“Destroy? You mean as in kill? You want to kill Peter.” The voice, for all its unsettling menace—hard to come across as anything else when you’re emanating from a stone coffin—had a tinge of genuine shock to it. He was horrified by the prospect of what I’d suggested. “Oh, I couldn’t do that. Absolutely not.”
“You don’t control dead people, then? You aren’t a necromancer?”
“I told you, I’m a vivimancer.”
“I’m sorry, I’ve never heard of that before. What does it mean?”
“It means I can heal, I can prolong life. Other people’s and my own. It’s the reason I’m in here. My body was starved of food and air, but my life force abides.”
“You aren’t dead?”
“I am and I am not.”
I didn’t think this conversation would prove very enlightening if pursued, so I switched tacks. “And Peter put you here? But you still don’t want to get him back.”
“Not by robbing him of life. I mean, I wouldn’t like it if someone did that to me, so why would I do it to someone else?”
Someone had done it to him. I didn’t point this out as I’ve found convincing people they’re wrong doesn’t make them grateful to you. I know, I don’t understand why, either.
“Are you sure? He’s been doing some terrible things in your absence. I mean, really ghastly.”
“I’ve no doubt. No doubt at all. But you can’t sink to his level. You’d be no better than him, then, wouldn’t you?”
It was a wonderful point. If this was a world where people appreciated honourable behaviour and the righteous prevailed, then I was sure he’d do very well. But it wasn’t, and he was in a coffin. Kind of hard to take the moral high ground from six feet below.
On the other hand, if he didn’t feel it was right to kill Peter, it stood to reason he’d feel the same way about me. I moved closer. Cautiously. I’d been known to be wrong before.
“We don’t have to kill him, necessarily.” We fucking did. We had to kill him and burn his body, and then throw the ashes into the sea. But I was playing the patience game. That’s where you patiently put up with someone’s bullshit because they might be a vampire. I’m not one of those people who goes into a horror situation with no knowledge of horror movies. I know what kind of person hangs out in a crypt. “We could just put him out of commission, so he doesn’t hurt any more people?”
“Has he hurt many people?” He sounded alarmed. Good. The more I got him to think things were really bad out here, the more likely he was to bend his principles and help. Luckily for me things really were terrible out there. They weren’t much better in here.
“Quite a few. He blew up a mountain in Monsterland. Killed thousands. Females and children, too.”
“Oh, monsters… that’s not so bad. An unfortunate necessity.”
Just my luck, a bleeding heart who only bled selectively. “And the monsters swarmed across the border and started killing indiscriminately. For revenge.”
Not exactly how it happened, but it was roughly how it happened, more or less. Mostly less.
“Oh dear. That is terrible.”
I was alongside the sarcophagus now. A few steps more (figuratively speaking—I wasn’t actually walking) and I’d be able to see inside the coffin.
“Yes,” I said. “Very gruesome.”
The problem with ‘good’ people is that they tend to have a distorted view of what ‘good’ is. They contradict themselves all the time. And their ability to hide this from themselves is truly impressive. Get caught in a lie? Improvise, adapt, overcome.
I have no issue with people having strong beliefs, even if there’s no actual proof to back it up. Shine on you crazy diamond. But be consistent. Hypocrisy is just so infuriating.
Want to ban drugs? Great. So, no alcohol, right?
I’m not saying booze should be illegal (they tried that, didn’t work out so well), but you can’t have it both ways. Alcohol is far worse than most soft drugs. And quite a few hard ones.
Pro-life? A very reasonable position to take. Yes, people have reasons to terminate, but wanting to protect babies is a basic human imperative. So, no sending people to war, no death penalty and no bombing abortion clinics, right?
Hey, don’t blame me for your logic. Fucking follow your own rules, at least.
You can’t convince people they’re being retarded, because they’re retarded. But what you can do is use it against them. And you have an excellent chance of getting away with it. Because they’re retarded.
“I was wondering,” I said as I leaned forward. “How are you able to—” At this point I got my first look inside the sarcophagus. A sound came out of my mouth that I’d approximate as: Yaaa-whadafu-yeeeee. Only compressed into a single syllable.
He wasn’t a vampire, at least. Not one on active duty.
There was a head. I recognised it by its shape. There was skin on it, but shrinkwrapped around the skull. Not smoothly. This was via one of those ‘Shrinkwrap your clothes at home and save oodles of closet space’ devices you see advertised on infomercials. A wrinkled, squashed mess.
All the features were there, but they’d been sucked in and distorted. The nose flattened, the eyes sunken, the teeth… the teeth were on the outside of the lips.
The hair was in excellent condition, though. Grey, but very silky. Cary-Grantesque. Which made the rest of him look much more horrific by comparison.
I didn’t throw up, but I felt like I wanted to. I was actually quite curious to see what would come out. Ghost chunks?
“What is it?” said the voice. It came from the body, but there was no movement. He appeared to be dead, but appearances meant nothing.
“Oh, it’s nothing. I thought I could save you, but I think it’s too late.”
“Yes.” He sounded sad. “I’m afraid it’s far too late for me. I just wish I could be released from this eternal purgatory.”
“How did you end up like this, erm, sorry, I don’t know your name...”
“Oh, please forgive me. Askey. Arthur Askey.” The real Arthur Askey. He hadn’t aged as well as the others in his party, that was for sure. “Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
“And I yours,” I said, trying to match him pointless courtesy for pointless courtesy.
“I thank you.”
“And I thank you. So, Arthur, how did you end up like this?”
I wasn’t normally that interested in people’s backstories, but his seemed like it might be relevant. Also, if he was busy recounting the main events of his life, he might be less inclined to rise out of the grave and eat me. He came across as reasonably well-mannered and it was rude to talk with your mouth full.
“It’s a long, long story. And very sad.”
My heart sank. Because of the ‘long’ more than the ‘sad.’
“Peter wasn’t always the ambitious devil you know him as now.”
I bet he was exactly as ambitious, he just hid it well. That’s how all the top achievers do it—lie like a motherfucker. Should be the title of every millionaire’s autobiography. Apart from those who inherited their wealth. There’s should be called: Thank you, Mother Fucker.
“You came here with him?” I said to keep him on track. “You two and Zarigold?”
“Zarigold. Hah. What’s wrong with Sarah? She wanted to fit in with the setting. Wanted something a bit more fantastical. Zarigold. Ridiculous as it sounds, it did suit her. She was always the most glamorous girl. There were four of us. Two boys, two girls. That’s what we were, boys and girls. Children, really.”
Jesus Christ. At least in the movies the screen would go all shimmery to signal a flashback, and you could go put the kettle on. I had to actually sit through this nonsense.
“And then they killed you?” A valiant effort to cut to the chase. What story wouldn’t be improved by starting with the murder? Creative Writing 101.
“Oh, it’ll be a while before we get to that.” Not if I had anything to do with it. “At first, we had a glorious time. It was frightening and confusing to be sure, what with impossible creatures out of some storybook and the strange people from a different time, but we had special powers. We were treated like heroes. We were placed on a pedestal and allowed to do as we pleased. I see now that it was a test. A test we failed.”
“Sounds like you had everything you needed to be happy,” I said. “Two boys, two girls.”
“If we’d been content with what we had. But it was never enough for Peter. He saw it as a world to be conquered. He didn’t want to share with anyone, not even us. Winner takes all. And of course, then there were the women.”
Ah, yes. The Abba paradox. Do I want the blonde or the redhead? Empires have fallen over such riddles.
“What happened to the other girl?” I asked. “Zarigold is in Dargot, but I haven’t heard about…”
“Wesley was a girl?” I don’t want to come across as some gender-nazi, but best to be clear when you can.
“Oh, yes. What a girl she was, heh heh.”
Creepy guy just got creepier. “What happened to her?”
“I don’t know. She never allowed me to help her, so I assume she must have passed on by now. If she’s lucky.”
“What do you mean, ‘help her’? You helped people stay alive longer?”
“That’s right. I channel my gift to help others. It is my pleasure to share my life force with others.” Getting even creepier now.
“And what about all the people you’re connected to? You don’t control them, like a necromancer?”
“Vivimancers. We don’t do that sort of thing. At least, I don’t.”
On the surface, what he said seemed very commendable. But you can’t take these things at face value. First it’s ‘no one deserves such a fate’ and then it’s ‘no one apart from the ones who deserve it’ and before you know it, it’s ‘On your knees, slaves!’ Slippery slope.
To me a vivimancer sounded like the opposite of a necromancer. Which could mean life and love and butterflies, or it could mean he controlled the living the same way a necromancer controlled the dead.
“I’ve seen how you’re connected to the people in the temple. And Johsaya.”
“You can see the connections?” He sounded more interested than threatened. For now.
“Yes. That’s my ability. I see connections, but I don’t fully understand what they mean.” Downplay, lower expectations, I am no danger, carry on.
“You’re a Visitor. You have your own gifts… I detect an accent. Are you Australian?”
Oh, the vicious barbs of a careless tongue.
“No. I’m British.”
“No problem,” I said through gritted teeth.
“Yes, you’re right. I’m still connected to everyone I’ve ever touched with my gift. Once I was… forced into this place, my connection remained, sustaining those I left behind. I did not wish to abandon them the way they abandoned me.”
Very noble. “And Joshaya? He’s a god, isn’t he? Why would he need your support?” I felt like I was getting closer to the truth. As long as he didn’t get sidetracked into a childhood memory, I was about to get some answers.
“Joshaya, yes. He is one of the old gods. You know of them?”
“I do. He was left behind when the others went into their death simulator.”
“That’s right!” he exclaimed, surprised. “What a bright boy you are!” Surprised and very patronising. The Colin-combo. “They wanted to leave him outside to observe, but he wouldn’t be able to survive cut off from the others. That’s where I came in, to my endless regret. I succoured him at my teat, as it were.”
Creepiness reaches new personal best.
“So, you’re sustaining Joshaya... and Peter?”
I was starting to get it. His body had been made non-functional, but either his power wouldn’t let him die, or they didn’t allow him to die properly so his power was still active. Either way, he was caught in some in-between place that gave him access to the adjacent world. Although he wasn’t able to move around like me. He had, however, moved the coffin lid, so he might just not have figured it out. Yet.
In any case, his power was being pumped into those he’d hooked himself up to. Now I was creeping myself out.
But none of that mattered to me. I needed a way to get back to the land of the living. And he was clearly the gatekeeper. Vivimancer.
This was definitely the guy I needed. And he was all about sharing his gift. I liked gifts. Problem was I was untouchable, but Maurice had found a way around that once. He could do it again. All I had to do was get them all here. Arthur could even save them, if he wanted. I wouldn’t mind.
“Do you think you could use your ability on me?”
“I would be tempted to say no, but I’ve never been able to communicate with someone like this before. It’s like you’re here, but not.”
“My body isn’t here. I could go get it, if.... Couldn’t you just turn off the juice for Peter and Joshaya?” Easy mode… yes, please.
“That would kill them!”
No shit. The problem with pacifists is that they’re never on the opposing side.
“And it would kill so many others. It is impossible to be precise from here. It would affect everyone I’m joined with.”
I wasn’t sure he understood the condition he’d left his connectees in. They didn’t seem like they’d mind calling it a day. How do you explain that to the poster boy for immortality? His only reason for clinging on was to keep everyone else alive. Stuck in here on his own for decades. How was he not insane? Or maybe he was. Much harder to spot crazy when it’s being super polite.
“Couldn’t you just turn it down a bit? Put everyone to sleep?”
There was a pause. I started to feel hopeful. If I could just get him to put everyone in a coma, I could move around with no danger of anyone realising I was dead. I could do whatever I wanted and no one could stop me. They wouldn’t even know what I was up to. The Cosby Stratagem. How could it fail?