled with funny letters
an' squiggly lines, an' I know what it is, though only place
I ever seen one before is in a book, an' I hope I never see
Let me tell you somethin'. You know how kids like
stickin' little tags in their books that say Ex Libris or
'This Books Belongs To' an' have a little picture with all
sorts of flowery shit like hearts an' unicorns an' teddy
bears, along with their signature an' address so if the book
gets lost, someone can send it back to them? Well, kids
ain't the only ones who do shit like that. Demons do it
too, an' they each got their own special sigil like cattle
ranchers got their brands, an' when they get a soul, they
burn it with their own special mark so the other demons
won't go poachin' on the souls that belong to them.
I saw a book once that had a whole bunch of demon
sigils in it, an' I didn't want to look at it very long so I
don't know which demon's bookplate this lady had stuck on
her forehead, but shit, I was scared, 'cause if you know
anythin' about demons, the ones that got bookplates are the
high-class mucky-muck types an' not the little shit imps
like the ones in the nut house who go around sittin' on your
shoulder goin' "Kill! Kill! Fuck your mother!"
But a couple girls had slipped into line behind me when
I was lookin' at the hag chick's forehead, an' I'm standin'
there, an' I can't just go back to the car 'cause then the
bat chick would notice that I'd noticed, an' like Thad told
me earlier, people don't take too kindly to you noticin'
nasty facts about them that they're tryin' to hide, an'
fuck, if I were four hundred years old an' had a demon's
bookplate stuck to my forehead, I wouldn't want to go
So I just get my money an' my I.D. out, an' I can see
the hag chick checkin' out my driver's licence as I check
in, an' fuck, she's already got her hand stamped, an' she
cruises in after me, an' the deejay has Kill Sister Kill on
an' I just wander on up an' through an' over to the upstairs
bar, Thad close behind me, an' fuck, I've never been so glad
to be around a ghost before, 'cause he's one more person
between me an' the bat chick with the demon's bookplate on
I get a seat at the bar, an' Thad takes the empty one
next to me, an' I get a beer, an' he gets nothin', an' fuck,
I knew it was goin' to happen, my warnin' bell's goin' off
like a fire alarm, an' the next thing the bat chick is next
to me an' she's sayin', "Is this seat taken?"
I try to play it cool. "Do you see anyone sittin'
She looks at Thad, or really right through him, an'
smiles an' says, "No," an' she sits down, but Thad's a ghost
an' he's used to people nearly sittin' on him so he's out of
there, but fuck, I swear it, the dragon's head on his cane
comes to life for a second an' hisses at her, an' that's a
real trick, 'cause the cane's as dead an' buried as Thaddeus
is, an' twice as old.
But the woman next to me looks like she could beat them
both by a long shot even if you added both their ages
together, but then I blink an' she's beautiful again, 'cept
for the demon's sigil on her forehead, an' she leans over
an' smiles an' breathes out through perfectly made-up black
lips, "Buy a lady a drink?"
I take a swig of my beer, wishin' it was somethin' a
lot stronger, but I shrug an' say, "Sorry. I'm broke. This
is about all I can afford." I slosh my beer an' she smiles,
an' it's the most beautiful smile I've ever seen, an' I'm
not lookin' at the demon sigil. Not lookin' at it no way.
Then I blink an' the old hag is leerin' at me, an' she
reaches out one withered hand an' puts it on mine an' says,
"Let me buy you one then," an' I flinch back, blinkin', an
then she's drop-dead gorgeous again an' leanin' over to the
bartender, who's givin' her this look of jealousy an' lust,
equal parts mixed, an' the Goth chick is sayin', "Bartender,
something special. Goldwasser and Aquavit. Two, please."
Then I see the hag again, but the bartender is still
givin' her the lust-envy look, an' she's sayin', "I'm sorry,
but we don't have any--"
"Oh, I'm sure you do. I can see them from here, those
two bottles in the back." An' the bartender gets down on
her knees an' reaches to the back of the liquor cabinet an'
pulls out these two bottles, all fancy, an' one of them has
flecks of gold floatin' 'round in it, but I been to Death
Guild before an' they didn't have no Goldwasser then, an'
none of that other stuff either, but the bartender is fixin'
up glasses of them next, neat, an' I don't recall the bar
havin' glasses anywhere near that nice either, but they do
now, an' the bartender sets the drinks in front of us an'
the old hag hands her a fifty an' says, "Keep the change,"
an' fuck, I blink an' next thing she's the knockout Goth
chick an' she's raisin' her glass an' says, "To pleasure,"
an' tosses it back.
I grab mine, but I stop myself before I slug it back,
no matter how much I want to, 'cause fuck, you don't take
candy from strangers, an' you don't take drinks from women
with demon brands on their souls. An' I wince an' blink one
eye an' not the other, an' fuck, I'm seein' 'em both, the
Goth chick an' the old bat, one over the other like a
"My name's Jodi," she says, then looks down at my
drink, "Go ahead, try it. You'll like it," an' there's
little specks of gold floatin' around in it, blue and gold,
an' I set it down 'cause I don't want to trance out, not
lookin' at somethin' like that, 'specially not somethin'
that's been give' to me by a woman who can't make up her
mind whether she's young or old an' has a demon's bookplate
stuck on her forehead.
"Ain't finished my beer yet," I say, an' I take a pull
from it, an' she just smiles an' takes a sip of her own
drink, gold an' blue, but fuck, just the smell of it is a
turn-on, an' if it weren't for seein' the old hag an' the
demon's brand on her soul, my cock would be thumpin' the
underside of the bar.
"You're Peter," she says an' puts her hand on my knee,
an' fuck, my cock does jump at that, 'cause it can't see the
wrinkles or demon's sigil, an' in four-hundred years, she's
learned how to turn a trick or two, that's all I can say.
But she says, "I saw your I.D, and I know your friend Penny.
Haunted Peter, Spooky Pete, that's what they call you."
"You where she got her cat?" I say, an' her hand
stiffens on my leg then, like a claw, an' that sure ain't
sexy, but then she relaxes an says, "Why yes. My cat, her
cat, who can really say? Who can ever claim ownership of a
cat?" an' she laughs, long and light, but it sounds real
fake an' strained, "I'm sure Grimalkin will come back when
he tires of her," but she doesn't sound so sure, an' I
decide that what gave me the creeps about the cat wasn't how
old it was, but that it had spent that much time with her.
An' I want to get out of there real bad, but I don't
want to piss the bitch off, so I lock eyes with Thad an' he
smiles an' nods an' says, "Perhaps a trip to the ladies room
would be in order," an' whacks Jodi's glass towards her.
But shit, the only thing I ever saw move that fast was
a vampire, 'cause Jodi catches it before it spills even one
drop. "Clumsy--" she says, then stops, 'cause the bartender
is at the other end of the bar, then she looks around.
"Strange. Do you think there might be ghosts here, Peter?"
I don't see any reason to hide it. "Sure. There's
ghosts everywhere. Just don't get 'em mad."
An' she looks around an' I think she's got a little
spooked, 'cause I'm thinkin', if this bitch is into demons,
then I'll bet even money she's killed more than one person,
an' if she fucked up even once an' didn't get a demon (if
you can call that fuckin' up), then a demon weren't there to
eat the person's soul an' she's gonna have at least one real
pissed dead person out there, an' I wouldn't want to trade
places with someone who did somethin' like that.
Then she cocks her head at me, an' I'm seein' the hag
an' the knockout at the same time, an' she says, "You don't
trust me, do you, Peter?" an' fuck no, I don't trust her,
but all I say is, "Sorry. 'don't trust anyone."
Then she picks up her drink an' swirls it aroun', gold
dancin' in the blue, an' she says, "Poor Peter. So much
pain. Let me take the pain away . . ." an' she takes a sip,
and then fuck, I told you how fast that bitch can move, she
grabs me by the back of the head an' she pulls me close an'
sticks her tongue between my lips, an' I don't want to let
her in, but I do, an' the next thing I know I taste this
sweet taste like lemons and cloves, an' shit, it's the drink
she wanted me to take a sip of, an' then I just melt an'
black out an' I'm scared 'cause it feels so good and so dark
and warm all around, like dyin' did, like falling asleep in
An' then I wake up, or at least I think I do, 'cause
it's warm an' there isn't any pain an' I hear people
laughin' in the background, but it's nice laughter, not
mean, an' there's a smell like apples an' smoke an' I open
my eyes an' I'm lyin' on a couch, crushed green velvet, made
for lyin' down on like those psychiatrists got in the old
pictures, not like the real ones, 'cause I been in those
places an' the couches the shrinks have are made of orange
vinyl with scratches on them from where people have chewed
But this one's nice, like I said, an' instead of
wearin' my own clothes, I've got a tux on, old-fashioned
black velvet, an' the apple smell's comin' from the
fireplace next to me, an' the flames are jumpin' an'
cracklin', but it's not a real fire, I can tell, 'cause if
it were a real fire I'd be trancin' out an' seein' little
pictures, or salamanders dancin' in the flames, but it's
not, 'cause all there is is a fireplace with a fire in it,
An' opposite me, on another fancy old-fashioned
shrink's couch, is Jodi, but she don't look like the old hag
no more, an' I don't see the demon sigil on her forehead
neither, an' all of the Goth chick stuff is gone too 'cept
for the long black hair, an' she's wearin' this red velvet
dress, but it's real nice, not slutty, like somethin' your
sister would buy for a Christmas party, with poofy sleeves
an' lace an' a little heart-shaped silver locket in place of
the ankh 'round her neck, an' fuck, no matter how hard I
look, I can't see nothing wrong with her, an' with nothing
Then this Mexican girl comes up, dressed in another
Christmas dress, but this one's blue, an' she's got a tray
with a pitcher an' a couple of mugs an' I can smell the
cinnamon comin' from it, an' the chocolate, an' Jodi says,
"Thank you, Consuela. No, I'll manage," an' she takes the
tray from her an' sets it on the little table between us an'
starts pourin' cups of Mexican chocolate.
"Where the fuck am I?" I say, an' she starts to try an'
give me a cup of chocolate, but then when I won't take it,
sets it down an' says, "The Hellfire Club."
I don't know whether she's makin' a bad joke, or the
demons are, but I say, "The Hellfire Club's a place in the
X-Men comic books. And you sure as Hell don't look like
Miss Frost, so I guess that makes you Selene."
"Selene?" she says an' laughs like at some private
joke, an' I don't know what's so funny, 'less she knows that
Selene's this mutant vampire demon huntress witch who goes
around suckin' people dry for their youth an' power, an'
that's how she gets her jollies too. "No, I've never gone
by that name, I'm afraid. I'm Jodi. And the Hellfire Club
is much more ancient than . . . what was that comic book you
"Yes, yes, the X-Men. No, I'm afraid that the Hellfire
Club goes back quite a bit further, publicly to at least the
eighteenth century. A meeting place for philosophers,
revolutionaries, freethinkers. Why, Benjamin Franklin was
even a member."
She gets this dreamy look in her eyes an' sips her
chocolate an' I don't care, I know she's a witch, an' she
knows I know, an' she knows I got power, so I say, "How was
old Ben in the sack?"
"Quite amusing," she says, then looks at me, realizin'
what she said, then shrugs it off an' leans back an' sips
her chocolate. "He wrote an essay on why you should have
sex with an older woman, you know. I was the inspiration."
"'Koo-koo-kachoo, Mrs. Robinson,'" I say, but I ain't
The Lemonheads, 'like to think I got more sense than that,
an' this Hellfire Club just looks like some nice holiday
party at some fancy place 'round Nob Hill, 'cause out the
window I can see the City an' the Bay, an' it looks so
fuckin' nice 'cause I can't see anythin' but what's in front
of me, not people dyin', not scars on people's souls, not
love an' fear' an' hate' an' death' an' ghosts' an' demons
an' all the rest of that crazy shit, none of it, 'cause it's
all just nice an' normal, like a holiday party, an' I want
to just sink right back an' relax an' enjoy it 'cause it's
nice an' I don't feel or see anythin' wrong, but that's what
it's like when you fall asleep in the snow, that's what it's
like dyin', an' I want to believe in it but I can't, 'cause
if you do, then you fall into darkness just like the Little
Match Girl, an' the next day they find your frozen body, an'
it may look like Heaven, but it ain't, 'cause Jodi said it
was the Hellfire Club, an' she's got a demon's bookplate on
her soul so she knows what she's talkin' about.
"Poor Peter," Jodi says, "you're still so very
troubled. I thought if I took away the pain, you'd be
willing to hear me out. But I see so much of the pain is
inside." An' she leans back an' holds her little heart-shaped locket an' takes a sip of her cocoa an' says, "I was
so hoping you could help me."
She looks real pretty, real sweet, just the sort of
babe you'd want to hold and stroke her hair an' tell her
it's all right, but I know stuff about magic, an' demons,
an' shit like that, an' if you say you can help her, she can
hold you to it, an' I don't know what sort of help she wants
so I hold my trap shut like Thad taught me an' wait for her
to say something.
She finally figures out that just smilin' an' lookin'
pretty ain't gonna be enough, so she goes, "I'm very old,
Peter. Much older than I look. You probably couldn't guess
how old I am," an' I think, Fuck I couldn't, cause I saw the
way she looked before she slipped me some of that drink on
her tongue, but Thad told me to keep my trap shut, an' you
don't talk about a woman's age, so I just let her rattle on.
"My time is very near done on this earth. Oh, there are
things I could do to extend it--potions, rituals, great
secrets and mysteries--and I'll admit that I've done some of
them, but it hasn't been enough. Not enough to extend these
last few haggard years. And you see, I fear death, not
because I fear dying, but because I have made a pact with
one of the Dark Masters, Charnas, and after my death he will
have my soul. Not for eternity, but for a long, long time."
She stops and pours herself another cup of chocolate,
lookin' for a second at mine, 'cause I haven't touched it
an' I'm not gonna, then takes a sip an' smiles an' goes on:
"I will not complain of my treatment from Charnas. He has
honored his side of the bargain, and I have received for my
trouble great power and pleasure, and a long and satisfying
life. Almost all on credit. However, the bill is coming
due, and He will extend credit no further, and my attempts
to extend my life by other means have met with some . . .
"And so I thought it might be possible to renegotiate
my contract. I will not sell myself short--I have a
powerful soul, a fine mind, certain talents, and a place in
the order of things. But you, Peter, I must envy, for yours
is one of the most powerful spirits I have encountered, and
you are marked by Destiny for great things . . . provided
you live long enough." She takes a sip of her cocoa and her
eyes are sparklin' above the cup, pale green and witchy. "I
know what you fear, Peter. Your lifeline is at a
crossroads, and if you make a false turn, your Destiny will
be at an end. I saw it when I glanced at your palm, when I
saw your name.
"But it needn't be that way. If you were to take my
place on my contract, Charnas would surely approve the deal,
leaving me free, and giving you many powers and gifts in the
bargain. Even freedom from death, Peter. Charnas gave me a
greatly extended lifespan and protection from all manner of
petty deaths and troubles, and that merely for a promise of
servitude for a span of years. For a greater commitment,
you might have eternal youth and beauty, as well as freeing
me. And in exchange for this boon, Peter, I would willingly
serve you as I would have served Charnas for that same
period, be your lover, your plaything, your wife, whatever
it is you might want."
I've got a hard-on like you won't believe, an' she
starts suckin' on her chocolate an' it feels like she's
suckin' on my cock, an' holy shit, I've heard of sympathetic
magic an' suggestion, but I never heard of anything like
this, an' she's suckin' on the chocolate an' whoa-mama!
I'm just lyin' there, gaspin' an' pantin', an' then I
look up from the shrink's couch an' she smiles over the top
of her cup an' licks the cream off her upper lip. "Just a
sample of what I can do," she says. "Would you like some
more chocolate, or should I finish the rest?"
I just lie there, panting, an' she smiles, then takes
the pitcher an' pours herself another cup, all the way to
the brim, an' I feel my cock get hard all over, an' she
lifts the cup, not spillin' a drop, an' touches it to her
lips, then takes it down an' says, "Are you sure you
wouldn't like some chocolate, Peter?" an' fuck, my cock is
feelin' like it's gonna burst, an' her long red nails are
strokin' the sides of the cup, an' she's lickin' her lips
but not tastin' it, an' I can't take it anymore.
"Finish it," I gasp.
She smiles and lets her fingernails stroke the cup.
"If you insist," she says, an' smiles, an' leans over the
cup, just kissin' the surface, then slides her tongue across
it, tastin' it, an' I ache an' moan on the couch, an' then
she opens her lips an' tilts back her head an' chugs the
whole thing all in one gulp an' whoa!
My eyes are squeezed tight with tears, an' I'm lyin'
there, gaspin', an' I finally I open them up an' see Jodi
smilin' an' settin' the cup back on the tray, an' then
Consuela comes over an' says, "More chocolate, Miss Blake?"
"No!" I shout, an' there's a pause in the laughter in
the room, but then there's a lot more of it an' the sound of
clinkin' glasses. Jodi smiles an' bounces her eyebrows.
"No, thank you, Consuela. But perhaps later we'll have a
Consuela leaves, an' Jodi's leanin' on the couch
opposite me, her head at the same level, an' she says, "That
is but the least of the tricks Charnas taught me. Think,
Peter. That and more could be yours tonight and every
Fuck! The bitch wants me to sell my soul for a
blowjob, but the way I'm feelin' right now, I'm ready to do
it. But a little voice in the back of my head makes me say,
"Evil . . ."
"Oh please, Peter," Jodi says. "This is the Hellfire
Club, we're freethinkers here. Evil? What is evil? What,
for that matter, is good? Evil is everything that makes us
feel good. Lust, hunger, anger, all the passions, all of
them are defined as evil, and yet when we satisfy that evil,
we feel good. Didn't you enjoy the chocolate? I know that
I did. I satisfied my hunger, and that felt good. And I
know you felt the same. Don't deny it. You want more."
She licks her lips, an' I feel her tongue across my cock.
"Maybe not now, but later."
She rolls on her back on the couch an' hangs her arms
over the back, hugging the pad an' closin' her eyes an'
smiling. "The Dark Masters are merely the spirits that
guide our darker passions, nothing more, nothing less.
Don't dismiss them as 'Evil' without knowing what that
means. They are our primal urges, the things that give our
life its flavor and savor. Without them there would be no
art, no beauty, nothing of any meaning in this world of
"Then why are you so fuckin' afraid to go with them?"
I just manage to gasp it out, but it's somethin' I wanna
Jodi rolls over an' opens her eyes, her hair hangin'
down over the back of the couch beside her. "Because I'm
afraid it will be too much for me. Oh, I know it may sound
silly, but no matter how long I've lived, I'm not yet jaded
with this pretty world, and I don't want to give myself over
just yet." She smiles an' says, "But I believe you're
ready. Let me introduce you to Master Charnas."
She smiles an' tugs on the locket 'round her neck an'
pulls it off an' tosses it into the fireplace an' it lands
there in the logs, the silver caught in the coals, right in
the devil's den, an' then it lights up like a flare an' the
flames crackle purple an' red an' the next thing they boil
up an' roll out of the fireplace an' then there's this guy
Remember how I said Dr. Pig was a flash dude? I mean,
before he turned into a pig. Well, Dr. P. ain't got nothin'
on this guy, 'cause when I say flash, I mean flash, dressed
in black leather, stretched an' stressed an' with a purplish
sheen, cut an' tailored to a T, an' it doesn't look like cow
leather neither, somethin' else, an' he has long nails an'
white teeth an' pointed ears an' black hair slicked back
from his widow's peak an' he's handsome as the devil, though
you'd probably expect that.
"All hail Master Charnas!" cries everyone in the room
but me, an' he waves his hand like he was at Ren Faire an'
calls back, "Hail and well met! The Lord of Misrule is
here! The Dark of the Year is upon us, so let the merriment
continue!" and there's cheers an' then he sweeps Jodi up
from the couch an' she just swoons in his arms like she's on
a romance novel cover, if romance novels had demons on them,
an' he says, "Kiss me, Jodi, my sweet," an' he grabs her an'
holds her tight in a clench an' whoa-boy! I can feel his
tongue on my cock, an' I'm not gay or nothin' but that kiss
was like nothin' Jodi ever gave me, an' what she gave me was
like nothing I ever had before, an' I just pass out an'
An' I wake up to hear him sayin', "Chocolate. You've
been drinking chocolate, Jodi dearest, and here's the dear
boy and we've hardly been introduced. Naughty girl." An' I
open my eyes to see him give her another kiss, but real
chaste, on the lips but with the mouth closed, but I still
feel it on my cock.
I look at him, an' he smiles at me, an' all his teeth
are pointed, but then he looks at Jodi an' says, "Very
naughty girl. You've put a spell on him. How do you expect
me to enter into a compact if his senses are deceived?
Remove the scales from his eyes."
"But Master," says Jodi, "he could not bear to see you
in your full glory!" an' I don't know jack about scales, but
the line sounds fake to me, an' then Charnas says,
"Jodi . . ." an' she blows two kisses towards me, an' holy
fuck, I can see again, see the way I usually do, an' Jodi's
an old hag with blood runnin' down her face from where his
tongue cut her, an' the fireplace has little imps dancin'
around in it fuckin' like weasels, an' Charnas . . .
Holy fuck, I don't know what to say. Charnas, he . . .
Like when he kissed me, but . . . Oh God, an' I don't say
that lightly. You know I don't. I'm lookin' in the face of
a god, 'cause he ain't like the usual run of demon, nosiree,
he ain't. An' I ain't gettin' a straight look at 'im
neither, cause I'm lookin' at the floor, an' oh shit, the
sight's still burnin' me, an' I squeeze my eyes shut an' I
scream, 'cause I don't ever wanna look at that again, but a
part of me wants to look at him straight on an' burn right
up, an' oh fuck, it hurts, it hurts so bad I don't ever want
it to stop.
An' then I hear his voice, an' it's all aroun' me, an'
it feels like blood's pourin' out my ears, it feels so good,
an' he says, "ALLOW ME TO APPEAR IN A MORE HUMBLE
"Yeah! Sure! Please! Anything!" an' then I feel
nails on my face, an' two kisses on my eyelids, an' I open
them an' I look up, an' it's Charnas again, but the way he
looked before, just flash an' handsome an' not so great you
can't take it, an' his tongue slides out, long an' thin, an'
touches my ears, an' I moan, an' I can hear again, but then
I look aroun' an' he's the only thing that's changed, 'cause
Jodi still looks like an old bat an' the imps are still
goin' at it in the fireplace an' aroun' the room are people
with demon bookplates stuck on their foreheads, some
Charnas's, some not, an' ladies without souls, an' guys with
demons in them, but I mean regular demons, not high mucky-muck types like Charnas with the bookplates an' all that.
Charnas smiles an' lets his nails trail down my face,
an' it's the biggest turn-on I've ever felt, an' I don't
want him to move away, but I do, an' he ends up goin' down
my arm an' holdin' one of my hands in his own as he's
kneelin' next to me an' he raises it to his lips an' kisses
it, then he pauses an' his tongue slides out again, long an'
thin, an' licks me aroun' the wrist an' I just about pass
out, but he holds my arm so I don't fall back off the couch.
"Pardon me, dear Peter. That was so forward of me earlier,
we'd hardly been introduced, but Jodi can be so careless
with her charms." He smiles an' licks his lips, an' I feel
just a whisper of it lick along me, but that's enough to
make me moan, an' Charnas smiles. "Jodi tells me you might
be interested in taking over her contract. And while I
would deeply regret losing the services of so sweet and
accommodating a soul as Jodi, I must admit she told the
truth, you are a prize worth fighting for. And so," he
says, "what would you like in your contract?"
There's a pen on the table then, an old-fashioned
fountain pen, and an inkwell and a piece of parchment and a
little knife. But the inkwell's empty, but I know what's
supposed to go in it, an' fuck, the threads are janglin'
around me and it's now or never, live or die, but I don't
want it now, but it's gonna go down anyway, an' I say, "I
want my fuckin' lawyer."
Charnas pauses an' lets go of me an' I nearly fall off
the couch, but I grab it an' the headrush helps me come to.
"Dear me. You children of the modern age. So
distrustful . . ." but I'm lookin' around, but I don't see
Thaddeus, an' shit, I'm seein' everythin' else too, so I
should see ghosts unless they're not here, an' I look aroun'
an' scream, "Thad! Where the fuck are you?"
"Goodness, Peter. I was wondering when you would have
the sense to call," Thad says, an' he's there, standin'
right next to me, then he looks around an' sees Charnas an'
Jodi an' the whole bunch of people without souls or with
demons or bookplates or fuck-all who knows what evil shit
wrong with their souls. "My, it appears you've gotten us
into a rather difficult situation."
"I am Charnas, the Lord of Misrule," says Jodi's high
mucky-muck demon lover and he grinds his pointed teeth at
Thaddeus. "Who are you and what business have you here,
Thad's in his element all of a sudden, 'cause he's
doffin' his hat in a long flourish an' makin' a fancy bow,
then coming back up. "Thaddeus Anthony Winters, attorney at
law, Advocate for the Loyalists, Herald to the Hierarchy,
and duly bonded and appointed spirit guide to Peter Cameron,
my client, by the authority of the Fates. My card, sir," he
says an' hands Charnas this piece of ghost paper, then as
the demon's lookin' at it, puts his hat back on an' taps it
into place an' the head of his cane is hissin' at Charnas as
he does it an' for all I know it's swearin' in Chinese.
Charnas smiles at Thad an' says, "We shall be seeing a
good bit of each other then, Guide Winters, for your Peter
will soon be contracting with us for a period of service, we
hope a long one."
Thaddeus adjust his spectacles on their ribbon an'
looks at me an' says, "Indeed?" an' I'm rememberin' what it
felt like when Charnas touched me, an' I point to the table
an' say, "I ain't signed nothin', but he's got a contract,"
an' Thaddeus goes an' picks it up, which I guess he can do,
all cold an' proper, 'cause it's a demon contract, but
Jodi's lookin' at it floatin' the air by itself I guess,
'cause she can't see ghosts, an' then Thad turns to Charnas
an' says, "Sir? A blank contract?"
An' Charnas says, "I meant to fill it in."
An' Thad says, "Indeed you will, sir. And I will be
going over every last letter."
An' Charnas says, "You approve?"
An' Thad says, "It's not for me to approve or
disapprove. It is for me to negotiate and find the best
possible deal for my client, and advise him of the best
course of action, and currently that is to not sign anything
until I have inspected every last letter. Moreover, I
object to my client being drugged and spirited away, and I
might add that it reflects very badly on you, Lord Charnas,
to use such tactics. Very badly indeed."
Charnas looks real upset, then he takes his long nails
an' grabs Jodi by the chin, an' she's still bleedin' from
where he kissed her, an' says, "Jodi, sweet, this will not
do at all. Take Peter back to where you found him, and in
the meanwhile I will . . . negotiate . . . with Guide
Winters." He looks to Thaddeus. "Will that be acceptable?"
Thaddeus considers. "For the time being, yes. First
off we will need to work on ironclad definitions of the soul
and eternity. Do you agree that that is reasonable?"
Charnas grinds his teeth. "That will take a great deal
"Indeed." Thad smiles. "But you must surely admit
that that is the prerequisite before any truly meaningful
contract may be drawn up involving either, and I assume that
you would want both."
"One would suppose so," Charnas grinds out, then looks
to me, "But before you go, charming Peter, let me give you a
gift. A little trifle to remind you of your time spend with
us, and an apology for these unfortunate misunderstandings."
He smiles an' waves his claws. "No strings attached."
"Let me also," says Thaddeus, "remind you, Peter, of
the Fates and politicians: Accepting anything from anyone--no matter how innocently--may taint you in the eyes of those
opposed to same," an' Charnas looks like he'd like to eat
Thad's soul right now, but Thaddeus says, "It is also
grounds for dismissal of any contract if it can be proven
that one party has interfered with the other's legal
"Jodi!" Charnas says, an' she comes over to me an'
leads me to the door, an' she's leerin' at me like she's
still all sexy, but she's actually just an old bald hag with
one good eye an' only one tooth. "I will always remember
this evening, Peter," she says, an' licks her lips, an' I
still feel her tongue across me, then she opens the door an'
I get the fuck out of there, an' the next thing I know, I'm
standin' outside the Trocadero, but it's closed, 'cause it's
a lot later in the evenin'.
An' Jodi an' Charnas an' all the rest of their gang are
gone, an' I look aroun', then get my ass down the street to
where I parked my car, an' thank God, I got my leather
jacket back on instead of the velvet tux Jodi dressed me in,
an' I grab out my keys an' open the door an' climb inside
an' slam the lock tight, an' it feels good to have the iron
between me an' all the weird shit out there.
"Snip-snip," says a voice. "Snip-snip." An' I look in
the rearview mirror, an' there, in my back seat, is Madame
Cleo, an' my thread, an' her brand-new shiny Ginsu scissors,
an' I turn 'round an' she ain't there, but then I turn back
forward an' I see her in the mirror goin' "Snip-snip, snip-snip," an' fuck, I can't take it anymore, an' I scream,
"Fuck! Thaddeus, get your ass over here!" an' Thad appears
in the seat next to me, his top hat gettin' scrunched into
the roof, an' once he gets it off I say, "There's one of the
Fates in the back seat an' she's gonna cut my fuckin'
thread! I want you to sue the old biddy!"
Thaddeus looks around. "Indeed? I don't see anything,
Peter," an' I look in the mirror, an' I don't see anythin'
neither, no Madame Cleo, no scissors, no thread. Nothin'.
"Shit, all I want is to be able to control my own
life," I say, an' fuck, it's all just too much for me to
take, an' I wanna rip my eyes out, it all just hurts so
much, an' all I want is darkness. "Just my own Destiny.
Can you do it, Thad?"
"That is the most any man could wish for, and I doubt
even Lord Charnas could deliver it." Thaddeus pauses a
moment, an' all I hear is silence. Silence an' darkness,
an' it's the best thing I ever had. "If it's any
consolation, I believe you comported yourself quite well
this evening, all things considered."
"I fucked up."
"No, you're being unnecessarily harsh on yourself. You
are a pawn of Fate, and you managed to avoid being
sacrificed, which is the most one can hope for when playing
Fate's proscriptive game.
"When you reach the end of the path they've set you,
assuming the metaphor holds true, then you will become a
master of your own Destiny and a power to be reckoned with."
Thad pats me on the shoulder. "Until then, however, Peter,
please, call me the moment anyone mentions contracts."
He's got that fuckin' right.
Some days you wanna rip your fuckin' eyes out. You see
what I mean now?
Some days you'd be happier just stayin' in the dark.