The helicopter broke through the clouds, and the rotors quieted. The fat orange sun hung lonely in the afternoon sky, staring right at us. I was still shaking. The Eye of the Needle sat across from me. She motioned to her ear and mine. I found a switch on my ear protection and switched it on. I pulled the microphone closer to my mouth.
“They didn’t tell us what you’re calling yourself.”
“My name is Ram. What’s your name?”
“I don’t understand what I’m doing here, Nile. You’re going to protect me?” I eyed her up and down. She was about five feet tall, ninety pounds. She had short-cropped hair, and was wearing a dark green turtleneck, skin-tight, and black slacks. If she was carrying a gun, it was well hidden.
She met my eyes and pursed her lips. “The Penitents won’t touch us. We are the children of the light. We are clean. Their mouths would burn to even pronounce our names. If they put a finger on us, they would die in agony.”
I shook my head and stared out the window. “Everyone’s gone insane,” I muttered. I felt so tired.
Nile kept her eyes on me. “When they told me to escort ‘the Beast’ to Anwyn, I didn’t expect a handsome young man. You don’t look like a monster.”
I looked back at her. “I’m not a monster. That’s just a nickname because I got drunk and puked freshman year. I’m just a dumb kid. My Dad was a Satanist, and some cult thinks I can do something for them. I can do landscaping and drink beer; that’s pretty much it.”
“So you don’t remember who you are or what you can do. Interesting.” She stroked the side of her face idly, like she was watching a movie. “And you don’t remember us at all.”
“We’ve met before?”
“Not in this lifetime, Ram, but we’ve known each other a very long time.” She leaned over and squeezed my thigh. My dick woke up and wondered if he could make this happen.
My brain was still too confused to put my dick in charge. “Robin was saying that I’m … connected to the drowned god? I didn’t get it. Then he started acting all weird, like he wanted to kill me too.”
“You are the one they want. The Penitents can’t wake the drowned god without you.”
“They can’t talk to him?”
“The sensitives among them have dreams, and they preach these to their masses. But they want to see him face to face. They think he’ll talk to his seed and manifest in this reality. If you can make it happen, they can take power over this world, and smash our sanctuary to pieces.”
“Are you psychic?” I was picturing her topless, cupping my balls, and suddenly got scared she could see it too.
She laughed. “I can do anything I want to, Ram. And so can you.” She smiled and licked her lips suggestively.
Dumb me, I had to kill the mood. “I thought he got broke out of his tomb in Atlantis. He’s not swimming around or walking around somewhere?”
“He’s only physical if someone manifests him. The tomb and chains were part of a containment spell which should never have been broken. Without that, he can only speak in dreams.”
Birds began to fill the red sky. They were brown, huge, and everywhere. The pilot adjusted, rising higher into the sky. “These birds are flying above the clouds? How’s that possible?”
She watched the sky calmly. “Vultures. They can fly remarkably high in the clouds. It’s all the dead. ‘Where the corpse is, the vultures gather,’ like the saying goes.”
The birds clustered forward, and the pilot gained speed. The sky went black behind them as vultures filled the air. My stomach twisted into a knot. “The corpse? What corpse?”
“There are thousands dead already. Didn’t you know?” She tilted her head toward the window as the clouds cleared and I saw the city below. The streets were filled with dead bodies, stretched out, on top of cars and in the streets. A horrific smell filled the cabin, and I started to retch.
“Frank!” Nile called into the intercom. “Take us up higher. This is disgusting.”
The words formed on my lips before I knew what they were. “Abomination. Abomination of desolation. This is it. It’s here. Go for the hills.”
Nile cackled and crossed her legs. “Now you’re remembering. We’ll be there soon. Don’t be afraid; this has all happened before, and it’ll all happen again.”
Mercifully, the pilot took us back up into the clouds away from the carnage below.
And I looked at me. “So sentimental, Ram, so worried about their masses of people down there dying and dad. Get over it.
“What do you mean, get over it? Aren’t you the good guys?”
“I mean, they’re all going to die anyway. Fire is going to devour this world. And then water will flood it. When and how they die is immaterial. When you’re as old as we are, things like this just don’t matter anymore.”
“I’m 20 years old.”
“You’re not. We’ve done this a million times before, Ram. You, me, the rest. You don’t remember any of it? When we fucked while Rome burned? When we drank and ate while the plague consumed millions? This apocalypse is no different.”
I felt like everyone was playing a game and I didn’t know what the rules were. I was swimming in a sea of bullshit, trying to breathe. “You’re saying we’re reincarnations?”
“We like to call it ‘metempsychosis.’ The seers and prophets are saying that you’re an incarnation of evil and destruction this time around. Tell me about your life-line, this time. Your father was a Satanist, and the Penitents want you to manifest Abaddon and kill and enslave the whole world, then wreck everything. That’s your story?”
“You make it sound really simple. My life has really sucked. I’m the one who had to live it.”
“Tell me your story, Ram. How did you get to be the most wicked man in the world?” She flashed a mischievous grin and giggled. She was making fun of me.
“I don’t tell anyone this story. No one at my school has heard it, not even my … my friend who’s a girl, Birdie. But I had a brother, Jim, and he was a real asshole. I used to be a sweet kid, but I had to survive.
“My Mom was in her room at the top of the stairs in the house where we were staying. Jim and I had rooms on the ground floor. She was on the phone, yelling at my Dad, telling him what a piece of shit he was, and how she needed him and he was never there. Then she started screeching about sex stuff, about how he couldn’t get his dick hard and how good his buddies dicks tasted. Jim and I were sitting in the kitchen, and I was watching his face get darker and darker. He was so pissed.
“Jim finally jumped up and charged up the stairs. My mom must have gotten scared and shut herself in her room and locked the door. I went up after him, and he had already ripped the molding off the top of the door.
“Jim always liked to say, ‘I’m bigger than you, stronger than you, and I always will be.’ He had already blackened both my eyes that year on the way to school for saying something that he didn’t like. I was fourteen, he was sixteen. He had forty pounds on me and he might have played football in college, according to his coach.
“Jim was screaming at Mom to let him in. I told Jim I wasn’t going to let him get to Mom. She was crying behind the door, telling him she had already called the police. He was raving, ‘I just want to hit her once, and teach her a lesson. I just want to hit her once.’ I was afraid he was going to really hurt her. I put myself between him and the door and told him to back off. Jim grabbed me by my shirt and dangled me over the stairs, demanding for me to let him through.
“The police weren’t showing up. They’re never there when you need them. I got my arms up. I heard a little voice in my head saying, ‘pull him down with you.’ I grabbed his forearms and yanked, and he fell over me; we both tumbled.
“I pushed him off me as we fell and he hit the first floor landing first, fast and hard, with his neck. I slid to the bottom and crumpled into him. I heard the sick wet sound of his breathing, and I smelled his shit. I got up as fast as I could and tried to turn him over. His head flopped back and forth loosely as the police walked in the front door. I had broken his fucking neck.”
“The police finally showed up, and they walked when my Mom was scrambling down the stairs, screaming and crying. I stood next to Jim’s twitching corpse. They pulled me toward them, cuffed me and led me to the car. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t have anything to say. They saw everything.
“I got booked and put into juvie, the juvenile detention facility. I sat around for a couple hours before Agent Robin showed up. I didn’t expect him to, but he got me out and took me to a hotel. My Mom was waiting there, and she couldn’t even look at me.
“Robin explained that Jim was dead, and that instead of me going through a trial, or whatever through the court, we were just going into witness protection. He said it was an accident and I was defending my mom and defending myself. Which was true but it was bullshit. They just didn’t give a shit about us, and they didn’t want me or Jim wrecking their court case. My Dad was just about to testify against the Satanists for those kid murders. He testified, and I never saw or heard from him again. Robin thinks he’s dead.
“I got stuck in a new school, and my new name was Bobby Beezle. Here’s what I figured out: No one wanted to hear what I had to say. I learned to shut the fuck up and lift heavy ass weights. I got started boxing. I got started lifting. I ate like a motherfucker. I made my body huge. I got strong as hell. Nobody was coming to save me. Nobody gave a shit about me, so I got my kicks where the fuck I could. Yeah, I was a bad kid. I am a bad kid. But that’s what they made me. Been good would’ve got me killed.
“I got wicked so I could earn the shame that I felt all the time. If I can murder and get off with no consequences, then I could do anything. Maybe I could make God come down from heaven to smite me if I was evil enough.
“What I really loved was hurting people. When I was boxing, I would hit them in ways they hadn’t dreamed of. I could make him hurt so fucking bad. Then I started fighting at nights, underground boxing and wrestling. I got the shit beat out of me enough times that I learned to beat them even harder. No rules, no mercy.
“I got so aggressive I scared people. I got so big and strong and ugly. Because I’m not afraid of them. I’m not afraid of anyone. Death and I are friends. You can’t hurt what’s already dead. Having no expectations or feelings to hurt made me invincible.”
Nile licked her lips and smirked at me, like she was about to start opening my pants. My sins were turning her on. I kept going.
“What I liked to do the most, though, was humiliating guys. Someone picked a fight with me, I took his girl. I’d find her when she was out, make her laugh a little bit. I’d get real close and put my hands on her. Maybe she’d tell him about it, maybe I would, just to fuck with him. up his life, even if you know, I didn’t get with her. But I usually did. Girls really like the whole bad guy routine. They don’t want some little pussy.
“Sometimes I would kind of stalk the guy, find pretty women in his life, his sister, mother, whatever. I’d find a spot to watch through their windows while they changed and jerk off. Eventually I start creeping into their houses, stealing their panties, their diaries, whatever was intimate and personal.
“Eventually I got to college, and the guys like somebody who can fuck and fight and party. So I’ve been doing whatever the fuck I want for a long time. The problem comes when there are girls who really like me, and I can’t even come anymore if I’m not humiliating somebody. It’s like I have to hurt somebody just to get off.”