Chapter 23 of Ama

Jason reached out and grabbed a fragment from the shattered skull, took aim, and threw a piece of bone. It hit its intended target in the chest and bounced off without effect. The caretakers don’t like it when you mess with the sandmen, he thought. Well, I hope this really pisses them off. He selected another, larger fragment and chucked it with more aggression, but missed. Threw another and hit its arm. Threw another, and yet another… The caretaker didn’t come. Jason tried to force his jaw open, straining against the thread of the stitches. “Come on!” he yelled, ripping enough stitches from the soft tissue of his lips to be heard clearly. “Come on, you son of a bitch. Where are you?”

“Hey, not a good idea, friend,” Xavier called, as he emerged from the castle’s back door with a set of shackles in one hand and a long pole in the other. He held up the pole. “Bet you can’t guess what I’m going to do with this, but it’ll be fun.”

Jason ignored Xavier. “Come on, you fucking bastard.” He threw the remaining fragments of the skull at the human figure. Still nothing. He had thrown the entire remains of the head at the figure with no effect. He looked up at the screamer. The phantom in the black flame—the Russian—remained as a beacon of silent torment, flickering in the melodious wind. Where is that hideous creature? “Come on, you fuck, where are you?” Jason yelled. Then he looked around for anything else he could use as a projectile. He tried to grab a handful of the black earth, but the ground was solid and too hard to dig his hands into. He leaned forward and attempted to remove his shoes, to use as a projectile, but couldn’t stretch far enough because of his impalement.

“Shut the fuck up, you dumb shits,” Xavier shouted at someone in one of the cages. He kicked the cage as he walked past, and then threw the pole to the ground in the middle of the courtyard.

Jason wrapped his one unbroken arm around the pickaxe. He embraced the metal head and wooden handle as if trying to squeeze the life out of it, and then he pulled.

“Hey, Jason, do you want me to cut your legs off now, or later?” Xavier called as he neared the gate.

The pickaxe moved. “Come on, you fucker, move!” Jason screamed through gritted teeth. It moved a little more. He twisted it the other way and pulled. At last it came free from the ground. The metal grated against his shattered femur bone as he lifted it free from his leg. Without pausing to acknowledge the pain, he grabbed the end of the handle and swung it to his right—to get a sense of its weight—then with all his remaining strength he swung it to his left and launched it towards Lilith’s precious flowers standing in the moat. Xavier’s foot came crashing into the side of his head, knocking him flat to the ground before he had a chance to see if his throw had been successful. He looked up and watched in a daze as Xavier’s smiling face loomed into view. Jason felt a rumble in the ground beneath him. Xavier looked up and over to where Jason had just thrown the pickaxe. His smile dissipated into a quivering look of fear.

“No,” Xavier cried out. “Not yet. I’m not ready. I’m not…”

His words were cut short as a black cloud slammed into him, knocking the big man off his feet and throwing his sprawling body back against the fence. The caretaker materialised and raked its long fingers down the fence, down towards Xavier’s slumped body. The wire mesh tore apart without effort. Its fingers didn’t stop their downward trajectory and soon sliced into the top of Xavier’s head, cutting deep into his face. Jason watched without emotion as the creature tore at the body in a wild frenzy, tearing away strips of flesh, muscle, and broken chunks of bone. Once Jason saw that Xavier could no longer move under his own volition, he rested back and looked up at the grey sky.

Jason lay broken on the dusty ground. His journey—his mission—was over. “Sorry, Angel, I failed you again.” He thought of his wife’s body and the man in his garden being absorbed by the caretaker. True oblivion was a provocation away, he thought. He breathed deep and slow, closed his eyes, then as loud and clear as his withered body would allow, he called out to the unholy creature, “It was me. I threw it. And if I could, I’d spit on it. Piss on the damn things. Do you hear me? You son of a bitch, it was me. It was me!”

The sound of ripping flesh and breaking bones ceased. A growl began to build again. It gained intensity until the sound attacked Jason’s body. It felt as though a swarm of chattering insects were stinging and biting him. A brittle dryness enveloped his body. His skin cracked and then split apart. The growl, the roar of the beast, evaporated into the background noise of the passing wind. He felt a burning breath against his cheek.

“Do not speak to me,” the caretaker said. Then it inhaled.

Jason felt a raging furnace of hot coals being poured over his body. He saw neither flames nor hot coals, but he did see the caretaker’s face inches from his own. The emptiness of its eyes drew Jason’s gaze. He couldn’t turn away. Its mouth melted open with nothing but blackness within. Jason tried to move, but couldn’t. His vision faded as his eyes burned away. He felt the creature’s breath pulling at his skin, broiling the flesh from his bones. He tried to call out, but no sound came. He wanted to reach out, but he had no hands and no arms. The pain he’d felt a moment ago disappeared as his body became naught but ash.


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