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Interlude 3

Val fell out of the glowing blue wormhole, smacking his head against the concrete. A trash bag fell next to him, but he didn’t have time to think about it.

A brutish creature — with the head of a horse and the body of a strongman — lifted a crowbar high into the air, then moved to strike Val with it.

Val rolled to the side, hearing the *clack* of crowbar hitting sidewalk.

In half a second he determined there were three assailants: horse-head, cheetah-head, and frog-tongue.

The frog’s tongue lashed out at Val. He rolled out of the way, hitting the alleyway’s wall.

Cornered. Just like they wanted him.

He saw a window in the building behind the three assailants, a fire escape on its right and a trash can on its left.

If he could get to the fire escape behind his three assailants, he might have a chance.

Horse-head swung his crowbar at Val again, but Val grabbed the bottom end of it, his hand touching horse-head’s. Val tugged the bar, which pulled horse-head along with it. He back-kicked cheetah-head, while grabbing the other end of horse-head’s crowbar and pushing it against horse-head’s neck.

The frog’s tongue wrapped itself around Val’s legs. Horse-head pushed back against Val, causing him to fall to the ground and let go of the crowbar.

Smacked his right cheek against the concrete. His mouth tasted like copper.

He grabbed the frog’s tongue, yanking at it so that the frog lost his balance and toppled, landing next to Val.

Cheetah-head stood back, waiting.

Horse-head raised his crowbar again.

Val took the pale, skinny frog man and used him as a shield from horse-head’s blow.

Frog man puked up blood when the crowbar hit.

Val tossed him to the side. Then he kicked horse-head at the side of its knee. He hooked his other foot around horse-head’s ankle. Pulled, and the horse-head smacked his own head against the floor.

Val threw himself forward. Wrapped his right arm around horse-head’s left leg, then used his left hand to grab its left foot. Val jerked the foot to the left, much farther than it should go.

Horse-head howled.

Val spat blood and a tooth. It splashed against horse-head’s leg.

Val looked at the Cheetah-head. He wanted to say something, but his mouth hurt. So instead, he put his hand out, beckoning Cheetah-head.

“I only fight the ones who run,” cheetah-head said, standing there. A smirk swept across his face as he observed his claws.

Val stood there. He didn’t know what to do.

Lunge at cheetah-head, not knowing its capabilities? Run away, provoking a fight?

He stood there. Figured nothing could go wrong if he just stood there.

He moved his fingers. Balled them into a fist, then undid the fist.

Maybe this was the plan. Get him to stay in one place long enough in case reinforcements were needed.

Val darted for the fire escape.

The ladder wasn’t down, so he leaped.

Grabbed onto the metal bar and began to pull himself up.

Sharp pain in his calf.

He looked down at cheetah-head, whose teeth dug into his leg.

He lifted his free leg, placing its foot on the top of cheetah-head’s head. Pushed, trying to get cheetah-head off.

The bar broke.

Cheetah-head fell to the ground; Val landed on top of him.

Val had the broken bar in his hand, so he struck cheetah-head with it.

Again.

Again.

Again.

Val heard the sound of engines.

Moved to leave. But then he looked back, at the trash bag that had come with him.

The wormhole was gone, but maybe that bag held a key to where he’d been.

He moved towards the bag. Ripped it open in one foul motion.

Saw his son’s head, placed next to various other chopped up bits.

Tears streamed down his face, but sadness wasn’t really what he was feeling.

No. He felt anger. He felt rage boiling up, threatening to consume him whole. He felt like a bomb about to go off.

He ignored the searing pain in his leg. Tried walking away from the madness.

Cheetah-head groaned, spitting blood onto the sidewalk.

Val limped towards cheetah-head, grabbed him by the hair on his head. He dragged the creature towards the curb.

“Who you?” he muttered.

“I’m not,” cheetah-head spat blood, “tellin’ you a thing.”

Val didn’t waste his breath. He placed the creature’s mouth on the street’s curb. Lifted his leg up and stomped on the back of its head.

Teeth cracked. The creature would probably have screamed, if it hadn’t died instantly.

“Talk, frog?” Val spat.

He began to limp towards the frog, only to hear the sound of motorcycles.

He took the two steps needed to get to the trashcan.

“Die, scum!” one of the cyclists yelled.

He took the lid off the trash can, throwing it at the motorcyclist. The cyclist got knocked to the side. His leg got crushed by his own motorcycle, and he screamed.

Val’s face cracked into a smile.

— — —

The Angel of Death fell from the portal and onto the concrete sidewalk, holding her arms out so as to protect her face.

It felt strange.

Not the fall — that didn’t actually hurt.

It wasn’t even the way that Monster had flung her into the wormhole — that was strange, but it felt so far away.

What felt strange was the lack of urgency.

For the centuries that she’d acted as the Angel of Death, she’d always felt that urgency in her gut. It was the need to get at the souls and take them. It always guided her, always pushed her towards her next destination.

But she didn’t feel that.

No, she felt like she had so many years ago, when she’d stopped her death by becoming the Angel of Death.

She felt empty. She felt afraid. She felt alone.

She’d been alone for a long, long time. But without the urgency, she really felt it.

“Hello,” a voice said from behind her.

She lifted her head up, blinking a couple times, trying to really get a sense of her surroundings. She was in an alleyway. Motorcycles rushed past her, and she noticed a trashcan on her right.

She turned around and saw a broken fire escape.

She also saw what she thought to be a man. He looked at ease, wearing a red vest, white pants, and nothing else. He stood barefoot on the sidewalk, which the Angel of Death found odd, since the sidewalks seemed relatively dirty.

Oddest of all was his skin, which consisted blots of color moving all across his body. He almost looked like a human kaleidoscope, all the colors of the rainbow mixing.

“You have me at a disadvantage,” she said. “A rarity, I assure you.”

The man chuckled. “I’m sure it is. I’m sure it is.”

“Who are you?” she asked.

“You, in a way. Well, I’m being a bit facetious when I put it that way.”

Unamused, she merely repeated herself: “Who are you?”

“Me? Why, I’m the Angel of Death.”

“Surely you’re joking,” she said.

“Nope.”

“Where am I?”

“Five-hundred years in the future.”

“And you’re the Angel of Death here?”

“Exactly.”

“You seem relaxed,” she said.

“I am.”

“You don’t feel it?”

“Now it seems you’re the one who has me at a disadvantage.”

“You’re not worried about all the souls you need to harvest,” she said.

“No. Things are different now.”

“They can’t be so different,” she said. She walked closer to him, not fully believing her ears, her eyes.

This was the future, so it made sense that time had changed. But it wasn’t that. She didn’t really care how things went this far in the future. Because as she came to realize, she must’ve died.

If this man was standing before her, she must’ve died.

For a while, she thought she never would.

One weight was lifted off her shoulders, only for another one to be thrown on.

Yes, she would die like everything else. Finally, the brash thing she’d done centuries ago wouldn’t really matter.

Then again, she was going to die. After all the death she’d seen, she was going to die.

It bothered her that a man had taken her position. A man? The Angel of Death?

“Or maybe they are,” the Angel of Death said, her milky white finger touching the man’s kaleidoscopic face. “A man becoming the Angel of Death. Never thought I’d see it. I suppose I didn’t, in my lifetime.”

“I’m not man.”

“You don’t look like any lady I’ve ever seen,” the Angel of Death said.

“That’s because I’m no lady, either.”

“Then what are you?”

A chuckle. “Isn’t it funny how people always mistake androgyny for masculinity?”

“You’re androgynous,” she said.

“Yes,” they said. “‘They’ pronouns, if you don’t mind.”

“‘They’ is plural,” she said.

“Trust me,” they said. “And anyway, you’re five hundred years in the future. Is my gender really the most interesting thing?”

“I suppose not.”

“Come with me, if you don’t mind,” they said. “We have a lot to talk about.”

“I imagine we do,” she said, looking around her at the buildings that stood like towers — at the sidewalks littered with gum, at the motorcycles rolling across the streets. “I imagine we do.”

— — —

Val held a scrawny freak by the neck, raising the thing in the air. The two were on the roof, mere inches from the edge. Six corpses surrounded them in a semi-circle.

“B’ck,” Val muttered, less a word and more a gravelly growl.

It was strange for him. Back in the past, he’d been able to make himself known. Years of education and attention had been poured into making sure he was the perfect hero — the man with the proper pose and proper voice, who could say what he want when he wanted to say it.

Now his mouth was little more than sore gums.

Now, he spoke with his body. Though really, was that so much of a change from before? Sure, his words sounded nice, but they’d never been a match for the physicality of his being. They’d never been much more than window dressing for the body, which had had so much time put into it, so much effort put into it.

“I can’t go back,” the freak hissed, legs dangling. “I’ll fall off.”

Val wanted to squeeze the freak dry — pummel him into the ground, exsanguinate him and see if the stupidity was visible in the bones.

He’d killed the rest for not understanding. He took a breath of air, trying to snuff out the fire burning in his heart.

No. He would have to try something else.

He set the freak down. The freak almost let out a smile when his feet touched the ground, but then Val let go and pushed on the freak’s shoulders. The freak gave a confused look, but nonetheless sat down on the ground, right near the edge of the roof.

Val took a couple steps back, then put up four fingers.

The freak looked at Val askew for a second, but then Val took a menacing step forward. Looking at all the corpses strewn along the floor, the freak said, “Four words?”

Val nodded his head. Looking the freak straight in the eyes, Val smiled his bloody smile. Then, he began to run in place.

“First word, ‘Run,” the freak said.

Val shook his head no.

“Jog?”

No.

“Uh, sprint.”

No.

“Go?”

Val nodded his head, then put up two fingers.

“Word two,” the freak said.

Val turned around, so that he was no longer facing the freak. He bent both of his arms over his shoulder, so that his thumbs were pointing at his backside.

“Spine?”

No.

“Back?”

Val shook his head yes again. He put up four fingers.

“Fourth word,” the freak said.

Val nodded his head. He stood there for a second, trying to think of how to describe this one. It was an abstract concept. What did it mean?

He got on the ground, curling himself into a ball, into the fetal position.

“Egg,” the freak said.

Val shook his head no, and began to stretch his legs out. He put his hands and legs in the air, moving them about and pretending to cry like a small child.

“Sex,” the freak said.

Val shook his head no again. Got on his knees and imitated a kid licking a lollipop.

The freak didn’t say anything, so Val slowly got up off his knees. He turned to look at the freak, who looked back at him with nothing more than confusion.

Why couldn’t the freak understand? Why was this whole future so stupid?

In a fit of rage, Val punted the freak off the roof.

The screams of the freak could be heard, when an Angel of Death walked onto the scene. There were two of them, in fact: the one from the future, and the one he’d made love to.

“Time,” the future’s Angel of Death said, his skin a kaleidoscope of color. “You want to go back in time.”

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