16. Drink The Blood

There are things that people think of as fundamentally human that are actually a byproduct of a trend. A shared cultural behaviour, where seeing Carl do it makes Terry more likely to do it and that makes Janey more likely to do it until suddenly, they think everyone does it and there’s something weird about the people across the world who don’t do it. Because hey, everyone does it – what are you, some kind of weirdo?

These ideas rattle and squirm against the insides of the ears, notions that somehow, some part of oneself is universal, is greater than oneself, and anchored to something that isn’t just the cultural software of a greater collective coding project, thousands of thumbs mashing on the same key. They may well be universal to humans – but humans are the only people who can try and solve that puzzle, rendering it almost impossible to be certain. Once, there were people who were not human – but they had no humans to study, and they didn’t really study. They mostly threw spears and had sex with one another.

An unchanged, unvarnished path of DNA wended its way through millenia, always different from yesterday but never so different that it wasn’t the same DNA any more, and along the way, people festooned it with little signs and sigils, orders and edicts to tell one another about what it was to be human. More than a few of them told each other that there was a part of themselves that did not exist, and was the most important part of them that existed. There were others who said that being human was about collecting four fluids in the right balance. Others still thought that humans were the clay of the earth, fleeing from the eyes of vengeful gods.

Possible, then, perhaps, was the notion that humans commonly wanted to have an answer to the question Why?

Certainly it was a compelling question. One of the earliest questions humans asked one another. One of the earliest ones that young humans ask their parents. Why is a consuming idea. One thing that is not, however, necessarily universal is the need for simple answers.

As magic rolled across the skies in shimmering green waves, with bright blue sparks cresting over a jade construct that blossomed from the depths of the ocean, many people looked out at the world they had, and wondered about its strangeness. Yesterday had made such sense. Today was so strange. Tomorrow would probably be stranger. And of them, some thought I hope that this is a sign. They thought to themselves, Perhaps this is the works of my god, or of the enemies of my god. Perhaps this fits in my world view already. Perhaps there is nothing to be afraid of, because this is someone’s fault. They thought many things, in the hopes that they could sleep, and wake up in a world that was a little less strange.

These people did not realise that they had never not lived in a strange world.

Yet patterns pull the magic, energy flowing in ways and movements dictated by other energies, and by the motions of things. Enough people gather in one space, and focus their wills, if they find the right pattern in the shared ideas, with the right energy slipping point by point through their shared, communal circuit, they can make something happen. So small an effect, in days past, that it seemed no different to the placebo effect, but still, something. With magic wild and free, though, with energy enough to fill stadiums in the hands of children, some ideas, some satisfying, some dangerous ideas, could sluice together, and become something.

*

It dripped off the surfaces of the ceiling, a dark blue stucco that looked like a sliver of skyline, full of bright yellow stars and strange, swirling hues of rose and purple. At first a few drops at a time, a growing flow of potent, strange scent, the odor of thick-cut bacon gone slightly moldering started to slither to the edges. Seemingly flowing as if from a higher space, but where there was no space, the diner’s ceiling began to blossom with patches of the nighttime sky.

A waitress, who for mercy’s sake, goes unnamed, did not look up. She went about her day, watching tables fill and empty, never seeming to notice the grey, boring man with the paperwork in the corner. She did not notice as she refilled his cup of coffee, and he did not taste it as he drank it. She did not notice the clock striking five, then six, then seven, then seven, then seven, then rhinoceros. The friers in the back crackled and hissed, viscous drops of golden amber fat floating up, into the surface of the ceiling.

Perhaps it was only a few hours. The doors did not open, but she did not recognise when that happened. She let people in and let them out, even though there were no people seeking to enter and to leave. She did not recognise the heat or the oppressive scent that filled the room. There was so little of her left to notice anything.

The last thought she had, before the last of her was worn away by the suddenness of it all, was that it was strange how little expression was on Angus’ face – and she knew his name was Angus, because he knew his name was Angus – when the stars reached down from the ceiling, spiralled into a huge spine, and plunged into the back of his head. It was almost like he had known it would happen, that there was nothing more to him than the waiting for this dreadful, dull end, whose violence somehow seemed so mundane. Violence was mundane, wasn’t it? After all, when there were seven billion people in the world, one or two of them ending in some way or another was hardly meaningful. The whole was not diminished by it.

What once was Angus sat back in its booth, looking down at the paperwork before him, and felt his – yes, his, that was a good word, it spoke of identiy and identity brought with it things like pain and fear and the end of the self and so much could be done with that – so much was done because of that! His… his… his hands clench around the pencil. He had been so grey before – but no whe was black, black and blue and sparkling golden.

He raised one hand, turning the wrist to hold it over the cup, and filled it, letting the last of that red blood sluice out. Dipping his pen in the cup, smiling a smile that threatened to dislodge the top of his head, he started to write.

There was something about this whole paper that was so very, very wrong.

Sipping from his cup, What Was Angus drew a satisfied, smug breath, the top of his jagged head looking like wisps of dark smoke, spiralling up into the ceiling of the diner. The Chellini hypothesis – how fascinating

*

When she was given every reason in the world to make an excuse, avoid school, and come home, Barbara didn’t. She went to school. She went to each class. She paid attention, she noted down her homework, and she prepared herself for cheerleading practice. The news had by then picked up, and more than a few parents had reacted by turning up at school, careful and nervous, to pick up their children and take them home, where things were safer. It was like there’d been a bomb threat at every school.

Barbara hadn’t gone – why would she? She ddin’t feel any need to fear. It was so strange – oddly untouched by the world around her, unphased by her friends, by the practice, by the music… why did she feel insulated from it all? Wasn’t she a kid just like the others? Well… whatever it was that had changed in the world today, it had changed in a way that seemed to change around Barbara. Sitting at her desk, in her bedroom, with her phone in front of her, and her homework arranged in leafs, she tried to reach down into herself and feel like there was something – anything – about her that felt like the girl who two days ago, was scared of the idea of being shoved over on the stairs.

What’s Up?

… Oh yes. That. Reaching down, she picked up the phone, setting it to the side. “I’ll talk to you when I’m done with my homework.”

You can’t multitask?

“I can, but I have to read you to read your responses.”

Oh.

Half an hour later, the phone flickered again.

Done yet?

“No.”

Oh.

Another half hour, Barbara rubbed her eyes and pushed her classwork to the side, shaking her head and putting her elbow on the table, her chin on her hand. “Good grief. Okay, okay, like… Who are you?”

I still don’t know.

“What’s going on in the world today?”

I definitely don’t know.

“… is there any way you can talk to me in like, more than, like, seven words at a time?”

Probably not.

“This is going to be totes a pain in the ass.”

Totes.
The Prince Of A Thousand Eyes
was an archaic god-concept
to explain the milky way
as observed in the arctic circle?

Barbara looked down at the phone again, her expression pensive, not that it mattered whether or not the phone could understand that body language. She’d heard the term many times in her life, but like other family’s prayers, it stopped being words that meant anything, and become just random sound, part of a familiar sequence of words that were spoken but never heard. The few times she’d spoken to her father about it, he’d suggested that it was an ancient god of some variety… and she leant forwards, peering at the phone.

“Okay, where did you get that?”

You can look into the past
by listening intently to
the stones and looking at
the stars.
Your family has spoken of
this prince many times.
I think I can hear some
very old echoes.

Barbara picked up the old Nokia phone, turning it around, and around, watching as it didn’t seem to react to being manhandled. It was a very, very strange feeling. “What… else can you hear?”

Barbara squinted, leaning in, and the next few hours melted away as she read, and read, and read.

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