A new except from our novel in progress, delving into the darker side of our journey. Here, we meet two other players in our tale and witness just what they’re really capable of…
Just north of the Barrens on the glittering edge of the Atlantic Ocean lies a different landscape entirely. From a field of lush vibrancy and evergreen life, we give way to a world of towering steel, metal and glass. One populated by an ever-steady stream of traffic, of neon signs advertising the very basest of debauchery and excess. Where one could get most anything they desire for a dollar or two (thousand) and get away with it, without so much a glance from law enforcement.
This magnificent metropolis of sin and delight was known as Paradise City (erroneously assumed to be the namesake of the famed Guns n’ Roses song) and what better place for a denizen of depravity to dwell?
Uriel Ramos was one such individual. He was rather well-to-do supported by a sizable trust fund inherited by his recently deceased father. He was one to look after himself, although he did send a bit of money to his grandmother and little brother Gabriel. He had invited them to come to the city with him, dwell in the lap of luxury but they elected to remain sequestered in the boondocks of the Barrens further south. So be it, he figured, at least he had offered. It’s what Dad would have wanted.
At the dawn of this new day, he staggered through unfamiliar territory. His mid level apartment hadn’t seemed so far away than it did right now. He had succumbed to the temptations of the night, spent the evening with a few buddies from work. Ingested a few substances that would have caused his grandmother to surely tan his hide before disowning him.
Screw it though, right? He was a young man in the city. This particular section of Paradise was known as Siren Alley, so called for the cat calls and come hither looks of those who plied their trade in the oldest profession. You could get whatever you wanted from whomever you wanted if you had a bit of coin. It was still a bit dark out, the sun just coming up so why not indulge in a couple hours of fun?
Uriel’s quest was promptly waylaid by the sound of moaning coming from a nearby alley. The young man rubbed his nose, wiped his bloodshot eyes and took a peek. A side street strewn with trash and refuse, hardly an unfamiliar sight. Further adding to the familiarity, a huddled mass of tarp and cloth from which underneath stirred a living form. He reminded himself to watch his bank account lest he end up like this individual.
It moaned again. He shook his head and turned to leave, no sense in getting involved in something he’d probably have to discuss with the cops. Another stir. He turned back once to look, an act akin to the fate of Lot’s wife. As such he had equally sealed his fate, although not reduced to a pillar of salt.
A hand emerged from beneath the tarp. Ragged, thin, bedecked with tattered and torn nails. It held a cup but it did not ask for a kind donation. The hand flung the cup at the young man, a slosh of brownish liquid, likely expelled from some godforsaken orifice sloshed on his jacket. The hand disappeared just as sudden and the entire collection of coverings lifted up and dashed further down the alley.
Uriel cursed in spanish, another act sure to equate to a matriarchal whooping had his grandmother been present. He wiped it off with a bare hand and it stung where he touched it. The inebriated young man dashed down the side street, eager to apprehend the assailing vagrant. He caught the homeless person quickly, ripped off the tarp and hauled back to give him a good right hook.
Uriel’s arm was caught in mid swing by the tattered hand, deceptively strong. The homeless man emerged from beneath his cover, throwing back the blankets and tarp with a theatrical flourish. Uriel gasped in pain and shock at the visage before him. The man was clad further in covering, yet these were black and equally ragged. It was an old cloak wrapped about a thin waist with a rotting brown belt. The man’s head was bare, clumps of tattered black and grey hair sloughing off even as he looked on in horror. But the face: the face was indiscernible.
A long beaked appendage poked forth, a porcelain mask blocking his face from view. The mask was cracked and held together haphazardly with scotch tape, masking tape, chewed gum…any adhesive that could be scrounged from the dregs. He recognized it as the kind of mask one of those doctors would wear during the black plague epidemic. Uriel had seen it before in movies, in history class. If memory served, there would be some kind of herb or sage placed in the apex of the beak, yet he only smelled more raw, wet filth.
The thing (no chance it was a man) titled Uriel’s arm back further, eliciting a moan of pain to couple with the young man’s gasp of fright. The thing in the mask asked him a question: “Got anything good for me, boy?”
Its voice croaked forth, surprisingly strong and vibrant considering it expelled from a mouth of black enamel stumps and clumps of chunky fluid. The being’s watery, yellow eyes rolled back in its head from behind the mask. It opened its mouth and from deep inside, Uriel heard a buzzing. It grew in intensity and had he a free hand, he would have slapped it over his ears to quell the agony. It was short lived mercifully, as the masked being vomited a deluge into the air. A living, streaming swarm that buzzed with insectoid intensity and fervor. The swarm swiftly engulfed the young man and he fell back, screaming. He screamed for as long as he could before the swarm ate away the flesh in his throat and devoured his vocal cords.
The being opened his mouth wide again and the swarm returned from whence it came. He surveyed his handiwork with a satisfied grunt, sat down cross legged and pulled the remnants of Uriel Ramos closer to his position. He smacked his lips wetly, withdrew a rusted fork and knife and prepared to feast. He had made no more than one incision on the man’s chest when the body was rudely and abruptly flung away from his grasp.
“What the hell?!” he yelled and leaped to his feet. It was not yet dawn and the shadows still danced in the alley. It was from these shaded groves that the intruder emerged. He was tall, gangly, clad in nice, formal attire. He held the corpse aloft by the ankle, an easy feat, and studied it before flinging it further aside.
“Really, now Poxus, have you sunk so low as to slaughter innocents?”
The masked, rotting being known as Poxus rolled his jaundiced eyes. “You’re one to talk, Dolus. I know you’ve been up to no good. I can smell it on you and you smell like shit. And we both know that kid wasn’t innocent.”
Dolus balked at the crude expression. “Yes, well…Be that as it may, you might want to keep a low profile.”
“You know that’s no problem,” Poxed smirked. He demonstrated his wares by vanishing before Dolus’ bored gaze. A simple pile of cloth rested where the plague ridden one had once stood. An instant later, he reformed, his mask reappearing from within the cloak.
Dolus applauded in a manner most sarcastic. “I’m not talking about humans or law enforcement.”
“Good, because I was beginning to think you were bothering me just for the sake of it.”
Dolus smirked. “You’re being hunted, brother.”
Poxus nodded but shrugged. “No big news there. You know how many times I’ve had to fend off these damn kids? They think it’s some kind of game to pick on people on the streets.”
“Maybe not the most sporting prey,” Dolus mused. “No, I’m talking about someone else. A kin of ours, one who sees fit to kill us off one by one.”
“And why should I be concerned with that? Why do you think I migrated out of the Barrens? I have all the family I need, right here.” Poxus spoke and raised his cloak over his bare ankles. A flood of rats, plump and brown swarmed out from beneath.
Dolus stepped back as the rodents chittered and crawled about. They immediately noticed the body of Uriel Ramos and made a beeline for the corpse. Poxus grinned within his mask, feeling a sense of satisfaction as they began their feast. All of his friends, what some would call vermin, they were a part of him. They were his confidants, his army, he himself made flesh and distributed into many squealing and buzzing parts.
And then overhead: A shadow. Dolus grinned in spite of what was about to happen…