Look around. No, not like that. I mean really look at it. All of it. This brickwork, rotten with mould and fungus. It feels like touching a week-dead fish, and the smell isn't that different. The people down here look like rats, scurrying back and forth, nervously hunting for that next crumb of bacon. Collars turned up, heads and shoulders hunched, scrawny hair, scrawny bodies, scrawny minds. They're pathetic. They don't even know why they go on living. Force of habit, that's all. Too bored even to lay down and die. Flickering neon adds to the decay, painting the street - if you can call it that - and the people (the same disclaimer applies) with a thin varnish of sickly green. Forty yards of habitable road before everything sinks back into the chaos of tangled concrete and mashed steel again, and they turn it into a fucking shopping district. One bar, one store, one brothel. You have to climb down two levels, sneak through 80 feet of pipe, and drop down a small shaft to get here. You have to make your way down what used to be a fire escape to the level below before you can start working your way back up again. Can't you see? They take the effort because there's just nothing else. It's shit, that's all. Nothing but shit. Our "glorious" city.


Chrysy told Luna the story anyway. "Oh, he was angelic. Unfortunately he wasn't for sale, but it was worth a try. His face was glorious. His eyes were so bright. Luna, you would have fallen in love instantly, I just know it. When he came to clear my table, I asked him what his name was, and do you know what he said?"

"How could I?"

"He said he couldn't remember. Can you believe that? He wasn't tripping out, his mind was clear and sharp. And those eyes, he just stared at me with those big blue eyes. I fell into them. And do you know what I saw? Nothing. He was empty, totally devoid of consciousness. It freaked me out. To tell you the truth, I'm still a bit freaked by the whole thing."

Luna stared beyond Chrysalis at the stream of taxis, thousands of headlights, tens of thousands of lives pressing in on her. She didn't like the story. It made her feel like she was supposed to have been there and seen it for herself. Chrysalis was waiting patiently. "Chrysy, I don't feel very happy. Your story was lovely, but I don't want to remember it.. I think I'll go for a walk on my own. Take care. And be gentle to Frank. You know he didn't mean what he said."


"Do you look at people? See under skin? To the skull beneath? And below that? Soft, wet brain. Yet there is identity. Under the face. Face is just a mask. Like wax. Always. Personality moves it. Personality shapes it. An instrument. Tool of communication. Tool of life. Where does 'I' live? In soft, wet brain? What shapes it? What moulds 'I'? Surely not just life. A tragic thing would kill some. The same thing inspires others. Not just life. Something in there. Not just chemicals. Not just wet brain. But where? Not in the eyes. Uses the eyes. Shines through the eyes. Moves the voice. Moves the body. Inside, but outside. Not just inside, anyway. Lots more wet, inside. Always lots of blood. Nothing else, though. Blood. Bone. Skin. Muscle. Nothing else. No 'I'. Never any 'I'. Always keep looking, though. Hide within the herd. Watch. Wait. Look at people. Keep out of sight. Have to follow orders sometimes. Afterwards, look at people again."


"Hsst! Silently! And keep hidden. Idiots."


"You're such a delicate little thing. Come now. Time to leave this dreary city behind in the capable hands of its mewling guardians, and join me at the jagged wastelands between worlds. We'll play in the merry rivers of excrement, then walk the moonlight corridor, laughing into the screaming mirrors. Later, you'll die beautifully, slowly, into the quivering stars. We'll spend some eternity in the froth-filled ditches and cluttered back streets of paradise, in the cold, dank misery of some unearthly tomb, in the lightless cities of madness and in their slums. It's time to go dancing, my sweetling."


I opened the ostentatious door and walked into the room. Three of them were in there, behind a fatuous desk laden with pointless toys and gizmos. An empty statement of wealth and privilege. Pathetic, as always. I did as I was bidden, and sat on the cold plastic stool they directed me to. I'd have fried them all, but there was some meathead behind me with a Reaper. On the left an old one, just this side of senile, bobbing and drooling, opened the questioning, asking why, for reasons, for excuses. Stuff him. I muttered something vaguely placatory. It was only bloody Downtowners, for shit's sake. They don't count. On the far right, a bleeding heart bleated up, some stupid woman in desperate need of a long, hard fuck. She whined that they were people too, deserving respect. Why? They never respected me. She had no idea what it was like. Calmly, I told her to fuck off. To my surprise, a grizzled one in the middle backed me up, and the whinger was banished to silence. Snaggletooth wasn't as stupid as the other two, but it was close. Speaking slowly, obviously angry, he pointed out that it was not about right, but about following orders. For once, I had no answer. Much as I resented the truth of his dominance, it was just the way things were. The strong have always eaten the weak, and with a Power Reaper in the small of my back, I was the weak. For the moment.


To live is to serve. It's not the same for us as it is for you. All things have a purpose. Yours is to procreate. 'To live is to breed', perhaps. But we're different. We don't have to worry about the perpetuation of our kind, because it's taken care of for us. Instead, our primary concern is to follow orders, to do what we're told. Morality, humanity, mercy, ethics, all of the clutter you carry around to ensure you can hang around together long enough to spawn, there's no need for any of it. The concerns that shackle you do not shackle us. We have no instinctual need to protect the young. For us, torturing a child is no different to carrying a package, or sleeping - just another thing that needs to be done. I can see you have difficulty understanding that. I'm obviously sentient, obviously intelligent, obviously alive. Surely I should have some feeling for my fellow creature. You're wrong, though. There's no need. I don't care that you are innocent, and that I know the fact. I don't care that it is a horrible way to die. I don't care about the torment you'll feel. I can't care. I'm not going to cut you down and let you go, or put an end to your misery. I'm just going to do what I'm told, which is stand here and keep an eye on you, hanging in that cage, unfed and unwatered, until you die. If it's any consolation, I'll probably find the experience pleasurable.


Girl in Park
Sitting, quietly, midnight blue on ash,
Calm. A mountain lake.
Eyes disinterested in life.
Nothing to do.
No purpose. No tradition. No existence.
No life.
Just sitting, quietly.
Waiting to die, in the rain.


Human. Ebon with thanks to Liam Wickham. Vevaphon. Wraith. Monitor with apologies to Thomas Ligotti. Waster. Stormer. Shaktar. Coda.


Tim Dedopulos, Nightfall Games