65)   Super Sunday, February 19th:  5:40 – 5:45 AM  By the Light of a Red, Mutant Rat…!”


“The way out of Hell… through its center...”


Climbing up the blistering-hot yellow rungs from the crawlspace above the toxic inferno that had Oil Change Charlie’s had become, prodding Kristi Chaine ahead of him despite the darkness and the pain shooting through his bleeding, dogmauled foot, David Lee was reminded of Dante’s descriptive poetry of the Inferno  a burning darkness, the incongruous depiction of stinking black fire looping through his mind like an asinine popsong equation…

          “I can’t breathe…” Kristi jerked him back to reality…

          “Keep going,” he urged.  “There’s a door up there, somewhere, there has to be…”

          “I can’t see…”

          Something ran across David’s mangled ankle in the smoke, something that stopped, extended a tongue, began to lick at his blood.  Something red, glowing… one of Petworld’s escaped fluorodents

          He reached down, gathered it in his palm.  The rat was tame, bred down through dozens of generations not to feel danger or alarm when grasped by human beings.  Bred to accept deceit.

          The fluorescence barely permitted David Lee to see the hot, yellow rung at eye-level; he knew, instinctively, that he must not look down.   He called out…

          “Kristi… take this.  Don’t be afraid, and don’t drop it.  It’ll move around a little, but it won’t bite, and it gives off light…”

          The Research Manager bent to take the animal from David… and shrieked…

          “It’s alive! It’s… it’s a fuckin’ rat!…

          “Don’t throw it.  Use it to see…”

          “But what if… I mean, I’m not squeamish, really, but this…” and David saw a faint, red glow circling upwards, “oh, wait!  I think I see a door.  It’s a door!”

          The boss lady advanced, rattled the door.  “David!  Open it!”

          “It’s locked, no…” and Kristi changed her mind as she transferred the rat from her right hand to her left, held it up against the doorknob, vowing resolutely through gritted teeth: “…I can handle this…”

          The door was merely locked from the inside… once she unlocked by turning a little halfmoon knob, it creaked open – by ratlight, she saw that it held another staircase, but a conventional one, this time; concrete steps, limned with steel.  Then, swirling clouds of smoke enveloped the passage, leaving her at the bottom of the threshold, holding a dull, red glow…

          “There’s another stairway…” she informed her subordinate, “I think it leads to another door.”

          “Well, go on!” David called up, impatiently.  “My foot is killing me – I need a rabies shot and drugs.  Lots of drugs.  And beer.  And a shower.  If that door opens, it’s got to lead to the roof…”

          “And if it doesn’t, we’re fried…”

          But she forced herself to think positively, climb the staircase and try the second door, which wouldn’t budge.  David limped up to join her and they both rammed it with their shoulders, coughing in the thickening smoke.

          “Does metal expand or contract when it’s heated?” he said, after trying the knob which was locked.  Warm, but not hot yet.

          “I think it expands…”

          But she wasn’t sure.  David rammed it again, to no effect. 

          “Let me try something...”

          Then, Kristi lowered her left hand, still holding the drowsy rodent – rapidly overcome with smoke – reaching up to the sill to snatch the tiny key Providence had hidden there which fit the keyhole – twisting it ninety degrees until the door opened with a theatrical creak and an exodus of spiders.

          Before them lay spread before their aching, blistered eyes, the vast roof of the One World Mall; above, the night sky with its thousand thousand stars brilliant in the darkness but gradually winking out behind the smoke billing through half a dozen apertures – then, as a Cadillac-sized expanse of roofing tar and weak concrete collapsed, an unlucky seven.  The rain was gone.  The clouds were scudding away to the north.   The mottled roof was empty, the throttling smoke drifting away.  The Metroplex… as far as their eyes could see… was dark save for numerous organic, flickering glimmerings, like the campfires of a great, daemonic army.  The moon… almost full… revealed the skeleton of the huge blue globe and clasped hands over to their left; the One World Sign was dark and dead – its glass panels shattered by multicultural rocks hurled from beneath by the damned, the despised and betrayed.  Their lungs gratefully filled with city air before more smoke from the flames inside the mall whooshed out behind them as an eighth perforation erupted/

          “What now?” Kristi wondered.


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In the Promenade, just past the fire door from Giga-Plex, Rifleman Stu rolled defensively and bounced to his feet; rifle poised, eyes scanning the dark smoky passage in either direction for potential enemies.  A couple of zombies, stumbling out of Giga-Mart with armsful of toothpaste and sanitary napkins; all the good stuff was long gone… though much of it had been abandoned elsewhere in the mall, or in the parking lot… grinned weakly and slithered alongside the Mart, hoping that Stu had better things to do than to shoot them.  Which he did… counting his ammo and reminding himself…


          By the weak light of the fires in various stores, he discerned the nearest large object to be a banged-up Hummer, finally dead… a puddle of oil beneath it and a distinct odor of leaking gasoline.  Stu glanced through the window… a dead man was slumped over the steering wheel, his face under assault by multicoloured rats and a few incongruous but hungry canaries.  Rifle at the ready, he proceeded towards the western portal…

          “Shit!” he exclaimed.

          The gates were wholly blocked by the gigantic head of Ghede…upside down now… the batteries fueling its demonic laughter running down, reducing the orisha’s rebellious humour to a soft, wry basso profundo cackle.  As if recognizing that the Screaming Eagle’s helpless bewilderment lessened his own chance of getting shot, a black man in soiled clothes and a clerical collar… Reverend Ellsworth Godwin hisownself!… ambled out from Liquors-2-Go, holding a long, red candle and a bottle half-filled with syrupy orange emulsion, peering and squinting at the bizarre, plastic obstacle as it exuded a tired and morose “hee-hee-hee”…

          “Symbolic, I should say, but of what?” he asked, lifting his lamp.

          “It’s blocking the way, idiot, get it out of here,” ordered Rifleman Stu.

          Godwin blinked and smiled – Ghede’s head, even upside down, was a good fifteen feet high and the damned thing probably weighed a ton.  The clergyman hoisted himself up into an aperture formed by the orisha’s left eye, raising the bottle…

          “Interesting.  S’peach shshshpap… some kind of peach brandy?  I never knew such a vintage existed…” and he let some of the foul ichor trickle down his throat… “but it does…”

          “Yeah, I know, I know… Bobby DeNiro poured it all over his cornflakes for breakfast before he’d go out and shoot up a whole lotta people.  Get offa that head and push…”

          He raised his rifle… the candle giving him an approximate location of the Reverend’s broken, bleeding heart, but either Godwin didn’t perceive, or he no longer cared.  Instead, he bent his head over… looking upward from an odd angle.

          “Big ol’ black head, upside down… kinda looks the way my father did when he was mad, see?  ‘Cause a smile, upside down – that’s just a big ol’ frown.  Never did think much of li’l ol’ Elly, no sir, he did not.  Couldn’t measure up.  Guess he was right…”

          “Oh hell, you’re drunk.  Fuckin’ world comin’ to an end and what do God’s own do, they crawl into a bottle, and then into a pagan head,” Stu shook his head in disgust.  “Man, what I’m gonna do to you ain’t murder, it’s a kindness…”

          But as he raised his rifle to blast the damn preacher off his black, round, plastic pulpit, something also round, but compact and heavily muscled, charged down the corridor and vaulted towards his throat.  Rifle lost, Stu gurgled and flailed as Brunhilde shook his neck like a rag toy until  blood spurted out.

          “Now, you see…” the Reverend admonished from his Caribbean perch: “if you’d paid attention and thought to climb to a safe place like this, that dog...” he pointed... “might not have had the chance to take you down the way he did.  Personally, I have always been on good terms with dogs.  Maybe not all people, but dogs… good doggie…”

          Godwin looked down at the dog, and Brunhilde looked back up at the minister.  With a sigh and a nod, Godwin tossed the bottle aside and it shattered on the floor… the pitbull sniffed its contents, then backed away.

          “Dog smarter than a man,” Godwin realized.  “So… time to get to work!”

          Holding the red candle between his ring and middle finger, Reverend Godwin began climbing the inverted Ghede.  Standing just beneath the left eyebrow, he took a leap of faith and grasped the statue’s nostrils with both hands, pulling himself up and scrunching towards his next objective – Ghede’s mouth, while the inverted effigy gave another weak chuckle.

          Brunhilde wagged her tail and barked twice.


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