A Head of the Game
1."Well here's your problem," I pat the workstation sitting on the office drone's desk, "it appears the monitor's been gutted out and now there's a severed human head right where all the important wire-y stuff should be."
The monitor is aged beige plastic, bulky as the TV set in your grandmother's bedroom, with the human head stuffed inside bulging eyes and howling silent.
"Uh-huh," the office drone shrugs, tapping away on their phone in dollar store casual Friday khakis. It's almost 3:30 before the weekend and they've checked out sometime before lunch.
"Did you recently open any suspicious e-mails?" I ask testing the absence of a screen by waving my hand inside the monitor's frame just to the side of the screaming severed head.
"No," the office drone shrugs, hits send on their phone, rolls eyes, "maybe. I don't know."
"Yeah," I shake my head and curious lean across the desk to turn on the workstation speakers.
There's a crackle followed by the distinct wail of someone whose soul is being devoured by giant centipedes from another dimension. Just underneath that you can hear agonized prayers in foreign languages as some old timey carnival tune pipes off a calliope.
I turn off the workstation speakers and leaning up from the desk peer out over the rows of gray interlocking cubicles. "Excuse me," I shout through cupped hands, "but does anyone else have a chopped off but still very much alive human head inside their monitors?"
Slowly, meerkat cautious, a hand rises up out of the labyrinthine patterns of the cube farm. Then another. Two more at once after that and it keeps going until I count twelve hands total. I blink and I'm back on the ship, smoking on the fantail, listening to the tide, as I watch hands reaching for light burst up from the waves before vanishing again beneath them. I snap to.
"Alright put your hands down." I shout and at once the hands are lowered.
I get on the phone with my boss.
"Yeah, it's like you thought - a Baphomet virus... uh-huh, uh-huh, yeah, 13 total. What? Didn't ask, hang on."
Turning back to the office drone who's still standing there texting or candy crunching and whistle for his attention - "Hey kid, how long's it been like this?"
"How long what's been like what?," the office drone responds with stoner airiness.
"The human condition." I roll my eyes, " How long has humanity been fucked? We talking before or after the concept of free will?"
"How long's it been since you noticed there was a chopped off head where your spreadsheets and magic porn windows should be?"
"Oh, um, dunno, somewhere after lunch maybe?"
I turn around and tell the boss - "three, four hours probably. Yeah, I hear you. Tell Command to shut down the servers and I'll round up the heads. Gonna need to do a banishing ritual and maybe upload a exorcism suite on each workstation. Okay? Cool. On it."
Clicking off the call I make my way to the break room, walk up to a large plastic black garbage receptacle, dump it out unceremoniously across the floor and walk back out to the office floor.
"Okay listen up," I shout towards the cubes, "I'm going to need everyone with an affected computer to reach inside their monitors and pull their severed heads out."
I wait a good minute and continue - "Okay, everyone please hold their severed head up."
Thirteen decapitated and still alive heads rise up over the cubicle walls.
"Great," I shout all customer service happy day in my voice, "now just keep them up and I'm going to come around. When I do just dunk them in the garbage bin."
Driving around in the boss's pick-up truck. I pull up into an abandoned field just north of the Perimeter. Get out. Hiss back the last hit off a roach before gulping it down dry. Then I take exactly 23 steps from the truck. Stop. Draw a circle in the dirt with the tip of my sneaker, making it wide enough to stand in and raise my arms. Satisfied I crouch down and start drawing symbols at cardinal points of the circle. I walk back to the pick-up and from the cab untie the garbage bin I liberated from the office. Hauling it out of the cab I drag it up to the circle and dump thirteen severed and still screaming heads into it. A few roll outside it and these I collect, by the scalp, then deposit in the center. Then I walk back to the pick-up. I slap on my headphones and pull up a tune from a music app off the phone.
L7's "Wargasm" blasts point blank into the ears.
I reach into the cab of the truck, feel around behind the seat, then pull out a pump shotgun before continuing to rummage through CAT5 cables, discarded tools, and dissected hardware.
Finally I come across a box of shells. I stuff each pocket with a fistful, grab the shotgun, and walk up to the circle. Sunglasses lowered. Round chambered. Stock to shoulder. Inhale with the squeeze of the trigger and exhale with the bang.
The first of thirteen heads explodes into a Jackson Pollock painted with a Tom Savini palette.
Something squirms out of the pulverized skull gore, a bird of some sort shaking brain goop from wing feathers. The bird has a wristwatch clock for a head with hands spinning, stopping, spinning again in different directions. It hops around, then takes flight shrieking towards me, before hitting the magick circle's invisible barrier where it bursts into a spray of black fireworks.
I chamber another round and aim...
Later, sitting in the cab of the truck still parked in the field, I smoke my second joint, messaging a retired witch to see if she's got a half-hour to fool around?
She replies with a thumbs up.
Where do you want to meet? - I finger in the question.
A minute passes then my phone pings with her answer: 688 - Outta Control.
Phone pings that the message was seen.
Little dots in a word balloon light up and vanish repeatedly before my phone pings again: 11PM, October 18th. 1996.
I put my phone down and savor the next hit. I still got my headphones on and they're playing vintage Ministry. "So What?" Al(ien) Jourgensen snarls and I close my eyes.
Outside the bedroom the woman formally known as Sheila Hex is a happily married woman. She loves her husband. She loves her two boys. She loves the three bedroom two story that's only five years shy of being paid off. She loves cruising to book club in her SUV Mom-Tank. She loves a bottle of chardonnay and Colbert before bed then a Xanax at breakfast to wake up calm. But lately she hasn't been herself. Amped. Edgy. Restless beyond that which long bath soaks and a drawer full of toys can tame. She misses her old life. Remembers when she ran with a Riot Coven of switchblade witches. Remembers the lust and terror in the eyes of her lovers.
She misses when doing it missionary style involved a literal missionary being kidnapped, drugged, tied up, and forced to watch every sin but sloth go down before their eyes.
This, along with other sordid and concupiscent episodes too numerous to list here, she shares with me in late night chat sessions on Messenger.
But as much as she yearns for those satisfactions lost with youth, she would never jeopardize the life she has built with her man and two boys.
So, what else is there to do but to time-travel back to a year when we were both single, and release our frustrations there in the past that fuels them in the first place?
The trick to time-travel is you can skip the machine if all your packing is your thoughts. With the right combination of narcotics and training one can project their consciousness back into their body at a previous point in their lifetime. Only catch is you can only enter at a point in your life when your body was not fully conscious. Meaning you can't override your past self when s/he was either awake or sober. 11pm at 688 on October 18th, 1996 is optimal to this endeavor as we were both at there but not there at the same time. She passed out drunk in the back of a hearse while I processed animal tranquilizers washed down with glugs off a bottle Jack Sinn and Bud smuggled into the club.
It's 4:20 and after hissing back a hit I flick the cherry off the tip of what's now half a joint. I close my eyes, lean back into the beaten leather of the driver's seat, call forth a symbol that blazes in the darkness of a cleared mind. The symbol is carved psychically from the numbers and letters comprising the date of our meet-up. A shift of focus on the symbol sends its spinning. Slow at first. Then quicker until it begins to pulse out a new pattern. It locks my attention.
Rollercoaster gravity drop lurches in the belly, as awareness plummets through a sober version of the bed spins down a tunnel of buried memories and forgotten dreams. The tunnel is getting tighter down the decades and the visions are blurring together. Day to day minutia flickering over each over spliced together with snippets from random nightmares or daydreams. Awareness is being squeezed into a pinhole of light as a roaring fills the ears before I black out...
...and jolt into awareness with the sensation of being in a car that's just slammed its break.
I stumble forward and bump into someone. They ignore me and keep air grinding. Eyes adapt to the purple and white strobe lights flashing horizontal intentions to the reptile brain.
Silhouettes through fog and laser beams along the chain link fences hanging around me. I'm mob deep at of Terminus's old Disco Funerals. Listen and recognize Gitane De Mone cooing Incendiary Lover through a murky nightclub reeking of fog machine belch and secondhand smoke.
It takes a few moments to readapt to my old (yet technically younger) body. I've got more muscle and less fat than I remembered. My breath though nicotine clogged has only been so for five years now. My arms look weird without the tattoos on my biceps while the ones on my shoulder seem too new. Thankfully one good side-effect of broadcasting your consciousness into your older self is that it's able to override whatever chemicals may be fucking up your prior self. Initially there is the sensation of the animal tranqs in the old me clawing a nauseated vertigo before receding beneath the dream-buzz of time travel.
Okay. Don't have long before the old me wakes up and boots my ass back to the 21st century. I make my way off the floor and realize I can light up a cigarette guilt free as it would be fucking with the space-time continuum if I didn't. Familiar faces masked by youth stare past me without recognition. Brush past soon to be old flames and the future dead lurched over drinks. So much I want to say but can't. Focus, cowboy. If I recall Sinn is in the back office talking business with the two Dave's who run 688 while Bud has left the club to 'meet someone about a thing'. I'm not a DJ yet and only an occasional doorman here so no one who recognizes me knows me well enough to be concerned by my pulling a French Exit. I mumble something to Doorman Rick (unrecognizable without hillbilly beard and beer gut) on the way out, turn left, get a few feet, remember this isn't the parking lot yet, then head back in the opposite direction. Doorman Rick howls a laugh about me being fucked up. I laugh and wave him off.
I hit the parking lot and bingo - a vintage black Cadillac hearse with chrome landau bars glistening on the side and a bumper sticker patched with goth-industrial band logos.
Half a Camel but I toss it anyway indifferent to Past Me's dwindling supplies. Make my way up to the hearse then deliver three taps on the back door where they slip the coffin in and out. The curtain on the door parts open then closes too fast for me to see who peeked me. I step back as the door swings open with a cloud burst of marijuana, incense, and gin.
Through the smoke a hand appears from the gloom of the Cadillac's interior, it beckons to me with the curling and uncurling of a skull ringed index finger.
I lean into the smoke reaching my hand towards her own. She reaches back, past my open grasp, to grab me by t-shirt's collar, before yanking me into the funeral carriage's depth.
It's back door remains open for a sigh's length before slammed shut by an invisible hand.
Our shadows bind with fevered kiss. Silhouettes tangle in the parking lot's burnt copper glow seeping through the hearse's windows to disperses across the miasma within. Below us the floor of the carriage is lined with throw pillows of varying sizes. Above radiation green glow-in-the-dark painted astrological symbols gaze down on our frantic union.
The situation's wired me up with vampire instincts. I get a fistful of her hair, break out of the kiss, and tug it back to expose the throat. My teeth sink just shy of drawing blood from the neck.
Her hands reach under my shirt, slide around the lats, then begin to rake black fingernails to carve her intentions into my flesh. I fish clumsily for right breast corset wrapped with left hand trembling with time-travel dissociative fugue as well as excitement. I twist the nipple between thumb and forefinger delivering another bite this time to the meat of the shoulder.
We kiss again and I taste blood when she bites my lip.
I push her away and sink my face down deep between her thighs.
Skirt bunched around arched hips, panties slither down fishnets and off leather boots.
Flash of an aerial view of a narrow battle ship as seen from helicopter descending out of the clouds towards her.
My tongue slides between lips, fore and aft, the rhythm of the ocean pounding in sailor's blood.
Slowly at first, savor the taste, brandy mixed with wild mushrooms after the rain.
Beneath the shadows that veil it, the petals spread, as probing fingers slip under the chin to form the barrel of a gun that presses towards the center of the bloom.
Wildfire quick I brush strokes of flame towards the ship's bow then clockwise circle gentle licks until she bucks and shudders and curses her approval.
Finally, after clawing satisfaction around the stubble of the back of my head, she pries my face free from her lap and tells me she wants me inside her.
I lean back, I fumble around the belt buckle, squeeze button through hole, slide the zipper down, then try to free an attentive tumescence from my boxers...
... just as the back door of the hearse swings open and I'm grabbed by the back of my shirt followed by being hauled out of the darkness before being hurled to the ground.
Future me has his reflexes downloaded into old me and I manage to avoid breaking any limbs when I roll along the pavement of the parking lot before slamming into a car.
Scrambling up to my feet, I brace myself with fists up and chin down for whoever just made the biggest mistake of their life - picking a fight with a blue-balled sailor high on time-travel kicks.
I size up my opponent who's still standing by the opening of the hearse and get as high as the shoulders before realizing that there's nothing resting on them but night air.
Blink-blink-blink and yep, I'm looking at six feet of headless gorilla wrapped in a business suit.
The sight is unsettling enough that it takes me far too long to register that whatever this fucking vision is it's charging straight at me.
Fuck it, let's go.
My aim's off not having a nose to aim my knuckles at so I shoot for the knot in the tie. My punch lands hard, two more chase it, followed with a "THIS IS SPARTA" kick to the guts.
Headless Harry here is unfazed by my assault and what happens next is a flurry of blows that I barely manage to shield in time. Fucker can not only see sans eyeballs but seems to know where I'm weakest. A few of his blows land past the arms. One clocks the ears and there's a ringing in it that burns up the side of my face. Another connects the temple and I spin into a third punch to the gut before going down. I try to side step out of further damage but get a knee to the side of the ribs that I feel before I see.
I go down to the ground and Headless Harry is about ready to curb stomp me into meat pudding when a finger taps him on the shoulder. Headless Harry turns around and when he does his right wrist is plucked out of the air and thrust behind his back. A stomp to the back of the calf followed by another to the knee buckles my opponent as Sheila judo throws him into a car.
Headless Harry hits hard and takes a good minute to lumber back up.
"Sheila," I wince clutching my ribs, "run."
Her reply is to pluck and snap open a switchblade tucked inside a knee high boot and with a shit eaten grin motions to headless, as she did to me earlier from back of hearse, to come get some.
Headless Harry replies by cracking his knuckles (that only now do I realize have eyeballs tattooed on their bumps) and turning to 'face' her. He points at her and then charges.
Sheila just stands there and I'm fighting to get up off my ass but my head's dizzy, the blows to the head have loosened the grip of my future consciousness's possession on my former self.
Headless Harry is about an inch from wrapping fists around her bite-marked neck when she ducks under his arms and slices off a black tie hanging from buttoned collar. It falls to the ground followed by drops of blood.
Sheila pops up behind him, twirls down into a couch and slices the tendons under the back of knee open before dance-dodging a backwards swing from her opponent. She lunges in to drive the blade into Headless Harry's chest but faster than should be possible he manages to deflect the blade with another swing and wraps her in a bear hug.
"Jack," she screams, "shoot this fucker down."
"With what?" I scream back staggering up off the ground at last.
"With your fingers," her scream is a gasp now as I hear something pop in her back, "the fingers you just used on me..."
My eyes widen with realization as I once again make the gun that I holstered within her rose and aim it at the place where his head should be.
Kundalini tremors crisscross up the spine and a burst of blue orgone energy fires.
There is the sound of a balloon popping, as Headless Harry drops Sheila and then drops to his knees waving blindly over his shoulders in search of something that should be there. It takes a moment but the body finally ceases its search and collapses.
Headless Harry is a cloud of death's head moths that flutter away.
I stagger over to Sheila, feeling past me begin to wake with the surge of magical energy that just flowed out of his fingers. By the time I reach her the animal tranqs and my old thoughts are taking over as I slide back into the present.
I jolt into awareness back in the here and now of my boss's pick-up truck and it's hard not to notice that there are twelve headless men surrounding the vehicle, pounding on it furiously.
Missing the cigarette I tasted in the past, there's nothing to do but put the truck in reverse and plow my way free. I throw it back into drive and aim it for their biggest guy. Tough as they may be the Headless are knocked aside and their circle is scatter. I can't just drive away though. They'll track me no matter where I go - the past included. So I turn the truck around in the lot to aim it towards the circle where I blew up all those animated bodiless heads from earlier.
I knock a few more of the Headless aside with the truck, screech to a halt, grab the shotgun, and jump out the cab. The twelve headless men, some limping now, begin charging towards me. I aim the shotgun at them, then swivel it down to the magic circle, and see it.
One head, missing only its lower jaw, glares up at me from the mound of exploded skull and pureed brain matter. The twelve headless men are almost on me when I put the barrel between the eyes of the one head I missed and squeeze the trigger.
A swarm of death's head moths darken the sky then disperse across the wind.
I fish out my phone. Text Sheila. I message to see if she's okay.
Five minutes later the only reply I receive is a request I lose her number and fuck off... not necessarily in that order either.
I text my boss and tell him I'm on my way back to the office.