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FAREWELL TO THE FLESH
Carnivale, Mardi Gras. A prelude to Ash Wednesday. Grievers begin a journey. They equivocate the flesh -- wear black over gold, gray over red, navy over purple. They shun their character, forsake their fancies, deny their flesh. Singing monodies, Gregorian descants, minor modalities, they walk on vacillating legs -- a peregrination to sorrow.
"I am the way," the man in the black robe says. "Lament is your destiny, sorrow your companion," he added. A dozen black-clad followers filled the basement of an empty, black building.
"What is this that I can't see? Ice-cold hands taking hold of me. Spare me over for another year." Dirk mumbled the phrases with the others. Sammy elbowed him. They leaned together, whispering.
"What the fuck have you got us into?"
"You said you were up for anything."
"Robbery, yes. Sex, yes. But, murder? Murder wasn't quite my idea of carnivale," Sammy answered. A man dressed in a hooded black robe blocked them.
"Why are you here, Samuel Vorsted, Dirk Eddison. Why indeed?"
"You know our names?"
"I know everyone who enters here. There are no secrets in my house."
"Well then, you should know why we're here," Dirk answered. The other men in the room stepped back from the trio.
"You walked in here willingly, do you wish to stay?" Sammy pulled away but Dirk stopped him.
"Sure we do," Dirk said. "Let the good times roll." He tentatively put his arm on Sammy's shoulder.
"Do you agree with this audacity? This bluster?" The hooded man looked directly into Sammy's eyes.
"Yeah." Sammy glanced to the high set windows filled with flashing red and blue lights.
"Your loyalty is admirable but your demeanor lacks enthusiasm, or even candor."
Sammy pulled himself up to his full height and squared his shoulders. Both men stood shoulder to solid shoulder, drawing strength from each other. "We can handle anything,"
"Then join us. Bring nothing with you on the nine-league passage. Take nothing but a robe." The figure pointed to dark robes. Dirk and Sammy removed their party clothes, pulled the robes around their bodies and hid their stolen diamonds beneath. They took up the rear of the procession.
This day is for flawed men, lustful men, men with rapacious appetites; a day against flesh. Vanity replaced by sackcloth. Forsaking all decoration but but black, they pass through a gateway. Time memorialized it. Justness demanded it. Sorrow pervades it. Primal love built it. Leaving their desires, their loves, their sins.
The stone floor of the passageway felt hot under their bare feet. It twisted and turned, sloping at odd angles and lead the group to a stone chamber. Four braziers lit the room. A series of shallow alcoves lined the wall opposite the door. Between the group and the alcoves, a granite table, easily ten feet square and burnt black by a bed of glowing coals in its base, sat in the middle of the chamber. The coals heated the room. Above it, a stone canopy acted as a chimney.
"Your dreams await, gentlemen. Light your torches. Take your places." The leader motioned for Dirk and Sammy to wait by the stone table. Each man dropped his robe, took his place in an alcove and held the torch with both hands so it seemed to sprout from his crotch. One by one they chanted as the leader stood before them.
"Bind me over another year. Close my eyes so I cannot see. I await the pleasures of the flesh on the day of farewell." At the end of the chant, the Leader waved his hand over the torch. Its red flame hissed and slithered, traveling down the pole and onto each man's body turning them to stone. The hooded man folded his hands inside the sleeves of his robe. He turned his attention to Sammy and Dirk.
"This isn't just a social club," Sammy broke the silence.
"You two required assistance in escaping the police. I offered an easy escape."
"And these men aren't really dead, are they? They're in some sort of suspended animation," Dirk touched the hard surface of the statues.
"Very perceptive. They are very much alive. They can see, and feel, and hear. They sought out my aid to prevent their death. I obliged by extending their lives. Once each year, I animate them. They spend a few days in the world, enjoying the pleasures of the flesh. Then they return here to stand, ageless and inanimate. They will see the far future before they physically die."
"I've heard rumors, vague whispers of a pimp who guarantees eternal life," Dirk said.
"Perhaps we should just collect our belongings and leave." Sammy looked behind him. Stone walls lined the chamber. The passage that they had entered by didn't deem to exist anymore.
"Where's that passageway?" Sammy talked up and pushed at the wall he remembered as the doorway. The cold stone didn't yield.
"Well there you have it. I believe you both tied satchels around your waists let them hang down next to your manhood."
"Yeah, what of it?" Dirk said.
"Material objects can't be removed from this room -- bodies, souls, spirits, thoughts, anything incorporeal. But alas, you gentlemen took those diamonds you stole and hung them on your bodies. The passage closed."
"What are you -- one of those do-gooders who get their jollies by tricking imagined wrongdoers into kinky situations? I mean, if you want funky sex, we're available. If you want to play hump-hump and hide the salami in the dark dungeon, or on stone tables with strange statues watching, we'll oblige." Dirk crossed his arms.
"If you thought we were going to leave the stash in an empty warehouse with a bunch of abandoned clothes, you're nuts. We stole the diamonds fair and square. Now, you going to be a real creep and steal them from us? Or you going to let us out of this room without all this silly-assed mumbo-jumbo. You have a room full of nice looking guys to play with. You want more?" Sammy stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Dirk.
"I only want what is rightfully mine, your bodies and souls."
"Where's the tricky door, jerk. How'd you find out about us, listen to the police scanner?
"No, you two stole the diamonds and escaped police. You can keep the diamonds for all I care. But remember, since you accepted my help, you belong to me."
"And what makes you think you own us, body and soul," Dirk talked over the man. Sammy folded his arms. The robe stuck to his sweaty skin. The room felt hotter than before.
"You're trying my patience. I hoped that I didn't have to spell it out. Just like you two, I offered these gentlemen assistance at the time of their misfortune. They accepted and paid with the only things they really ever owned -- their bodies and souls. Three times, I asked if you wanted my help and three times, you agreed. All that's left is to work out he terms of your servitude."
"Servitude my ass," Dirk answered. He started to turn away, spun back and landed quick punch on the hooded man's jaw. He jerked away just as fast and held his hand. He turned to Sammy.
"Son-of-a-bitch!" Dirk held his already swelling hand in the other. Sammy's eyes darted back and forth from Dirk's hand to his face.
"Looks broken," Sammy said.
"Like hitting a stone jaw." His naked body glistened from sweat.
"Better'n hittin' glass," Sammy touched Dirk's hand causing him to wince.
"Today is the day after Carnivale, the day to stop partying and get serious, remember. From dust thou might be, silly boys, but to diamond dust you will go, just like a star going nova. Perhaps, we should all come clean and lay our cards on the table, so to." The demon waved his hands and Both Dirk and Sammy removed their robes. They each took a sack and set it on the granite.
"There's over five thousand diamonds in each bag. You can have them all. It was our once-in-a-lifetime heist. We'll live with the memories of having stolen the impossible," Dirk said.
"But why should I settle for half when I can have both?" Two heads sprang to attention. "I guess that I'm getting old and impatient. These pre-damnation sparing matches used to be so much fun. Lately, either they all turning into deep, soul-searching philosophical discussion of good and evil, or like this one, they turn into silly bargaining with dumb-as-a post thieves like you two. Dirk Eddison, hold your hand out." Dirk hesitated.
"Dirk Eddison, hold your hand out." The request resonated in the room as if the walls themselves would follow the man's commands it they could. Dirk extended his hand. A leathery red, scaly hand reached up and grabbed his broken fist. Dirk cried out in pain as his knuckles healed. Sammy's jaw dropped and he pointed at the demonic hand.
"You, you, you're not human," Sammy said. The coals under the granite table grew hot and glowed orange.
"What gave you the hint, Holmes?" the hooded man pushed the hood back to reveal a red-scaled head with horns and fangs. He let the robe slid off his body to reveal red skin, rough scales, a tail and several spiky growths.
"And you're," Dirk started to say.
"A naked, well-hung and handsome demon?" it answered, finishing Dirk's sentence, flexing its muscular physique.
"Satan?" Dirk finished his thought.
"You're the Prince of Darkness, Lucifer the fallen, Asmodeus, the Lord of the Flies, something like that," Sammy said.
"No, I'm not. I'm nothing like that. I'm just Satan's latest lieutenant and flunky, doomed to spend time damning stray, off-course and disoriented souls into varying degrees of eternal punishment," The demon paused, smiling with a row of sharp, brilliant-white, teeth flashing behind lips the color of dried blood. The demon picked a piece of something from between his teeth with a long claw. "You know, you two would make perfect Tickle-me-Elmo dolls for the misbegotten offspring of my assistants to abuse."
"You wouldn't turn us into Elmo dolls, would you? We'd be helpless. That would be a fate worse than death," Sammy said. The demon rolled his eyeballs up and looked at the ceiling, all the time shaking his head in disbelief. Dirk smacked Sammy's shoulder.
"Of course not, stupid. Why would anyone in Hell want an Elmo doll when they could have your flesh and blood body to torment?"
Sammy started to object but the demon held his clawed hand out, paralyzing his ability to talk. "Don't say anything else. Just please don't say anything else. You know, it's not that I want to discuss Nietsche or Proust or even local politics, as provincial as that can be. Hell, since we're here I can invoke it. Hell, I'd even discuss Judge Judy or Days of Our Lives, but you two take the cake. The cops will find your clothes and nothing else. I can't believe that you two single-handedly figure out how to rob the world's greatest stash of black diamonds. I just can't figure it out." Both Dirk and Sammy frantically pantomimed. The demon ignored them as he poured the diamonds onto the granite table.
"OK guys, now that I have your complete attention," the demon mugged a toothy grin. "I want you to lie on table next to one of the diamond piles. It's only going to hurt a little bit and I think you'll hate the result." Both men hesitated, gesturing frantically. The demon snapped its fingers. Unable to talk, unable to resist, Dirk and Sammy's bodies moved towards the table. Slowly, inevitably, the two naked men climbed onto the warm granite table and lay flat on their backs, side by side. Metal rings slid out of the table pinning their wrists and ankles.
"Actually Sammy, an Elmo doll isn't as helpless as you are now." The demon snapped his fingers and watched their silent faces as they tried to escape their fate. "You kept these diamonds with you. Obviously, these diamonds are more important to you than your lives and freedom. You carried them here even after I explicitly told you to take nothing with you. So they share your fate." The demon waved both hands above the men. Thousands of diamonds sprang up, nearly ten thousand glittering mosquitoes. They dove, embedding themselves in the soft flesh of Sammy and Dirk's bodies. Blood dripped from the punctures. The two men jerked and yanked at the rings that imprisoned their bodies. The demon waved both hands upward and the stone canopy moved towards the granite tabletop. Flames from the coals licked up around the table's edge.
"And now, my two silent acquisitions, I hope you can take the pressure." the demon laughed as the canopy banged down over the two men, enclosing their helpless bodies inside a stone chamber. The granite of the table changed composition as the two slabs pressed together, heating to temperatures only found on the surface of the sun. The demon listened to a half dozen Willy Nelson's songs before he cooled the room and opened the makeshift press.
"Ah my new crystalline minions, I hope you like your new bodies." Sammy remained prone, his sparkling, silvery hands twitching, his manhood pointing upward like the spire on a crystalline cathedral. Dirk sat up. He reflected light like thousands of tiny shards of glass, a million little prisms. Crystalline eyelids crackled as they moved over crystalline eyes. Adamantine hands rubbed the newly crystallized body. He could almost see through his body but the facets of each diamond crystal split the torchlight into small rainbows of color. He tried to talk to the demon but no words came out of his mouth.
"What's that you say? You like you're new body. You love your new body. And, you want to thank me for making you into a living diamond. Good man, considering I could have turned you into a lump of coal, I'm glad you like diamond. Look at your buddy." The demon snapped his fingers causing two beams of sunlight to enter the chamber and strike Sammy and Dirk's new bodies, splitting into thousands of individual beams of blue-white light that shone out from the facets of each diamond.
"Swarovsky himself couldn't have done better. Stand up, both of you, stand at either end of the table and pose like musclemen." The demon's words forced both men to stand and flex causing beams of light shot from their bodies to the walls and the black stony statues.
"You'll be perfect next year on my Mardi Gras. I'll light the two of you with lasers. Until then, you two will grace this chamber - my very own diamantine musclemen." The demon watched Dirk and Sammy pose tirelessly for a before he fell asleep.
Rejoice, my creations in your shining splendor, your radiant brightness will make the night clear as day. You will become my light, my joy. For you are my pillar of fire, a light that glows to my honor. My morning star that rivals the sun and moon, now and forever.
2850 words more or less
FUTURES YET UNKNOWN
Ten Stories by Dave Fragments
*An Alien serial murderer and a furry detective with fleas.
*Murder on a world with altered humans.
*Disturbing apocalyptic visions *Monstrous dystopian societies.
*A man on trial for betraying the human race to robots.
*Devils, demons and ghosts.
*Survivors of a plague war.
*Cyborgs trying to be human.
*Six friends in a strange sinkhole.
*The truth about a world drowning in rain, without sun, without hope.
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