(illus. by Taz Jurz)
When I look back on what happened next, I can't help but smile.
It's not that it was particularly funny - it's more sad than
anything else - but every time I get a surprise visit from the
google-eyed weirdo they sent to replace Sister Mercy, I always
think of the two Pardoners killing each other.
And that, as they say, was that.
And I knew that if I didn't get ahold of myself and do something, we were all in big fucking trouble.
I've never actually seen what happens when the Damned make a breach into the world of the living. What happened with my son was the closest I've ever come - and the closest I ever want to be, again.
But I've heard the stories, and they are not good.
Normally, the Damned have a hard time coming across the Barrier. They have to rely on accidents and atrocities, or Storms, or sneak over some other way.
So when they get a chance to have a blast in the Deadlands, they just pour on over like a plague of fucking locusts, and it's not pretty.
But there's something of a saving grace, there, because the Damned can't affect the living the way we can. It's probably because they don't have any Anchors left, but maybe there's something else that keeps them reined in, and their attentions focused on us.
But when they can go play with the living... oh Gods, you just don't even want to think about it.
All those stories of entire communities just vanishing overnight, or killing each other in mass hysteria - that could be the Damned at work. They just slip right into the bodies of the living, like we can, and things get really ugly.
Really, really ugly.
Everything that the Ferryman had told me that night came back
to me, right then and there. And while I knew what I had to do
- I think I knew it all along, to be honest - it took me a few
more moments to convince myself that I had to do it.
I tore through the apartment, throwing things around until I found what I was looking for. I tossed his filthy clothes across the bedroom, threw the bed up to the ceiling, smashed the bathroom mirror cabinet, ripped up thin sections of the wall where he used to hide his gangster shit... I must have looked like a storm of debris going from room to room
For a moment I was terrified he might have gotten rid of his old stash and switched completely over to pitch, but he still had one, full bag of pure horse, hidden under the floor.
I walked it over to the living room, just in time to see that the Damned were moments away from breaking through him. His skin was starting to stretch outwards in all directions, like... like...
I'm sorry - I just can't describe it without... sorry.
I think he looked at me, then, in front of him, and knew what I was going to do. He was nodded-off to Hell and gone, and Hell was coming up through him, but I think he saw through the pain and confusion for just one moment, there.
He didn't say anything, though - not 'yes,' not 'no'... nothing at all.
He just looked at me, confused and unsure, and I just stood there with the horse. We might have gone on like that forever if I hadn't forced myself to break free, walk over to him, and...
Have you ever seen someone overdose on that much heroin, right in their system? It's a nasty, horrible way to die - I think I'd rather be skinned alive.
See, I knew this one girl who used to smuggle horse up from Mexico in her stomach: tied up in condoms, swallowed one by one.
I mean, it works, most of the time, which is why a lot of carriers did that. But you had to watch what you ate, lay off the booze, and hope you could crap them all out before they burst.
She did that for years, with no problems, and then one night, boom - she ODed.
I never got to ask her what if felt like, dying like that.
She was in The Order, but I think she Ossified three whole
years before Lenny gave me that hotshot, so I never got to ask.
I thought about what a horrible feeling that had to have been,
knowing that you had pure poison inside your guts. And knowing
there was nothing you could do - nothing - to get it out
before it killed you.
I mean, I knew the stakes and the consequences. I knew that if I didn't do this, those things were going to erupt out of him like ants out of a kicked-over anthill, and the city was fucked on both sides.
But I thought about having to stand there and watch him die, and I just couldn't do it.
I dropped the baggie to the floor and stepped back, stammering "I'm sorry, Joey" over and over again. It was all I could say and all I could think - I really did let him down.
A couple of his ribs broke under his shirt from the pressure, and he started leaking blood out of his mouth and eyes...
I think it was the way he opened and closed his mouth, trying to say something, that made me think of what the Pardoner'd dropped on the floor, back there. That big metal oyster that Laris shorted out, somehow.
I mean, the way he'd pulled that metal oyster out and shoved it at Laris, he seemed to think it was going to send him back across the Barrier?
I guess he should have known better that to try that on a Ferryman. But if they're all dumb enough to think the Ferrymen are all Damned... well, serves him right.
But I thought about that, and wondered if maybe it could do something, here...
So I ran over to it and picked it up, which was a mistake. It was like grabbing a metal cookie pan right out of the oven, and I burned my hands badly - so much so that I could actually hear them sizzle.
I couldn't let go, though - it wouldn't let me.
To this day I still have no idea what the hell that thing was supposed to be. I got a really good pile of favors from the Freewraiths when I had Doc Wallis sell it for me, but I never got a straight answer about what you could call it...
Well, Doc said it was a Devouring Heart... but what the hell is that supposed to mean?
All I know is that I had it my hands for all of a second before it started burning me, but I couldn't make myself let go of it. And then I didn't want to let go of it - especially when it started beating and pulsing, just like some kind of...
Okay, maybe that's part of my question answered.
But I knew how it worked, just then. I just knew that if I walked it over to Joey and put it in front of him, the Damned would all leave him.
It would just cost me a little piece of myself - something I wouldn't miss, it said...
Yeah, that's what it said. I didn't hear it but it said it, or I just knew that's what it wanted - like I knew what it was going to do when I said "Okay."
And I guess I must have said "Okay," because a moment later I felt drained, like a sink.
That's when the thing started really going off. I was about three steps away from Joey, then, and the oyster started to glow bright red, and bleed hot, smoking oil from its mouth.
It creaked open on its hinges, and a wave of red light just flew right out of this thing, right at Joey, and wrapped itself around him like a fuzzy cloud of blood.
I heard the Damned screaming, in that cloud. I heard Joey screaming, too, from the pain, but they were a multitude, and had much stronger voices.
I could see him struggling against the red light: shaking and shivering on the couch as his body puffed out and in, cracking and splitting...
But then it was all over, and the red light went out quickly, like someone turned it off at the switch. As it went away I could see hideous, screaming faces stuck inside of it, like reflected shadows, and then they were gone, too.
All that was left was my son, and he was dead.
In the end, it all worked out... just not how I would have liked it. I guess that's life and death for you, though.
And as for what I was left with...
Whatever the Damned had been doing through Joey ended the moment he died. His body was... ruined, but nothing came out of him but blood.
And he had the most beautiful smile on his face...
I'm sorry, I can't. I can't...
I took the oyster and walked out of the building, and everything seemed to be okay...
Yeah, I just left him there. I was so fucking numb that I couldn't think of anything else to do - or that's what I told myself, anyway.
The truth was that I didn't care anymore.
No, really. That godsdamn hunk of metal was telling the truth when it said I wouldn't miss what it was going to take.
It ate my concern for Joey - my love, my attachment... everything I ever felt for him, dead or alive, was gone, with just a hint of something remaining to let me know that it wasn't there, anymore.
And I was so badly in shock from what I'd seen in the Barrier - still reliving that horror, over and over again - that I didn't question my feelings until months later. It didn't hit me until I stopped to wonder when his funeral might have been, and where he'd been buried, and why I hadn't wondered before then...
It was like something had gone into me with a pair of scissors, cut my love for my son out of my soul, and then stitched up the wound before I even noticed the pain.
Of course, by that time I'd sold the damn oyster to the Freewraiths, so there was no way I could warn them about what the damn thing did. They really don't care about that, though - they're caveat emptor all the damn way.
But that's what it took from me.
I've lost my son three times, and that's the charm. But it all turned out okay, anyway... because I got that heap of favors, I got Sister Mercy off my back...
And I have a new reason to go on, now.
Before what happened, my reason was Joey. My Sun rose and set by my boy, and while I know I made mistakes with how I looked after him - oh Gods did I ever make mistakes - I couldn't have helped that...
I mean, I was his mother - I had to try to help him.
And when he was gone... I had no direction, anymore. I must have wandered for days on end, after I sold that damn thing, not even sure what I should do with those favors it'd gotten me.
The largest piece of my life was gone, and I couldn't even feel its fucking loss because of that damn hunk of metal.
But I still had a need for that piece, deep inside of me. The reason behind that need was gone, but the need was still there - crying like a baby that hasn't been fed yet.
Just like... just like a baby.
It took me a long while to get my head back on straight, again. I'm sure you can imagine what it's got to be like to have something that large cut right out of your heart and your mind.
And when I did, I realized that I had a new reason to go on: I am going to find Laris, again, and when I do I'm going to kill that motherfucker.
What? Why the hell shouldn't I?
You heard my story, didn't you?
He knew, dammit. The motherfucker knew what was going on the whole time, and he did nothing...
Yeah, of course he didn't, 'cause he's a Godsdamned Ferryman - that's not the fucking point!
The point is that he could have told me. He could have just come up to me and said 'hey, your son's Joey's been seeing you this whole time, but your Shadow's been playing tricks on you so you don't know, and Joey's about to go buy some pitch so he make you... so he can make you fucking listen to him...'
But he didn't, did he?
No, he just gave me the same fucking line Sister Mercy was trying to give me. It wasn't my responsibility, and the prisoner could only free himself... all that dogshit.
Well, he's free, now, isn't he?
But I'm still here, and I'm fucking stuck with that promise I made all that time ago. I said I'd see this through, no matter what, right?
So I'm going to see it through - for Joey, for me, and for everyone else those bastards have led along, fucked up and left to twist in the Storm.
I don't care if fear of him's what's keeping the Haunters off of me. They can have me when I'm finished with him, if they've got the guts.
Hell, I'll even hand them my head on a plate if they want it - how do I know Laris didn't set that monster up in the first place?
No - I'm going to find out what the Ferrymen's weakness is, even if it takes me a hundred Godsdamned years... five hundred, a thousand thousand. And then I'm gonna find Laris, and I'm gonna spring it on him, and I'm gonna sit there and watch him fucking die.
Because I have to, dammit.
Anchors... Anchors are really just scars, you know? Old scars that we couldn't heal in life, and can't really heal in death, either, no matter what anyone says.
And where I come from, we pay our scars back - line for fucking line.
My past as I knew it is over, but I've got an extended lifetime full of new days ahead of me. I've got these old scars to keep me going through them.
I'm not gonna run from what I've done, or what I've become, any longer - from now on, they can do the running.
And they can go running straight back to Hell. Or I'll send them back there, screaming all the way down...
... and with my hand at their throat, just to say "thank you for killing my son."