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One More Time
“History moves in cycles.”
Harry’s voice is quiet; he’s been hitting the bong for the past few hours and even my eyes are watering. I can hardly see the high ceiling of his Edinburgh flat for the haze.
“But the cycles, these cycles, they close and open without most people noticing. Never realise they reincarnate. It’s like a cosmic fucking game-show, yanno?”
Harry has the unique ability to tap into the universal consciousness by getting ripped to the tits. I like Harry, I listen to what he says. Sometimes I do wonder if he has any idea what comes out of his mouth, but mostly I don’t give a toss.
“So, so, so… everyone lives a life in each cycle, on and on and on and on. If you do it right, chloroform can send you back, unlock the memories of your soul’s past. You ever done that? Chloroform?”
“No, I’ve never touched the stuff.”
“See, thing is, this thing, that if you do some things some ways during each cycle, you get picked up to power a war engine in the cosmic unconsciousness. Your soul becomes an E-M charge in God’s big gun.”
“Fuck. Who knew God had such a small dick he needed a gun?”
“Satan’s worse, man. He’s got a bigger gun and Law’s trying to blow both of them away. People who stay out of the system, who fuck things up just right, they’re chaos. There’s your four big powers, yanno?”
I laugh, and look around for something to eat.
I first try a chloroform ritual three days later. I swear I have to remember what I see. Harry’s got to know. The world falls away from my eyes, a pinpoint of light at the end of a tunnel, my mind regressing back into the memories of my soul, round and round the cycle.
Trees around me. Black cloth wraps tight against my limbs. Chafing like a fucker, I’m already bleeding underneath it. Whoever says these Robin Hood types have it easy are talking bullshit. I look around. Other figured dressed like me. Bows. A walled city off to my left. A pair of pistol-bows under my robes.
Fucking hell, maybe I am Robin Hood. No. No green, all of this is black. Tight, too. The whole thing looks about right for the time-period, though. But I’ve only two men with me. Bandits, hired idiots who were supposed to look like me and take other ways in. Disposable selves, playing with the myth of me-as-just-me. One went left, one right. I threw a hook up over the wall. No light in the city, fires were all out. Guards heard the hook. One with a bolt, one with a knife across the throat. Fast. Silent. Murder, but then that’s what the people in this city had done to me and my people. My people? Just who the fuck was I —and who am I?
No more guards nearby. The mayor’s house isn’t far. A rich place, tall and sprawling but nowhere I can’t get into. Silence is everything. Open a door– wrong room, that’s his children. They have to grow up, have to learn. Killing them would give him the sympathy of the people. Just the man. Another room, the right one. I stuff cloth in his mouth, tie rope around his wrists and ankles all before he knows what’s going on. Out of the window, ease him down. Keep him alive for now.
More guards show up as my feet hit the ground. A throwing-knife for one, I get close enough to stab the other in the side and cut his neck as he falls. Silence again. I drag the bastard to a clear patch of mud. Every second counts. One bolt goes clean through his temple. Knife in hand, I dig a hole into his guts then slash the palm of my left hand. I draw three seeds from a pouch in my belt, water them in my blooded hand, then drop them in the hole. By first light, he’ll have a tree growing out of his body, its roots pinning him to this land. I will be long gone by then.
I don’t hear the guard behind me. His arrow tears through my body, piercing my heart. Still better than if I had been captured. I fall forwards, onto my victim. The tree grew up through me as well.
Light floods my vision as I come to. The clock over in the corner is blinking, red LEDs telling me that it’s only been half an hour since I’d inhaled. Plainly, this is scary stuff. I spend the rest of the day in the pub, listening to the drunks talking without hearing what they’re saying.
It’s two weeks later when I decide to try again. Harry had gone off on a bender, got himself hospitalised after mistaking washing powder for cocaine. That guy never met a drug he didn’t like. I had to be certain he would be okay before I’d even think about regressing again. Hell, it wasn’t until I sat on the end of his hospital bed that I gave any mind to what I’d seen, what I had remembered. Me as some kind of assassin in the dark ages, and something about a tree growing from me and my enemy. For all that I want to know more, I can’t handle coming back alone. To that end, I’ve locked myself in the khazi of our usual pub.
The sun sits high above the horizon. Hardly any clouds in the air. This time, I’m wearing denim and leather under a duster stained dull ochre from the sun and the trail dirt. Hat brim low over my eyes. A sign hangs in the distance over the only way out of town.
You are now leaving Providence
Would that I could.
I’d tracked the bastard all the way from England. Followed him to New York, then out of the East and across the Mississippi. Five years later, here he is: about to die in a brothel in some arsehole town in the middle of nowhere. The real American dream, that.
My spurs jangle as I walk down the main street. I’ve got ten bullets to do what I must. The guns are special, five rounds in each chamber. A specialist of the Ordo Templi Orientis in London inscribed a pentagram on the back of each wheel. The revolver as the wheel of fortune. And some fucker is going to get his last game of Russian roulette tonight.
The saloon, when I do walk into it—because if I’m in the Old West I am going to do just one thing right—is a hole. Four people playing a quiet game of cards in a corner. And Lucas with his girl, sat halfway between me and the bar. The trail has made me a harder man than I was when he killed my friends and family. Stubble dusts my jaw, while he’s clean-shaven. I’m covered in dust and he’s freshly scrubbed. Now he’s the fop and I’m the killer. The role reversal is complete.
“Lucas,” I rasp. “Maybe your lady should go.”
His face turns white. I was forcing myself to speak in the same English accent he’ll remember. He’s got to know that I’m after the only man who had summoned a Shoggoth and lived to tell.
“I won’t tell you again, Lucas. Are you going to show some honour, or are you the kind of coward I should just shoot now?”
The card-players look over at me. Damn. He’s paid them off. The money they’re holding is too new. Four of them, plus Lucas. Hell, add the barman if I try anything in here. Six of them, and one of me.
“I’ll see you outside, boy.”
This way, I can pick my battlefield. I face the bar with my back to the sun. They’ll have to squint if they want to see me. That’s my kind of advantage. I’m going to work hard to keep that. The poker-players come first. Strutting like I was already dead and killing me is just a formality. Thing is, I’m playing for keeps. By the time they’ve touched their guns, I’ve fired six times. Every one hits, tearing through flesh and bone. It’s taken seconds for me to leave four corpses in the noonday sun.
Lucas steps out next. He’s got one of those big shit-eating grins. He thinks his boys have killed me. I won’t shoot him in cold blood. I want him to know I’ve killed him. His face twists as he sees the bodies. He doesn’t go for a gun. He’s after words. Magic. But he can’t talk fast enough. The first round blows his jaw off in a bloom of red. The second tears through his shoulder. The third bullet turns his head into so much meat. All I can feel is my blood boiling in my veins. I look down. I’m bleeding from my nose. I touch an ear, and my finger comes back red. I blink, and my vision goes red. As my blood leaks out onto the hard street, it feels right. An eye for an eye. A life for a life. That’s life in the here and the now. It’s worth it.
Light again, flooding my vision. The off-white door of a pub toilet in front of me. I’m back, sat on the shitter with a handkerchief filled with chloroform in my hand and a pair of handguns in my jacket. Which is weird, because I don’t own any guns. But I do know that it’s my turn now. I need to get off the cycle, to do something monumental and dumb and bloody. It’s my job to make sure that the world turns. Me and all the other agents of chaos.
I go see Harry again, in the hospital. He’s a lucky bastard; they’re keeping him on morphine until he recovers from the massive damage he wrought to his system. A nose-full of washing powder wouldn’t do that much damage to a man. He tells me he’s been stealing other patients’ drugs while the nurses aren’t looking. That’s the Harry I know.
The morphine is doing wonders for his perceptions. For two hours he talks at me about the secrets of magic and the things which make it possible, the keys to reality. I really wish I had a tape recorder or something. It wouldn’t matter if I did. The future-me next time around the cycle wouldn’t know where to look unless he—or she, I guess—tried the chloroform ritual.
Then Harry goes on about the Parliament building. How the delays and the ridiculous costs were all down to them not getting the basement sacrifice room right. How they couldn’t get a contractor who could lay the black sigil Odegra in silver on the floor. How it’s so hard to find people well versed in the secret tongue of the blasphemous priesthood of ancient Mu.
I leave the hospital and walk down to the Royal Mile. I’d wondered for a long time why I’d moved to Edinburgh, and at last I’ve got an idea. Harry would have to live without me. Back to my flat, down in the basement of a Newington tenement. Under the floorboards, I’ve got a stash of explosives. I’d originally made them up back when I thought violent rebellion was big and clever. Back when I was a total dickhead. Four sets in total, each stored under different rooms and as safe as I can make them. I put them all in a bag and head for the Parliament.
I’m going to die, but I’m going to die doing the right thing. In the past as in the future, just the same as now. I walked to the foot of the Mile, booked in on a tour. I slip away when nobody’s looking. They’ll catch me on CCTV, but by then it’ll be too late.
Time to live out my destiny, one more time.
Stew Wilson is a writer, game designer, computational demonologist, and mathematician.
This blog covers his professional writing and game design work.
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