There's a place held within the hot, baptist state that holds its own special allure..
| A DENSE FIST
The panicked man sweats as he runs, torrents of the sour, sticky liquid giving his face a jaundiced look. The man, whose name is no longer important to anyone but himself, runs full tilt through the dark streets of the big city that he’s lived his entire misbegotten life in. The man runs for his miserable life.
A small burlap sack hangs from the man’s chubby right hand as he runs, swinging to and fro, jingling merrily, which is a more than obvious irony given the man’s current situation.
Within the sack are several dozen priceless gold coins. These are several centuries old, worth an estimated sixty thousand dollars apiece, and newly stolen.
The man, a former floor panel technician for Wilson’s Floors Inc., and a new father to boot, now hears a piercing scream from above, and apparently of their own accord, his eyes roll skyward, scanning the dark sky for the source of the inhuman shriek.
He sees naught but cloudless, empty space, which is as black as sackcloth. As he returns his sight to his path of flight, he hears the scream again, and above, windows shake and seem to cower in their frames.
“Too late,” he thinks. “Too late did I choose to run? Too long too long did I stand around and bicker and argue with Sam before I realized that there was no sense in sharing the prize now that it was pretty much already mine and shot him dead.”
Truer words were never thought or spoken.
The man, a lonely, ghastly figure beneath the play of light and shadow taking place beneath the street lamps that line both sides of the street he runs along, now swerves to avoid a collection of trash bins, barely missing them, only to crash instead into another collection of them in his blind panic.
As he falls into the street on his face, the man smashes his two front teeth to powder on the pavement. Despite this, he manages to curse beneath his already strained breath. His lungs burn with spent energy, now his enemy, tracing thin lines of liquid fire up his right side and across his thin chest. It flows back and forth across his chest like a confused relay runner.
The scream, now more a shriek of rage and terror than anything else, falls upon the man’s ears from above again, threatening burst his brain from the inside out. Crazed, deer-like eyes roll upward, seeking sky again, but now the man actually catches sight of his pursuer.
A darkly lithe form coasts forward upon a wave of shimmering, artificial heat, the stars standing out behind the figure in the sky as Mercury exists before the gaseous behemoth of the Sun, marking its importance and brilliant doom.
“There is no escape but death,” the figure in the sky says.
A bright line of teeth loom out from the scar that is the figure’s mouth. The face that holds this mouth is manic looking and terribly gaunt.
“Die,” the teeth grin, and in a flash of heat and arrogance, the figure dives.
“Oh God,” the man who lies slumped and exhausted and already half defeated upon the street mutters from split, bleeding lips. Scrambling for some form of at least tentative purchase, some grip on Reality or Safety, the man leaps to his unsteady feet and manages to stagger further until he reaches the dead end of an alley, a black throat in the middle of a dark, suddenly seedy city.
He has fallen prey to the figure in the sky.
He has fallen right into a trap, which it turns out was set for him from the very start of this chase. He has been led; no…he has been rounded into a trap like a rabbit.
“No. This…no,” the bleeding, terrified thief mutters. There is a mixture of blood and saliva running a steady stream down his chin.
The man struggles to catch his ever-illusive breath, which comes in cheap snatches and meager inhalations. The back of his throat tastes like copper and is slick with terror and defeat.
“This cannot happen…to me.”
The scream pierces the night once more, this time shattering windows instead of merely shaking them. Two cars that rest on the curb of the street nearby suddenly detonate like napalm bombs. The street itself sings in tones of high-pitched agony as thousands of slivers of shattered glass strike it with regular, very deadly force.
A column of heat seems to surround the man, and his body begins to pour forth a torrent of rank sweat.
“Nuuuuhhhhhhhh….I was once England’s greatest thief. I cannot die this way.”
Trapped, at the very back of a nameless alley in the twilight hours of on a Friday morning with a sack of nearly priceless gold coins in his fist, the man all at once understands one of his mother’s more common sayings. ‘An end to all things, is Death.’ Even cold and rotten and dead at the bottom of a poorly excavated grave for the last thirty years, his mother still has the power to make him feel like an idiot at the worst possible times. No doubt she still smiles somehow, her skull grinning like an imp, even in her death teaching him another of Life’s Hard Lessons. In that way, he hates her.
The column of heat that surrounds the man now begins to constrict upon him. Trash and debris suddenly take flight around him, bursting into brilliant white flowers of fire. Dogs from miles around howl and whimper into the night air. Cats screech a song of curiosity and breed tune in a perverse balance with their canine enemies. Puddles of standing, stagnant water first steam, and then explode away in clouds of superheated steam. All of this happens as the burning man drops from the air and draws himself level with the man who lies upon the ground. All the time, the burning man grins like the devil’s greatest, most favored servant.
The man, now positively cowering in terror, allows the burlap sack to fall from his right hand. There is a soft jingle as this happens, but the man doesn’t hear it in his blank fear and curiosity.
The faintly glowing silhouette which now stands before him grins a wider grin and saunters forward, hands held out on both sides at a right angle, as if he expects his prey to rise and embrace him like a long lost brother.
“Now then,” the burning man says, “Was it really worth all this?”
He raises his right hand, a flaming beacon in the night, and snaps his fingers. The burlap sack on the ground at the cowering man’s feet flares into nonexistence in an instant. The thief looks down and sees a bright spot upon the ground. A shining spot that looks like gold haze.
All that hard work (which proper thieves understand for its brilliance and determination) for nothing. All that hard work for a bright gold stain on the ground in some shitty alley in the middle of nowhere.
Life could be so goddamned cruel sometimes.
Gone all at once, and without much trouble on the part of the flying, flaming freak from God knows where, either.
“Well, was it, Old Spartan? Was it all worth it?” the flaming man says.
A title the thief chose over ten years ago as a sort of mockery of the law and its ineptitude at catching him. The Spartans got way with murder and more often than not, Scot-free. He got away with thievery, or rather Inanimate Liberation, as he’s taken a fancy to saying and thinking of it.
A title. His title.
Used against him at the very end of things.
This, even more than the loss of his treasure, enrages Spartan, and in a surprising blur of speed and weapons ingenuity, a gun is raised and fired ten times in a space of four seconds. The gun is not automatic.
The hovering thing before Spartan only grins its bright, terrifying grin again and waves a long, rather slender right arm. Before Spartan’s shocked eyes, all ten slugs become flaming lumps of slag, then silvery liquid, then nothing at all before that terrible grinning face appears again from behind the wide berth of the wave.
The wall behind Spartan shifts audibly, and then, in a haze of smoke and crackling cement, first oozes, then collapses in a pool of red, lumpy liquid.
Spartan fires once more. Twice more. A tongue of flame licks forth ten times from the barrel of the specialized gun he’s always carried throughout his professional career he fires. Not one slugs manages to reach its mark.
The hovering form before him only smiles when Spartan’s last, desperate salvo comes to a pathetic end. It smiles its terrible, knowing grin, and in the very end, Spartan sees from tearing eyes set within a suddenly running face the stars once more, brilliant flecks of light in places so impossibly distant that there may as well be no point to them at all.
The only significance they have now is that they will forever be the lights that marked the Great Spartan’s Less Than Great Exit.
The flaming man, whose own title is Pyre, waves goodbye to Spartan, grinning wider than ever.
“A side of smile with your wave, Old Spartan?”
Next morning, a dark patch of soot stands silent and all knowing upon the ground in the alley, not even telling the stars or sun of its strange tale.