Tuesday, July 08, 2014

AssassiNation: Tales of Consumerism, Souls Ablaze

I awoke to the sound of the World grinding her teeth.  It was a low rumble: sand and rocks rubbing unevenly together against a smooth surface: the crunch of dry, old bones under the feet of some monstrous predator.  I was at the roof of the Earth, in a house that was and wasn't mine; I lived in a State of Flux, and every second threatened to crumble around me.

I was hungry.  But not for food. 

The rumbling was getting closer.  Soon I was enveloped in it.  Wrapped in it, like a deep-fried pogo at the state fair in the sweltering heat of July.  There was no cooling off.  Not at times like these.  Even my piss was like a stream of scalding hot magma, hissing as it hit the stagnant waters of the mine-but-not-mine toilet.  The air shimmered around me.  I couldn't swallow.  Couldn't think.

I was hungry.  This time, for food.

Captain Crunch.  That was all I could think.  I hated that shit, and I doubted we had any in the house, but I checked anyway as the sanity was slowly being ground to a fine powder in the red-hot cauldron of my skull.  What the fuck is this?  Who bought Captain Crunch on my watch?  Who brought it into my house, right under my nose?  Who would stock my cupboards with this junk?  The same people who would stalk the ferris wheel.

The fridge was hot, and the milk was curdled, but I needed something to help me choke down the small, yellow rectangles of sandpaper that passed for food in the midst of the ever-present grinding.  It was close now.  The fuckers.  The mine-but-not-mine house was shaking around me now, right down to its very foundations.  It would collapse on me any second, I knew that as certainly as I knew that the sun was black and the rivers ran red with blood.

The bowl was a sloppy mess of jagged edges and sour dairy, but it was all I had available for my Last Meal, so it would have to suit me.  The house was swaying now, dancing to some unholy rhythm.  The kitchen cupboards were spewing their contents violently onto the ground and chunks of drywall fell from the ceiling. It won't be long now.  The very air was warped with the heat.  My vision was distorted, but through it all, I managed to lift a spoonful of that accursed devil's cereal to my cracked and bleeding lips.  Bottoms up.

It was then the grinding ceased.

Before I had a chance to choke down the soggy flakes of gravel and clumps of rotten milk, that infernal grinding had ended and with it the shaking of my-but-not-my house.  And what's more, it had stopped right outside my-but-not-my front door.  I let the spoon drop, walked across the broken glass and debris, and stepped outside.  It was even hotter there.  I was drenched to the bone with sweat, and my mouth was filled with dust.  It was pretty gross.

The old gypsy cart had planted itself firmly at the end of my driveway.  Then I knew, with the surety of having been struck in the skull with a frying pan by an unstable gravedigger with severe psoriasis that the source of that grinding had been those old, wooden wheels scraping along the scorching pavement.

"Come see our wares, hiousfrft."

The old crone cackled as she shifted her old bones from the wagon to the asphalt.  She stank of death and Clorets, and if I had any moisture left in me, I surely would have vomited on her wrinkled, ancient, rotting flesh.  Each step she took rattled her bones and raised a cloud of steam where her decrepit feet made contact with the scorched earth.  My own feet were all blisters and burns by the time I found myself in front of the wagon.  I felt like an overcooked piece of chicken left on the BBQ ten minutes too long in a fit of drunken forgetfulness.

"Like what you see, ijkluhsjk?" she hissed at me from behind black and crumbling teeth.  She yanked on an old braided cord--the Demon's Tail--and the mottled fabric roof rolled back and the side of the cart creaked open on a rusty old hinge revealing a treasure trove of rare and priceless artifacts.  They were arranged haphazardly with no regard to alphabetic order whatsoever.  You bitch.  Even in these unholy times, the least she could have done was show some basic regard to the principles of organization.
She seemed to read my mind, and cackled at the morsels of hatred she found there, which she greedily consumed.  She knew as well as I did that in this heat I would either burn up or be forged into sturdier stock.

The Time was Now.

My eyes turned from that shrivelled old hag and scanned the array of orderless merchandise with as discerning an eye as I could muster.  Then my eye stopped dead.  Is it real?  Could it be?  For a moment I feared that I truly had lost control of my senses and been lured completely into the hot tub of Unspeakable Madness, there to rest semi-comfortably for the remainder of eternity.  Fearful of some subterfuge and sensing a trap of unknown origins or proportions, I reached out with my shaking hands and gingerly withdrew the item from the exposed bowels of the weather-worn wagon.

"How much?" I asked, though somehow I already knew the terrible price I would be forced to pay.

"Twenty dollars, oeruycv," she spat at me, then cackled again with such terrible fervour that I almost dropped the item on the ground in spite of myself.  I could hardly believe it.  I held in my hands a copy of Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag Limited Edition box set for the Xbox 360.

"Only twenty dollars?" I asked, my voice strained by incredulity and heatstroke.

"Ohhhh, plus applicable taxes, llllllxiouer," she cawed then threw her head back, consumed as she was by an unspeakable, howling wave of comic-book-villain laughter.  That horrible laughter that shocked me to the very core of my being, that discordant tolling that rang in the very Halls of Hell, and that haunts me to this very day.

"Do you take debit?"  I reached, my fingers hovering above the wallet in my front pocket the way a gunslinger prepares himself for an impending duel.

"Of course, sssihwog," she replied as matter-of-factly as the hangman to the current occupant of his gallows as she reached up and produced a hand-held debit machine from the cart, which hung attached by the noose of a cable protruding from the top of it.  The transaction was quick, and it was only then that I noticed that the heat had subsided and some unknown Disaster had been averted.

I took my new treasure and started back towards the mine-but-not-mine house, but cast my look back at the gypsy witch and her world-churning wagon one last time to assure myself that she had not merely evaporated as some wraith upon the Scottish highlands.  I turned to find her hazy eyes trained upon me, smiling the evil grin of a CEO reading up on corporate profits.  I was unable to break that gaze and felt compelled to speak, as if my sure-to-be-trembling voice could somehow dispel whatever spell she seemed intent to cast upon me.

"Good buy," I managed before my throat hoarsely cut out on me.

"The best buy, ghberaoch," she replied before spurring along the red-eyed steed yoked to the front of her damned vessel.  Crone, wagon, beast: they slowly disappeared down the next street, no doubt seeking out their next victim.  Perhaps next time, they might cost someone his very soul.

I clutched Assassin's Creed IV tighter as a chill penetrated my body, and I stood there dumbly, silently wishing for one more taste of the terrible heat that had only moments before threatened to consume me.


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