Respect the Daysleeper, the first anthology from our friends at Sto*Nerd Press, has just been re-released with a completely redesigned layout and new illustrations.
“Coked Out Demon Worshipers,” the feature story from our comic book Weird Luck #0, was first published in the initial release of Respect the Daysleeper three years ago. The anthology also contains another creepy story by Andrew M. Reichart, “Psychic Vampire.”
Coming soon: the re-release of Anthology 2: Fight Against the Heartbeat, and the Call for Submissions for future anthologies!
Sto*Nerd Press descibes Respect the Daysleeper thusly:
A unique collection of stories set in a variety of strange, surreal, uncomfortable, or horrific situations. A man receives a letter in the mail from one of his Sims characters. An old rockstar waits for the Devil’s administrator to retrieve his promised soul. A homeless street wizard confesses to psychic murder. A seeing eye dog observes the many strange forms of affection within his master’s life. Plus many more alternate and future Americas and unpopular realities. Featuring stories from Micaela Petersen, Andrew M. Reichart, J. Duncan Cook, and Sean Schlemmer in three themed sections: Weird Love, Unfamiliar Territories, and Be Careful What You Wish For. This is the first anthology from Sto*Nerd Press.
The forthcoming comic book Weird Luck #0 will include adaptations by Mike Bennewitz of two Andrew M. Reichart short stories: “Water Damage,” previewed here in June, and “Coked Out Demon Worshipers.” Here are a couple of glimpses…:
The original story was first published in the Sto*Nerd Press anthology Respect the Daysleeper. Here’s the full text.
Coked Out Demon Worshipers
by Andrew M. Reichart
I am awakened from my slumber in darkness and flame by the sound of her whisper. O Great Akaz, or something like that, I beseech thee: travel here to me, to me, and prove to those who scoff at me the extent of my power!
Phrasing sounds familiar; she’s probably reading it straight out of a book. Amateur. Whatever, it still works, which is annoying. I was sleeping for a goddamn reason, don’t remember what but I can sure feel it now. Last thing I wanna do is get traipsed off to the ass-end of nowhere by some black magic wannabe. In case it’s not obvious, summoning someone is a goddamn arrogant coercive dick-move, dragging you hither and wherever to their stupid worlds to address their petty little agendas. But whatever. Here I go.
As her voice drones on in my head, I see glimpses of her through the veil between the worlds. A flash of her bleached-blonde feathered hair… the image of her sitting in a circle of candles on the hardwood floor… reading aloud from the page, as predicted. At least she splurged for a hardcover. Next to her – inside the circle, no less – a little coke mirror. Classy. Then I recognize that buzzing from the portable eight-track as the Bee Gees. “Love You Inside Out.”
The mighty sorceress.
At least she’s not summoning me into a damn pentacle or whatever (not that it’d hold). Just made a magic circle around herself to keep me out.
These glimpses flicker and fade as the material fact of her world begins to manifest around me. Not inside the bedroom, but somewhere nearby. Shadowy trees. Dim light somewhere ahead. My body coalesces into the familiar form of an immense, otherworldly wolf-beast. I find myself awash in the smell of soil and plants, the scent-tracks of squirrels and housecats crisscrossing the ivy all around me. The dim light in the distance is her circle of candles, seen through the french doors to her bedroom. She ducks her head to sniff up another bump.
The scene around me resolves into final coherence: I’m crouched on a tree-lined, ivied bank, overlooking the back patio of her semi-fancy middle-class-lookin’ Earthling house. Sure hope I’m not stuck in this shithole world for long. Sometimes Earth sucks me of my powers. I stifle a pang of nervousness, forcing my mind not to dwell on the recollection of the time – all too recently, given my long memory – that I spent a decade or two stuck on some Earth or other… as a mute, ordinary dog, without so much as the ability to spit fire. Blanking my thoughts of this bullshit, I creep slowly down through the ivy, keeping my attention in my snout, focusing on the trails of tiny nocturnal beasts.
A little splashing sound, and a thought not my own: a simple, startled, “What’s that?!”
Ha, I truly have landed here in a disoriented state. I’m not alone, and I didn’t even realize it. There’s a dude, in a hot tub, at the tree-shadowed end of the deck. Short sideburns and fat mustache. Craning to try and see me. He can’t. “There’s nothing there,” he’s thinking to himself. “You’re just being paranoid, you stupid idiot.” Then an illuminating thought crosses his mind – illuminating to me, that is: “That coked-out ditz couldn’t summon a dead cat out of a wet paper bag.”
Interesting image. I wonder if that’s technically a mixed metaphor. He wipes his hands on a towel and does a bump of coke off of a mirror perched on the edge of the hot tub – ooh, livin’ dangerously, bro. And yeah, that’s not mixed metaphor, just cokehead gibberish. Piece of work, these two.
Dude reclines, peeking from the shadows in through the french doors, sipping a gin and tonic or whatever. He stares at his wife as she reads aloud. His cokehead heart ratatats. His thoughts jangle around on the theme of his wife’s shortcomings, all of which seem plausible enough, though his snippy tone and petty complaints imply shortcomings of his own in at least equal measure. He starts with an inventory of what he perceives as the “flaws” in her appearance, ho hum. Then he ruminates over the spat they had only minutes ago, debating whether or not she should “try to summon Great Akaz,” and whether to do it with or without him. He (of course) asserting she both couldn’t, and shouldn’t, alone; and (b) he had no such intention to help her do that right now and wanted to soak in the goddamn hot tub. Blah blah motherfuckin’ blah.
Then, in his ruminations, he dwells a bit longer on the topic of her ineptitude as a sorceress; and various images flicker through his mind: books, candlelit rituals, group sex with fellow dilettantes preceded by mental foreplay in the form of cokehead debates about esoteric lore, bantering loudly at one another like college students arguing about the themes of a novel they haven’t read.
His train of thought screeches to a halt on the image of a white guy with a permed afro and an even fatter mustache than our hero in the hot tub himself. A self-styled Adeptus, reeking of charlatanry, fucking all the housewife-cultists, including Mrs.
All of which reinforces my impression that neither Mr. nor Mrs. California here have a clue what they’re doing, sorcery-wise. And it’s gonna take a miracle for them to pull off banishing me the hell back home.
Maybe if I can get one of them to run through the ritual more or less properly, I can siphon some of my own energy into the spell to fuel it. Wish I’d gotten a goddamn full night’s sleep; gonna have to muster whatever juice I can.
For starters, I tune into the jackass in the hot tub voyeuring his wife. Sipping his G&T, heart rattling, thinking his miscellaneous bullcrap. I still my body and mind, matching my energetic resonance to his (ignoring the actual content of his thoughts). Tapping into the intricate web in the fabric of reality stretching between us. Such that any trembling in him will carry through the web and into me.
And then I rustle the ivy.
I hear the last jingle of an ice cube in his glass as his body stiffens. I hear his breath stop (voluntary) and his heart race even faster (not). I wonder if there’s any chance he’s coked out enough for a heart attack? If I ingest it right, scaring him to death could give me even more juice than killing him directly. Better stay hid for now, to maximize the shock of the big reveal when he finally sees me.
Hmm. And let’s hope that her loathing of him masks a long-starved, disappointed, yet profound love for him. Her grief at his death could be just the final bit of oomph to get me out of here.
I stay hid in the darkness as he, in his shadows, turns his head ever so slowly towards me in my shadows. Trying to see something which he is now all too sure is, actually, something. His mind races with fears of dreadful beasts brought forth from some nether world. And races with the sudden (and rather long overdue in my opinion) realization that the only protective spell in her ritual was a circle around herself, leaving him totally exposed to demonic attack (not to mention buck naked).
And, embarrassingly enough, his mind is also occupied by a large helping of envy and inferiority that this “ditz” had managed a feat he himself never had: the physical manifestation of an otherworldly entity. Embarrassing yet not surprising.
I rustle and pause, rustle and pause, allowing him to glimpse only the vaguest shadowy presence moving slowly past him through the trees… towards the bedroom. Could that be just a housecat? Or a big fat East Bay raccoon? Or maybe a massive hellhound stalking his wife.
Deliciously, his thoughts are all aclamor with the feud in his mind over what to do to save her. He must warn her, the woman he once loved, and (poignantly) the woman he could learn to love again… if only they could get another chance, instead of being eaten by a demon right about now….
Versus his certainty that exiting the hot tub and racing naked and dripping across the deck would be his final act as a living man. As would a shouted warning.
So, the winner is: a self-deceptive hope that maybe, just maybe, her protective circle would keep the beast at bay (a little bit amnesiac about the fact that he was just harping on what a shitty sorceress she is)… keep it at bay just long enough for him to run for help….
Also in the mix are a scattering of visions of being eaten alive, either or both of them; and him bargaining with me to spare her and eat him, or to spare him and eat her; and images of other women he wished he’d married instead, those he slept with, those he hadn’t slept with and wished he had, blah blah motherfuckin’ blah. His heart is racing pretty fast, but he’s such a predictable, insincere, self-important, self-absorbed prick it’s hard to resist just killing him right the fuck now.
Might as well give the heart attack a shot, though. Could be comical. As well as practical; gotta get outta here.
I leap out of the dark at him. He shrieks, flings his gin and tonic at me. I land looming over him, forepaws on the edge of the tub, snout near his face. And he doesn’t fight or flee. He doesn’t start gasping and grab his arm or chest. Actually, actually, he splashes me with water. Yes, he really does that. It’s touching, in a way; the little ways you humans get programmed to reflexively act like ineffectual ninnies. So fragile; so endearingly flawed. So human.
His terror flows orgasmically through me.
But not a heart attack. Oh well.
I grab his head in my jaws, haul him out of the tub, and slam his body against the deck. His ultimate feelings of horror come over me in a wave. I shake him, vertebrae grinding seductively against one another between my teeth, skull flexing in my jaws but not cracking. His fear and pain provide a dizzying rush. In the background, as if far in the distance – or behind a protective circle, perhaps – I can feel the faint shriek of woe and surprise coming from the Mrs., a tasty hint of courterpoint to the heady sensation from devouring Mr.
I step on his torso with a huge paw and pull his head off. Crush it in my jaws like a walnut. His life-force howls, gusting into the vortex of my heart. Where it burns brightly. Entranced, I savor the exquisite aromas of his soul.
It’s tempting to just suck on it till it’s gone, but “how many licks” is not the name of the game here, it’s “get the fuck off this stupid planet.” Especially this decade, ugh; nothing to look forward to but the “Reagan Era.” No thanks, man, been there done that, and the hardcore punk scene isn’t enough to make up for the rest of it. I snap out of my soul-sucking high and proceed through the french doors.
She crouches there amid her candles, screaming and clutching her book, mind a torrent of everything you’d expect. But I can’t focus on any particular details; the euphoria from her husband’s soul is almost more than I can handle. Maintain, dude, maintain. I look at her. Hard not to feel a little sad, seeing a bug squirming so, whilst its wings are torn off.
Then again, hard to resist pressing such a big button. So I spit out her husband’s slightly-smooshed head onto the floor just outside her ring of candles. She freaks on a whole new level; it’s pretty amazing.
I sit and watch her as she shrieks. “Dude,” I say, glancing pointedly at the book. Yes, she fucking clutches the book and shrieks.
I roll my eyes. Knock over a candle with my paw, breaking her protective circle. I look pointedly back and forth between her face and the book. She clutches it and shrieks.
I take a deep breath. Snatch the book away, fling it open on the floor, nose through it to the goddamn chapter of banishing spells.
But when I get to the page she is gasping, too much for the poor critter, the aforementioned cokehead heart attack has made an appearance after all. God fuckin’ dammit. “Amateurs!” I roar in her face. “Dilettantes!” She makes croaking noises and I suck out her soul.
Staring at the book with my mind roiling, I start trying to settle myself into the banishing spell, but it isn’t easy. Riding the disorientation of the double whip-it soul hit. Trying to parse this stupid rendition of a banishing spell into actual usable magic. Trying to mentally transcribe an on-the-fly inversion, so it works on the caster as the subject of his own spell…. But I can barely focus, barely wrap my head around the intricate geometries. And the two souls are so delicious, I can barely resist just devouring them both outright. But no. The banishing spell, save them for the spell….
Then there are shouts and gunshots and I barely know what’s going on. It’s the last straw. I simply go berserk. Both souls burn up inside me and burst forth as gouts of flame. Men in uniform burning and screaming. Curtains afire, trees catching, copmeat sizzling and popping. More souls sucked into my gullet but I’m maxed out, wasted upon wasted, and the souls of dead pigs just get puked back up as fire that engulfs the house, the neighbors’ houses, the hillside.
And the goddamn book.
I find myself staggering off into the neighborhood, drunk as fuck on soulstuff, trying in vain to stick to the shadows. Now and then I puke a bush on fire.
Four days after taking office as Mayor of Corpsewater I tell the Ostler I’m headed up the ridge to fight monsters.
He exclaims three different counterarguments without a gap: “You’ll surely be slain! Alone? The prophecies that foretold your arrival said nothing of you departing so soon!”
“Yeah but,” I rebut, “your Oracle said I’d go after Zebdod after he took the third consecutive kid. He’s taken three of your kids.”
“Yes,” he tries again, deflated, “but why go so soon? The children are eaten, there is nothing we can do for them, and he will not take another for another year. Stay. At least a while.”
I take the pschent off of my head (finally). The mayoral symbol of office is a two-tiered cloth and leather conical hat sprouting gaudy feathers at the peak. Old jeans and t-shirts are more the mode for me, and this thing has been a bit much. “Here.” I hand it to him.
He puts his hands up as if to ward it off. “I cannot be Mayor.”
“How about you can be my, like, regent,” I tell him. “’Acting Mayor.’ Just till I get back.” I put the thing on his head, despite his halfhearted attempt to fend me away or dodge out from under it. As soon as I cap his shaggy black mop with it, he stands still.
“If you insist,” he says, clearly of two minds on the matter. “No Ostler has ever worn the pschent, despite generations without a Mayor.”
“Exactly,” I tell him. “Might as well burn that thing.”
He looks at me aghast.
“You’ve proven the village of Corpsewater doesn’t need a Mayor,” I persist, “Right? So you don’t need a pschent. Probably not even an Ostler, truth be told.”
At this he laughs, incredulous. “Of course our Inn needs an Ostler,” he scoffs. “It weighs on my brow to mind the contents of our storereoom, so no one ever goes hungry.” He points proudly to his own chest with both thumbs in a gesture that’d be cartoonish back on earth.
“Sure sure,” I reply, starting to break away. “My point is just, do whatever you want with the hat, I don’t care, I just don’t think you need it. I’ll burn it for you if you want.” He looks aghast again. I back up a step, wave, turn, and walk off a little awkwardly between the huts towards the palisade gate, leaving the tall wooden inn behind.
“Do not let Zebdod slay you, O Mayor!” the Ostler calls after me.
“Sure sure,” I say over my shoulder.
• • •
I mosey along the dirt path past occasional villagers tending and lounging in their acres of half-wild gardens. Some casually hail me, some stare, a few ask, “Back before dinner, Mayor?”
To which I lie, “Oh yes, of course,” since only after dark can I reasonably expect to run into Zebdod. Fortunately these folk don’t pry much, so I’m not required to prevaricate further. More than one person holds up a handful of the beautiful vegetables they’re gathering, though, destined for tonight’s table, and sings some tantalizing praises of the exquisite dishes planned for it. Too bad. I’ll be back for morning meal, though. The food here is outstanding; it’ll be a shame to leave. I amble on towards the woods and the lowering sun, admiring the vibrant greenery, flowers, and fruits.
As soon as I’m past the gardens I call Beth via my telepaphone implant, catching her by surprise. “You ok?” she exclaims. “Need me to pull you out?”
“No no,” I say, “it’s all good, why?”
“You’ve only been gone an hour,” she says, “not even. I was worried they’re stringing you up already.”
“Naw,” I reply. “It’s been three days on this end. Everything’s smooth so far.”
“Phew,” she says. “So the prophecy took?”
“Yeah, we planted it just fine,” I tell her. “And we timed this trip right, it’s thirteen generations later. They made me Mayor right away, fed me for three days, asked me to weigh in on a couple of interpersonal disputes, and now I’m on my way to find Zebdod now. So, heads up, now’s when things’ll get hinky if they’re gonna get hinky. Please be ready to bop me outta here.”
“Ok whew,” she repeats. “Sorry, baby, I was just in the middle of an 80s Twilight Zone. Spooked, hah.”
“Haha, which one?” I ask.
“That Ellison story ‘Shatterday,’ starring Bruce frickin’ Willis?”
“Oh, creepy as fuck, right?” I remark.
“Right?” she concurs.
“Did Ellison adapt the teleplay?” I ask.
“Didn’t see,” she says, “but the director? Wes Craven, no joke.”
“Oh, ha, that’s perfect.”
“I’ll check the writer credit when I rewind it,” she says.
“Cool,” I say, “anyway, keep your ears on, darlin’. At this rate I’ll prolly be facing down that skullhead cave crawler in just a couple minutes your time.”
“Ugh,” she says. “Be fucking careful, baby.”
“Couple minutes if the relative timestream ratio holds, that is,” I continue, dodging the implicit topic of my relative combat-unworthiness compared to her or, say, Jack Waghalter, the can-do-no-wrong action-hero macho asshole cognate version of me from a parallel earth.
“I hope so,” she says, unintentionally rubbing it in: “I hate when you do solo shit.”
“Sorry, baby,” I tell her, hoping to avoid the topic of why she’s not here. Normally Beth’s got the thickest skin of anyone, but she doesn’t need to risk seeing any dead kids right now. Not now. I’m sad about the miscarriage, but she’s devastated. “I’ll get this over as quick as I can. You know I’ve got more than enough gizmos to stay safe.”
“I hope so,” she repeats, softer.
“I wanna stick around for at least one meal if I can, though,” I continue. “These people can fucking cook.”
“You gotta bring me back something, then,” she says.
“Of course,” I scoff playfully. “How am I not gonna bring home leftovers for m’love?”
“Just checking,” she says. “You be fucking careful,” unwittingly reminding me one last time of my unmanliness relative to Jack Waghalter. Great. I try not to dwell on it.
“I promise,” I manage.
“Love you,” she says.
“Love you,” I tell her, “across the multiverse and back, literally,” and hang up.
The overgrown scrub meadows roll ahead to the dark, wild edge of the woods. The sun looms low over the tangled trees. Lurking somewhere within, some kind of serial kid-killing supernatural beast.
• • •
Unlike most runs Beth and I have undertaken over the years, this one doesn’t call for stealth. I want Zebdod to find me; tracking him down in this forest would be an impossible chore. I’ve got a mid-range motion sensor pilfered from the Reality Patrol which’ll pick up anything bigger than a bug within a mile or so, but that won’t do me any good if Zebdod simply stands still. I also can’t count on it to pick him up if he’s lurking in a cave, which seems not unlikely according to the few folk tales they have about him back at the village – though no one has a clue where his lair might specifically be, if he does have one. “In a pit in the darkest woodlands” is all they have for me, as it’s phrased, more or less, in the various rhymes about him. Which does nothing to narrow it down given the way the thick old trees cut out all the last remaining daylight as soon as I step within. I rummage in my d-pockets for my dark-vision goggles and the sensor. Struggling to get the goggles over my head, I drop the sensor. “Fucking fuck.” With both hands free I get the elastic band around my skull, pulling my hair, poking myself in the eye with the edge of one eyepiece. “Ow.” I seat both eyepieces over my eyesockets, adjust the headband so it’s not covering either of my ears (yanking my hair some more in the process), fidget with the eyepieces. Not comfortable. Adjust the elastic. Too tight. Too loose. Fidget with the eyepieces some more, get them tolerably situated, take a deep breath. Turn on the goggles. Gray blur. Turn them up.
Even with the dark-vision goggles at maximum intensification, the gnarled trees are terrifying. Boles and limbs and spindly twigs tangle in all directions, cross-hatching the sky and my surroundings into black invisibility. A chill runs through me. Any hope of calm is definitively gone. Only now do I notice the eerie silence. I momentarily wish for some comforting sounds, but the thought of multiple mysterious skitterings around me in the dark only serves to deepen my scare. I kneel and retrieve the fallen sensor from the bare, narrow path. It seems fine, though it shows not a hint of movement within range. Which means either that the woods are as impossibly still as they seem, windless, deathly, or the gizmo is just busted inside someway or other. Fuck.
I flick on my belt buckle deflector shield, hoping it’ll hold against Zebdod’s claws long enough for Beth to bop me out of here if it comes to that. Resigned, I start along the path into the forest, towards Zan-Zerkin’s Ridge.
The goggles provide a continuous distracting discomfort, and despite my best efforts to hold the scanner still I keep finding one hand or another drifting up to fidget. My eyes keep squinting and scrunching which also doesn’t really help. I partly lift an eyepiece to double-check if maybe there’s enough moonlight or starlight to do without the goggles, but it’s fucking black so that’s that. It crosses my mind that I’m awfully dependent upon these technologies of goggles and scanner and if either fails I’m effectively blinded. For example if I were attacked by a four-clawed skull-beast and his initial pounce smashed the scanner and dislodged the goggles. Then again the telepaphone is implanted deep enough in my head that any harm to it could only occur beyond the point where I’d care about escaping, ‘vegetative’ as they call it if not outright beheaded. So Beth will be able to get me out of here if there’s still a me here to get out. Worst case scenario we scrub, she gets me home before Zebdod gets through the ablative deflector shield, and we try this mission again in another timeline.
I ponder whether there’s anything I could do to medicate away any of this anxiety. Maybe in very small doses, but it seems anything that might cut the fear would likely also dull my wits and my reaction time when the emergency happens. So I’ll tough it out without booze or drugs. Drag, though.
Something flickers onto the scanner, running onscreen and vanishing a centimeter in. I stop in my tracks and stare at the seamless black mirror face. I force my eyes not to wander from the spot where the speck of light stopped, fighting also to keep my hands, arms, and stance still enough to not lose their relative position. Can’t miss that if it moves again, even for an instant, and that spot is where it’ll be moving from. Assuming he can’t just teleport. Fuck I hope he doesn’t teleport. Nothing happens. I hear nothing. Trying to stay still helps contain my anxiety, drawing it in from my limbs, but the basic fear still flutters insistently in my belly. Times like these are not inconvenient for digestive troubles. Surely I have something to quell my guts in a d-pocket, once I can move. Which is not yet. Though I’m trying to be found, I would very much like to know, at least a little bit in advance, when it is frickin’ happening. So I stare at the blank screen, goggles unfortunately enabling me to see the reflected outlines of the spooky branches interlacing overhead, like the cover photo on an experimental black metal album. Not helping my calm.
Then a circle of light expands across the screen, radiating out from a point pretty close to where I’m staring, a wide concentric band of intricate lace spreading to the edges of the screen. For a second I don’t know what I’m seeing. Then I hear it. A wall of wind blows through the trees, rushing over me and beyond: a distant rustling at first, fast approaching, then shoving past with a gentle roar that diminishes swiftly to a distant whisper, perfectly matching the depiction in light on the scanner screen. Then absolute silence once more, and darkness to match the silence. This precise correlation between sight and sound – the visual corroboration of auditory detail – gives me a moment of clarity of hearing I’ve never experienced before. Not unlike the depth of soundscape of, say, a quadrophonic prog rock album; but infinitely more intricate. Psychedelic. It’s moments like this that really fuel my love for this life I’ve chosen. Sure, I love experiencing the landscapes, cultures, and cuisines of the multiverse; I love tampering with timestreams, trying to mitigate some of the wrongdoings of the Reality Patrol (or at least fuck with them); and I love love love that almost all the time I get to do it with Beth. But these moments, truly unearthly, that could not happen without the strangest conflation of parameters – in this case the simultaneous presence of a spooky forest, a wind-control spell, a high-tech motion scanner, and a subject experiencing them all with highly focused attention – these are jewels in the life of an interdimensional scofflaw.
Neurotic and anxious as I may often be, I’m able to relax into this digressive train of thought because I know exactly what this is. Zebdod’s creator specialized in air magic (among other things, such as making monsters like Zebdod), and imbued many of his creations and apprentices with such powers. Makes sense he’d give Zebdod at least the ability to make creepy breezes in the woods. (Of course, Zebdod might also be able to fly – his master, as I’d observed in a parallel timestream when I was much younger, could fly fast, might as well be dealing with a damn teleporter, almost.) But even though this wind is admittedly scary as fuck, giving me genuine gooseflesh plus a cascade of chill down my back, his ploy serves to locate him definitely, if only momentarily, in time and space. I’m ready. Ready as I’ll be, anyways.
I mentioned that stealth is not my aim here. I bust a megaphone out of a d-pocket – I think it was Beth’s back in her Ohlone City rebellion days – and hit its siren for a few short deafening blurps. Bloop. Blup. Blurp. Blup. Bloooop. Loud as they are, the forest’s silence rushes back in quick. Nothing on the scanner. I start walking. The faint path through the woods starts angling upwards, heading somewhat in the direction the wind came from. Another fat lacey dot appears, rapidly spreading out into an open circle of light washing across the shadowy, glassy screen. When the wind hits me this time it’s far less creepy; kind of hokey and sad, to be honest. I start singing through the megaphone, a snotty grade school playground tune:
Zebdod Zebdod Zebdod C’mon come on and get me Get a life you asshole Don’t eat kids you asshole Gonna trap you With some magic Fuck you blah-blah la-la pthhhht La-la blah-blah pthhhht
And so on, continuing with blah-blahs and raspberry fart noises for a little while and then pausing to assess. Silence. I put away the megaphone. Fumble in other d-pockets for a stungun. The scanner in my left hand still shows no sign of movement, oh no wait, here’s another radiating circle of wind, followed by a dot sprinting away from the epicenter. Gotcha! I start to run, ignoring the oncoming wall of wind, keeping one eye glued to the departing dot, the other on the increasingly steep dirt trail underfoot. I can almost perceive four little scampering limbs deforming the circumference of the hi-res scanner dot that is Zebdod. I guess I don’t blame him for running. He’s prolly trying to lead me into an ambush, not knowing about the scanner. Wait, that doesn’t make sense, I couldn’t see him without the scanner. But this train of thought is interrupted.
As the wind hits, so do two creatures leaping onto me out of the shadows, one man-sized and spidery, the other half that big and also spidery. Of course: concealed from both my scanner and my ears by sprinting along within the wall of wind. I guess that confirms these guys are Zebdod’s, if they can exactly match the timing of his wind. They slam me onto my back. The scanner and stunner go flying from my grip. The deflector shield defends me from any harm from the fall or from these creatures’ claws, at least for now, but deflector shields aren’t great against continuous sustained pressure. Such as all these claws. Wish I’d thought to turn down the scanner’s sensitivity so it hadn’t blinded me with every shivering twig. I try to wrestle my way out from these things, but it seems like they have at least a dozen limbs between them, all clawing at me. Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. I’m about to call Beth but I realize wait, pause, no need to bop out of here just yet, actually think for a sec about all other options. What else have I got on me? I manage to get one hand into a weapons d-pocket, pull out a grenade and promptly detonate it in my hand. A stun grenade will knock these things for a loop and barely scratch the deflector shield. Oh, but this isn’t a stun grenade, it’s a frag grenade that knocks me sideways out from under these two fiends, deafens me despite the shield and dazes me completely, meanwhile blasting them off of me and away. Burnt blood splatters my shield and hovers two inches from my face. The big one lands next to me with a thump, the small one flies against a gnarled tree trunk and drops motionless onto its roots. The creature beside me resembles a spider constructed of melted human parts. Two small mouths of peg teeth snap at the air a few times and then fall still. My deflector shield flickers and dies, dropping lukewarm burnt-smelling blood onto my face and hands. The thing beside me begins to transmute, quickly metamorphosing back into the twisted but recognizable corpses of two children tangled together, their flesh freshly mangled by my shrapnel. Across some nearby roots lies another child, its body ruined half by Zebdod’s transmogrification of it, half by my exploding razor bomb, breathing out its last in a short series of feeble, wet sucking sounds.
So I can’t help but wonder whether these kids could have been restored, with a spell or something, without being killed. Seems pretty likely.
Really glad Beth isn’t here. Wish I wasn’t here. This isn’t happening. Somewhere in another timestream, this actually factually isn’t happening, this never happened, I was never here. I want to be there in that somewhere else. But no, my presence is the cause of this and there is no escape, there is no safe space.
I do my best to table this line of thought till a later date, lest it impede, say, my will to live at some crucial instant in the near future, allowing Zebdod to finish me off whether or not that’s actually what I deserve for this. I’d rather such a decision be made in cold blood after careful consideration. I also do my best not to get into a philosophical/political debate with myself about how often we actually change things for the better in the world rather than for the worse. Numb and a bit manic, I find myself running overland, scanner and stunner back in my hands, screen cracked but legible. I can tell from the deadened sensation of my feet against the ground, of foliage whipping across me with only the faintest whisper of a touch, that I must have activated my backup deflector shield, though I do not remember doing so. I’m racing straight for Zebdod, as shown by the scanner. The ridge crests in a line of large boulders. Clambering over one and leaping to another, my foot lands on a patch of a moss or a rotted log and slips out from under me like a classic banana peel gag. I take a spill that would have been truly awful without the deflector shield, struggle to get my limbs organized for a second, and race down the slope on the other side of Zan-Zerkin’s ridge. It crosses my mind that I never did find out who or what Zan-Zerkin is or was. I see Zebdod himself, then, standing in the shadows, crouching low on his spindly talons, his entire body a huge, golden humanoid skull. It snaps its clacking jaws at me and dives into a small cave mouth.
All the better; I thought I was going to have to bind him to the side of a hill and then cover him with boulders or something. Filing away the scanner and stunner in their respective d-pockets, I retrieve the scroll I brought with me from the Archive, read aloud the binding spell, and trap Zebdod forever in that cave. Then I ask Beth to bring me home.
From the forthcoming comic book Weird Luck #0, a four-page adaptation of Andrew M. Reichart’s short story “Water Damage” by Mike Bennewitz.
The original story was first published in The Blunt Letters #4; full text of the story is below the comic.
by Andrew M. Reichart
When I say a motherfucker’s fish-faced I’m not saying protuberant eyes like Shelly Duvall, I’m talking like oblong head, and piranha teeth, and gills. Amphibious though. Says he doesn’t mind the pollution in the Bay, but what would he know, he’s never set a webbed foot in clean water. And he did want that salmon from up north. He didn’t look entirely healthy to me to be honest. Though what would I know, not like I’ve ever known a healthy Deep One for comparison. I’m at the End of the World, beside the water, amid the debris, setting a fire in the fire pit for later, when he shows up. Sneaks up. Motherfucker has a beer can full of Bay water which he upends over my tinder and kindling.
“Dude,” I tell him.
“No goddamn fire, thanks,” he snaps.
“That was for later.” I sit on an old milk crate, defeated.
“This is the fuckin’ Estuary,” he says, testily. “Idunno where you think you are, but I’m not fuckin’ around.”
“Look, chill, man,” I say.
“You got the salmon?” he hisses.
“You. Got. The. Salmon.”
“In my car,” I tell him.
“And what the hell good that does me?” He points to the nearest car, thirty yards away, up on cinderblocks beside a shanty. “That your car?”
“No,” I scoff. “Duh.”
“So where the fuck’s my salmon?”
“Well come get it with me!” I tell him. “It’s heavy!”‘
“Are you fuckin’ shitting me?” he asks.
“Are you fuckin’ shitting me?”
“You expect me to walk inland with you,” he says, “in broad daylight, down that alley, past those shacks, and into the street?”
“Yeah, and I expect you to carry a goddamn crate of salmon, too, man, c’mon, those are like forty pounds each!”
He stares at me with one bulbous eye. Scornfully, I’m pretty sure. Then turns his head and stares at me scornfully with his other bulbous eye.
I hike back through the rushes, past the car on blocks, between the shacks, over to the street. Stagger back under a crate of fish. I pause to give the Deep One a dirty look, but he just waves me away. I stagger back under another crate.
“Books?” I ask.
He reaches behind the weatherbeaten standup piano, under the pallet lean-to, and pulls out a cardboard crate. Drops it at my feet. It’s full of skinny old paperback books. I grab one – Roger Zelazny’s Creatures of Light and Darkness. Far out! I never see this around anymore. Dunno how long it’s been out of print. While I’m paging through it, the Deep One hurls the contents of one crate, then the other, out into the water. I’m vaguely conscious of a disturbance in the shallows as his fellows grab the salmon. I look up to see the book-merchant dive in and vanish.
I check the rest of the books in the crate. Out of print titles from the sixties, seventies, and eighties. Water damaged, most of them. Hella water damaged. Pages wrinkled like they’d been crimped. Covers of adjacent books stuck together. Legible, at least, for the most part, I guess. But mildewy.
I shake my fist at the Bay and trudge back to my car with my fucked-up books.