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Thresher of Men

November 29, 2021

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Michael Boatman’s stories have appeared in places like Horror Garage and Weird Tales and in anthologies like Dark Delicacies III: Haunted and Sick Things. He’s the author of four novels, The Red Wake, Revenant Road, Last God Standing, and Who Wants to be the Prince of Darkness? and two collections, 13: A Collection of Horror and Dark Fiction and God Laughs When You Die. By day, Michael is an actor known for his co-starring roles on Spin City, Arli$$, China Beach, and Instant Mom. Currently he’s co-starring on the critically acclaimed CBS/Paramount Plus drama, The Good Fight.

Officer Greg Fitzsimmons was working up the nerve to tell the Chief to kiss his hairy white ass when Black Edie attacked. Six months of modified duty with the Lincolndale PD’s traffic unit had nearly drained him of the will to breathe, and since no one who knew him believed he would ever make detective, Fitzsimmons figured real estate offered him a brighter future. He was scrolling through some listings on his iPhone when he looked up to see Black Edie’s silver Mercedes Benz bearing down on him. 

“Shit!” 

The old tank swerved to the left and the driver’s side mirror smacked Fitzsimmons’s right wrist and sent his iPhone flying.

“Owww!” Fitzsimmons yelped. “Hey!” 

The silver Mercedes rolled over his phone and glided up Lincoln Avenue at a stately twelve-miles-per-hour.

Fitzsimmons jumped on his Harley and gave pursuit. He hit his lights and siren and punched the public address button on his right handlebar.

“Pull over,” he roared via his helmet microphone. 

The silver Benz crossed two lanes and jumped the curb in front of Mel’s All-American Barbershop. Fitzsimmons thought the old bat was going to plow through Mel’s front window until the sedan swooped to the left and bounced back onto the street. It trundled along with its right-side wheels up on the curb, the busted exhaust pipe striking sparks, before it swerved to avoid a fire hydrant and rammed into the streetlight at the corner of Lincoln and Main. 

“Jeee-sus fuck,” Fitzsimmons snarled, envisioning the shit-ton of paperwork he’d just inherited. 

The old Mercedes had come to rest in front of the newer downtown Starbucks. A gaggle of looky-loos were already buzzing around the scene as Fitzsimmons rolled up to the intersection. They were mostly hipsters and retirees, he reckoned: Who else had enough free time to buy gourmet Crap-in-a-Cup at ten o’clock on a Tuesday morning? 

Fitzsimmons massaged his throbbing wrist as he dismounted.

“Lincolndale Police!” he barked. “Clear a path!”

To Fitzsimmons’ savage delight, even the geeks and trannies that drank iced Senegalese butt-milk acknowledged his authority and let him through. 

A jet of steam was whistling up from beneath the Benz’s crumpled hood. The murdered streetlight had snapped in half and now its shattered lamp swung like a lynched pervert, mere inches above the Benz’s roof. As he shouldered his way through the crowd, Fitzsimmons mentally counted the citations: Failure to yield to a goddamn emergency vehicle. Destruction of goddamn city property. Reckless frickin’ goddamn endangerment …

“Goddammit, lady! You nearly killed me!”

Black Edie was trying to restart the Benz. The old hermit kept turning the key and stomping on the gas pedal so hard she was bouncing on the driver’s seat. By way of a reply, the car she’d owned since Jesus was a toddler wheezed, smoked … and died. The look of dazed resignation on Black Edie’s face infuriated Fitzsimmons even more. 

Black Edie (for that was what everyone on the right side of the tracks called Lincolndale’s only African-American librarian) wasn’t just old; she was practically prehistoric. And as far as the Lincolndale Illinois PD was concerned, Edith Frazier was a royal pain in the ass. She’d harassed the chief about her asshole nephew every day since the shooting.

Hell, Chief Krieger always said after one of her daily rants. Maybe if she’d raised him right the stupid son of a bitch would still be alive.

That one always got a laugh out of the fellas. 

Except for Driscoll, Fitzsimmons recalled. For some reason, his former partner had refused to lighten up about Roosevelt Alexander Frazier. But, since Danny Driscoll was the one who’d shot him, Fitzsimmons and the other guys usually just let him sulk. 

But Fitzsimmons wasn’t laughing now. His wrist hurt like a bastard. And why did everything smell like …

“Hey,” Fitzsimmons barked, rapping on the crumpled hood with his nightstick. “What the hell’s your problem?”

Black Edie squinted up at him. In the glare from the summer sun, she looked as if she’d just been caught sleepwalking.

“Blood on these streets,” she muttered. “Too much blood for such a small town.” 

Then she tried to start the car again.

Great, Fitzsimmons thought. Probably got Alzheimer’s.

“Oh, I remember you,” Black Edie said. “Master Gregory Fitzsimmons: The rambunctious one.”

Fitzsimmons grimaced. He hated Edith Frazier. As far as he could remember, she was the only black who’d ever been allowed to work at the public library. Apparently, she was the only person, black or white, who’d ever wanted the job. 

Black Edie was infamous for her collection of hideous pantsuits. Each one was like an abortion for the eyes, and they came in a variety of cornea-blasting colors. For decades Lincolndale’s kids had made naming each pantsuit a rite of passage. There were doozies from Fitzsimmons’ youth like “The Booger-Green Ass Hammock” or “The Camel Toe Express.” Fitzsimmons’ own nephew, Chase, had come up with last year’s winner; “The Cat-piss Yellow Monkeynut Pimpstriper.” The one she was wearing now. 

But what really annoyed Fitzsimmons was the way Black Edie talked. She had this grandiose way of speaking, like she thought she was better than all the white folks in Lincolndale. She’d even had the nerve to correct his English once; and in front of Jenny Gorlick of all people.

Civilized people don’t say, “ain’t,” Master Fitzsimmons.

Now here he stood, twenty-five years later, remembering the hot flush that had raced up the back of his neck. Jenny Gorlick had treated him like he was a ree-tard for the rest of freshman year. 

Bet you weren’t so snooty when they scraped ol’ Roosevelt’s brains off the sidewalk, bitch. Bet you hollered like a regular old …

“Dan Driscoll knew my Roosevelt,” Black Edie said. “All you boys played football at the high school.” 

“Look, lady,” Fitzsimmons said. “I’m only gonna say this once …”

“Ms. Frazier, young man,” the old woman snapped, cutting him off mid-sentence. “Ms. Frazier.”

Fitzsimmons itched to reach through the window and drag her scrawny ass out of the car, but then he remembered all the citizen journalists surrounding them; a virtual army of assholes just waiting to whip out their smartphones and push Record.

“I heard he returned to full-time duty,” Black Edie said. “My Roosevelt’s been dead for two years, but your partner gets to act like nothing ever happened.”

“Take it up with the chief,” Fitzsimmons snarled. “Right now we need to get this piece of shit off … ah …”

There it was again: the odor of gasoline, heavier now that he was close enough to reach for the door handle, the fumes so strong they pricked at his sinuses. 

What the hell?

The smell was coming from inside the car.

Fitzsimmons saw them then. The contents of six red five-gallon plastic containers lay in puddles pooled in the back seats. Two overturned containers lay next to Black Edie on the soaked passenger seat. Each of the containers was open. Someone had removed the yellow safety caps. 

Fitzsimmons heard a sound like the edge of a quarter scraped across the teeth of a tiny steel comb.

“It’s my birthday, Gregory,” Black Edie said. “I turned eighty-five today.”

The inside of the car was soaked with gasoline.

“Hey now,” Fitzsimmons said. “What the hell …?” 

“Folks my age get lonely,” Black Edie said. “Roosevelt and I were the last of the Illinois Fraziers. After he was murdered, I traveled along strange byways seeking a worthy champion. Then … I found her.” The old woman chuckled. “On the internet.” 

“Okay, lady,” Fitzsimmons said. The fumes were giving him a headache. His wrist hurt and he needed to take a piss. ”Gonna need you to exit the vehicle.”

“Turns out she’s an old family acquaintance,” Black Edie said. “Oh, there were certain arrangements … delicate preparations to be sureBut finally … last night … she came to me.”

“Lady,” Fitzsimmons growled, “you got gas all over the place!”

“She made me an offer, Gregory. In exchange for a small token, a leap of faith, she promised me the justice I’d craved for so long.”

Fitzsimmons heard that tiny, metallic sound again.

Clink 

“‘Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord,’” Black Edie said. “That’s from Romans, Gregory. Chapter 12, verse 19.”

“Not gonna ask you again, lady,” Fitzsimmons said, reaching for his taser. ”Step out of the car. Now.”

“Your God demands our forgiveness, yes?” Black Edie said. “I certainly wouldn’t have survived this long without that.”

Like a magician performing a coin trick, Black Edie opened her right hand. When Fitzsimmons saw what she was holding he grabbed for his sidearm, only to remember, too late, that he’d surrendered it during the Frazier investigation.

My savior has a long memory, Gregory. Longer than King James ever dreamed. And she’s strong. She doesn’t have to forgive.”

With a flick of her wrist, the librarian opened the Zippo lighter …

“Vengeance is hers, boy. Kisazi forgives nothing.”

Then Black Edie and the old Mercedes and Officer Fitzsimmons became fire. 

§

The goddess had lived a million lives. 

As a child, she had raced Sister Sun across the endless savannahs of Home, singing songs that inspired queens for a thousand years.

Fly, sister! Dance with us across the sky!

Oh! See how she frowns! 

Much later, she had traveled in the bellies of slave ships, listening to the voices of her people as they cried for her, never knowing that she rode beside them in the deepening darkness. She had watched her people sundered from their histories and wept for the beloved ripped from her million loving hearts. And at the end of every life, the parts of her that lived in them had also gone into that darkness. 

But the goddess always returned, nameless and ignorant, her consciousness fractured and divided across a new generation of stolen souls. For this was the goddess’s doom: to watch over the journeys of her people and to deliver her judgment upon their sins. Bound to mortal flesh, she was dragged across oceans and time, until she and her shining siblings had become little more than myths. 

The shards of her divine essence, however, still lived within the souls of her dispersed people. Unable to remember herself, she’d begun instead to weigh the sins of those who had trespassed against them. 

Until a willing supplicant restored her truest name. 

§

Elliot Cream hated the burnt ones. 

He’d seen a lot of gross shit during his stint as the Lincolndale Medical Examiner’s morgue attendant; shotgun suicides, car wrecks … He’d once helped autopsy a Puerto Rican landscaper after the poor son of a bitch had plunged through a sinkhole and drowned in the mayor’s septic tank. Anyone who thought death by blunt force trauma was ugly had never scooped a tampon out of a dead Puerto Rican’s esophagus.

But Cream really hated the crispy critters. And the poor old biddy on the examining table definitely qualified as one of the crispiest. He’d unzipped Frazier, Edith A., taken one whiff, and nearly puked in her body bag. It was the smell, he decided as he rinsed out his mouth at the sink; like sweet and sour pork flash-fried via high-octane shit storm.

Still, Cream had a job (such as it was) and the dead cop the old woman had ambushed was due to arrive any second. Cream popped a mint and turned away to grab his notepad. 

Behind him, the body bag on the examination table shuddered and sat up.

§

This time Kisazi remembered laughter. 

The sound of men taking pleasure from her pain vied with the smell of whiskey and the taste of blood and dirt.

Get in there, boy! Get her face down in that mud!

She remembered light and opened one unburnt eye. 

She didn’t know this cold place or the pale fat man who stood gawking at her like a frightened child.

Be very quiet now. Don’t open this door until I come back.

But the fat man had something she needed. Kisazi moved, covering the distance between them faster than he could blink, and caught him by the throat. Fingers scorched to the knucklebones plunged into the fat man’s mouth, pinched the thick meat of his tongue, and tore it from its roots. She remembered the taste, and with the blood came a flood of strength … 

Dance, sister! 

She is more stern than Brother Death!

… and memories of her immortal siblings (How they shone with the flame of Creation!) She sank needle-sharp teeth into the fat man’s throat and bore him down to the cold floor, riding the sacrifice the way she once rode her brother the Wind. The offering struggled in her grip, but she brushed aside its complaints, for with each bite, she remembered more and grew stronger. She remembered youth, and her scorched skin became smooth. She remembered beauty and her melted eye regained its sight. She remembered the shrieks of children, the taste of their terror as vital to her kind as human devotion. She remembered godhood.

So she took from the sacrifice all the wonderful things she would need.

§

Lester Lee Carson decided his oncologist was a lying bitch. Those cayenne pepper nausea pills she’d recommended gave him the burning shits. They’d also loosened his bowels so much he couldn’t get off the toilet. 

No way for a man to die, Lester Lee thought as he flushed for the third time. He’d lost thirty pounds and most of his hair from all the chemo and radiation. Between grunts, he lamented. If he’d known how much misery his four-pack-a-day habit would eventually cause, he would have jammed that first cigarette up Alice Copley’s perfectly round ass. 

No good feelin’ sorry for yourself, he thought. 

But more and more these days, it seemed, Lester Lee would catch himself rehashing old mistakes when he should have been enjoying a hero’s life in the here and now.

Reckon there ain’t too much here and now left, he thought, as another bowel-quake made him clench his knees together.

Lester Lee and the boys had been all too ready to boast back in ’53, after the event they’d come to call The Barbecue. And why not? They’d stormed into Darky Town and burned that whole rotten mess right down to the ground. “We got down to it alright,” his cousin Hal said for years afterward, usually when the fellas were too drunk to care who might hear. “Got right down to where the pope shits in the woods!

Sheriff Hal Corliss had spent his last three years shitting in an adult diaper. Deputy Frankie Foreman had suffered slow dismemberment from diabetes, and Corny Driscoll got so drunk at his daughter’s wedding he blew his own goddamn head off. Dave Whitlock was seventy-five when he got run over by a bunch of Mexicans running from the deportation police. But Lester Lee was still alive and licking numerous assholes just to keep a roof over his head. 

What the hell happened to the American Dream? 

They were getting drunk on cheap whiskey out behind Davey’s old barn when Hal said what had been scratching at all their minds during that hot summer of ’53. 

“They’re makin’ us look like a bunch o’ shitheads.”

“Who’s that?” Lester Lee had asked. 

“Goddamn Colored Business District,” Hal spat. “Oughta be a goddamn law.”

“Damn right,” Lester Lee proclaimed. “We’re American citizens, ain’t we? Supposed to have a say about how this town runs.”

“Oh, we’re gonna have our say,” Hal snarled. Then he stood up and threw down the whiskey bottle. “Let’s go.”

“Hey!” Corny whined. “That one’s still got …”

“Shut the fuck up, Corny!” Hal barked.

They’d rounded up forty or fifty like-minded ol’ boys, advising them to bring heat in case they met armed resistance. They stopped over at the Driscoll’s filling station and paid for the extra gasoline. Then they’d crossed the railroad tracks and headed into the neighborhood they called Darky Town. 

They started with the barbershop. It was well after midnight, so all the shops were shuttered. The two-mile stretch of Lincoln Avenue that cuts through the center of Darky Town was deserted (although anybody unlucky enough to have spotted them never had the courage to come out and admit it later). They’d filled the night air with the crash of shattered glass and the smell of burning leather before Clarence Dozier showed up. The black barber had brought along five of the other colored businessmen, all of them armed. Since Hal was the sheriff and everybody looked to him to set the tone, he simply raised his shotgun and blew ol’ Clarence’s face off. 

After that, the boys opened up on Darky Town’s most prominent citizens for a total of fifteen seconds. During the brief gunplay, Jasper Douglas, the Grand Wizard of their Klan chapter, took a shotgun blast in the shoulder. He lost his right arm to infection six days later. The other side hadn’t fared nearly so well. The boys had fanned out up and down Lincoln Avenue, rousting the residents as they roved and whooped from house to house. They’d given the suckers the business alright; burning and beating and killing as they went. Most of Darky Town was in flames and the residents scattered to the four winds or dead by the time they broke into the First Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church.

They caught the colored girl hiding in the upstairs toilet. Somebody suggested having a little fun with her before they burned the church, so Lester Lee pistol-whipped her to shut her up. Then he and Corny dragged her out to the field behind the old church while Hal, Frankie, and Davey lit the fires. In the wicked glare of that burning, Hal and the others had returned to find Lester Lee with his pants down, grinding away at the bloody, half-conscious girl while Corny cheered him on. 

“Get in there, boy!” Corny roared. “Get her face down in that mud!”

Hal and the others took their turns, then Corny shot the girl. After that, they’d headed over to Copley’s Diner to celebrate, and that was where Lester Lee met Alice and her perfect ass. Old man Copley was Alice’s daddy and Alice waited tables there on alternate Saturdays. She also smoked Chesterfields like a man. Lester Lee had felt so relaxed that he’d immediately asked Alice out. She offered him a cigarette, and he accepted, mostly on account of how cool Bill Holden looked in Stalag 17, Lester Lee’s favorite movie that summer. They’d gotten married the following Spring. 

Fifty years later, Alice and the boys were dead. Most of Darky Town’s residents had been chased off, never to return. The powers that be had rebuilt Lincoln Avenue and welcomed a whole generation of decent, American small businesses to invest in the town’s future. But as for the patriots who’d gotten Lincolndale’s renaissance rolling? Well, here sat Lester Lee, shitting his life away and reminiscing about the good old days.

“Was it a good day for Edith Frazier?”

“Ah hell,” Lester Lee growled. (He’d been talking to himself a lot since Alice died.) “Don’t start that crap again.”

For that was the colored girl’s name, Edith Anne Frazier. She was the daughter of Ben Frazier, the only colored dentist in town. Lester Lee had shot the uppity son of a bitch on that very same special night; tagged him right through the left lens of his prissy little eyeglasses. 

“That was a long time ago,” Lester Lee mumbled. “That girl … all that stuff … it’s ancient history.”

“She lived,” the voice said. “Others died.”

“How the hell was I supposed to know about them,” Lester Lee cried. “That wasn’t my fault!”

“You laughed while they burned.”

“Nobody told me,” Lester Lee shot back. “What the hell were they doin’ down there in the first place?”

“Seeking sanctuary.”

Lester Lee froze. He’d just remembered where he was. 

“Nineteen children, Lester Carson,” the voice continued. “Hiding in the church basement.”

“Wait …” Lester Lee said. 

Something was wrong. 

“Hiding from you.”

The voice in his head … 

“Trapped by the flames.”

At first, Lester Lee thought he’d imagined it, like so many times before.

What do y’all want? Please … we don’t want any trouble!

But now the voice from his nightmares was here. 

In his house.

Lester Lee stood up and was immediately rewarded with a blast of red hot agony. The chemical fire in his rectum commanded him to take a seat.

“Oowww!” he wailed. “Oh … you cocksuckin’ son of a whore!” 

The bathroom door clicked open.

“Hey!” Lester Lee roared“Who the fuck is that?”

The door slowly swung open and Lester Lee saw who it was. 

The girl from the colored church stood in the doorway. She was covered in something that looked like a hospital gown stained black with dried blood. She looked exactly as she had that night fifty years ago.

“Corny …” Lester Lee stammered. “Corny shot you!”

The girl let the bloody hospital gown slip from her shoulders, revealing the puckered, pinkish-brown knots of scar tissue where her left breast should have been.

“Thief.”

The floor lurched beneath Lester Lee and bucked him off of the toilet. He sprawled with his pants down around his ankles at the nude girl’s bloody brown feet. 

“Wait,” Lester Lee commanded. “Now you just wait one goddamn minute!

Agony stabbed the sole of his right foot and a ring of fire seared his ankle. Galvanized by the new pain, Lester Lee looked behind him, but before he could make sense of what he saw, a geyser of black-red water blasted out of the toilet bowl and smashed the seat into the ceiling. The porcelain tank cracked open and in an instant, Lester Lee was soaked. 

The invader rose up out of the toilet bowl. Black, sinuous, and dripping with muck, the thing thickened as it emerged. The main trunk split into two separate stalks, only to re-braid itself and repeat the same multiplication, each stalk splitting and re-braiding until a horde of snapping tendrils whipped and swiped swathes of filth across the walls and ceiling. Lester Lee saw that one of the smaller tendrils had wrapped around his right ankle.

“Oh …” Lester Lee said, as the rising shadow of the black stalk fell across his face. “My … God!”

“A god of thieves,” the nude girl said. 

“Now … I’m God.”

A long black tendril separated from the central stalk and whipped itself around Lester Lee’s left ankle. Lester Lee’s howls were drowned out by the crackle of scorching meat; the tentacle burned

“It wasn’t me,” he shrieked. “Hal! It was Hal and Davey!”

The burning tentacle snapped his right ankle. Lester Lee whooped in a great gasp to scream as a warm red mist speckled his lips. Another appendage whipped out of the toilet and wrapped around his left calf, searing his flesh. Lester Lee scrabbled at the floor, fighting to resist the thing from the shitter. 

“Burns,” he hollered. “You dirty bitch … that buuurns!”

Another hissing limb reached up between his legs and wrapped around his left thigh. His skin smoked as the tentacle melted flesh and sank into muscle, seeking his bones. More appendages grabbed his wrists, and now Lester Lee saw what held him. The tentacles were made of hair: weaving stalks snapped at the air around Lester Lee’s head. Tentacles made of bloody hair, clots of flesh, and every stinking foulness seared his skin like battery acid. 

“I’m … dying!” he gasped at the figure now obscured by the blood mist. “I got … cancer …!”

The tentacles dragged Lester Lee up onto the toilet until he lay with his head and shoulders across the ruptured bowl. Then one of the tendrils yanked his right arm and dislocated it with a meaty snap. 

“Fuck you!” Lester Lee howled. “Fuck every single one of you!”

Then his right shoulder detached and he was pulled headfirst into the toilet bowl. Another limb snapped his left arm at the elbow, bent it double, and then yanked it from its socket. Black tendrils wrapped around his left leg and pulled until it separated at the hip, then at the knee. Then the whole lower leg unhinged and Lester Lee kicked himself in the nuts. The searing black tentacles digested Lester Lee. Lester Lee screamed and choked and dissolved until his spine snapped.

Kisazi threw back her head and accepted the tribute. The warm red mist flowed into her nostrils and pooled in her eyes, filled up her open mouth. It covered every inch of brown skin and smoothed the thick rings of puckered scar tissue across her chest until only flawless skin remained.

Then she was gone.

§

As she walked along Lincoln Avenue, Kisazi recalled the lives of her lost worshippers (for indeed, she had lived them), and she considered her judgment. Then, as Brother Dawn once stretched his fingers over the mountains of Home, the goddess raised her voice and began to sing. 

The power of her invocation wound through the dark streets as her fingers extended; serpentine shadows as black and prickly as a plague of spiders. They wound past the library and the downtown Starbucks: passing the All-American Barbershop. They crept along the sleeping streets of Lincolndale at her command: For she was Kisazi, the Thresher of Men: She Who Separates lovers from beloved only to reunite them at the journey’s end. She was the Protector of Travelers, the Taker of Tolls: The Goddess of Memory and Vengeance. 

And centuries of rightful tribute had been stolen. 

The children of Lincolndale emerged from the shadows. Beguiled by sacred songs, one hundred fresh offerings clamored to touch the singer. Every eye adored her as she stooped to caress each pink cheek. As she’d instructed, they’d brought their sharpest toys, and now a hundred blades flickered in the light from Uncle Moon. She walked and the children followed, leaping and feinting like lion cubs, but slashing only at phantoms, for she would waste no tribute this night. 

They reached the outskirts of the town and entered the forgotten cemetery. Kisazi could hear them now: the mortal souls who had once partaken of her blessings, even as she had partaken of their curse. Some of the very oldest welcomed her with ancient hymns. Others roared: Freed from fear by Brother Death, they condemned her. 

You abandoned us!

We prayed to you! Waited for you!

And why and why and why …

Soonmy people, she promised. An answer. Very soon.

The goddess arrayed the offerings around the graves until the tiny cemetery was encircled. One hundred pale fists raised their blades. One hundred young bodies turned, giggling, to their neighbors, or pressed sharp steel to their own flesh. 

Then she commanded them.

“Dance, my darlings.”

As one, their blades fell and rose again, fell and sank deep, as the offerings slashed and hacked, and with every plunge of a knife, every slice of a scalpel or thrust of a screwdriver, the blood mist thickened and spread across the cemetery. Within that swirling cloud, the offerings laughed and danced and killed. Only when the soil of the old cemetery had been soaked did the most ancient stolen souls reply. 

They rose quickly, as spirits sometimes will, and consumed the sacrifice until each spirit was strong enough to command his or her new body to stand. With new eyes they watched the Thresher of Men kneel and press her brow against the bloody earth. 

“Precious ones,” she whispered. “I was lost to myself, and to you. I beg your forgiveness.”

The oldest souls wondered then; to see one of the Old Gods abase herself before slaves.

“Enough,” they cried. “She has released us from her brother, Death!”

“Yes,” Kisazi said. “And ordained a new journey for you. Listen.”

With new ears they listened and heard a great wailing; a roar of grief so deep it filled the night with mourning. Even the ancient dead cried out to hear such suffering. 

“The soil of this world was sown with their grief,” the goddess said. “This nation was built upon the broken backs and shattered hearts of your children, and even their children’s children.” 

“Yes,” the spirits cried. “Where’s their share of the harvest?” 

“I have weighed the cost of their passage,” the goddess said. “I will redeem their suffering.” 

“We’ve been deceived by false gods before,” the younger spirits warned. “How may we trust another?”

So Kisazi sang of a new world; a land of warm blood and soft flesh, and of life unending for a thousand generations. And as she sang, she retrieved a scalpel from the red soil. Then she raised her chin and pressed the blade against her throat.

“My blood will strengthen you,” she said. “My blessing will increase your numbers. Together, you will reclaim your destinies.”

Then, with divine strength, she sliced the blade across her jugular vein. 

When they understood the benedictions the goddess offered, even the youngest spirits drank from her, and they honored her and offered their forgiveness. Dying again, the goddess laughed at the sounds of her children as they faded into the night, and she remembered dancing in the rain with her siblings, their silver eyes glinting, every shining face upturned as sharp teeth parted to drink the storm. 

Dance, little sister! Your trial has not yet come. Dance!

So stern! Harsher even than Brother Death! 

How they’d laughed and danced, those immortal spirits, golden hearts, and shadow-limbs pulsing with every drumbeat from Uncle Thunder.

“Tell them all,” she whispered. “They’re free.”

This time, she remembered joy.

§

Officer Danny Driscoll had just locked his front door when his wife tapped him on the shoulder. Driscoll spun around with his Glock 19 gripped in his right fist. 

“Dammit, Tiffany!” he hissed. “Never sneak up on an armed man in the dark!”

Tiffany Driscoll waved away his admonitions, her eyes wide and glinting in the blue glow from her smartphone. 

“What’s happening out there?”

“Quiet,” Driscoll snarled. “You turn out all the lights like I said?”

“Danny … what’s going on?”

Driscoll shuddered. “It’s all over the radio. Kids … damn crazy …”

“What do you mean kids?”

“They’re going crazy! Killing people … all over town!”

Tiffany’s face turned even paler in the blue-white glow.

Killing people …?”

“I responded to a domestic disturbance at Brad Krieger’s place,” Driscoll said. “When I got there … oh Jesus!”

“Danny, you’re freaking me out!”

Driscoll forced himself to speak slowly. He had to keep it together for Tiffany, and for Jessica, their twelve-year-old daughter.

“The Chief’s kids … They were covered in blood and … and there were these … things!” 

“What things?”

“The kids were on top of them … naked … And the … black things … Jesus, Tiff … they were crawling everywhere … hissing like snakes! The kids … they were feeding pieces of Brad and Dottie to those things!

Upstairs, something roared with a million throats.

“What was that?” Tiffany said. “Danny … what was that?” 

“No,” Driscoll moaned. “Jessie?” 

“Daddy.”

Black blessings slithered up the stairs leading up to the second floor. Blood-red veins pulsed beneath the plaster of the ceiling and the walls at the top of the stairs, where a pale figure stood on the landing, shrouded in writhing shadows.

“He was scared, Daddy,” it whispered. “He remembered you and you denied him. So he ran.”

The shape stepped into the wobbly blue illumination. 

When Tiffany Driscoll saw what the blessings had made of her daughter laughter burst like horror from her lips. Roaring obscenities, she fell to her knees and clawed her own eyes from their sockets. 

“Never laughed,” Danny Driscoll cried. “I … nevernevernevernever laughed!”

Then he bit down on the barrel of his gun and blew his brains out.

“Mommy.” 

This time, the goddess remembered judgment; like the taste of bitter tears sour as spoiled mother’s milk. She opened her arms to embrace the shrieking blind woman, bright blades glistening in her infinite hands. 

We’re so hungry.”

She remembered everything.  And she would never forgive.

© Michael Boatman
Originally published in Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora (Volume One) edited by Zelda Knight and Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald (Aurelia Leo, 2020)