This year Clive Barker had a contest over at Deviant Art to have writers put story to his painting; The Men in the City. It wasn’t a formal contest with prizes or anything, but Clive would read them all and pick out his favorites. There were a lot of submissions and I seriously doubt he had the time to read them all. Mine wasn’t selected, but the one he picked was pretty damn cool and it was a fun exercise. Here’s my contribution.
Amon Rajan did not face the room as he regarded the cityscape through the massive glass window. He appeared as a trim silhouette against the sunset and kept his hands tucked in the small of his back. It was melodramatic, aloof, and, with any luck, frustrated his host.
“Will you come sit down already?” Marion asked.
“I can hear you from here.” He replied.
The old woman exhaled her frustration, got up from where she’d been sitting, and walked to the bar. She splashed a pair of glasses half full and joined him. He took it, sniffed the carmel aroma, and raised an eyebrow.
“So, Marion, what is it you’d like to discuss that’s worth a thousand dollar drink?”
“You, Amon. Always you.”
He smiled. This was good. It confirmed that the ball was still in his court. “Don’t tell me I’m going to get a lecture about rocking the boat from you too?”
Marion took a sip. “A lecture? No. But there are things you should know. Things you’re not aware of.”
“I doubt that.” In the time since announcing his intentions he’d heard every opposition argument there was. There was nothing she could say he hadn’t already considered.
“There are things in this world that are meant to die.” She said.
“Is that a threat?”
“No. A reality. This path of reclamation you’re on. No good will come of it.”
“Oh, the perils of sustainability. Besides, since when do people like you give a damn about good when there’s money to be made?”
“Only when it has consequences.”
He scoffed. “Another threat?”
She leveled a serious gaze at him. She was three times his age and a part of him always felt like a child when she looked at him. He hated it.
“I’m not threatening you. I’m warning you.”
Amon downed his drink, crossed the room, and poured another without asking. “And why, after years of trying to destroy my business, would you warn me of anything?”
She ignored his presumption. “I’d rather push you down than watch you trip on something you don’t see. So I’m showing you. That way, when you ignore me and cock it up, I get to own it.”
Amon swirled his drink. She was full of shit. She had to be. There was nothing he hadn’t considered.
“So, go ahead, spill it. What dire iceberg lurks just below my horizon?”
She left the spot at the window and sat down on the sofa. She’d flipped the power balance on him and was enjoying the experience. Amon was not.
“This city is old. Far older than history books claim. There is a soul to this place; ghosts in the streets, spirits in the stones. There are things, actual entities, beyond your sight. What you’re about to do will anger them.”
“You’re kidding me. The spirit of the city? What are you playing at?”
“I am not speaking figuratively. I mean it quite literally.”
She’d brought him here to tell him a ghost story in hopes that he’d change his plans? Amon relaxed. The old bird had lost her faculties. Sure, she seemed articulate, but senility had obviously taken hold of the woman. He decided to let her ramble.
“Long before this city existed we humans bartered to be taken out of the wilderness. Civilization is a gift. But more than that; it is a weapon given to us for the destruction of nature. It is meant to scourge as it proliferates. The beings who bestowed us this miracle grow as it does. They want the world to be stone and steel, fumes and foulness. Humanity is supposed to wield their blessings to this end. But you, Amon, have crafted solar buildings that don’t produce waste. You’ve made a fortune in recycling. And now you are planning to tear down a perfectly good neighborhood and replace it with… trees.” She spit the word out with contempt.
“I am certain they will not approve.” She declared.
Amon let out a small laugh. “Well, it’s a damn good thing I don’t give a shit about getting anyone’s approval, let alone the imaginary soul of civilization.”
She got up from the couch and joined him. “You’ve corrupted the tool they granted us to purge nature and you’re going use it to reverse their progress. By all means, go right ahead, ignore me. I expect no less of you.”
She raised her glass and smiled brightly. “Cheers?”
He clinked it and returned the smile, mildly sad that his rival had become unhinged. He’d miss her machinations.
The ribbon cutting went perfectly. In fact, everything was going exactly as he’d hoped. It had taken over a decade of civil planning and major projects and bribes big enough to dizzy a mathematician, but he’d done it. Not only was the entire city neighborhood of Collingsfoll green, it was energy independent. But, most importantly, it made money. Serious money.
Despite the time, cost, and effort, now that it was finished, Collingsfoll was deep into the black. It would recoup itself and more. His idea worked. It would be duplicated everywhere; towns, suburbs, entire cities.
And he held key to it all.
As his private helicopter set down on his penthouse rooftop, he entertained himself by trying to say the word ‘trillionaire’ without smiling. He couldn’t.
Lucinda met him on the pad. He raised his voice over the rotors. “I’m looking to celebrate tonight, Lucy. Tell me you’ve got some party bags for me.”
She tipped her head. “Yes, sir. I didn’t know what you’d be in the mood for so I set up seven.”
“Like you said, it’s a night worth celebrating.”
He patted her on the shoulder as they entered the loft. “What would I do without you Lucy?”
“I hesitate to guess.” She replied.
She helped him out of his suit coat and he loosened his tie. “Breakdown?”
“Four female, three male, two African American, one Latino, one Korean, the rest white. None of them are pro’s. All first timers.”
“Oh honey, you have outdone yourself!”
She released a rare smile. “I aim to please.”
“Do they know what they’re in for?”
“Unlikely, but they’ve been more than adequately compensated. Did you need anything else tonight? I was going to catch the heli before it left.”
“No, Lucinda, this is perfect. I’ll see you in the morning.”
She headed back to the balcony. “Congratulations again, sir. Have a nice night. You deserve it.”
Amon agreed. He did deserve it. He headed for his studio.
It was spacious, had a high ceiling, and was empty of furnishings. There were concrete pillars that rose up into the dark. The floor was black. Seven pale blue spotlights illuminated his ‘party bags’.
Nude figures, vacu-sealed in clear plastic, were stood upright in large metal frames. Each had a small ring near their mouths to allow breathing. Their bodies were smashed, flattened, and distorted by the process. They were floating in various near embryonic positions. None of them were capable of moving on their own. There was a tiny table in the center of the room with a silver tray on it. Stainless steel sex toys were set alongside several knives, syringes, and a pair of shears. There were plugs for shutting off their air holes.
Amon strolled among them, inspecting his playthings. He ran his right hand above their encased flesh, outlining without touching. His left slid down to his crotch in anticipation. It was going to be a long night.
A voice spoke from the shadows.
“So, this is Nature’s champion then?”
Amon spun at the sound. His studio was sacred and his security state of the art. There shouldn’t be anyone here. He stepped to the tray and picked up the scissors.
“Whoever the fuck you are you just made a serious mistake!”
A figure emerged from the gloom. His face was pale and he wore a pair of circular black disk sunglasses common to the blind. His suit was blue and matched the ridiculous hat he wore; a large affair made to look like a skyscraper. He stood on the edge of the light.
Amon pulled his phone from his pocket and slid his thumb across the screen to unlock it. Nothing happened. The stranger continued.
“That won’t be any help. You are now beyond aid, Mr.Rajan.”
Amon dropped the useless device. “Who the hell are you?”
The man stepped closer. “You were warned. A gift most men who meet us never get. You deemed us imaginary. Erroneous. Logical, but erroneous.”
As it closed in on one of the suspended bodies, and into the light, he could see it more clearly. He realized that it wasn’t wearing a hat. The man’s head, in fact, grew into a small building. Smoke trailed from the top of it.
“Your depravity surprises me, but then, it shouldn’t. It is foolish to think that just because you oppose us you are in any way virtuous. The error is mine.” He touched the nearest body and the bag bubbled red. Blood pooled in the tight plastic from wounds that sprouted due to the proximity of his hand. The taught casing trembled and a gurgling sound emerged from the air hole.
Amon backed away. “What the fuck?”
“You’ve made some enemies Mr.Rajan. I’ve been instructed to bring you home. There are those who’d like to meet you.”
“I’m not going anywhere with you!”
The man nodded, his building tipped precariously as he did. “No, not like that you’re not. I could never see your world with my spirit eyes. They had to go. And you, you can’t see my world with yours. What do you think needs to happen?”
Amon brandished the scissors, realizing he was almost out of room to back up. “You’re insane!”
Heedless of Amon’s weapon, the man approached. When he was close enough, Amon lunged. The metal tool struck the stranger in the chest, leaving a hole in his suit, but beneath, there was no damage. He tried again, stabbing as hard as he could. He might as well have been striking the sidewalk for all the good it did. His foe was akin to stone.
The man grabbed him by the neck. His fingers were cold and rough like fine sandpaper. Amon kicked, fought, and screamed as the man in sunglasses scooped his right eye out with statuesque fingers. He dropped it on the floor, stepped on it, and ground it flat.
Amon could see the building on the thing’s head with his remaining eye. He thought he could see tiny people inside, moving back and forth, going about their business. But before he could be sure, the fingers were back, digging mercilessly into his skull. Blindness descended in a wet agony and his mind followed into the dark. Amon lost consciousness.
When Amon woke he saw with things that were not eyes.
There was a swath of dark city stretched out before him, belching smoke and smeared with soot. It moved, undulating like the sea. It wasn’t really buildings though; they were men. Men with disfigured heads, crowding and circling all around. There was an incessant chattering of deep voices. They called him a betrayer to destruction. A servant of the women. Dirt fucker. Scum. He would receive their punishment. Thousands of faces leered beneath the structures, grimacing at him in anger.
But not all.
One of them, with tiny, circular, sunglasses, was smiling.