"Pazuzu - Manifestation" sample

© 2009 by Matthew Sawyer

All rights reserved

Preface

Outrage, because Captain Kanen had become the victim of extortion, or the lack of amphetamine caused the priest's fat hands to quiver. The UnChosen caste called the drug “Ape;” the street name for the stuff that typically turned users into anxious, howling gorillas. Such consequence could never happen to a priest, the upper echelon of the Chosen caste. All the pomp and dignity granted to Kanen’s position guarded against that base lunacy. The unquiet phases of the chemically grown monkey won't drive Josiah Kanen to madness. The Church had promoted the middle-aged priest to the rank of captain because of his genetically endowed discipline. Captain Josiah Kanen was, after all, born a Chosen and granted authority over the Mortal God.

Even so, the responsibility of rank crushed Kanen under stones. The pressure the Church applied to Captain Kanen had driven him to use the damned drug in the first place. The problem with Ape wasn't the use of the drug, but the lack of using any once addicted. Sobriety-sharpened nails now pressed into Kanen's chest and head. Being clean took away the magic of knowing exactly what to do in any situation, and making sense of other people. Nobody listened to Kanen when he went without Ape, they just babbled and interrupted as he spoke. Sobriety compromised Kanen's ability to control his god and the forsaken UnChosen that dwelt within his squalid quarter by the Wall.

Reverend Arnett, whom Kanen had assigned the custodianship of the Saint Erasmus parish, had recently been murdered in its church. The crime was unheard within the walled city of Capital, the Promised Land. The Wall protected the city from the ravages of heathen terrorists. No one passed through the Wall without the approval of the Church or its military. The Chosen exercised exclusive entrance to Capital

The UnChosen permitted to stay behind the Wall lived in forsaken parishes like Saint Erasmus - a suitable place for spineless degenerates. Still, the status of the murdered victim raised the severity of the crime to an act of terrorism. The Church and its military's censors debated if news of the crime should be made public, but had never come to a decision.

One thing was certain, the presence of pagan tablets on the altar at Saint Erasmus will never be reported to the public. The Church had immediately confiscated and destroyed the sacrilegious objects. Whatever the dead Reverend Arnett had planned to do with them was better left unknown. The blasphemous controversy went to death with him. Reverend Arnett had brought the awful fate upon himself.

The phone rang in the midst of Kanen’s dealing with his lack of Ape, and the murder of a priest too curious with an archaic and forbidden religion. Reverend Benedict Ishkott called, again. The Aper was a non-commissioned asshole from the city of Gomorrah. Captain Kanen had just hung up on the irreverent extortionist.

“Why do you keep calling here?” Kanen shouted into the phone inside his private, casual office at the Church. “Stop calling me.”

“Captain - Kanen,” Reverend Ishkott addressed with the aggravated squall of an addict. “I know you don't know me from Adam, but you have something I want.”

“A demotion?” threatened Kanen. “Why, in the name of the Mortal God, do you dare speak to me with such lack of respect?”

The two priests shared an addiction to Ape, with a difference. Ape caused Reverend Ishkott to lose respect for superior officers, sending him out-of-the-way to Gomorrah. The drug gave Ishkott arrogant hopes and ambitions – whereas Kanen had already gladly reached his own pinnacle.

“Listen, I know you're related to Judah Batheirre, the crime-lord in this city,” Ishkott said, uncovering his hand.

Hopefully, Ishkott didn't know how complicated the relationship between Captain Kanen and Judah Batheirre had become. The crime-lord used the captain as his connection to the Church, although Judah's patience had grown thin with Josiah, resulting in Ape becoming difficult to find in Capital and impossible to obtain.

“That is a sad coincidence,” Kanen claimed.

“I know you keep the military away from Gomorrah,” Ishkott stated. “And I know Batheirre is your Ape connection.”

“I know you are a dead man, Ishkott!” Kanen shouted over the phone. “How dare you call me with your crazy accusations!”

“Listen!” Ishkott shouted back. “Military patrols will come to this city whether you like it or not. Ilu Drystani is in these parts of the Shur. Colonel Taclale himself is coming here.”

Colonel Taclale's trip to Gomorrah presented a bigger problem. Captain Kanen reported to the colonel, as would Ishkott when the bishop arrived at Gomorrah. Ishkott, the tattling Aper, may tell their superior officer anything.

“What do you want?” Kanen capitulated.

“An assignment away from Gomorrah and heathens,” Ishkott bartered. “This city will be the next to fall to terrorists. Drystani is here!”

“Let me think,” Kanen replied. The solution came to him with a staggered breath.

The situation seemed to work itself out. A custodian position had recently opened at Saint Erasmus and a priest materialized who would shut his mouth if invited into Capital. Josiah didn't think ahead when he offered the position to Ishkott, as the wretched blackmailer might one day twist Josiah's arm again. Yet the treacherous possibility failed to stop Josiah from asking if Reverend Ishkott would bring Ape into Capital.

“No, of course not,” declined Ishkott with a strained snort. The request to bring drugs to his promotion sounded as if his supervisor plotted to trap him. Captain Kanen could not be trusted with the truth.

“That's unfortunate,” answered Kanen before hanging up. Josiah looked forward to securing another batch of Ape for himself.

1
The Wilderness


This morning, the colors of the sky possessed weight. At the faraway horizon, they were luminous gases - layers of yellow, orange and pink, pressed together by the nothingness of the previous night. A wide, blue bruise was caught between dark and light. The rising sun pushed warm colors upward, burning them away, and bled sore purple from the sky. Watching the sunrise was like looking down a well, until the sun rose overhead and the desert lit up. The shirtless, stumbling man fell into morning. He knew where he was, but could not remember who he might be.

His own shoulders bore down on him with a foreign weight he wanted to throw off. The extra fleshy padding around his waist only added to the burden. The gain had crept upon the smoldering man with stealth, over years of denial and moments of complacent acceptance. Growing fat seemed a natural process of age. The extra weight had introduced itself like a hobo trespassing the rails, a sneaky hanger-on who refused to be shaken off. The tired posture and swollen, blistered gut of the man made him a forlorn caricature. His arms swung like pendulums knocked from their paths. The broiled devil lumbered across a desolate, alien world — the only living thing exiled to Hell. Desperate thirst came without warning.

The dirt caking his chest and back flaked off with each heavy step. His torso resembled an antique table dusted with careless brush strokes. The man appeared overall red and covered with angry pustules. He felt his insides bake and imagined his already bulging belly will bloat until the skin burst and juices bubbled out. The very last of his fluids would evaporate even before dripping to the ground. Such was not the death the empty man desired. He would not die, sizzling in his own fluids. Instead, he preferred to dry up, disintegrate, become part of the dust - red dust.

“You have certainly wandered enough.”

A clear voice spoke into his left ear. It sounded like his own, but with finer clarity, absent of the muffled hesitation he struggled to overcome in ordinary conversation. This voice sounded rehearsed and confident, far from his own verbal fumbling. His voice, like a nasally monologue recorded on an answering machine, seemed an amputation, separate from the concept he believed of himself; whatever that could be now. The better voice resonated as if echoed in an empty room. Just as abrupt, the voice vanished and a second of stillness filled the void. Leaded footfalls on packed dirt and a muffled ring in his head dispelled the silence; much like listening to a radio station when the announcer missed his or her timing - until a burst of sound jolted the dead air. Yet the voice was not accompanied with the static heard on a radio. The voice, and his plod across the dry waste, remained exclusive and opposite each other.

The wandering man did not bother to look around, because the sporadic company of the invisible voice was his only companion. It had joined him earlier that day, or maybe the day before. Time passed as fleeting as the voice. The sun had traveled only a quarter of its path through the sky when the day became unbearably hot and bright. The previous night had been sweltering. The man had stumbled through the darkness, unsure when one day ended and another began. The endless expanse of dirt and suspended days disoriented him. He needed to walk, find his way or die. The desert had never appeared so large from the road. He would have easily spotted scant landmarks if he rode in a car or truck. Regardless, the man thought he could recover his bearings. His sense of direction had always been amazing, or so he believed.

Though he could not recall why he found himself in the middle of nowhere, he suspected he had a destination when the dangerous trek began. The “when” was now long ago, hidden beneath hours and unending dunes of sand. If he had brought any water, it was now gone. He did not know what supplies he had packed for this journey, as he now lacked a pack and even a shirt. All he apparently owned were a pair of scuffed laced boots and crusted khaki pants with empty pockets.

“Hey, wouldn’t a tall glass of cool water be great?”

The voice, barely noticeable beneath hot winds, teased like some subtle siren. Whirlpools had transformed to sandstorms. The thought of a gulp of water lit in the mind of the man, but he deliberately quashed it; none was to be found here and he would not torture himself. Entertaining pleasant fantasies seemed more conducive to survival.

The wanderer dreamed he found that siren and lay down with her. She took this poor, baked fiend to her dune. Her bare skin felt as cool as the ocean in which she was birthed; her eyes, green as kelp, competed for admiration against flirting lips that glistened with the sheen of pearls. Rescued and transformed, he tired of the colorless desert and traveled back to her sea. He would never be thirsty again, never care to recall how or why he discovered himself alone in the desert. Finding the bliss of love and the sea was the answer, and she was the reason for his journey.

Dehydration had set in a long time ago. Stumbling on his feet was just a pretense. He was already lost and dead. Heat exhaustion was near, but still, the voice called.

“Benedict,” it called him. This time the voice shut out every thought. “Ben.”

Ben jerked leftward with so much violence, he twisted completely around, a marionette thrown into a clumsy pirouette by an amateur puppeteer. The momentum pulled Ben off his feet. He fell forward as if his strings were cut. His shoulders remained hunched as he lay face down. With a huff and small cloud of dust, Ben flipped himself over. He saw the orange cauldron of the sun over his toes. He stopped sweating, which was not a good sign, but he lacked will to worry.

His name would be forgotten, if ever really known. He recalled it now, because the voice reminded him. His name was Ben. He closed his eyes and pictured rippling waves drift up from his body. He felt stuck to the ground, as if a part of it. This land might also be called Ben; he was merely a piece of desert, like the dust stirred by his steps. The particles will eventually settle back down and rejoin the suffering man; misplaced specks relocated from one part of the desert to another, but still part of the whole.

His breath became the hot breeze. He exhaled a gust that singed the inside of his gaped mouth. Ben opened his eyes. The sun now hung directly overhead, like a white whirlpool in a smooth blue ocean. A mighty hand polished away the waves and ripples; not God’s hand. The Mortal God was gone. The voice told him, although the man already suspected.

“Ben, you’re wasting the day, dreaming.”

****


Ben realized he was disoriented and hallucinating. The voice was clearly not his own, but disguised itself to imitate an internal conversation; to creep upon him unawares. Still, Ben responded to the reproach in the voice and rolled onto his right. He grunted with the exertion, and felt as if choked.

Ben lay still and listened to the ringing in the back of his head. The high-pitched sound was constant, but did not demand attention. He heard his own thoughts and shallow breaths. The ringing reminded him he was awake and painfully alive. With his ear pressed against the ground, Ben also heard far off rumbling, not unlike an ocean wave slowly rolling over the shore then retreating. The rumble seemed to come from a road. Ben continued listening, but the familiar sound of civilization again evaded him. The ringing in his head receded after a few minutes. Ben avoided focus on the noise entirely, unlike the voice when it decided to speak and demanded to be heard.

Ben spent a feeble hour pulling his knees to his chest. He lay in a fetal position a few more minutes, while flashes of the sea above taunted him. Fear of the voice scolding him for such fanciful ideas brought him back to the reality that he lay in the desert, beneath an afternoon sun. He should put a little more effort into survival. Ben panted slowly, with hard breaths that rose in crescendo and then climaxed when he pushed himself to his knees. He hoped the difficult part passed, but he was disappointed. All the exertion became even harder. Standing almost took the last of his strength.

Ben dropped back to his hands and knees. He needed leverage to lift his leg from the ground. He planted a palm flat in the dirt as he went into a runner’s three-point stance, as if waiting for a starting gun to fire. After a few minutes of posing motionless, Ben considered standing. Apparently, the starter and the other runners had gone home, the race called due to extreme weather. The temperature was much too hot to compete. Ben agreed there would be no running today.

He raised his other shaking leg and pushed himself backwards. As he attempted to stand, Ben dug shallow furrows in the sand with the toes of his boots. He grunted and stood up, with his feet spread wide. His head swam and he felt nauseous. If he had any gorge, it would have bubbled up his throat. Ben wobbled uncontrolled, but he stood on his feet. Where this reserve of energy came from, seemed unfathomable. A fluke of gravity held him upright, much like setting an egg on its end during the vernal equinox.

The fossil of this creature would not be found here in the Shur desert, unless he fell back to the ground or dried up alone. Ben determined he would be the last living thing ever to cross this particular piece of desolation. He would rather have his bones found in a cool lake or inside an air-conditioned car. Ben leaned forward and let momentum carry him. Each step caught him from falling on his face again.

Now where is that road? Behind him lay a temporary path carved by his shuffle. The wind had already begun sandblasting it away. With the sun directly overhead, a compass point seemed impossible to find. Chances were that he had confused his direction long ago, even after he noted the sun always rose in the east. Ben did not recall where or even when he became lost. The belief he possessed an acute internal sense of direction could have been merely delusional thinking. His misconception seemed a perfectly rational diagnosis, given he now heard voices, saw seas in the sky and possessed generally grandiose ideas about himself.

“Rationalization and losing one’s mind shouldn’t go together,” Ben thought, then laughed aloud. The chuckle began as a cough, then cracked his harsh voice with a noise he had not made since the age of thirteen. The sound made him laugh harder, deliriously. Ben stumbled and nearly fell, but his feet still swung forward and faster now. Wherever he was going, he would get there quickly.

Ben veered to his left, as that leg became heavier than the right; it dropped and dragged. His right foot crossed his left, as if stepping over the carcass of an animal that stewed in the sun beyond recognition. The sidestep-dance continued another twenty or thirty meters, until Ben grew dimly aware a black line stretched in front of him. The line reached from horizon to horizon and an invisible glass wall rose from it. No matter how Ben tried to step unto the line, he leaned to the left. He walked parallel to a road. A road! The voice became more than a hallucination and hailed him from the direction he followed.

“You have certainly wandered around long enough.”

Ben did not raise his face from his discovery. The thin black line magically stretched into a thick ribbon of cracked asphalt. Sand drifted over the surface in sheets. When he realized the road lay flat instead of vertical, Ben steered himself onto the asphalt. He deliberately continued walking to his left.

“Now, here we are, and all the worse for wear,” the voice said. Ben swore the quip was a thought hidden in his head. He snorted, then choked with amusement.

“Who are you?” demanded a nervous new voice. Ben stopped walking. This voice could not be more real than the first.

The sound of the wind had not deadened when the new voice asked his identity. Other noises also filled the air. Labored calls barked from a hoarse throat. Another voice came from the direction of the distressed shouts.

“Oh, man, he’s gonna die too?” This voice sounded shrill and scared.

The only reply came from the hoarse throat. “Help me! No, stay way from me! All of you! Away, heathens! Do you know who I am? Stay away, damn you!”

Ben raised his eyes. Crust had nearly glued the lids shut, and now painfully tore away. Only the right eye opened enough to see more than white light and blocked, shadowy shapes. Two men cautiously shuffled toward Ben, their hands raised before them. One man came from the rear of an old truck - really just a moving assemblage of scrapped parts, haphazardly painted pastel yellow. Scratches scarred the crude brushwork, already pitted by blown sand. The mirrors and back window were missing and the bed of the truck had crumpled toward the cab. The yellow coat of paint looked like it had been added after the apparent accident. The folds in the metal retained the color thickest and brightest, as if freshly coated. The truck stood parked in the middle of the road, its bald tires molded to the pavement. The engine ticked as it cooled, if that were possible in the daytime heat.

Another man sat in a white Bourdon sedan, a popular car for Church fleets. A couple years had passed since that particular model appeared on the market. It looked dirty, but in good condition. The car sat further behind the truck, on the shoulder of the road. The hoarse voice came from inside. The approach of the two men obscured whoever had actually issued the warning.

The two men looked alike, thin, but not wiry, maybe brothers. They wore coarse denim work shirts and pants. The mismatched boots and cuffed pant legs on one of the men dispelled the impression they wore military uniforms. The one with cuffed pant legs sported a small bump in the middle of his forehead. Their deeply tanned and unshaven faces testified work and life outside had carved undeserved age into them. The men were accustomed to the heat and glare and took no precaution, such as hats. They bared their necks with open collars. The smell of their musky sweat reached Ben before the two unrecognized men.

The shrill voice sounded again. The man from the sedan, the one with the bump on his head, spoke. His lips curled back over short white nubs of teeth. Wrinkles curved over his nose and below his eyes as he looked closer at Ben. “There can’t even be any blood left in him. You’re not doing all right.”

“Get him to the car,” the other man ordered. Up close, Ben saw the other man had narrower eyes. His mouth was larger than that of the man with the bump, but his lips thinner.

Ben staggered toward them as they approached. He ventured to say something. Three words crackled like smoldering leaves, “Tall…glass…water.”

“Sure, man” the thin-lipped man replied. “Sure. Yeah.”

Ben fell forward into the pair. Their hands wrapped around his arms. His skin felt scalded where the men touched him. Ben hissed in pain, because he had been badly burned by the sun. Still, Ben felt lighter, born by these strangers. His head became a weight he could no longer bear. It lolled as if tethered by a heavy invisible chain jerked from side to side by the sadistic puppeteer.

“He’s heavy for being all dried up, huh, Dil?” The shrill noise disappeared from the voice of the man with the bump; he was a better man for the absence.

The man he called Dil did not reply. The trip to the sedan was short. When they neared the driver’s side, Ben peered through the partially open door. He saw a lap clad in black slacks on the reclined seat. A pink elbow rested on a rotund gut that made Ben feel less concerned about his own, but only by a small degree. Panting came from within. The hoarse yelling started again as the three men approached.

“Get away, heathens! I will command the Mortal God down upon you all!”

A pale man, not much older than Ben, lay sprawled in the sedan. The man had a herald of gray hair. He buried his right hand into his left armpit. His other hand gripped the stunted collar of his white shirt, pulling it from his neck. The outburst caused him to gasp and wince in pain. The man with the bump emphatically squeezed Ben’s arm.

“He’s having a heart attack. He won’t let us help him - won’t even let us touch him.”

“I'd rather die out here, by myself, than let you spiteful heathens cut my throat,” the man spat. The meager spittle fell across his chin in long clear threads. More pain gripped him.

“Take him around to the other side,” Dil directed his smaller twin, speaking about Ben.

Dil and the one with the bump carried Ben around the front of the Bourdon to the passenger side. The windshield was covered in sand, except where wiper fluid had turned the dirt to bluish mud, which rubber wiper blades had pushed aside and left to cake. Through the glass and semi-circles of grime, Ben watched the panting man grow calm. The man closed his eyes and rested his head against the window at his side. The immediate threat had dissipated, temporarily.

The sick man was a priest, and consequently one of the Mortal God's Chosen, born of the elite caste - which accounted for his threats and recalcitrance. Only heathens wandered the wastes of this desert. That is what people believed in Capital and other cities where the Chosen lived. The priest obviously did not have a rank because no insignia appeared pinned to the short upright collar of his white shirt. At his age, people expected he would have gained some achievement in the Church. The lack of rank and his presence in the desert were connected.

“You’re him, huh?” the man with the rolled pant cuffs asked Ben as they walked around to the passenger side of the Bourdon. His voice stayed low and conspiratorial.

“Shut up, Hen,” Dil warned with toothed sharpness.

Both the question and command floated past Ben like a conversation drifting on the wind from far away. He did not respond to either as Dil reached for the door handle. At the sound of the latch, the priest stirred from his brief respite. He made a desperate lunge for the lock, but could not lift himself from his seat. Anyway, the attempt came too late. Dil already swung the door wide open.

The priest scowled. “Damn each of you, I mean it.” He had fallen against the driver’s side door and now hung from the open vehicle. Only the seat belt saved the priest from spilling out entirely.

“Give me back my keys,” the priest demanded, pawing his neck. He sucked short, shallow draws of air through his mouth. An unseen weight immediately pressed each breath back out. The priest's hands returned to his chest.

“Hey, we found him like this. We were going to help, you know,” Hen’s voice warbled.

The two men eased Ben onto the passenger seat, within the blessed shade of the sedan. Mercifully, night fell early. The brown leather upholstery burned like a griddle on Ben’s bare injured back, but he endured. Shelter from the direct glare of the sun was worth the pain. Dil let Hen lift Ben’s feet inside. The thin-lipped man passed in front of the car, back the way they had come.

“You're going to peel the skin from my living skull. Terrorist!” The priest emphasized the last point with another dry spat.

Hen reached over Ben, to the middle console on the dashboard. Hen’s shirt felt like sandpaper dragged over Ben’s bare torso, but the burned wanderer was too weak to protest. The air conditioning burst forth with a roar. “You know,” Hen said. “We’re UnChosen. We believe in the Mortal God.”

“Liar,” the priest denied. “Don’t touch me when I’m dead.”

Hen stepped out of the car and straightened up. He grimaced and looked over at the truck. The glare made Hen squint as he put idle hands on his hips. Dil rummaged through the crooks of the folded bed and Hen shut his mouth with a clack of teeth. Dil soon returned and handed him a clear plastic bottle of warm water.

“Give it to him,” Dil said, before disappearing around the back of the sedan. Hen held the bottle at the bottom and carelessly dumped the contents into Ben’s open mouth. The water streamed down his dirt-crusted chin and heat-radiating chest.

The air from the vents instantly cooled the interior of the car, as well as the space just outside the open doors. The stream reached for Ben like a caress. The siren had finally arrived. Her golden hair floated about her face as if underwater. Her smile, gleaming as white as the sun above, was the only thing Ben clearly saw beneath her hovering yellow tresses. The siren’s hands raised goose flesh as she stroked his face and shoulders; her touch was the only sensation that did not burn. She straddled Ben’s lap and pressed her cool, bare breasts against him. The touch of her skin made him forget pain. He slowly surrendered to exhaustion and would soon follow her into secret fathoms. Her hair drifted into his face as she leaned forward, smiling through slightly parted, shining lips. When she kissed his open mouth, cold air flowed into Ben. The cool caress filled his lungs with unbearable frost.

Ben choked. The water Hen gave him sprayed against the dash. It ran down the interior of the slanted windshield in short rivulets and evaporated before any pooled. Hen fumbled.

“Just a little. You can have more, just not so fast.”

The coughing and sputtering continued a few seconds more, but Ben did not move. Exhaustion planted him in his seat, as firmly as the priest had sunk into his own. Hen gave Ben another sip of water, now carefully. Ben drank his siren a little at a time, lest she drown him. When the scorched stranger looked like he could handle the fluid, Hen gave him several more gulps.

The priest looked away as he softly spoke. “I condemn you . . .” he exhaled and grew rigid as his mouth fell open. The sound of the air conditioner covered whatever the priest said next, if any intelligible comment followed. The priest added a long and low “…oooooooo…” trailed by a longer, rattling exhalation.

“I think he’s dead,” Hen guessed. His voice shook again. “We didn’t kill him. Right?”

Ben did not hear him. The siren drifted away and he still thirsted, only slightly quenched, became worse. Hen’s rationing of the water taunted Ben, but he had no strength or presence to do more than suck the tiny portions as they were offered. Ben remained unaware of the dead man next to him.

Suddenly, the voice returned and all other sounds vanished. “You’re filling up again,” it said. “You were empty, just the right place to store something for later use.”

Ben disregarded the cryptic statements. The water was gone - the only important news he cared about.

“You learned some truth today. You’re going to remember that later. We need to keep your revelation in mind.”

The sound of the air conditioner wavered and then quit abrupt, before roaring back solid. Within the pause, the voice added another word.

“Transformed.”

“What happened to your clothes?” Hen wondered aloud, knowing Ben could not answer.

“Hey!” Hen exclaimed. “You look about the same size as the priest. He has a suitcase back here.” Hen stretched his neck as he peered into the back seat. Just as the priest passed on, so did Hen’s fear. He sounded eager to scavenge the vehicle.

Ben remained conscious long enough to watch Dil return. Dil carried a small gas canister in his right hand. The red plastic had faded to pink, especially at the seams. Light passed through the canister, making it appear to glow from within. The black spout looked gnawed. Dil passed something to Hen. The object appeared a small key ring adorned with a charm shaped like an elongated “X.” The shape was actually a cross, a shared emblem of the Chosen and UnChosen faiths, or castes. One silver key clearly belonged to the sedan. Ben closed his eyes and wanted nothing. A dreamless sleep claimed him completely.


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