Welcome to BigFuture™ BSI

One of the Birds bursts out of the flaming house, right through a fresh trail of flame Brick is laying down on the place, then tears off into the sky above, screeching and squawking like all hell. It’s a horrible thing, all gangly bones and green skin and that giant bony bill lined with razor-sharp teeth. Brick just caught it with the last coming out of his ‘thrower, and I can see through the mask of my suit the thing’s on fire now too, singeing from darkish green to black. It squawks and squawks and flaps its enormous wings; Brick’s throwing more up fire its way but the damn thing’s just out of reach. I hear the rest of the team screaming and hollering, then the sound of automatic fire as they let all hell loose its way.

“Burn it to the ground!” I heard Brick yelling over the din. “No survivors! Can’t let the infection spread!”

The family are running out of the house now, all on fire too: the father’s clothes are nearly burned away and the skin I can see coming through is all black; the mother’s hair is mostly gone and covered in soot and smouldering; and the small child being lead out between them is crying and looks like she crawled through a chimney a damn mile long.

The Bird’s flapping every which way, in its dying throes, slowly falling to earth; Brick finally catches it with a burst of fire and then the horrible creature’s fully ablaze. I look over and he looks back at me before letting another burst go. “What are you waiting for Sphinx, burn ’em! Burn ’em before they get away!”

The father is almost on top of me now and I can see his scared eyes grow wider as I pull the trigger. Flame engulfs him totally and he screams and the sound is horrible and higher pitched than thought it would be. The blast engulfs the woman and child too, and I can see them flailing within it, trying to run; arms, legs, faces, all turning black, skin melting away to charred muscle then bone beneath.

And then for a moment the bright light of them reminds me of my first day, of sitting in what seemed like an ordinary conference room in an ordinary office tower with a group of other ordinary people ready to join a completely ordinary company to work an ordinary 9-to-5 at an ordinary job, and me looking up into the flickering bright light of fluorescent tubes overhead.

A pretty black-haired girl with a short skirt had come in to us waiting expectantly. “Welcome to BigFuture™ BSI,” she’d said. “I am so excited to have all of you here joining us, and to tell you that for each of you, for all of you: your Big Future is a bright one.”

Deathlight

I first saw the light when I was 6, when we were gathered around my 98-year-old grandmother’s bed in the nursing home, surrounded by stale air and signs of old age. It appeared above her head and danced ever so slightly back and forth, like a tiny firefly.

“Do you see that?” I asked my kid brother, Jamie. Mother was holding Grandma’s hand. Dad was crying.

“See what?” Jamie said. Then Grandma let out one final sound and left us forever.

That was when I first knew I was special.

I’ve seen the light many times over my life since then, always appearing just before. I saw a dot of illumination right above Tommy Conway in 8th Grade, right before he got hit by a speeding car as we walked home from school. I shouted but I was too late. My parents said it was a miracle I survived.

I saw the light over and over in Afghanistan; above a new kid’s head right before he took a bullet from a sniper, hovering over Lt. Austin’s helmet while he tried to defuse an IED – my right ear still rings with tinnitus from time to time, above countless men on the other side before I watched them shot dead or blown into millions of pieces.

I’ve retired now, after all that happened, gone back into civilian work but a line no less dangerous. Some of it’s easy and safe, and some of it isn’t, but either way it’s never simple.

Brink and I are standing next to my car in an empty parking lot, the meeting point. One lonely streetlight far away casts the only brightness in a sea of black. He’s a little shaky – the men we’re to meet were said to have Cartel ties.

A Hummer pulls into the lot from the other end, loud rap music blaring out of open windows.

“You ready?” I say.

“Yeah,” says Brink.

I look down at my hands, and see they are shaking too – and faintly illuminated in the darkness with a dancing light from above.

The Three Sounds I Remember from Childhood

I don’t remember a lot from my time growing up on the farm, but I do remember some things, sights and smells mostly, and those three sounds.

I remember the sight of the old oil cans with fading labels in my father’s shop, of his tools hanging on the pegboard against the wall, and his trusty chainsaw on the workshop table, its teeth slighty rusted and dulling, uncared for by him.

I remember the smells: the smell of the oil and transmission fluid leaked out from the broken Chevy onto the garage floor, of cold rain on the wind and the hay in the barn, and of sawdust and sweat when my father came back in from a long day of cutting wood in the back lot.

I remember the sight of broken dishes on the floor, fallen from where they’d shattered on the wall, flung from my parents’ angry hands. I remember the deep red colour of my mother’s face, aflame with rage, and my father’s like stone as he walked out the door. I remember her look of disgust – who cuts wood at this hour of the night? she’d said – when she followed him out to the back lot.

I remember those three sounds, those three sounds that will forever be burned into my memory and never forgotten, no matter how hard I try: the sound of the chainsaw roaring, of my mother’s dying screams, and of my father’s evil laughter echoing out into the night.

Satan

Imagine my surprise when I went into Berenger’s office on Friday afternoon for our regular weekly meeting, and watched him swivel his big leather chair around for him to face me, like he did every time, only to find it wasn’t him sitting in it.

The same immaculate suit, the same cornflower blue tie, the same gold cufflinks, but instead of my boss, the suit was being worn by someone else.

The Devil.

I knew it was him, just as you know in dreams someone you’ve never seen before.

He was beautiful; his skin was perfect beneath his 5 o’clock shadow and he smiled at me showing rows of impossibly perfect white teeth. I was completely charmed and completely terrified.

“Don’t be afraid,” he said, placing his hands palm-down on the mahogany of Berenger’s desk. “I’m not here to harm you.”

“What… what.. what… do you want?” was all I could stammer.

“It is not about what I want,” Satan said, his voice smooth as silk. “It’s about what you want. And I know what you want.”

I swallowed. “You do?”

“You want her to die, don’t you? You wish she was dead, I know you do. You’ve wished it ever since that week you spent together in Cuba for your 20th. Well, my friend, I can make it happen. Do you want it to happen? Are you ready to make a deal with The Devil?” He chuckled at his own joke and grinned. He was beautiful.

“What’s the catch?” I said. “There’s got to be a catch.”

“You have to watch,” he said, still grinning. “That’s the catch.”

I swallowed again, hard. I thought about it. “Ok,” I said. “I will.”

“Do we have a deal?” Lucifer said, extending his hand.

“Deal.” I shook. His hand was as soft as a baby’s skin and warmer than a hand should be.

I knew there would be a catch. I should have known never to make a deal with the devil.

She’s dead, that bitch, and that’s what I always wanted, and now I’m free. But I had to watch her die. Every day I watch her die. Every time I fall asleep. Every time I close my eyes, even for a second, I see her terrified face and the blood and her wide eyes screaming WHY

When I went back into Berenger’s office again on Monday, it was empty.

Día de los Muertos

“I don’t want to be a part of this family any more,” I said, and I saw the look of anguish, of anger, of frustration, of disappointment on my Father’s face. “You don’t care about anyone but yourself, you never have, and the only reason you want me around is to control me.”

And with that I walked out the door and slammed it, and moved to Mexico. That was in 1987.

I told myself I’d never feel bad, never regret it, and I never did. When Dad fell sick in the 90’s, somehow Catherine found my mailing address, I don’t know how, and told me to come as soon as I could. I put the letter in a drawer and forgot about it.

The funeral invite came two months later. I threw it in the trash with a banana peel.

It’s November 2nd now, a big day here in Mexico, Día de los Muertos, The Day of the Dead. I’m out in the market and I see people everywhere, their faces painted like grotesque skulls, all black and white.

In the distance near a stall with bananas I see a figure that is strangely familiar, something about the shape of it, the way it moves, the slow deliberateness.

I watch in horror as it makes it way toward me, and the thing locks it sightlessness face onto mine and does not stray. There is no make-up, no pretend, there is only the bone white of skull and dark empty pits. I see the shirt of the thing is open and there are white ribs poking through rotting flesh and insects wriggling out of burrowed holes.

My feet are frozen in place and I cannot run. The sun beats down on my head, and the spectre makes its way toward me. I see its bleached jawbone waggle and I hear the word only in my mind: Son.

For the first time, I feel bad. But it is too late. Now there is nothing I can do.

The Forever Rain

It started like any other rain at first: a smattering of wetness falling from the sky. Pedestrians strolling on the sidewalk looked up when they felt small drops hit their faces and outstretched palms.

“Looks like rain,” people said then. And it was.

The spitting turned to a downpour, and people ran for cover, unfurled umbrellas, and shielded themselves with newspapers and briefcases. The rain had began in earnest. I remember where I was when that happened: I’d been sitting out on the patio of Cafe Fontaine having an espresso. That was four months ago.

Like a disease, a black plague, a rolling tide of judgement, the dark clouds slowly made their way everywhere, and with them, the rain came. The reports of rapidly rising floodwaters were first only from the interior, then all across the country.

The rain falls. My wife sits beneath a soaked blanket with my young daughter as I slowly paddle our tiny boat, my arms stiff and sore and cold, between the rows of streetlights. The highway they lined is beneath us, submerged along with so many abandoned cars filling it; futile attempts to escape the rising floods, already then too late.

Up ahead is an overpass. We are nearly level with its bottom, the water has risen so high. As it draws nearer I see on it graffiti sprayed in violent red:

REPENT SINNERS BEFORE AN ANGRY GOD
THE TIME OF OUR JUDGEMENT HAS COME

My daughter shivers beneath the blanket.

“Daddy,” she says in little her voice. “When will the rain stop?”

I hold her and my wife close and we huddle together in each other’s warmth.

“I don’t know, baby,” I say. “I don’t know.”

The Last Words of Franz Stilgaart

I found Franz Stilgaart in his run-down apartment across the river, just like the Monsieur’s man I’d met in the alley said I would, drinking wine from a cheap goblet, seated staring out a tiny window at the Monk’s Bridge, his back toward the door and me. Careless.

It was a thing of ease to sneak up behind him and catch him unawares; when I slipped the blade into his back and felt the familiar warmth stain my hands he made no sound. He turned his head to face me, his last expression one of simply not understanding.

I wiped my knife on his filthy rags and left his dead body bleeding on the floor.

So imagine my surprise when three weeks later I came home to flat above the markets, only to find him standing in my living room, very much alive. Just like the first time, there were no words: my surprise turned to action and I felt my feet gain life beneath me and I tackled him.

We wrestled on the floor. I felt my hands around his neck and him gasping for air. I found my knife in my belt and slipped it into him for the second time, this time in the pale white skin of his throat.

All I can think of now are the last words of Franz Stilgaart, the words he gasped out when I murdered him for the second time, and have robbed me of my sleep this last fortnight, and I can only imagine will for many more to come. How long? How long will his words continue to haunt me? Until I meet my end just like him, the man I killed twice?

“There’s nothing,” he’d said. “There’s nothing on the other side.”