When I slept, I dreamed of giant, black open mouths swallowing me. I was falling forever into blackness. It wasn’t just death, it was … worse. I heard those wet thumps; I smelt the burning flesh. I woke up shaking. After a couple days, they took off the cervical collar, and the swelling around my throat had improved enough for me to talk. They moved me to a regular hospital room to watch my airway one more night before they sent me home. Robin came to see me.
“Hello Ram,” he said, clapping me on the shoulder. Robin Bearshak was the FBI agent in charge of my family’s case. He was a huge black guy, shaved head, 6’6, 250 lb at least.
I knew him because I’d been in Witness Protection after my Dad freaked out and disappeared. He was in some Satanic cult. My Mom had testified against him and the cult, and I got put in witness protection with her. She’s still out in the Utah desert, and I hadn’t been home in two years.
“Fuck, Robin, I’m so sorry, man. I promise I didn’t tell anyone who I was. They’re dead because of me.”
“Slow down, buddy. You didn’t kill those kids. You’re sure they knew who you were?”
“The leader called me Xarque Ozyeus.”
Robin shook his head. “No one’s supposed to know that’s you.”
“I swear I didn’t tell anybody.”
“I know, I believe you.”
“Is my Dad alive?”
“He hasn’t popped up on our radar anywhere. These guys are fucking scary. They’re not Satanists like your Dad. They’re something different.”
“How the fuck did all of them disappear?”
“Hold on, Ram.” Robin picked up the phone receiver on the bedside table and took a small speaker out of his pocket. He switched the speaker on and put it to the mouthpiece. A shrill whine made me wince; he adjusted it so we couldn’t hear it anymore and put the receiver and speaker on the table. “You should assume from now on that you’re being recorded. This should ruin any recording devices listening in.”
“So what’s happening?”
“The FBI is compromised. I’d suspected it for awhile, and now I’m sure of it. They shouldn’t have been able to find you. If they all got out of custody, that means that a lot of guys are working for them. You’re in serious danger.”
“You can’t figure out where these Penitents come from?”
“No idea. The USA just had college students murdered and kidnapped by a death cult from terrorists who we can’t identify. We’re being invaded and we don’t know by whom. We’re being attacked and we don’t know by which country. They’re everywhere and we don’t know who they are. They wear those hoods and stand in rows, and we can’t figure out who they are even if we kill them. Their fingerprints aren’t in the databases, their pictures don’t match anything we’ve got. We’ve sent pictures to our allies but haven’t got any matches. Just random fuckers trying to kill everybody.”
“The leader said they wanted me to be king, or an offering to their god. Who the fuck is the drowned god?”
Robin shook his head. “It’s something that came up with Atlantis.”
“That shit is real?”
“The tabloids don’t get everything right, but, yeah. Basically, a huge chunk of a sunken city floated up to the surface after an underwater earthquake six months ago. The researchers found idols with inscriptions in no language they’d ever read before. Stone idols and pillars worshipping some horrible sea beast. There was a giant tomb; when the team went down there, it was empty. There were massive chains, discarded.”
I started shaking. “How did the Penitents find out about it?”
“Everyone who went onto the Atlantis site is dead or disappeared. Once they got to mainland, the researchers started losing their minds and became so violent they had to be restrained. We think there was a cult to that sea beast that had been maintained in secret throughout human history, and the surviving researchers are with them now.”
“Does the sea beast have a name?”
“Abaddon. Apollyon. The Destroyer.”
My whole body was shaking. “Is he from the Bible?”
“He’s mentioned, but probably much older than the Bible.”
“What do they want me for?”
“There’s a legend … it says that millions of years ago, Abaddon fucked a human, probably one of your ancestors. There’s a bloodline that goes through history of some of the worst dictators and murderers ever. That’s your Dad, and that’s you. Your Dad is probably dead. So are his other kids. You’re the only one left. You can probably do crazy shit you don’t even know about.”
“What’s Abaddon going to do?”
“No one really knows. This is all guesswork based on myths and legends. The Penitents believe that we should serve this evil fuck, and that he’ll make them gods like him. They want him to take over the world and kill everybody.”
“Who are they going to rule if everybody’s dead?”
“These guys haven’t thought that far ahead. They just want to wreck everything. They want the world to stop. They want you because they think Abaddon will talk to you, because you have his genes. You’ll let him manifest, have a corporeal body in the material plane.”
“So what the fuck do I do?”
“Don’t trust anybody, even the FBI. I’m sending someone to get you out of here. We call her the Eye of the Needle. You’ll go with her to some place safe. I’ll meet up with you if I can.”
“The Eye of the Needle?”
“It’s a codename. You have to go through her to get to the Kingdom.”
“What about Birdie? What about my friends and the Betas?”
“The best thing you can do for them is stay away. They’ll be a lot safer if you’re nowhere near them. Get some clothes on and get ready to move.”
He put on a pair of latex gloves and pulled the needle out of my arm, sticking a bandage on it. He looked at me and looked sadder than I’d ever seen him. Robin cleared his throat. “This whole thing is an existential crisis for those of us in the government. It’s like, ‘ok, that was history, that was myth, and now, we’re living in it.’ Nothing makes sense. Suicide seems entirely reasonable. You die, you go insane, you commit suicide. Those are your options.”
I stared at him. “You’re supposed to be the one who knows what’s going on.”
He chuckled mirthlessly. “Ram, you know, I get it, you’re young, dumb, and full of come, and so you have every reason to go back out there into that fucking shit-show. But what about me? Shit’s already happened. I don’t even fucking know. My wife is dead, my daughter is gone, probably wearing that mark, everything’s lost. Let’s just let those assholes kill us all. Who cares?”
“Fuck you, man, you can’t just say that to me.”
He got a creepy look in his eyes, and his voice changed; it went higher. “You know, maybe you were right in the first place. You’re the reason for all of this. They need you to make it work. You’re the missing link. If you don’t lead them, Abaddon probably can’t manifest in this plane. You’re the secret seed. I should just kill you, but I can’t. I can’t. I should. No.”
I stood up and put my fists in front of me. I didn’t want to fight him, but I would if I had to. “It’s time to go, Robin.”
He got up and shook himself. “I’m going to go stand guard at the nurse’s desk. I’m sorry, man, I was talking out of my ass. I don’t know what came over me. I was talking shit.”
I nodded, and he backed out of the room. I sat on my hospital bed, and then got dressed in the clothes Birdie brought me and waited. I tried to watch TV, but I felt like I was choking. I must have fallen asleep.
“Xarque.” I sat bolt upright. There was a stranger sitting next to my bed.
“That’s not my fucking name,” I snapped, instinctively, to a surly looking maintenance guy with a cap pulled low over his eyes. “Who the fuck are you?”
“I knew your Dad, Xarque. I’m with the Penitents. We got off on the wrong foot. Let’s start again.” He reached a hand out. He smelled like piss and I couldn’t see his eyes.
I moved up the bed and hit the call button for the nurse. “Don’t touch me.”
He held his hands up and put them back in his lap. “We’re just talking here. I’m not here to fight you. This is an invitation. You and I are the same, Xarque. We know that everything is just a fucking joke. There’s not going to be any survivors when Abaddon comes. Let’s go out in a blaze of glory.”
“You guys are monsters. I’m not like you.” I hit the call button.
“You’ve always known this was coming. You’ve been waiting for your entire life. What do you think you like to stick your fingernails in peoples eyes and nose when you fight? Because you’re a fucking cannibal. You’ve got no respect for humankind or human dignity. Why don’t you just give up this farce? You’re an evil piece of shit.”
“How do you know how I fight?”
“We’ve been watching you for a long time, Xarque. You like to fuck and fight. So do we. We can get you girls, pretty ones, too, or fat ones, if you like that. Everyone’s going to fucking die, might as well get your dick sucked while you’re waiting. Come with me and you can fuck whoever you want to, whenever you want to. We’ll line them up for you.” He smiled with a mouth full of rotten teeth. I winced and hit the call button again.
“I said ‘no,’ goddamnit, would you get out of here? I’m not going anywhere with you. You stink like shit.”
He laughed, which sounded like pig snorting. “Xarque, you’re a killer. We know it. We’ll make you our king. No one else is ever going to tolerate you for long. What do you think you’re going do when they find out? Everyone’s going to find out. Maybe they already know. You’re just going to get them all killed.
“You’re going to see how long it takes for everybody to start. Family, church, country, school, love, marriage, not of that is going to mean a big hill of shit in the end. You gonna watch people fuck and kill each other in the fucking streets. It’s all going to fall apart. What the fuck do you think you’re going to do, go to business school? You’re an animal. They call you “the Beast,” right?”
“Get out of my face. You don’t know me. I’m not going with you.”
He leaned forward and lifted the hat from his eyes. That red hexagram was scarred into his head. His eyes were narrow, yellow tinged, full of hate. “Your mom thinks you should’ve been the one that died. She has dreams that you’re dead. She wishes with all her heart that you were dead instead of Jim. Everyone does. They know just how disgusting, evil, and pathetic you are.”
My eyes teared up. “You’re making shit up. You don’t know my Mom.”
You remember the sound that morning, Xarque? You woke up, and you heard the crackle of the police radio? You heard your mom sobbing, ‘no no, it can’t be true?’ And you closed your eyes and tried to go back to sleep, just in case it might be a dream and you would wake up and it wouldn’t be real. This is real. This is no dream, you little jerk-off.”
Robin’s huge figure appeared in the doorway and he grabbed the Penitent’s shirt and dragged him out of the room, kicking and spitting. I breathed and tried to pull my shit together. I heard commotion and shouting in the hallway. Robin was shouting, the gunfire echoed. I went to the window and looked for a fire escape, something I could climb out on.
When I turned around, a tiny Asian woman was there. I almost screamed; she clapped a hand over my mouth. She pointed to her forearm, where there was a syringe tattooed, and then to her eye. The Eye of the Needle.
I followed her into the hallway, jam packed with cops and FBI. I saw purple hoods on the ground, and wanted to throw up. She led me into a stairwell, up several flights of stairs, and then opened up the door to the roof. A black helicopter was waiting on the hospital’s helipad. The pilot opened the door for us and handed me ear protection. We ascended through the clouds.