A huddled figure slowly differentiated itself from the ailing darkness, first breaking the greyscale continuity of the scene with a deliberate yawn and then writhing to life. Thomas Malfraey reached for his coffee mug and greedily downed a cold gulp. The coffee was five hours overdue and it hit him like a brick. He’d passed out during an analysis again, and this work needed a scalable outline yesterday. The coffee gunk disseminated into his myriad arteries and Malfraey sullenly kicked himself into gear.
Thomas Malfraey is one of those routine people whom all of us know and none of us understand. Slightly more intelligent than average, Thomas abuses his natural ability to grasp ideas by generalizing circumstances and hoping for a lucky guess. His wanton and cleverly predictive abilities had eventually spilled over into his life and more or less ordained he delve into investigative work. Malfraey lived and worked in a congested city apartment, the concrete cornerstone of Fifth and Allison – cleanliness maintained only due to the relative sparcity of the place.
Malfraey picked up the flash photography and glared at it, eyes blinking liberally as each flipped past. All had centered upon a blinding glare as if someone had tried using a camera on the surface of the sun. Only two offered a semblance of clarity. The first in the set was the most absent of glare and visible was a man of medium stature, frothing on the ground in a fetal position and appearing to be shockingly feverish. The second was of the man again, arms outstretched like a leaping victory or a final messianic twitch of proud defeat. At any rate, these damn pictures were about as inconclusive as any of the other evidence.
Take the iron crosses for example. Malfraey picked one up and carefully rolled it between his thumb and forefinger. Nearly Cylindrical, the metal had cooled in the air sufficiently to remain in its proper shape upon contact with the ground, according to witnesses. Malfraey had collected around fifty of the little trinkets, but hundreds had remained wedged within the brick and stone of the scene or been toted off by curious passersby. The metal began to warm in his fingers. It did this with human contact and Malfraey tossed it back to the pile before the heat grew beyond his pain threshold. He had burned his left palm already in experiment, and had seen similar marks on the witnesses.
Backing up to the witnesses, Malfraey glanced sidelong at their reports and stepped across the room to where they lay on an old wooden dresser. He grimaced as he reread the first few lines of one and took his patent detective hat and coat off the rack. Those reports were about as conclusive as the perspective of a child would be. All talk about angels and fire from heaven and no hard facts. The two things that everyone retained in common were the burning light from the man’s body and the iron crosses. This probably was due to what was considered ‘witness contamination’, Malfraey thought. Witness contamination happens when all the poor fools talk to each other and mix up their stories into one big blob of truth and idea – faith and principle.
But his thoughts turned back to breakfast, and he wrenched the icy doorknob to the left and began out into the wide world. He was weighing the appeal of eggs versus pancakes when the lead pellets shattered his ribs and tore his heart into far too many pieces. The gunshot rang out through the honeycomb of concrete halls, but his ears failed to register the source of the sound. Malfraey fell to the floor and decided pancakes would have made the sweeter final meal, disregarding his health.
The sweat poured down my face and another wave of nausea swept through my abdomen as the pain again took a firm hold and wretched my entire body in drowning spasms. I felt somehow both attached and detached at the same time, like my essence was being ripped from the material world. The buildings of glass and brick swam like a viscous ocean in my eyes, and a raging screech dominated my ears. I half-realized it was my own mouth issuing the piercing sound, but I couldn’t stop it, jaw deadlocked and diaphragm angrily contracting.
The world went black and red, then melted to white and came black in the full shock of vibrant color. I had made it to the ground and quickly my muscles had wrenched themselves into an overwhelmingly fetal position. The skin grew tight on my arms and suffocated me like a taut plastic bag. I smelled it first, like chicken and rice left on the stove to burn, long overdue and devoid of fluid. Then at once my skin flared up and I felt rising, sick churning in my stomach, no gravity.
People all around watching, I spun and received a fleeting glance, the sky had grown black and the skin on me had grown white. Ever brighter, it seared my eyes like so much sunlight, and I lost sight. My screech died out and it echoed across the dreary world, sobs and gasps of terror replacing the horrid sound. I could no longer feel the skin burn and instead a sublime beauty grasped the scene. I felt the last bit of impulse, like receiving so many punches, but none hurt.
And then the darkness was upon me, the sounds died out and the fists ceased. I died there and was reborn not to bliss or agony, but utter agnosticism. Here I felt nothing, and yet I was everything. And then like a wind in perfect temperature I whisked away to nirvana, devoid of decision. I was released.
He looked sick. The man stumbled a little and his chin quivered and foamed. His tears and sweat made lines down his dusty face and his fist was clenched so tight like he was mad. I was scared and daddy held my hand tighter. The man spun a little and his knees dropped from under him like if you try to make a doll stand. Daddy picked me up and I cried because the man cried.
He fell on his face, and left a bloody print of it there on the concrete, rolling over and curling up tight into a fragile ball, smearing more all around him. And the sweat kept coming and he smeared that too. It wasn’t even that hot. His skin looked so tight and pale, you could see the bones at some parts. Someone yelled to call an ambulance, and the man screamed and I screamed. He started turning and lifting into the air like on TV, but daddy says on TV those magic tricks use rope and eye tricks, and there wasn’t any rope.
And then the smell like old Easter eggs and the sewer, his skin started to burn off like an orange. Some people got sick, and the guy stopped screaming and I stopped screaming. But then things came out of the sky. Little crosses, like in church, started raining down and they made sounds like the chimes on the porch. People gasped. The man got brighter, and brighter, until he was like the sun, but the sun was gone. People were yelling and some had fallen to the ground, and some ran.
One of the crosses fell on me and it burned like the stove. It landed on my back and I couldn’t breathe right and I screamed for daddy to fix it. I went upside down and saw it fall to the ground, it took some hair. But the burn didn’t go away and daddy ran like only daddy runs. He put me in the car and started it, and the seat hurt even more, and then regular rain fell.
It fell in big fat drops like flower petals, and it splashed everywhere and people stopped running so much. My back still burned but daddy took me again and laid my back into the rain, and I cried for the freedom and goodness of the water. Daddy hugged me and he put me back and we drove.
Joseph pushed his way into the door, he ignored the receptionist, and he took to the stairs. Why had the sacrifice been made on an off year? Why was it in the presence of so many? This had to have something to do with a split in the Order and Joseph was out for blood. But first he and his unit had to dispose of the evidence. These orders, no doubt given by the true Elders of the order, were of the utmost importance. Joseph stomped up the stairs, armed to the teeth and angry as a cornered cat.
Someone in the order had gotten the blasphemous idea to perform the ritualistic sacrifice on an off year. And not only this, but the true Elders had not even approved of the sacrifice. This was simply too unforgivable an insult. While it is true one needs only proper rank and blessing to perform the ritual, the offending party undoubtedly had neither. This was simply unthinkable.
No matter, now. It happened or appeared to happen, and Joseph was on cleanup. He reached the fourth floor and shoved the door with all his strength. It gave and he stormed down the halls. Cleanup means you destroy all evidence that the ritual occurred. Cleanup is necessary to maintain the secrecy of the Order.
Joseph’s thoughts turned to his unit and all the people who would die today. Most with burn marks would die, and most who had meddled and theorized too much would die. The others would be permitted to survive; the rumors would be laughed at by the expanse of the world. And those that know might meet for coffee, fellow believers in the great nothing -- without proof and thus without hope.
Joseph stopped at a familiar door. He cocked his shotgun and took it to his shoulder. The door jerked and swung wide as a single shock of hot lead spewed itself into the man. What impeccable timing, today, Joseph laughed to himself. He tossed the shotgun on the corpse and took briefcase in hand. He extracted a gasoline container and replaced it with the crosses, photographs, and witness reports. After liberally applying the fluid to the room, Joseph struck a solitary match and set it carefully to the man. A scourge of flame lit up his face and body, then gently climbed to the carpet. It danced up the furniture, carefully gnawing at the wood. It delicately swallowed the papers and wrestled the wallpaper to the ceiling.
Joseph half-smiled to himself, took up the briefcase, and somberly whistled to victory.