Friday, June 29, 2012

Wither The Vain: Spare Change Part 2

White Christmas

I was about to raise fire, brimstone, and the embodiment of Hell itself from a snow-covered garbage dump.

Then, I started singing along to the old Mother Goose rhyme "Hot Cross Buns."

Seth was not amused. Nor was Christoph. But I think Arturo started to snicker. Only because he figured the other two were going to beat me to death for it.

Arturo had been educating them as to their roles as he had escorted to the garbage dump. Christoph had not spoken once since I had caught up with them at the dump gates. Seth, on the other hand, had been more... vocal.



"You killed me!"

"I kill a lot of things Seth."

"I am not supposed to be one of them."

I had shrugged and started to walk away when he grabbed me by the shoulder and squeezed, the bones cracking underneath his grip.

"I'm remembering, Wither, exactly what things make me War. Why didn't they put me in charge? Or Arturo? He's Victory. You're the youngest among us. What gives you the right to assume the position of leader?"

I had twisted in his grip, letting my shoulder separate, gritting my teeth. I caught his throat and squeezed as well, nose to beak with him, eyes burning into each other.

"Vanity, Seth. It's all about vanity. You never had the stones to kill the planet. Were always more concerned with beating me at every I did. That's why I'm in charge. That's why they call me vain. Because I'm the only one with the strength and balls to run this entire world into the dirt. Do you understand me?"

I squeezed twice more, harder than before. Seth had nodded and I loosed his throat. He fell to his knees, gasping and gagging as my shoulder reknit itself, hair lengthening, turning snowy white.

But now we were each standing around a makeshift grave, a pipe and charred helmet as its tombstone.

"Looks like we're a little late there fearless leader." Croaked out of a bruised windpipe.

"Si, Eli. This one's already gone." Pink eraser breath.

I turned to Christoph and remembered how far I had to tip back my head.

"Christoph, we're going to need vines. As many thin vines as you can make. And three thorns to use as needles."

He nodded with a word and held out his hands, fingers extending, spooling out onto the ground. Green rolls among the white snow. I reached down beneath the snow and felt for a sharp edge. I found one on a pop can torn in half. I looked at Christoph and he nodded again.


His fingers sealed over and drew back into their normal length.

I dropped to my knees and started digging.

"What are you up to?"

"Getting our fifth member Seth. Forget already?"

He clamped his beak tight and crossed his arms, wrapping his wings tightly around himself. Pouting.


I dug for three hours with just my hands, my three brothers watching me. We were silent, every last one of us. No how's the missus, what strange weather, what've you been up to lately, remember the old days banter. The horsemen aren't stoic.

We're damned dysfunctional.

I found her six feet under. Didn't think anyone bothered to dig them that deep these days. Must've been a professional.

I hauled her out of the grave with a soft touch to keep her mostly together. She was pretty, I imagine, before her death. As a matter of fact, she was undoubtedly a cold-hearted bitch, if she was as pretty as I was guessing.

"Now what? We saddle up ger corpse like we're riding with El Cid? I think no. Let me write her a dirge and be on our way."

"You'll be writing Arturo, but not on paper. On her. But first things first. Seth?"


I grinned. I grinned so hard.

I grinned so hard my teeth were starting to crack.

"We need your delicate touch." I motioned to the thorns and vines. "And your mastery at sewing."

He ruffled his feathers, glaring at me. But he got down on his knees, took the vines and slid them through the holes Christoph had left in the thorns.

"A tailor, Wither. A respectable job back then. Where as you were off killing whores. Have you done that lately? Seems that's all you're usually good for."

I slapped the back of Seth's head hard enough to rock his entire body forward.

"Shut up."

He grumbled and set back to work sewing. Or tailoring. Something.

"Arturo, here."

I tossed him a permanent marker stolen from Dad's bar.

"Tattoos. Aleutian. Each and every joint. Spirit retention tattoos."

He nodded and knelt down into the snow himself.

"This is a bit beyond me. I'm a writer, not an artist. And are you going to buy me a new pair of slacks to replace these ones if they stain?"

"You were an artist three or four times already. Surely you remember something. And if anyone owes you the pants, she will. Alright?"


Children. Every one of them.


Arturo finished first, a swirl of dots surrounding each one of her joints. He leaned back in the snow and smiled, admiring his work. Christoph lay sprawled out on the hill of garbage, waiting for Seth to finish.

"There. I'm done." He clipped the final vine thread with his beak and tied it off.

I unzipped my gloves and dropped them into the snow, kneeling down beside her. I held her throat, a hand on either side, and let my strength pour into her.

The skin and flesh Seth has sewn together sealed tight, melting back together. The threads of muscles caught each other, joining, smoothing over. Where her hair had begun to fall out, new hair grew, sprouted lustrous black.

There was wind in her lungs again. She gasped. Brimstone and rotten eggs.

A breath and her eyes opened.

"Welcome back to the land of the living. What's your name?"

"I am... I am Holly Ka, of the Tulugal."

Child-eating ghosts? Right.

"You've seen Hell."

She turned, body spasming, eyes twitching. A hamstrung puppet.

"Seen... I saw... Burned, skinned, roast, beaten... So much fire... So many flames..."

I slipped on my gloves, zipping them tight, before touching her cheek.

"Holly Ka."

She looked up at me.

"The spaniard is Victory, rider of the white horse. The Sleeper, the crow, that's Seth, rider of the red horse. The tree all sprawled out there? That's Christoph, rider of the black horse. And I'm Eli, rider of the pale green horse. But you can call me Wither."

"What...? Who?"

"Almost forgot. You, Holly Ka, are Hell, and you ride with me."

She shook, violently, coughing up a ball of mucous and soot before collapsing in the snow. Sleeping.

"Well gents, there we go. One big happy family."

Wait. Covered in snow. Flying. An owl.

It landed on Seth's shoulder, glaring at me.

"I bear a message from the Council, concerning your proposal."


"This will not be forgotten Wither, but we are too immersed in war to bother with you. Instead, we need your services."


"Sho District. The Judges have a warehouse full of armaments we desire. Capture it without damaging the inventory."


Seth was raising a voice of protest but I held up my hand.

The owl nodded to me and flittered back off into the snow.

"What was that?"

"A job."

"We freelance?"

"Everybody needs a little spare change in their pockets. Besides, Sho was where we needed to go anyway."

Seth stood, and walked down the hill, cursing under his breath. Arturo sat, scribbling at his notebook. Christoph stared at snow clouds.

And Holly just lay there, sound asleep.

Yeah. One big happy family.

Screw that.

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