I’d recommend starting here to get the full story.
The Dead Arrive on Dinner Plates, Chapter 1: Disjointed in the Disarray
It was all just a dream, she said, nothing to be worried about. She would say that each time I asked when she woke up in a cold sweat, screaming into her pillow, crying for unseen shadows to go away.
Don’t worry about it.
But I did.
I loved her. Worrying was part of the package.
But all of the drugs, all of the doctors could not help her as she slowly began to waste away, dark rings under her eyes, her once slim body becoming emaciate, her once light blue hair losing its sheen.
And on the final night, I looked into her hollow blue eyes—eyes once so bright and lively—as she seemed to stare through me at something only she could see. I held her in my arms, rocking her softly as her mouth moved in silent utterances.
I had lost people in the past. I was no stranger to such things. I believed I could deal with her death, even if I was with her in the last moment, holding her as the last breath left her pale, fragile body. But even today I ask what I might have done differently. At that moment, however, I all I could do was watch as she disappeared, fading before my sight.
I do not mean this in some metaphorical sense, like someone dying in his or her sleep. In the end, I was literally left holding empty air; her bedclothes had vanished along with her.
So I howled, a wounded, broken beast that could do nothing else. She had saved me from myself, pulling me from the deepest places from which I dwelled. Death I could have dealt with, having some finality to it all. But this. . . .
This. . . .
And now I ask you, what could I have done differently?
Jat sat in the darkness of his apartment, staring at the green numbers of his alarm clock as they counted the number of minutes and hours that had passed.
4:03 AM, it reported. Another night with no sleep. He pulled his knees to his chest and wrapped the heavy blanket about him. The memory would come again; it always came, mocking, tormenting. Slowly, he laid back and stared at the ceiling, imagining pictures in the faint green light. If he squinted just so, he could almost see her face. . . .
“Look, man,” Crist said later that morning, wiping the sweat from his brown hair with his large hand, “let’s say I believe you. She’s real. Okay. Why hasn’t anyone else heard about her? Face it, Jat, just because you say something was real, doesn’t mean she was. Now get over here and help me with this load.”
“You’re lying,” Jat growled as he walked over, unfolding his arms and picking up a large bag of concrete mix, placing it on his shoulder. He grunted as he hefted into the back of the beat-up white truck. He looked at Crist, watching as the muscular man picked up two bags in each arm and easily toss them into the vehicle.
Crist paused and looked back at Jat. “Look, man, all I’m saying is—”
“I know what you’re saying,” Jat said flatly.
“Don’t be like that, man,” Crist said. “You been through some tough times.” He grabbed a few more bags. “Hell, anyone coming out of Salidor did.” He lifted the bags into the truck, then tapped his head. “Messes with a man’s mind, makes him think—”
“Stow it,” Jat said. He blew a strand of his long black hair out of his face. “I know what I saw.”
Crist shrugged and returned to his job. “Then I ain’t got nothing more to say, Jat. If you won’t listen to reason—”
“And what are you hiding, you furball?”
Crist looked at Jat, his yellow eyes sparkling, his grin feral. “You can’t afford that, man.”
And on and on it went. All of her friends, all of the people I knew, none of them claimed to know anything about her. You’re just touched in the head, they said. There was some truth to that, in all honesty. Salidor had been a black, black place that should never be mentioned ever again. No one had returned the same from that place, provided they returned at all.
And me? Well, I did my best to move on, but she was the one who made it all possible. But in this instance, life had jerked the rug out from under me, and sometimes I think I was still waiting for the moment I hit the ground, perhaps hoping I would break my neck from the fall. Instead, I received a message.
Jat sat in the darkness of his apartment, staring at the green numbers on his alarm clock. Flicker, another minute had passed. Flicker, another hour had gone.
3:57 AM, it reported, and he heard muffled sounds and scraping at his front door. He peeled his eyes away from the clock and looked over.
3:59 AM, it displayed, and he was left in silence again.
“Lights,” he said in a low, hoarse voice. He squinted as the overhead dome casted brightly, driving away the shadows. “Dim to thirty-five percent.”
In the soft light, he looked at the door, noticing someone had slipped a envelope underneath. It laid there, white against the beige carpet, beckoning, calling to him. He stood slowly, letting the red blanket fall in a heap as he moved away. He padded through his studio apartment only to stand over the missive and stare down at it.
It had a picture in it, an aerial view of the Grenmark Tower in downtown Haven. The top of the tower was circled in red ink. On the back of the picture, two words had been written:
I have to ask you again; what could I have done differently?
The next night, I went to the tower and made my way to the roof. I had posed as a courier with a package for whomever resided in the top floor, easy to do since I had actually worked as such not too long ago. In between evading security and employees, I got to the roof with little trouble and waited there. I hid between the large, dull gray air conditioning units, letting them sing me to sleep as I waited for whatever was coming.
Messes with a man’s mind, Crist had said. I’m sure I would have deserved the short side of that hairy man’s temper if he had ever found out about this.
“Look, all I’m saying is—” a man’s voice said.
“I know what you’re saying,” another man cut in.
“Stow it,” a third man ordered.
Jat opened his dark eyes and looked up. The stars twinkled hazily through Haven’s dome, blurred ever-so-slightly by the barrier that had been erected to protect the city. He grimaced as he stretched his legs slowly, trying to work out the numbness he had gotten by staying asleep so long in an awkward position.
“We don’t even know if he got the message. How do you know if he’ll come?”
“He’ll come. They said he’ll come. They’re always right.”
“Yeah, but still—”
“Listen, you’re new to this. Trust me, they’re always right.”
“If you say so.”
“I do say so. And you’ll say the same after you’ve been around long enough. Just give it time.”
“Okay, did they say when he’d show up?”
There was a pause.
Jat moved slowly, peering low around the corner of the air conditioner towards the voices. He saw about seven people, all dressed in loose-fitting dark clothing. One lifted his hand to inspect what he held and the red light of the exit sign nearby glinted dully off a pointed metallic object. Jat looked at the others, noticing that they all had knives as well.
Jat could only frown as one of them pointed at him and shouted, “There!”
I came around about an hour later, sitting in middle of six bodies, all of them torn to shreds. I looked at my hands and saw dried blood on them. My clothes were also bloody, but I could not feel any wounds. And try as I might, I could not recall what had happened.
I heard a sound to my left, and in the darkness between the air conditioners, I saw a glimpse of golden eyes and a grin full of sharp teeth. It was gone a second later. I trembled as I walked over there, my mouth dry.
But Jat saw only the place where he had slept.
“Nothing,” Jat said, staring into the depths of his beer. He ignored the pulsing music and the gathering crowd as the night went on. A couple bumped into him, but they were gone before he could properly glare at them.
“Come on, man,” Crist said, slapping Jat hard on the back. “I finally get you out of your woe-is-me crap and this is how you thank me?”
Jat looked at the big man, into those yellow eyes.
If I squinted enough, no . . . the teeth were all wrong.
“What’s that look for?” Crist said, no longer smiling. “You got something in your eye?”
“Nothing,” Jat said, turning back and taking another drink of his beer.
But the truth could not be denied. Do you know what it feels like to have your life spin out of control like this?
“Well I do,” Jat mumbled one night as he stared at his unshaven face in his bathroom mirror.
But do you honestly know what it feels like?
“Yes, I do,” Jat muttered to his reflection.
“Stow it,” Jat quipped as he left the bathroom, ordering the lights off. He sat on his bed once more, in the dark, staring at the green light of his alarm clock. If he squinted. . . .
I swear, I could almost see the shadows moving on the wall. That’s great . . .
“. . . I’ve lost my mind,” he said quietly. “Crist was right.”
No, he wasn’t. You are quite sane.
“And the rest of the world is mad?”
No. They want you to believe that though.
“And who are “they?””
They. They are they. They want you to think you have lost it.
“Right,” Jat drawled. “And who are you?”
“Them,” Jat repeated.
“You say I’m not mad, but you’re doing a hell of a job convincing me otherwise.”
Yes. And what do you want?
Jat looked at his alarm clock, squinting just a bit. He laughed, a hollow and dry sound. “I want her back.”
He threw his pillow into the darkness. It hit the wall with a muffled thump. He growled, “Sul, my . . . my. . . .”
He drew his knees to his chest and buried his head.
“Yeah,” he choked. His head jolted up at the next words.
“Lives. . . .”
Yes. They took her.
“Took her where?” he growled, wiping a tear from his eye. Silence, only silence. “Took her where?!”
But I heard nothing in the stillness, save for the sound of my own heartbeat as I held my breath, waiting for something else.
The next day, Jat found himself sitting at a terminal in the Knowledge Repository. He scanned through some of the local news headlines, but saw nothing about the massacre that had happened on top of the tower. The media was usually quick to report such incidents, especially since the public seemed to have a liking for such stories. He paused as one story caught his attention:
Art by Surrealist Salvador Dali has been recovered in the Wastelands! An exhibit is scheduled to open at Haven’s illustrious Art Repository later this month, after everything has been properly cleaned and catalogued. Always counterculture, the artist once said, “There is only one difference between a madman and me. The madman thinks he is sane. I know I am mad.” Stay tuned for more details!
Mad, huh? I’m not mad, am I?
Sul Sulla, he absently mused, if Sul were to marry him and take his surname. Sul-sul-sulla-sul-sulla-la-la-la-la. . . .
He glanced up from his terminal and noticed a cute redheaded woman staring at him, her mouth open as if to say something. He flickered a quick smile on his thin lips, then went back to his business, glancing at a picture of an open door.
Did I say that out loud? Maybe I am losing it. . . .
Sul-sul-sulla-door. . . .
“Salidor!” he said rather loudly, and whispered an apology after the redhead shushed at him. He stared at the screen for a moment then typed in the information. A hazy, grayscale image of a smoking crater appeared. The picture shifted and bled down the page, and he slowly inched his way towards the screen.
I keep asking what I could have done differently, but sometimes I wonder if anything else could have been done.
Jat sat in the darkness of his apartment, ignoring the green numbers on his alarm clock as they ticked the minutes off of the night.
The witching hour, it reported as the numbers shifted, somewhere between the dreamless sleep and when shadows danced.
You blacked out.
You mind went to a place your body could not follow.
“Salidor,” Jat said, his voice hollow and flat.
Jat looked into the darkness, squinting his eyes. The green numbers changed and shadows crept slowly across his bedroom wall. “Is Sul there, at Salidor?”
Jat scowled. “Then where is she?”
They took her. They have her. We do not know where. But we can help you.
“Help me how?”
They are the enemy. They must be stopped. Help us and we help you.
“Hey, man, you alright?” Crist asked, wiping the sweat from his broad face with his large hand. “I heard what happened at the Repository. Heard you damn near got a concussion by trying to make out with one of the info-terminals. What’s up with that?”
Jat blinked and shook his head a bit. “What?”
Crist paused after loading another couple of bags onto the truck. “Man, I’m going to call the ward on you if you don’t straighten up. You’re starting to scare me.”
Jat slumped forward and muttered, “I already had a therapist. She disappeared on me. Literally.”
“Right,” Crist drawled with a slight growl. “Look man, my girl knows a couple of people I can get you in touch with.” He walked over and clapped Jat on the shoulder. Jat winced, but kept staring at the ground. “They can help you get patched up, get your head out of this funk.”
Jat looked up into Crist’s yellow eyes. “They?”
“Yeah, “they,”” Crist quipped. Jat stumbled back.
They are the enemy. They must be stopped.
Crist arched a fuzzy eyebrow. Jat thought he saw a smile whisk its way across the large man’s face.
Jat took a deep breath and straightened. “No, no . . . I think I’ll take some time off and go on vacation, maybe clear my head a bit.”
Crist turned and went back to work, pausing to say, “All right, man, whatever. I know we ain’t been the best of friends, but if you want to talk, you know where to find me.”
“Yeah, thanks,” Jat said as he turned and walked off.
They have her.
We do not know, but help us and we will help you.
Jat sat in the darkness of his apartment, looking into the golden eyes that stared at him from the shadows. The alarm clock had stopped working, its green numbers no longer counting the night down.
“Time’s up,” a deep voice rumbled, the flicker of sharp white teeth grinning in the gloom.
“Lights, twenty-five percent,” Jat muttered. He looked at the hulking beast across the room as it blinked as the lights twitched on. “Sure, why not? I’m already going insane, so what’s another hallucination?”
The beast put its large hand over its long muzzle and shook its head. “You really don’t get it, do you?”
“What’s there to get? I’m going nuts.”
The beast jumped onto the bed and towered over Jat. “Look, man, you ain’t nuts, but I can see how you’d think that.”
Jat paused for a moment, looking at the golden eyes. “Crist?”
Crist’s ears twitched and he smiled, his long maw showing sharp teeth. “Took you long enough.”
“Crist?” Jat said.
“You need a mint; your breath is rancid,” Jat quipped. “You been eating roadkill or something?”
Crist chuckled, a deep rumbling half-growl, half-laugh. “Sorry if I ain’t pretty enough for your majesty, but time’s up. You need to decide.”
“They or them?” Crist said, his eyes narrowing, his pointed ears folding back onto his brown fur.
Jat glared at the beast. “And what’s this all about?”
“Control,” Crist replied with a growl. “I can’t give you all of the answers, but I can tell you this much. You’re in too deep and they won’t let you go. But with them, you’ll have a fighting chance, even to find Sul if you want. If nothing else, do it for yourself to stay alive. Who knows what they’ll do.”
“They, them,” Jat muttered. “Got any names for me or am I going to be run around in circles? I mean, you’re the one with the tail, that’s your department.”
“Ha!” Crist barked, clapping his large hand on Jat’s shoulder. “I don’t chase my tail, and if it was anyone else that said that, I’d’ve ripped their guts open.”
Jat smiled weakly, knowing that the large hand could have swept him across the room with only an afterthought.
“Sorry, man, sorry,” Crist said, holding his hands up. He rolled off the bed and sat against the wall. “After hiding for so long, you kind of get used to it all. Sometimes I take it for granted who I’m talking to, forget that you’re kind of a newbie to all this crap.”
Jat crossed his arms over his chest.
“Supes, man, supes,” Crist said, “you know, the supernaturals. Angelkin and devilkin. Been at war with each other for centuries. They, the angelkin, took your Sul to god-knows-where.”
“And what about “them?””
“I’m supposed to recruit you,” Crist said, “try to get you to side with them. The devilkin. It’s just that after a while, you tend to use “they and “them” without much thought.”
Jat laid back on his bed and stared at the ceiling. They took her. If he joined with them, maybe he could get to Sul. He had to chuckle. “Great, I’m starting to think like them.”
Crist’s ears perked up. “Does this mean. . . .”
Jat leaned up and looked at the beast. “It doesn’t mean anything. It means I’d rather have some time to think about it and have a proper conversation outside of my bedroom, you know, get some more details.”
“Can’t do that, Jat,” Crist said with a heavy sigh. “I got to have a straight answer before I leave here, one way or another.”
“Hmmm. . . .” Jat murmured as he laid back down. It just seemed a little rude to haunt his bedroom like this when he was wearing only a t-shirt and boxers, trying to have a proper conversation. . . . “Okay, then, what happens if I don’t decide?”
“If you side with the angelkin, then we’ll be enemies after I leave,” Crist said softly. “I don’t want that. I know we ain’t been the best of friends, but I don’t want you as an enemy.”
“And is it so black and white?”
“In this? Yeah. There is no other way around it.”
“Why?” Jat asked.
“Water and oil, man,” Crist replied. “Ain’t no way around it. The two just don’t mix.”
“They do if you use soap.”
“You get what I mean,” Crist said with a growling chuckle.
“Yeah, but do you? I asked what would happen if I didn’t decide.”
“Let’s put it like this,” Crist said. “The devilkin have been straight honest and upfront. You know me well enough to know that I speak true, even if you don’t trust me. The angelkin? Why do you think you blacked out at the Repository? They’re hiding stuff from you, man, important stuff.”
“And the devilkin aren’t?”
“Never said that, but they are after you, and they won’t let up until they have you under their control. At least you have a chance with them.”
“So you’re saying I’m choosing the angelkin by default then, huh?”
“More like they’ve chosen you, or that you’re a “liability” that needs to be removed.”
“And why would I be a “liability?”” Jat asked, although he did not expect an answer.
Crist shrugged his large, furry shoulders. “Don’t know. But I’d tell you if I did.”
“And what about you, furball? Why’d you side with them?”
“Don’t call me furball, you hairless monkey,” Crist growled with a half-grin. Jat shot a smirk back. “Honestly, though, I didn’t have much of a choice. I was always devilkin, even before I was born. Fight or die, more or less. The light ain’t as benevolent as it’d have people believe; it blinds just as well as the darkness, but at least with the darkness it ain’t permanent.”
Jat glanced over at his alarm clock; the green numbers had blurred. He muttered, “The witching hour.”
“We’re taking a big risk by being here,” Crist said, “but I thought you needed to know. You’re not crazy, despite what they’re trying to do to you. Now, like I said, time’s up. What’s your answer?”
Jat sat up and looked at the lupine face for a moment. “I have conditions.”
“Yeah, so did I,” Crist said. “We do what we can, and if we can’t, then we can go our separate ways. It’s as easy as that. Usually. But with us you stand a chance.”
Jat arched an eyebrow, but said nothing.
“So, what’s up?”
“I get Sul back,” Jat said. “After that, I’m out.”
“One,” Crist replied, ticking the points off on his long, clawed fingers, “You’re hardly in any position to negotiate that, considering how they want you gone. Two, we don’t know where they took her. Three, even if we did, we don’t know what it’d take to get her back. Four, the devilkin are being straight up about this, unlike certain others. Five, as I’ve been saying, you got a fighting chance with us.”
“Fine,” Jat said, “but tell me this: why does either side want me?”
Crist looked at him and finally shrugged, raising his massive hands into the air. “Don’t know. You got potential of some sort or another.” He sniffed the air. “I can smell it on you. Drips off you like sweat sometimes, like now. With us you can explore that on your own terms. I’ll tell you this much, though. I seen what happens when the angelkin gets a hold of one of your kind.” He lowered his head and closed his eyes.
“And what’s that?” Jat asked.
Crist looked up slowly, his golden eyes hollow and distant, looking somewhere beyond the far bedroom wall. “He was young, maybe fifteen or sixteen. We had contacted him, trying to get to him before they did. But in the end, he choose the angelkin because the light is all good and sparkly and full of fluffy critters.”
Jat held back a grimace as Crist’s muzzle drew back into a heavy snarl. Jat asked, “What happened?”
Crist looked at the lean man. “I found him a few months later at a transit station, laying on a bench. He kept moving his eyes around at things only he could see. He’d grab at the air, like he did when he was a kid, trying to catch fireflies in the field. He was . . . hollow . . . wouldn’t respond to his own name . . . just stayed there, trying to grab those invisible bugs. He was my brother’s kid, Jat.”
“I’m . . . I’m sorry,” Jat whispered.
Crist gave a faint smile and shook his head. “No, ain’t nothing you could do. But someday, I’m going to find that sonovabitch and take it out of his hide. Kid was smart, a real genius. Hoped to be an engineer someday. You want to know the real kicker though?”
“Do I want to?”
“My brother was the one who turned him in.”
Jat sat in silence and looked away.
“Angelkin don’t play favorites, even with their own blood,” Crist said quietly. He looked up at Jat. “Think about that. I got a chance to ask him why once and all I got was a back full of singed fur. Devilkin ain’t no saints, but we don’t betray blood like that. I know there ain’t much between us, but I don’t want to see you go through that.”
There was more he did not say, Jat realized. Perhaps it was too painful, or perhaps it was something Crist did not want to say, but Jat did not press the issue. Instead, the lean man stood up and held out his hand.
Crist looked up at him and took the offering, his large hand totally covering the other’s.
“I’m in then,” Jat said, looking Crist in the eye, “but I get Sul back. And once I that happens, then I’m out.”
Crist smiled. “I’ll pass along the word.”
We already know.
“But, Jat, what are you going to do if you find her like I found my nephew?”
Jat released his hand from Crist’s. “Then I find those responsible and make them pay. Or die trying.”
Crist grinned. “Lights, off!”
And in the flash of darkness between that and when Jat ordered the lights back on, the werewolf had disappeared.
We already know.
Jat shook his head and went back to sleep, ignoring the alarm clock that had started working again.
In the darkness of the shadows on top of a tall building, Crist—now in his human form—leaned against the cold gray stone, watching the dawn break through the barrier. He had to smile to himself, pleased with the results of the previous night.
“And you really don’t know, do you?”
“What he is, where that girl is, whatever.”
He is . . . different. Sul is . . . gone. They have her.
“He won’t take betrayal lightly.”
We know, but you are the same.
“Ha!” Crist barked. “Only if he sprouts fur and fangs. But he ain’t like that. He ain’t one of my kind. He ain’t a feeder, is he?”
We do not know. He is . . . different.
Crist shrugged. “Wouldn’t that be something?”
“If he turned out to be an angelkin after all?”
We doubt that. He is . . . different, but he is not that.
“Then what is he?” Crist asked, watching the first rays of sunlight pierce over the horizon. He laughed when he was answered with silence, a barking howl that faded into the waking city.