Home, Sweet Home
The “Sierras Find & Kill Guyamas” team forced me inside the bulletproof van to deliver my body safely to the end destination. My tired bones swayed from side to side as if penetrated by the speed and annoyance of the rumbling wheels of our car. It seemed the men in black masks enjoyed their trip; they were superbly indifferent to my aches and troubles. I shook my head and shrugged my shoulders violently, telling them with my eyes the things that I could never say in words. My mind was churning with endless questions: What have I done to deserve a hunt like this? Is my time on this planet almost up? What have I failed at? What is the outcome of my life?
A source of my angry ‘speech’ sat across from me and chewed on his grilled larvae stuffed with pumpkin and potato mush. My empty stomach began to purr the tune of starvation. The heavy drops of the rain made contact with the roof of our van, and its melody muffled the sound of my almost constant hunger.
A sudden stop helped to switch off my attention when the boys carried me out to the doors of my castle. When they left, I stood up and, without hesitation, jangled the gold bell that hung outside. The delicious aroma of pudding promised an incredible celebration of my arrival.
No one opened. Anxious, I pushed the door and stepped out of the darkness into the light of the cozy hall. A mysterious, visibly unhappy, but beautiful woman in a white dress was looking straight at me.
“Who are you?” I asked, scratching my arms nervously.
“What? What is all this nonsense?!” The woman barked. “I’m your wife! What’s wrong with you, Mr. Harmless?”
A laugh began to rise in my throat but stopped abruptly. I noticed a half-naked figure of Alex Raphael with a mouth full of pudding. He came in through the living room door located in the castle’s heart: too relaxed, somewhat sparkling, slowly pulling on his trousers.
Alex Raphael glanced at me, muttered something to the woman, then pushed her back through the door to the closest bedroom. He wiped the sweat from his forehead and came forward.
“She is Mrs. Sweet Hellfire but in a transformation. I’m her first husband, the real one, the one everybody thinks is dead. Let me explain, Bullet… I was happy, healthy, enjoyed my life to the fullest, and worked as the Head of the Medical Center in the Warrior Farm. When LKED was discovered in our female population, I was the first to suggest the perfect solution, the only one who designed the cure to save the lives of thousands of innocent people. But the Board refused to believe me. The cure was stolen from my laboratory a month ago. After that, Alphonso Beard staged my death and made me disappear forever. Thanks to King Hamilton, I’ve got one more chance to fight for what I think is right.”
“Is that so…?” I responded. A sick feeling of a new fake drama crept into my heart; I squeezed my eyes to focus on the man’s face.
“The change is constant,” Alex Raphael continued, “so as far as I know, it is only happening once a week, but according to the latest data and my calculations, the LKED plague is going to accelerate with time.”
“Do you mean that my— hm, our wife, is going to look different next week? Do you mean I won’t recognize her again?”
“Exactly! Just imagine what damage it could do to our brains, as well as our society, if the change accelerates rapidly!”
“What if your LKED plague is true hope for everybody on this planet? Just imagine: no matter where you are in life, you can change… I mean, it gives you the chance to switch your appearance and start living the life you deserve to live.”
“Maybe, Doctor Harmless. Still, it might be very challenging, especially when you lose the connection with people you know, respect, and love. They’d see you as a stranger; it would take time to re-establish relationships, but then, wait… you’d suddenly change again. And again! I’ve also noticed that the change shifts between the low and the grand, between the ugly and the gorgeous.”
I stood and listened to him quietly. I was perplexed by the news and his passionate lecture: it was as if this was happening to someone else, not me.
“Why did you want to rob the bank?” I changed the topic of conversation.
“To get bacteriophage.”
“It’s a bacteria eater.” Alex Raphael clarified with a weak smile.
There was a reasonably heavy silence, because after all the bombing and beating, my cells refused to work at full capacity. While thinking, I subconsciously walked into the dining room, grabbed a piece of delicious pudding from the table, found a glass, and filled it with an eye-shattering, glowing drink from a jug cooling in a bucket of water.
“It’s only a virus that infects bacteria and destroys the cells of the host. It’s absolutely harmless…” Alex Raphael whispered from behind.
“Wait, stop! I don’t get it. What LKED really is: bacterial disease or virus?”
“Both. It’s a hybrid.”
His explanation wasn’t soothing my nerves. For a moment, I thought if I moved quick enough, I’d knock him on the floor without any difficulty. Then I’d push the button on the wall, get into the library, and hide there until the army of Alphonso Beard came and saved me.
“Don’t worry, Alex. We’ll talk some sense into him later,” someone chirped from the hall. I recognized the voice of the First Assistant: he was dressed in a blue silk shirt open at the neck and gigantic blue glasses. I admired his ability to sneak into any house in the Warrior Farm, but I saw a real danger in his elephantine, meaty belly this time.
“I’ve heard you are familiar with the voodoo concept,” the First Assistant smiled, reaching out for the pudding.
“Am I? Well, if you say so…” In a flash, I stuffed my mouth with the last two pieces on the table.
The First Assistant frowned and pouted his lips like a little child, “Mrs. Vegas told me to bring you to survey her new bedroom for demonic or malign presences and to ensure that the design itself, as well as the placement of her bed, is propitious and safe.”
I agreed to help. I was forever in debt to the fabulous Mrs. Vegas the Fifth.
On the way to the door, I gazed back one more time, detecting the expression of fury in the eyes of my wife, and adding mildly, “It was a divine pudding, Mrs. Sweet Hellfire!” She ignored my mention. Her eyes, cold enough to freeze the marrow in my bones, were the answer I was looking for: she hoped I would never get back from that short voodoo-trip.
“I need to clear my head anyway. I won’t be long,” I said to Alex Raphael sadly, observing how Mrs. Sweet Hellfire dropped to her knees, how her soft fingers brushed against his skin, how her hungry mouth ripped open his trousers.
I swallowed a howl and, surrendering to the arms of fate, followed the First Assistant out. It was nearly night (or morning?): the garden was in shadows; the trees were still. For some reason, I was filled with the most terrible feeling of loneliness I have ever known.
“Would you believe me, Mr. Harmless, if I told you I was ‘almost married’ once too?” the First Assistant broke the silence. “Ah, I still remember it as if it was yesterday! I was trained for our yearly sin marathon, but then I met Mr. SingleShot, and—”
“Please, stop. I believe you; you certainly have a convincing enough look… Mm, I’d marry you too if my name were Mr. SingleShot,” I joked.
He looked back at me over his shoulder, then turned and took my hand in his: “Let’s do it, Mr. Harmless. We could all be dead by 9:99 in the morning anyway.”
While I mumbled a prayer to God to give me the patience to explain that I can’t marry every person I meet, I caught a strange glimpse of his fingers, pulling something big and glossy from his jeans in a quite leisurely fashion…
It was only Miss Asunción!
Next – Russian Writers: Andrei Platonov