Track Eleven and Beyond

He has a determined look on his face and a hint of madness glints in his eyes. It's not Maddie's kind of madness. It's what I see very time a sober, drug-free asshole comes by to mess with my people at Charlie's.

He's on a mission from god — the only problem being that he worships at the altar of Paranoia. His madness gives him pinpoint focus, tunnel vision, and a lack of awareness of his surroundings. Alternatively, he's just ignoring everyone and everything around him that isn't part of The Mission.

Chelsea's message arrives on his phone and he barely glances at it.

"Oh, fuck." I brace myself.

This time, he goes straight to the engine cover. This time, just like last time, his death is instantaneous when the bomb goes off. It might be my imagination, but the playback speed could have been just a few frames per second slower.

Lucy is heading up the hill again. She knows what's about to happen and tries to run. The DGS truck just accelerates, preventing escape, making death that much more painful.

Newspaper Man tries to enter his office carefully, quietly. It makes no difference. The killer is waiting for him and does what killers do.

Beach Guy rolls out of the way of the killer's first shot. But that just means the back of his head is blown out.

Chelsea looks up; she sees blood, and no doubt feels the drop that splatters on her cheek. I hear the screaming again. I don't think it's Chelsea, but I can't be sure. We can see she's strapped down to an operating table; the figures around her don't appear concerned at all that they're making the traditional Y-incision of an autopsy on a live patient . . . without anesthesia.

I grind my teeth together. Chelsea looks relieved when the monsters finally come.

Back to the boat, where Diver Dude has managed to completely remove the engine cover. As he stands up, the bomb goes off. This part is definitely slowing down — showing the man burning, separating, burning, shredding, burning. Burning in hell.

This time, Lucy hasn't managed to get much beyond saying goodnight to Newspaper Guy when the DGS truck roars down Route 23, swerves, and smashes her through the brick wall of the newspaper offices.

It isn't until the rubble is cleared away that Newspaper Man's bullet-riddled body is found.

Beach Guy tries to fight back — Rene was right, he has military training. But his murderer slams a chair against his back, likely breaking a few vertebrae given the way he falls. Again, he's shot in the back of the head.

There's blood everywhere. Chelsea . . .

I start shaking, and Pablo holds me tightly. This is what our son saw.

Melody is in the corner of the room, sobbing. It occurs to me then that she's been the one screaming. So much blood; humans have so much blood. It looks so strange when it takes on the golden hue of anger that shines out of my eyes.

Vivisection?????

I want to kill someone.

And back to the boat: Diver Dude is limping and his hands don't seem to be working properly either. He looks like I imagine Maddie must have felt that time she was blown up. He doesn't even look surprised when the bomb goes off in his face.

Lucy is running or, at least, she's trying to run. It looks like she, too, hasn't healed completely from the last iteration. The truck is following, and it keeps right on following until she drops to the ground. Then it runs her over. Then it backs up over her. And just for good measure, whoever is in the truck does it again.

Newspaper Man looks no better. In fact, he might be having a heart attack. Someone steps out of the space between two buildings and fires twelve shots into his back.

Beach Guy has the aura of someone with a migraine headache. It's no surprise that his execution is relatively simple this tim.

Chelsea . . .

I'm not sure I can breath. My eyes are blazing. Pablo turns away and tries to shield me.

"No. Must . . . witness."

I hold Pablo as Rene clamps a hand tightly on my shoulder. I'm so grateful. I know he, too, is shaken. But he helped my sister so long ago. I know I can count on him.

Again. Back to the boat.

I blame him. The man who owns the boat is suffering, and I hate him so much that I wouldn't save his life if my grandmother begged me. I see exactly how much he hurts, how much agony it is to walk and to breathe and to just move. No surprise, really, for his lower jaw is missing . . . as well as an eye. He looks like a partially-eaten carcass — strips of flesh missing, other parts still charred, blood vessels that should be hidden by muscle and skin are oozing blood, thready nerve fibers are exposed to the open air. That has to hurt. Good.

Once more, he suffers through the explosion. It's not enough. For him, it will never be enough.

Lucy leans against Harry DeCoon's Mercedes. Time seems to have worked backward here because her bones are already shattered. I see them through her clothes. This is wrong. The truck hits her then. When it backs up, she looks more like a puddle of raspberry jam than a person.

I hate that asshole.

Newspaper Man barely pulls himself into his office. He's dazed, confused, and in so much pain that he can't manage to stand once through the door. When he falls to the floor, the murderer takes his time emptying the clip into the man's bleeding body.

I loathe that asshole. The Christian hell is definitely too good for him.

There's someone in the room with the sheriff, but I can't see who it is.

Are you sure this is the author?

It doesn't even occur to me to be surprised that I can hear her.

He looks like someone put a minigun to his head and pulled the trigger.

Beach Guy's body is definitely missing a head.

That asshole deserves to die more slowly, much, much more slowly. And all alone next time.

We're losing her.

I don't care. Whatever it takes.

Charging . . . clear!

Gods, Buddhas, and Spirits, please help this poor girl.

Look. Don't you dare turn away. Look at her. Look at her! We will keep bringing her back just to kill her again, as many times as it takes.

I'm grateful that Pablo and Rene can't hear that voice. It sounds familiar, but it shouldn't because I've only ever heard the dreamers. I'm grateful that the torturers are all in the shadows so Rene can't read their lips. It's bad enough that I have to hear them.

Huddled in the corner, Melody sits with empty, dead eyes, in a blood-stained hospital gown, crying blood-stained tears.

And again. Back to the boat.

Back to the street with a DGS truck.

Back to the newspaper office.

Back to the writer's apartment.

Back to the torture chamber.

And then the monsters come.

Over and over. Three times, seven times, thirteen times, and then I lose count. Over and over and over. Death after death, time after time.

I've never hated anyone this much . . . not even William Stryker. Gods, it hurts, all this hatred. It's not a physical pain like those on the other side of the portal feel. It's emotional, it's energetic, it's definitely not good for me. I know this, but I can't make it stop. There have been so many flips through these same few moments in time that my head is throbbing from watching the qi.

I don't know what iteration we're on, but this time things are different. The world on the other side of the portal stops spinning. The qi settles, after a fashion. It's still a maelstrom over there, but at least it's a storm with a pattern. As calm comes slowly to their world, I pat Pablo's arm.

I'm pretty sure I know what's been happening. I just don't know who's triggering it.

"Look," I whisper hoarsely.

Like me, Rene never looked away except to close his eyes a few times when the scenes with Chelsea had looked too much like the plantation house where Maddie had been held prisoner when she was only a few years younger than Chelsea. He'd shuddered, and I'd grimaced as the same blood memories — blood everywhere — of Maddie's captivity were mirrored in the portal.

When Pablo turns to look again, we see the bloody page in Melody's book.

Do you know what the sin is?
It isn't because you ate the forbidden fruit.
Do you know what the sin is?
It isn't because you listened to the serpent.
You still don't know what is the sin?
Then, that itself is your sin.

Below the poem in crude, block print, red-dried-brown letters is a four-word command.

STOP MURDERING MY FRIEND

"The sin?" he croaks. "What sin?"

I have to take one more cleansing breath before answering. "If I had to guess . . . hubris? More simply, refusing to learn from his mistakes, to admit he's wrong, to—"

Rene's breathing — I still don't understand why a Spirit needs to breathe — is a bit ragged yet. He points to the words written under the poem.

I nod. Yeah, that's a clue.

"—to stop murdering one person — and every person in that town and in that world — because he thinks he knows what's important."

Dear Gods, Buddhas, and Spirits, how I wish I could help!

Next up: Track XXX

© Kelly Naylor