FORTY-THREE: BACK IN BLACK
I FLOATED GENTLY IN a place I called the Black.
The Black is not an easy place to describe. Well, that’s not quite true. I mean, on the surface anyway, it’s pretty simple. The whole of existence, everything around me, as far as the eye could see, was black nothingness.
Stretching out into forever.
Okay, imagine you are in a vast open space. But you aren’t standing, or sitting, or even kicked back in one of them sweet beds that you can raise and lower. No, you are floating, weightless. There’s nothing above you, nothing below you. All around you is just this space.
But you can’t see it. You can only feel it because everything around is black. Like blacker than the darkest night.
You can see yourself, no problems there, but if there was anything else out there in the black void, you’d never know.
Personally, I don’t think there’s anything else out there. Not physically anyway. I mean, I’ve seen things in the back. Some mundane, some better left unspoken. But I’ve never felt their presence, not in a physical sense. I’ve always chalked it up to my brain playing tricks on me.
I waited patiently in the Black, floating in the void, watching for the way out, which would always come. I was in the Black for a reason, and that reason was Mike. He had tried to kill me.
But I didn’t die.
See, I have this special ability.
Some people can sit down at a piano for the first time and just play. Some folks can take a bite from a cookie and know exactly which ingredients were involved in its making. Even others can move stuff around and bend spoons with their brain.
Well, I can’t die.
I’m pretty sure anyways. I have to admit that when it comes to why I’m still alive after over a century, I don’t know an awful lot.
What I do know is this: I heal quickly. Cuts seal in seconds and bones mend in minutes.
I’ve never put a bullet to my brain to see if I’d survive, but I’ve sustained what would be life threatening injuries a time or two. When I do, I don’t die. Instead, I am taken to the Black. And it’s there that I wait.
As much as I appreciate the fact that I don’t die, I don’t particularly like being in the Black. When I said that there’s nothing else out in the void except for me, I meant stuff like trees and mountains and dogs and stuff. But spiritually... Okay, see, whenever I’ve been sent to the Black, which has happened more often than I have fingers on one hand, I can sense something in there with me. A presence. Something alive. Sentient.
The presence urges me to go deeper, to give myself to the void. But I can’t do that.
Sometimes the urge, the call, it’s weak. I can feel it out there like the wings of a butterfly.
Other times it’s like one of them heavy metal singers screaming into my brain to let go.
It’s not easy to resist either, but I’m afraid that if I give in and let go, I may never come back. And between you and me, I ain’t ready to give up on life just yet.
So I fight it. Whatever it is in the void that pulls me further in, I fight and I wait for the light that is the doorway back.
This time, the urge wasn’t strong. Not at all. It was out there, flickering along the edges of my senses, but I found that I could ignore it with little to no effort.
I can never be sure how long I’m in the Black, not until I come out, time is relatively meaningless in the void, but eventually the light appeared. I swam toward it and slid through, back into the world. Back into sound and color and smell. I’m not always glad to be back.
I slid back into the world to the sound of chanting. I opened my eyes.
I was looking down into the arena. The altar was back in the center of the arena floor. Mike stood next to it. His arms crossed over his chest and his eyes staring blankly into nothingness.
Cleon stood in front of Mike, his tattoos glowing as he smiled the kind of smile that bad guys like to tack onto their face when they think they’ve won. I was looking forward to blasting that smile off of his face.
Two rows of monks, twenty-six in all, stood parallel to each other, creating a Soul Train dance-line leading to the altar. Two other monks guided Maggie between the lines. All of the monks were chanting something low and dark. I couldn’t quite make out the words, probably Latin.
The monks in the stands were quiet as they watched, most sitting on the edges of their seats. Waiting in breathless anticipation for the ritual that would give them more power. Power to do what, I hadn’t the slightest.
I was up among the monks in the stands, strapped to a chair in the very box Cleon had been sitting in when Mike had ‘killed’ me.
Mike has known about my special skill for a while now. Had Mike truly wanted me dead, he could have crushed my bones into dust. Something I’m actually not one hundred percent certain I could come back from. The thought made me shudder.
But no, Mike didn’t crush me. Instead, he squeezed me like one of them snakes, constricting my breathing until my heart stopped and I ‘died’. Meaning that there was still a bit of Mike left in there.
Cleon also seemed to know about my special skill, hence the reason I was strapped to the chair. He’d known that I’d come back and he wanted me tied up, as it were, so that I couldn’t interfere with the ritual. He wanted me alive, though. Which I found disturbing.
The High Priest could have buried me, set me on fire, or cut my head off. But instead he strapped me to a chair in the stands. He wanted me to watch.
So, since I had nowhere else to go, I watched.
The chanting stopped as Maggie was presented to Cleon. Her hands were behind her back, so I couldn’t see if they had bound her or not, but I figured it wouldn’t be long until they strapped her back to the altar.
I was bound to the chair by wide bands of leather. I pulled against them, straining my arms. Pain lanced through my right side. I’d almost forgotten about the dislocated shoulder. Sure, I heal up quick, but unless someone pops my shoulder back into place, nothing about it is gonna heal.
“Great Asterion,” Cleon called out, his hands held high. “Please accept this sacrifice of flesh, bone, and blood in your name. We pray that you will find us worthy and bestow upon us the gift of everlasting life—”
I tried my legs, but couldn’t move them any more than my arms.
“—and the power to change the world in our image. Do you accept this sacrifice in your name, mighty Asterion?” Cleon continued.
Cleon’s skull tattoos glowed as Mike said: “I accept your sacrifice in my name.”
“Bring the sacrifice to me that I may anoint her in the sacred oils.” Cleon said.
The box I was in was near the top of the stands. There was a small wall, about a foot tall, in front of the chair. From the box to the stands below I figured it was about a ten to twelve foot drop. I thought maybe, if I threw my weight forward in one, quick motion, that I could roll out over the wall and crash to the stand below and smash the chair up in the process.
It would hurt, I’d probably break a few bones, maybe even drive shards of splintered wood into some of my more delicate areas, but it was the only plan I had.
The two monks brought Maggie forward. She stood now just inches from Cleon. I made ready to drive myself over the wall when she looked up and caught my eye. She winked.
I froze, more than startled by the gesture.
Cleon held a round clay jar above Maggie’s head, and as he was about to tip the contents over her head, she did something I was not at all prepared for.
She hit Cleon squarely in the jaw.
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