A Splinter in Your Palm
Do you mind if I sit here next to you? I know the bus is pretty empty, but I noticed you don’t have a book or anything, so I thought you might like the company. It looks like we’re in for a long ride here, kid. I know strangers coming up and talking to you can make you feel uncomfortable, and you’ll pretty much say anything to get them to leave you alone, but I’ve been feeling pretty lonely myself this past hour on the road, and I find that I just don’t sleep much anymore, especially in strange places. If you want to go to sleep - if I start just boring you into a blue stupor - I’ll cope; but as long as you are going to be awake and staring out that window with your chin in your hands, do me a favor. Humor an old man.
Want a pull? No? Ah, hits the spot. Allow me to introduce myself.
My name’s William Bailey. You can go ahead and call me Bill Bailey, like the song about that man who split on his cheating wife . “Oh, won’t you come home, Bill Bailey!” My father used to tell me he was the original Bill Bailey the song was written about, but he was a bigger liar than a republican-skin rug, and I can guarantee you that if there was going to be cheating in a relationship where one of the people involved was my old man, it would have been him that was doing the messing around. That song’s quite a bit before your time, though, so don’t feel bad if you don’t know it. I’m not one to hold youth against the young.
I’ve never been married myself though. You know what Voltaire said, eh? Marriage is the only adventure open to the cowardly. Heh.
Nope, I am no coward, and subsequently I am the consummate perpetual bachelor...and I say perpetual because there have been plenty of women but they’ve all come and gone. I do like the ladies. Too much for my own good, really. That never changes - you just pretend to be cured of lust as you age because you can’t get it up as hard anymore. Heh. Well, sure...I’m not going to lie to you.
By the way, you’re not a Christian, are you? Or otherwise damnably engaged in the low and lamentable black arts? Ah, good. I thought not, but one can never be too careful.
Like I said, there have been women, but I spent my passionate days of youth and glory running a bar...Bill Bailey’s...and as soon as things get serious women want you to stop doing things like running bars and playing cards and want you to start doing things like running errands and playing house. They want that money, you see, and when you are running a quiet little bar you are lucky if you can break even and still eat every month. I never was cut out for real work, and running a bar was never work to me.
Do you mind if I put my feet up here? Beautiful scenery. So, anyway, what are you called, kid?
Good name. Strong. You’re pretty quiet for a youngster. But I don’t blame you...the world is getting noisy enough these days. I’ve seen people walking around lately with headphones in their ears, and cell phones in their hands, both of them bleeping and squawking off together. How the hell do they know if their phone is ringing with music in their ears? I keep hoping one of those phones will ring as they’re perambulating mindlessly about and they’ll realize and stop to answer it and get hit by a bus on the sidewalk as they are changing equipment. But, unfortunately, it looks like the cell phone is going to be an invention that’s meant to stick around. People are falling all over themselves to do what they’re told and adapt to it like nothing. There’s no justice in the world.
But it keeps on turning...
You go to the bars much? I’d size you up as the solitary drinking sort. You’ve got the futility and the sadness in your eyes, like you’re smart enough to know there ought to be a better world out there, but your eyes are also dry, like you are also smart enough to know that this is all there is. Am I right? I won’t ask why you’re going to where you’re going - I’m not one to pry - but I’d bet you’re leaving things behind you that you are eventually going to have to deal with, my pet. Land masses and geography have never solved any problems that would better be dealt with by the judicious application of measured amounts of care and attention. But you’ll find your way, and anything you don’t figure out on your own isn’t worth a whole hell of a lot anyhow.
Myself, I’m headed home to finally live with my sister like she’s been bugging me to do these last 10 years. She’s a damn sight younger than I am - a half-sister really from my old man’s third, late marriage - God rest his soul - and she’s always been the one to worry over me. There’s indeed nothing like family. Except maybe thumbscrews.
This past month I had a bit of a fall that scared us both, so I finally agreed to let her and her husband put me up for a bit and to let them take me out to do shitty old people things like bingo and church. Honestly, though, it’ll be nice to see them, and to tell you the truth, since I sold my bar to that karaoke place I’ve been spending most of my time sitting in my dark old house feeling low and old and tired and sad and lonely. People forget senior citizens have the highest suicide rate. I’ve buried all of my friends, and I’ll even put up with my sister’s whitewashed, lifeless suburbia for some conversation and something that isn’t the empty flashing stare of a blaring television set.
But I do miss my bar, though. Ah, I was made to run a bar, and God made bars for people like me. If you ever do find yourself getting some romance together in your life and start exploring the world of the communally intoxicated, make sure you find yourself a good bar, and not one of those new places where the music is so loud you can’t hear yourself swallow. The only music in a bar should be made by its patrons.
Lord, the timid tulip comes alive! I thought I was losing you. The strangest thing I’ve ever seen working a bar, huh? That is a good question. What made you ask a question like that? Quite prescient of you, really. I was going to tell you anyway: that’s my real reason for coming over. Warming up to old Bill Bailey, are you? I confess: the right bar can be a strange place, and if you’re paying attention, you’ll find yourself witnessing the strange, unnatural, and unbelievable on pretty much a consistently regular basis. I’ve seen just about all of it.
I once had this quadriplegic man come in and drink everyone in the bar under the table, cleaning the whole place out of betting money because he just wouldn’t go down. He had to have somebody hold his glass for him, but he out-drank the whole lot of my regulars, consecutively - not simultaneously. It was quite something, and it wasn’t until later that we realized he had a catheter stuffed up inside of him and was funneling everything he drank into a bag attached to the underside of his wheelchair. He drank so much that he popped it, and as he was rolling away counting his winnings in his head, he left a big whiskey trail behind him that clued me in. Everyone was too drunk to go after him and get their money back, though, so I just sat behind my counter and laughed.
But that wasn’t the strangest thing I’ve ever seen while working a bar - not by half. I’ve seen apparitions, and people move things with their mind, and one time I even saw a lady spontaneously combust, although I think the liquor and cigarettes may have helped in some small degree. But the strangest thing I’ve ever seen while working a bar...well...
Come here a little bit closer, kid. Let me smell you a bit.
Don’t be shy, now. You can learn a lot about a person from the way they smell. Scent’s primal sensory intelligence, and rarely doth it lie. Sure. Yeah, you smell okay. Fresh deodorant and cut grass. My mind says: “Bill Bailey, you are an old man, and you are never going to see this kid again, so why keep unnecessary secrets and let a good story die on the vine?” Intuitively, I trust you, and that’s good enough for me. I must insist that you take a pull of this here sipping whiskey, though, so as to where we can both be breathing the same fiery air. To put us in the same frame of mind, you see. That’s right. Good soldier. Join me at the living end, won’t you?
Yes indeed, the strangest thing I’ve ever seen while working a bar has got to be the man with the translucent skin and his little green ball. At least, I think he was a man. It was wearing a man’s hat, and it had a deep voice, but now that I think about it more, I don’t think I could really give you a clear, qualified answer. I remember that translucent skin...and I remember those eyes and how they glowed, like the exploding core of a supernova star...and of course I remember the ball.
But I am getting carried away. Beginnings were invented because they just happen to be the very place one should begin.
I remember the evening well.
This was back maybe 30 years ago. It had been a relatively slow Saturday night, and I was about to close up and do the dangerous gauntlet back home though the dark and foggy 2 AM streets. It was just the two of us alone there, myself and my good friend and steady customer Salvatore Pagliani - he’s Italian, you see, and that night he wasn’t so steady - who was putting on his coat and hat and trying to steel himself up for a drunken drive home. He was loudly telling me some story about how the government was using telepathic whales to monitor our brains for sedition, and I was trying my damnedest to ignore him.
Sal had finally managed to get his top button closed when we both heard the little silver tinkle that signified somebody had come in through the front entrance. Things weren’t too terribly different back then and robbery was always fresh in the mind of a bar owner counting down his till, so closing time was imminently nerve wracking. We both looked to make sure it wasn’t some coked up lunatic with a shotgun, saw that it merely looked to be your average, ordinary, confused and trench coated dipsomaniac, and we relaxed.
“We’re closed, buddy - time to go home,” I shouted.
The man stepped out of the threshold and underneath a floodlight where we could see him clearly. See through him, actually. Wind was blowing in from the open door and catching the ends of his garment.
This was the guy. The man with the translucent skin. He was horrible...and the smell...
“I need a drink,” croaked the cloaked and now billowing entity. The door slammed shut and I think the bell actually fell off. We were in the presence of the diabolically and hilariously hideous. I giggled in shock.
“Mother of Christ,” said Sal.
I reached for the .45 I keep in my apron. In the tepid bar light we could see underneath the man’s ratty black trench coat, and were stunned by what looked to be a completely naked human being that must have been dredged backwards through the ugliest, sharpest parts of Hell and given the iron shaft by every demon and principality on the way back up. In most places, its skin was flayed completely off and it simply secreted a bilious and grimy ooze that rolled down its body like drying glue. Where patches of skin did appear - mainly on its chest and neck and face, although there were two large swatches on its thighs - they were translucent like the rice paper of a Vietnamese spring roll, and you could see right into the veins and gore. You could literally watch the activities and operations of its guts and bowels, and I’m sure it is pliantly self-evident, but let me just say that there is a reason people normally have such smooth, enervating coverings. You really don’t want to know what goes on beneath the surface. The worst part was its face - a labyrinth of flowing trickles and flaps, with a nose like a rotten plum and lips white and callused like pulsating, overfed maggots. Its eyes...those starlight eyes...pinned me and I stopped my nervous laughter and raised my gun.
“Shoot it, Bill...ohmyfuckingchrist...shoot it quick....” squealed Sal. He was not a particularly brave fellow, and something like this on top of all the alcohol in his system was enough to push him over the edge and into a little dark corner of loopy, mindless insanity. He staggered and fell unceremoniously down onto his ample posterior.
“Shut up, Sal,” I said.
I am too much of a gentleman to describe the more horrific aberrations of which the creature’s private nether regions were composed. Let me just say the nicest thing about the whole construction was the hat on its head. And it was a cheap hat.
In my buzzing brain, fear had replaced shocked giddiness...but slowly, mesmerized by the swaying pathos of the monstrosity, I began to feel a sort of curious, quiet sadness. Whatever was going on here, operating out of pure adrenaline-fueled ignorance would rob both shooter and target of dignity. I am far too nosy and curious to follow the “ask questions later” doctrine. What if I never got a chance? That would be simply devastating.
So I dropped my weapon limply to my side. The thing fell to one knee in response, its trench coat flapped back over its kneeling body, as if it had been saving its last strength for this final stand and was now ready to rest.
“What in God’s name are you?” I asked.
“Thirsty,” it moaned back.
That was a good answer, and it caught me off guard.
“Fair enough. I don’t know whether to call an ambulance or start firing, but I do know that you better start talking soon, or I’m going to let Sal here make the decision.”
“Please, a drink first. And then you can kill me. You can kill me all damn night. In fact, I may insist.”
I put the gun on the counter top, and looked at Sal to judge his cool. He shook his head fervently, knowing me all too well.
I laughed again. Who am I to disappoint my fans?
“Sal, give the man a hand, and lock the door while you’re up. Yes, Sal, it’s what we’re going to do. Now what’ll you have, mister? And I hope you are paying in cash because I’ve already run all of the checks, and it’s too late to start a tab, although I get the feeling my hypothetical window of opportunity to collect on it is fast dwindling anyway.”
The creature attempted to stand, clacking its teeth. “I accept the terms of your bargain: my only cavil is that you allow me sanctuary and do not alert your overlords.”
“You hear that Sal? No overlords. Can you handle that?”
“No overlords,” said Sal weakly.
Here, have another pull, kid. This is where things get interesting.
Ah. Now I’m not saying this sort of thing happens to me all the time - strange otherworldly creatures crashing in and demanding lubrication - but there wasn’t much I could do but accept the situation I had been given and make the best of it. Sal grabbed the guy by his lapels and hauled him to his feet, blanching and holding one hand over his nose and mouth. He walked him over to a barstool and sat him down. Because Sal was basically picking him up inside his jacket like a pound of meat in a brown paper sack, the fluids that composed his outer shell were seeping through and starting to darken and discolor his coat. I considered laying some newspaper out, but I didn’t want to offend. I have always been a firm believer in maintaining standards of excellence for customer satisfaction. You never knew how many demiurges and incubi this fellow knew down in The Pit, and I tried to stay at least cursorily interested in client development.
“So what’ll you have?”
He gestured to the bottle of Jameson’s I had been drinking from as a nightcap and which was open near the whiskey glasses.
“Just give me the bottle.”
“That’s gonna cost you,” I said.
“You will be more than adequately compensated.”
I slid the bottle over to him. Sal sat down three stools over and stared, occasionally making frightened whimpering noises. The creature reached inside his coat and fumbled around, as if checking to make sure he still had something. Finding it, he then seemed to visibly relax.
We watched the creature unscrew the cap and take a huge draught. As it drank, we could see its jaw muscles and throat pump away, and the alcohol made a kind of hissing noise whenever any dribbled out of the bottle and landed on his body. With each swallow, his eyes - they were white and without pupils, and I swear they glowed like a battery-operated toy Halloween mask - with each swallow his eyes grew even brighter.
“Better. Much better.” He wiped at his mouth with the back of his sleeve, but only managed to smear a streak of clear, milky goo all the way to his ear.
“I am not from...around here. But trust me when I tell you that I am a living being - flesh and blood - and that this is not by any means my normal appearance and situation. If it weren’t for certain...disciplines...I possess, I would be doing nothing right now but screaming until the authorities of this place found me and ended me. Strong drink is powerful medicine, if only for the arcane nuances it provides that provoke and trigger my memories of deep and painless sleep.”
“Well, what are you? Where are you from?” asked Sal. I motioned for him to shush.
“I have been many things. I have been a warrior. I have been a scholar. For three weeks I have been living as a transient in your lower quarters, eating what small animals I can trap and consuming the less rotten trash I can scrounge together. I have been a priest, and an emissary for the incarnate word in realms where all was light and pure divine substance. I have been a lover, and I have been a killer. I have been a liar, a thief, and a scoundrel. Right now, however, to answer your question...”
He reached inside his jacket once more and pulled out a green glass spheroid. It was about the size of a grapefruit.
“I am alone.”
“You are a mess, is what you are, buddy,” I said, my eyes drawn like freight on tracks to stare like a goon at the glowing green ball.
The glass globe was filled with what looked to be a kind of green swirling smoke, and from where I was standing, it seemed to be able to generate and assemble patterns and shapes inside itself at will in a kind of lyrical, lazy manner - jumbling and then reforming the liquid tendrils in twists and ropes of rarefied exploratory chaos. To the same extent that the creature in whose palm the globe rested was utterly repulsive, so too did the ball exert an equally attractive force on the sensibilities. It was what NASA would have come up with if instead of putting men on the moon it had been charged with building the world’s grooviest lava lamp. Looking at it made me queasy and horny at the same time, like jumping naked out of a bucking helicopter into a field of copulating hippies. It defied many important physical laws - it was easily the most beautiful material thing I had ever seen - and I knew that I wouldn’t be satisfied until I knew what it was and how to get one. Sal and I couldn’t help but sit there enthralled like morons.
“The way you talk about it, it’s like you are from some sort of other dimension or something...” said Sal, leaning over in his stool, his eyes glued to the green ball. “Slow down, man...”
“What do you wish to be called?” I asked.
The creature took its hat off. Little bits of forehead came with it.
“I am not called anything anymore. I am now bound to occupy the vacuum of a certain function which leaves me both nameless and without the right to individuate much further than I already have. I suppose you could call me something like He or It or Thing but you would have to speak softly or risk incurring the wrath.”
“How about Ithething?” I ventured.
“Ithy-theeng. Yes, that would suffice.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa...what do you mean about the wrath?” moaned Sal.
Ithething turned to look at Sal, its head swiveling on its neck with audible popping noises, like packaging peanuts in a blender.
“The wrath. The wrath of the immortal ghosts so far above you in consciousness that even to begin to imagine them is to waive your right to the sleep you call sanity. They are here, as they are everywhere, and I fulfill a function for them, a prisoner of their whim. But I have discovered a loophole. A big one. And I will require more alcohol.”
Ithething downed the rest of the bottle and set it carefully on the bar, squaring it with the sides - pensive and thoughtful.
I handed another bottle out to him, this one full. But as he reached for it I pulled it back. He growled.
“No,” I said. “I demand that you tell us your story, and tell us what you are doing here. I can’t just have some cryptic, rotten leper in my bar drinking all my whiskey after hours without knowing why, or what will happen if it does. For all we know you could be some sort of advance guard for an entire army of zombie ninjas bent on overthrowing the smooth, pink, human menace. And here I am fraternizing, entertaining you with my good looks and witty banter...”
Ithething growled again, louder, and snatched the bottle out of my hand with a lightning fast kung fu grab. I think Sal must have pissed his pants.
The creature we called Ithething was angry.
“I will tell you my story, human, but not because I find you a threat. And not because I feel any particular sympathy for your kind. I will tell you my story as a last ditch effort to warn my brethren back from whence I come - to warn all the deserving peoples of the multiverse - and to keep those who prove themselves to be noble children on the path to greater righteousness from the kind of harm into which I have fallen. Like a castaway stuffing a hasty, final, futile message inside a dead and moronic vesicle before expiring, I will tell you my story in the hopes that someday you may find yourselves in a position to convey your message to someone who matters. You...both of you...will be charged with carrying my message until your deaths, spreading it, like bottles, to the farthest reaches of the ocean of being. Each person you meet will call to you, and you will be overcome with the need to communicate my story to them, even as it tears you apart inside to do so. I thought I could play my final moments close to my vest, but you have forced me to show my hand, and now you will pay the price. Now listen. And listen good.”
That’s exactly how he laid it out, and before I go any further, I want to be certain you want to hear this. Even if you don’t believe a single word I’ve said so far, stories have power, and I don’t want to impregnate you with something you can’t handle. If you feel up to it, kid, by all means - let’s go on. But only if you aren’t afraid to know something...hell...something you probably shouldn’t.
You still in?
Excellent. I just wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t say anything.
Ithething put the green ball carefully down on a coaster to keep it from rolling around, and as he spoke, it almost seemed to respond, illustrating the points he made with corresponding explosions of form and structure. It felt like there were four people in the room, not three.
He opened the second bottle of whiskey, took another swig, and began.
“To say that I come from another plane of existence, or another dimension, is not accurate. To me, the very reality you inhabit is a fantasy - an illusion - like the pages of a desperately mediocre book turned into a television movie, inhabited by static characters mincing across its pages and screen like the unfortunate obsessions of a talentless hack. Your most beautiful sunrise makes me ill and your most witty personage causes me nothing but the embarrassed pain one feels for a disappointing stand-up comedian. Your lives are barrel swill to me - and I hate you all.”
“In my opinion, my land was the most glorious of all the worlds, and I have yet to be proven wrong. A nexus of power, it was located tellurically on the tip of one of the lesser linchpins that hold together realms compared to which your reality is merely a distant fart in the breeze of the void. You could not imagine the splendor and radiance of my existence in this golden land, no more than you could imagine what it feels like to be a microbe living inside your foreskin. The very air was heavy with sweet deliciousness, and one could see the hallmark of genius in every iota of this, the Almighty Creator’s greatest journeyman endeavor. Its intensity would have rent your squishy and flawed little human brain in two, and splattered you in a beautiful arcing spray all over perfectly crafted underbrush that would have sucked your essence inside as nutrience and been all the more dainty and florid for it.”
“I spent my days as a seeker of power. One who devotes his life to the pursuit of greater and greater degrees of energetic discharge. If the profession of orgasm collector existed here, that would have been my title. I tore through books and tokens, the most ravenous of my kind, searching for secrets and edges I could use to slice open the jugular of the bitch goddess Fortune and sup on her ill-gotten blood. I let nothing stand in my way, and was as ruthless as all holy hell, sacrificing any and all who would let me to my temple of Will and Strength. I drifted from hearth to tomb, womb to catacomb, scooping the roar of life into my toothsome maw and spewing it - transformed - into the faces of the weak and stupid. I walked a path traveled by no entity before me - at least so I thought - and was unhinged, turned feral, by any scent of that which I felt could propel me into new and uncharted realms of control and mastery. I wanted the whole universe in my pocket to fondle and jangle like so much loose change.”
“It was not long before I stumbled on the book that was to be my destiny. I use your word “book,” but the way in which we conveyed information to each other was much more refined and practical than your unwieldy organic slices of thin wood pulp. I came into the book’s possession as a result of slaying an entire army of breakfasting priest - librarians in their sacred hall of adoration and gnosis with a well-timed, expert blast of kinetic fury that shook their hidden little island to its core. I escaped with my life, but their hordes were not pleased. Stealing an entire religion’s most sacred relic will not win you friends among its faithful. The book was without a name, just a picture on the front of a stylized green ball (he gestured to the globe on the beer coaster) and the symbol in my language for “approach with the utmost caution and then burn.” The rumor was that the tome was bound in the skinned soft spots of a hundred monstrously deformed babies, and that to even open it, one must be willing to execute an offering then and there so that the book could feast on flesh.”
“This was a relatively easy task. I hired a prostitute, slew her in her den, and put the book on her chest. Being a creature devoted entirely to pleasure has its price: you are prey to the powerful who can give it to you. It began to eat through her tattered rags, and then her chest, finally resting on the floor. The book began to glow, and then to speak, in the voice of a thousand dead ages, and a thousand thousand bloody nightmares:
“Seeker, you have found the object of your farthest longing, and now, should you so desire, you will be privy to the secret of God himself. You are not pure enough, nor are you at all wise enough to handle my revelation and the power that will come with it. But have it you must, if you have come this far and taken such heroic steps to satiate your unholy thirst. Are you prepared for my gift?”
“Yes! Yes!! Get on with it!” I cried. This was all standard boilerplate for demonic tomes of unchained destruction.
The book begin to spin on the floor, sweeping out a circle of gore inside the prostitutes abdomen, coring her like an apple. I felt my mind seized by a psychic talon and I was slowly hypnotized by the book’s whirling cadence. The spinning circle began to glow green, and then the book began to bore through the floor, creating a dark, green-tinged tunnel that I found myself walking toward.
“The price is this,” screamed the book, “you trade me your mortality, and I grant you freedom and control over the entire universe. You will replace the godhead and assume his mantle, but in order to do so, you must promise to never die.”
I laughed. “Yes, give it to me! I want the all! I accept! I relinquish my pitiful mortality and ready myself for your virtue!”
“Long ago, I once made the same trade, seeker,” said the book, “but my motives were pure, and part of the deal I made was that if I could find another to replace me, I could go free. Now I have found him, and he shall be the only person I shall never meet in the cold bliss of oblivion. Goodbye, and enjoy your prize.”
I fell into the hole, and there I was reborn.
My material body was destroyed in a churning surge of infinite pain, and I felt the universe ripple, quaking and distending, imploding and growing small to my mind. I felt its secrets unclasp and my mind grow huge and strong as I soaked in all the knowledge of the construction of my world. The whole universe shrank to me, until I could feel it balanced on the end of my spiritual finger. I laughed the roaring laughter of a new deity, and spun it, watching its colors dance. Galaxies and black holes were at my command, and I was huge - gigantic - I cannot convey in words the raw release I felt as a result of the radical change in perspective. No longer was the sky my limit...limits were now something I was in charge of setting for others.
For an eternity I was drunk on the sweet nectar of my divinity. And then, one morning, a police officer, one of the dominions of your world, nudged me with his leather boot.
You see, I had been destroyed in my own world in order to rise up above it to command it, and then I had been reborn in yours. At first I thought I had lost my universe and merely been transported - lied to and cheated by a loathsome demon - but then I realized it was still in my hand where I had wanted it. All of my demands had been met, just not how I had intended. When I finally realized everything that had happened, it was too late to go back through the door, and I could hear nothing but laughter on the other side.
He caressed the green globe tenderly, and almost smiled.
“Behold, my universe...and I, its eternal caretaker.”
We both sat there silently amazed, staring at the ball’s green smoke. It had formed a grinning death’s head, which winked and then disappeared. It was Sal who spoke first.
“You mean to tell me that there is an entire universe in there?”
“Indeed,” said Ithething. “Perhaps the greatest of all possible worlds.”
“And you just keep it in your pocket, like...like...”
“Car keys?” I ventured.
“Yeah, like car keys,” said Sal.
“I think that I am more bound to it, than it to me, to be fair.”
More silence and expectation.
“I believe you,” I said finally, “I don’t know why, but I do. My only question is: what’s with the skin condition?”
“To you, it is a skin condition. To me, I am merely attempting to avoid participating in the ugliness of your form as creatures. You disgust me, and if I can disgust you, than I feel slightly vindicated.”
“I believe you, too,” said Sal. “But Jesus...this is insane.”
Ithething drained his second bottle of whiskey, setting it right next to the other one.
“It is incidental whether or not you believe me,” said Ithething. “What I need you to do is shoot me in the face, right after I have done what I came here to do. You may not have much time. I do not know the specifics, but I believe that for a few brief moments, before the ball can fight back, the deal will be broken and I will be mortal again.”
“Come again?” I said.
“Lift your weapon, and when I say the word, shoot me in the face.”
“What are you going to do?” asked Sal.
He picked up the ball and gazed into it lovingly. I even think there may have been a tear in his eye. He brought it up to his face and kissed it - deeply - smearing his ooze all over its ethereal convexity.
He set the ball back on top of the bar, but this time slightly to the right of the coaster.
“I have said my goodbye, and now I take my leave. My desires have changed since I have been here in your world. Now, an entire universe is a small price to pay for the freedom of annihilation,” said Ithething. “My only complaint is that the only companions I have for my death are swine such as yourselves.”
He pushed the ball, and it began to roll. It traveled slowly at first down the length of the bar, then faster. Sal and I watched, so tense with anticipation we felt as if bolted to the floor. The smoke inside of it churned at an incomprehensible speed. It began to vibrate as it rolled, but it was too little too late. Over the edge it went, and with an almighty crash, we knew it had broken into a million little green bits.
Beams of green light began to shoot from Ithething’s pupil-less eyes, and he was lifted into the air as if taken by the holy ghost.
“Shoot me! Now! Do it!”
I raised my gun.
Ithething smiled. “Now you can tell your friends you have killed a god.”
I fired, and his brains turned the wall that housed my trophy case into a Jackson Pollack.
And that’s it, that’s what happened. Sal knew some people who took care of the body, and they were the kind of people who didn’t ask any questions. It was the strangest experience of my life,
and I have been trying to figure out what it all meant ever since. Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. But he was right about how I would be compelled to talk about it. Sorry about chatting your ear off, but it is a kind of sickness that overtakes me. I suppose there are worse places to be.
Now here is the part where everybody always asks what happened to the ball. That is a question I, and only I, can answer.
Here is my stop. Let’s make this quick. Now where did I put my fragment bag? Ah yes, right front jacket pocket, as always.
Hold out your hand...