Four fat tentacles snaked towards me. Arthur himself hadn’t moved, he was standing a few metres away, an innocent bystander. The tentacles looked less innocent with the gruesome, exaggerated teeth embedded in each tip, like a mouth full of thorns. It reminded me of those microscopic photos of bugs that look like aliens with hooks and claws out of a nightmare. These tendrils coming at me from all angle were like that, only they weren’t microscopic.
I raised the wooden sword and held the shield up. I had no idea if either would do me any good, but the important thing was to look the part. If I was going to die here, in a dark void with no one watching or even aware of what I was going through, it was still important that I go out with style. It’s what Victor Sifuentes would have wanted.
It was difficult to remain calm. We’d all like to think we’d face the end giving as good as we got, but the human brain is a fickle thing. If it decides you’re going to lock up and put up no resistance, then you don’t really get a say in the matter.
Not that there was much I could do. I couldn’t stop time and access the adjacent world, this was the adjacent world. Here, where I had always held the advantage, I should have at least felt confident in having a fair chance. Sadly, Arthur was also familiar with this place. Evenly matched… so unfair.
As the first tentacle reached me, high on my left, I swung the sword, which was glowing faintly. I was too on edge to focus properly, but there was a sliver of something flowing through me. I just hoped it didn’t end up flowing down my trouser leg.
I caught the tentacle just below the mouth-like opening, shearing off the tip. The tentacle snapped back, vomiting viscous black liquid that fell in gloops. The severed part landed on the ground and thrashed wildly.
Pretty nice move, but there was no time to appreciate a rare piece of skill with three more appendages coming at me. Even as I had scored my victory against one of them, two landed on my shield and bounced off, and a third sneaked through a gap and hit me in the stomach.
It hooked onto my shirt and slammed against me repeatedly, pushing me back and nearly knocking me off my feet, but it wasn’t making much headway. My body was still impervious to trespass it seemed, at least for now. But I had to guess if Arthur had been in this world for a while, he knew more about what was possible here than I did. He already had control of his vines like they were trained serpents.
“By the way,” he said, “if you’d like some advice about your relationship problems, I’d be happy to offer you the benefit of my failures. I’ve had plenty of experience in disappointing women.”
Was he feeling me out? Toying with me? Trying to dig for juicy details?
“Thanks, but she’s the one who disappointed me.”
“Come on,” he said, like we all knew that wasn’t really true. I accepted him as my true enemy. “She’s probably waiting for you to apologise.”
“Apologise for what?”
“I don’t know, but I’m guessing you do.”
This fucking guy.
I slashed with my sword and backed away. Simply trading blows wasn’t going to get me anywhere. The tentacle I’d hacked off had already regrown its tip.
The tentacle at my stomach darted forward and wound itself around my waist, probing me for an entry point. If it figured out there was a tradesman’s entrance round the back, I was going to have to clench hard. Good thing I’d been keeping up with my Kegel exercises.
The other three appendages were hovering just out of range of my sword, like they were watching. I was watching, too. If they couldn’t hurt me or get inside me, what was Arthur going to do?
The tentacle stopped trying to go in through my belly button and started working its way down. Was it going to latch onto my cock? Non-consensual cock-latching didn’t sound like something I would enjoy.
At times like these, when death in an unnecessarily sexual manner is about to befall you, it’s hard not to think about porn. I don’t mean the weird hentai stuff because of the tentacles — fuck knows what the Japanese find so alluring about alien octopus sex — I mean the stuff you can watch online for free, no matter what age you are.
And the question that seems obvious to me, but which no one else seems to ask, is why do they always end with the guy ejaculating on the girl’s face?
I mean, sure, some guys probably get off on that particular image, but all standard boy-girl pornos end like that. All of them.
It’s kind of weird. I don’t really want to see another guy’s penis firing jizz up a girl’s nose.
I digress (I know, so unlike me). My point is someone decided that bukake was the best way to sign off on an adult video. It makes the most money or is the easiest to shoot or something. And then it was forced on everyone until they considered it normal. Which it is not.
But it does show how you can persuade people into thinking the way you want them to think through brute force. You will like it, you do like it, you’re coming aren’t you? That means you love it! It’s a convincing argument.
Advertisers use the same technique, so do priests and politicians. Bludgeon, soothe, bludgeon. Basically anyone who wants you to do something against your own best interests, and which they would never do themselves.
This fight felt like that. Like I was being trained into a particular mindset.
I grabbed the tentacle with my free hand, the one with the shield strapped to it. I turned my wrist so the tentacle became entwined around my fingers. It didn’t resist, it actually helped, twisting to make it easier, its little mouth snapping up at me. I brought the sword down and landed a clean blow, slicing the head off the snake.
The tentacle sprang back, spewing gunk, but the section wound around my hand wriggled and squirmed. It felt just like the vines, slightly rubbery, a little warm.
The portion of tentacle in my hand was still moving. It nipped at my fingers, but couldn’t get a purchase. Arthur must have realised I was impervious to this kind of attack, so what was his intention? To get me to fight until I was worn out and unable to think straight? And then what?
The quivering mass in my hand was part of him. It was my ability, my weird and baffling ability, to see these things and be able to manipulate them. To be able to interpret their purpose. I stared at the contents of my hand, mesmerised by the energy I could feel. This was part of Arthur and I wanted to be connected to him, even though my ability wouldn’t allow it. I wanted to know who he truly was. I raised my hand to my mouth and took a bite. It seemed like eating the flesh of the enemy was the hip and cool thing to do. If you can’t beat them, eat them.
It tasted disgusting, of course, but frankly nothing worse than what most women have to swallow on a regular basis (or once a year if you’re over thirty).
Arthur was watching me with a grimace. The tentacles had backed off. They knew not to fuck with me. I chewed, I swallowed. I was untouchable from the outside, but what about the inside?
A terrible idea? That’s why I get paid the big bucks. I see the world the way it really is. Don’t fight them, give them what they want, and plenty of it.
It wasn’t that I thought I’d gain something from eating the vine he’d tried to attack me with. It wasn’t like I thought eating the heart of my enemy would give me his strength. I had no interest in his strength. The point was I didn’t care.
“You want to steal my wallet? Here, take my car. Here’s the keys to my house, too. And as a bonus, go fuck yourself.”
If you take from me out of need, fair enough. If you want to prove your power over me, the shit you take has to be worth something to me — it’s only valuable if people value it.
“Tastes a bit salty,” I said. Bits were stuck in my teeth and it wasn’t much fun tonguing them out of the gaps.
“Why did you do that?” Arthur asked, mildly horrified (yes, you can express extreme emotion in a moderate form, you just need to have some English in your ancestry).
“For science. Now, you probably want me to do something for you, or give you something, or turn into my final form. Well, Arthur, you sack of shit, please go suck a dick.”
You might think all the swearing was a bit unnecessary, but when you’re surrounded by people who are convinced their way is the only way, they stop being able to hear any other point of view, and you need a way to get through to them. Which is where swearing excels. That’s why you never see, “Fuck off,” he hinted.
“Feel anything?” Arthur asked me, concerned.
“Not for a very long time,” I said. Something was different inside me, though. Something was moving. Not in a wriggly way. Something was expanding and spreading through my limbs. The ball of light hovering beside me grew bigger. It seemed to want to, all by itself, so I let it. The light from it filled the chamber we were in.
Behind Arthur were three suspended figures — Richina, Damicar and Wesley — held in the grip of tentacles wrapped around their throats and hanging them like shirts on a clothesline. Their tongues were protruding and their eyes were bulging. All three seemed to be unconscious. Was it really them or a trick?
“You should be careful,” said Arthur. “Their lives are in your hands.”
I felt a powerful urge to save them — just kidding. I shrugged. “Makes no difference to me.”
“You don’t care if they perish?”
“It’s not that I don’t care, it’s just that I don’t really mind.” That wasn’t entirely true. It was true I didn’t mind if everyone died — nothing lasts forever — but I didn’t believe they were in danger, or that I was their saviour.
“You won’t see her again if you do this,” he said.
“She won’t mind.” I pushed the light bigger and brighter.
The ground beneath me rumbled and lurched. Voices flooded into my head, begging and pleading.
Inside my body, there was an immense amount of power building up. It was beyond anything I had experienced before. It was wild and unstable, and I doubted I could control it. But I was fairly sure I could release it.
Would I survive? Probably not. It would be meaningless and violent and serve no purpose, but the build-up was hard to resist. I was going to die in a moment of abandon, and I didn’t mind. Fuck it. Fuck everyone. And fuck her.
The pressure inside me got bigger and bigger until I couldn’t help but laugh. I was filled with light, and when I exploded, everyone would be left with egg on their face. Only not egg.
Everything went white. The heat was so sharp I melted into nothingness. Everything was gone. Finally, it was over.
“I think he’ll do, don’t you?” said Wesley’s voice.
“Hmm, maybe,” said Arthur.
Why were they in the afterlife with me? When was I going to get some privacy, and were you allowed to masturbate in heaven? The clouds were all white, no one would be able to tell. Clouds can be crunchy, right?
I opened my eyes but it was very difficult to lift my head. I was sitting on the ground, legs splayed and ears ringing. I tilted my chin to the side and looked up. Arthur and Wesley were standing there, looking down at me, arms locked together. They made a lovely couple. Couple of gits, that is. There was no sign of Damicar or Richina.
“Hello,” said Arthur. “Feeling okay?”
“What…” I was finding it hard to put words together.
“Don’t worry, you’re fine,” said Wesley.
“We think you can help us,” said Arthur. “It’s a tricky job, one that requires you to kill some people, probably. Don’t worry, you won’t be alone, you’ll have a team.”
I wasn’t really following. I’d passed some sort of audition, apparently, and he seemed to think I’d be happy to accept the gig. I tried to speak, but my voice was barely a whisper.
“Fuck you,” I hinted. “Not interested. Not in you, not in the team.”
“But you had a team before, didn’t you?” he said, like that was my only concern.
“If you think I’m going back to that bunch of ingrates, you’re seriously out of your mind.”
“Oh no,” said Arthur. “Not them. You can’t team up with them. They’re the ones you’re going to have to kill.”