Long Tooth (Part 1 of 4)
My eyes creaked audibly as they opened, and creaked again as I closed them immediately against the light, not quickly enough. Torches in the jungle were always about the brightest light I could stomach.
Slowly, slowly I pulled two of my hands up to my eyes, almost (and this is ludicrous) almost winded by the effort. With my hands draped across my eyelids for shade, I ventured another glance through my fingers, slowly, slowly.
I saw only dust in the light and I felt the stone tremble around me. My sense of smell, always crisp and eager, picked up a comforting hint of rotten vegetation. It was the only comfort I received in the light and the trembling and the dust, as I heard a shuffle, a THUNK and a voice.
“Welcome back to the world, you son of a bitch.”
I wake up, not suddenly, as I used to, drawn by ravening voices to the stone tableau, or by guttural calls to cavernous bogs. Then, every sense was sharp and alert all at once, and a great bloodrush of exultation seemed to susurrate within me. Now, my waking life begins slowly, slowly, first with the realization that I am awake. I do not recall awaking, I simply become foggily conscious of the fact.
It is not at all enjoyable and I miss the Old Way.
I rise up, slowly, slowly, aware of my joints and their chronic soreness. A crick as I move this, a twinge as I flex that. I used to feel young every day, young and handsome. Well, fearsome. I used to feel fearsome. But inspiring terror in others is the true Fountain of Youth. And the ladies notice.
I start thinking of Ixtab and sigh sadly. Now THAT was a woman.
When I first began renting this apartment, I thought it would be a good idea to purchase a king-sized mattress, still unused to buying things and caught up with the idea that more is better. And I took a petty joy in watching the movers struggle to get it up the stairs and through my door, my old hunger finding a little satiation at least in small cruelties. I discovered the morning after I first slept in it, and am reminded every morning since, how foolish my purchase, as I am forced to crawl from the middle of the bed like a worm just to reach the edge.
I can’t sleep on the edge because it’s drafty.
I go through this debasing ritual now, with the great sense of having been reduced. I shake away the thought. I kept the mattress because of thoughts such as these; I will not be beholden to doubt, and I will not apologize for my desires and excesses. The only apology I know is in the BLOOD running down my chin as priests cower. There will be a time soon at hand where I will know these supplications again, and when women and men once more hope that it will be enough to sacrifice their children. I am a great encourager of hope.
I reassure myself with this thought as I grope for my slippers, which I have accidentally kicked under my bed. I shuffle out into the kitchen. Slowly, slowly.
When I open the fridge, I am greeted by the welcome sight of six milkshake glasses brimming with a murky, thick, pinkish substance. I pull out two of them and dart over to the silverware drawer, which is empty but for one fork and a solid metal straw. I clutch the straw gratefully and plunge it into the first cup of froth, then I thread the other end through my teeth and inhale. Immediately, the sluggishness that constricts me each morning begins to abate. After the first glass is dregs, I stretch my two arms out as far as they can go, and I hear every joint pop and snap from my shoulders to my fingers. It is comforting, in a mortal way, which is to say it is only momentarily comforting.
I encountered electric lights for the first time on the ship. I remember the fizzle of the lights as they warmed up, and thought that humans must hear the sound of their lights and feel comfort. I later learned that these lights go out, that the bulbs burn up and die, and I laughed in the face of the man who told me.
“Everything goes out for you!” I said. He was confused, but he will understand.
I dive into my second cup of froth and drain it in mere moments. Then I sit in my kitchenette. I am no longer overwhelmed by how much time there is to suffer through. In my days of glory time was immaterial; I came, I feasted and cast forth my judgment, and I left. Now, I confusingly have to let one thing happen after the other, all the time. That was the only change from my old life that almost broke me. There were still periods of blood but the periods without blood existed in time as well. Madness.
My phone rings. I step over to the receiver on the wall and lift the phone from its cradle. I am almost certain I know who it is.
“Madeline.” I state.
“I have bad news,” she says. “Your interview got pushed back again. It’s as good as cancelled.”
Madeline has been a great help to me. Mortals are indecisive and prone to constant anxiety. Madeline, though still bound for the grave, is a strong right hand in a world of limp wrists.
She is my agent.
“That Stanley Broom,” I say, absentmindedly scratching my ribs. “When I get my acolytes back, boy, he better watch himself.”
There was silence.
“That’s it?” Madeline asks, clearly disappointed. “‘He better watch himself’? What about, uh, I don’t know, ‘I’ll tear him apart and sew his skin into a ceremonial cloak’? Keep it macabre.”
“Broom, like most tv personalities, is a squealing, bloody lamb still tripping over his own placenta. I don’t care to waste my actual threats on him.”
“I like that. Mind if I use that?”
“It has been far too long since anyone has wanted to speak my decrees aloud. Go for it.”
“Anyhoo,” she says, and I can hear her trying to be nonchalant, “there really isn’t anything else going on. A couple pieces of mail, all junk, I bought you that subscription to the Times that you wanted, and I got you that encyclopedia set, and that should be there tomorrow, along with your Complete Frasier on DVD…”
She trails off, knowing what’s next, knowing she can’t distract me from the scent of devotion.
“That mail, it’s from Doeg, isn’t it?”
The silence on the other end of the line tells me all I need to know.
Madeline has been invested for quite a while now in acquiring me some fresh acolytes, as the last cult dedicated to my satiation died out, I am told, in the first decades of the 16th century. This last chapter was quite small, comprised of three devoted bloodletters led by an old man named Jacobus Sprenger. Yes, that Sprenger, the amateur witch-hunter. That is a story for another time.
The search that Madeline and I have been conducting has borne little fruit. Although I wound up in the one city in the country that has legalized blood sacrifice, I have had a devil of a time proving my historical basis as a minor blood deity. The required paperwork is specific, exacting, and dense. One thing that would be incredibly helpful would be a reference to me in a prominent religious text, but so far Madeline and I have uncovered no clear references to my worship. Jacobus’ diary might count, but the original is still lost, and much to my surprise I was left out of the Popol Vuh. I find this unforgivable, though it’s a few centuries too late to do anything about it. In the future I’ll be much less gracious than I was in my glory days.
All this aside, the one success that we’ve had has been found in the sporadic letters of Doeg the Edomite. Doeg, as I informally refer to them, has been writing us the occasional love letter once every few months or so. The contents are rather scattered, but I sense a thirst for service and a spirit of avarice, both of which please me greatly. However, Madeline was and is quite wary of this person. She has, in her own mind, connected the author of the letters with a series of kidnappings and murders that have been plaguing the area, and she warns me that, for the sake of my fledgling reputation, it might be better to start small and build up to such high profile events, instead of jumping right in. The bureaucratic fallout of association with Doeg might be disastrous, she says.
I disagree, of course, but it’s proven impossible to write back to Doeg the Edomite. None of the letters has had a return address, and I found out early on that threatening the lives of postal workers unless they tell me what they know hasn’t proved effective, as they know nothing. And it’s not as though Doeg provides us with a lot of information we can use to track him or her down. They write such things as:
“I am a great admirer of your work, and have been since antiquity. The Dragon is a great drawer of blood, and Saul serves the Dragon, and I serve Saul.”
“I am in the process of finding and dispatching the seventy-five and I would cherish your help.”
And some tidbits in Hebrew, which I haven’t had to speak in a while.
“I want that mail, Madeline. I demand you release it to me.”
“Long Tooth, I feel like that’s a bad idea. You know why, too. I hate to say it but right now you’re viewed as small potatoes. You can’t join up with a serial killer and get away with it. They have people who can stand up to deities like you. Did you see that guy on the news? Joe Three-Arms?”
“You mean that man with three arms?”
“Yes, that’s him. If he can fight a kraken he can give you a run for your money.”
“You’re right. I do know all of this. Do you have any idea what it feels like to have to drink blood smoothies instead of digging into a pulsing vein? What it feels like to get contemptuous stares on the street instead of fearful double-takes of recognition? How exhausting it is not to be worshipped every harvest?”
“Here’s something else I’ve been considering. I’ve really been stewing on this. Doeg writes saying that they want your help in their service to someone else. Do you really want to be equal partners with someone? No matter how much they appreciate you? You’re supposed to be the one in charge.”
That gives me pause, but only for a moment.
“Madeline, it’s been centuries. This is a start. Now I’m coming over to get my mail.”
Upon my arrival in the country, I quickly learned that there were few places I could go without attracting unpleasant amounts of attention. I used to think that all attention is good attention, but when I was reduced to the role of struggling sojourner, I found that having everyone scream and run away from me was less pleasant than it used to be. I’m stuck in a single immutable form - immutable, that is, except for mutilation and dismemberment - and this form outwardly resembles the human body in every way but one; my teeth are all shaped like daggers, and the foremost of them are about three inches long and spill out of the front of my mouth. In my glory days, when I guzzled blood and nothing else and when my appearance was nobody’s business but mine and my acolytes’, this wasn’t a problem. However, try buying synthetic blood at your local Walgreens, only to approach the clerk and have them make the sign of the cross at you and cower. And you’re not even allowed to tear their throat out. It’s maddening.
Fortunately, this city is much more accepting of the differently-toothsome. In fact, I first discovered Teardrop City when I read in a pulp rag about a man who has teeth made out of water, in a far away city surrounded by mountains and marshes. I still don’t quite understand how that works, teeth made out of water, but I felt that I had found a place I could truly call mine.
All this to say that when I leave the house this morning, I don’t spend a lengthy amount of time wrapping a scarf around my lower face, as I was impelled to in Cincinnati. People will stare, maybe, but there will only be the normal amount of screaming and running, none of it caused by my presence.
I walk down several blocks, then choose to take the bus the rest of the way. Madeline’s office is in the sub-basement of a massive skyscraper belonging to something called Kappa Labs. I seem to remember some furor surrounding them, but it’s immaterial. Skyscrapers are tall, and corporations are wide, but I have seen ziggurats that trump the width and breadth of these places. The spirits of the strongest temples spill into the trees in every direction for miles. Those are impressive places to behold.
I descend the dirty concrete stairs tucked around the side of the building and let myself in through what looks like a utility door. Down a long hall washed with fluorescent lighting and around a corner I come to Madeline’s office. I tense my corporeal muscles, ample by human standards, and clasp the doorknob, ready for a fight.
To my great anger, the door is locked. I rattle away furiously at the knob for a few futile moments, briefly recalling my early horror at how long it takes to manipulate the physical, before ruthlessly pounding at the flimsy portal. It flies open under my touch.
On the other side stands a starved-thin woman with long, squid-ink black hair (dyed, I’m sure) and sunken eyes. She is only a few inches shorter than me, but she behaves most days as though her glowering stare makes up for our difference in height. She wears a gray blouse, a floor-length black skirt, and an impudent look.
“HOW DARE YOU LOCK A DOOR AGAINST ME.”
“It was unlocked. The knob is a little sticky. Could you really not open it?”
I was bested, but only briefly. After all, who here was doing the hired bidding of whom?
“Yes, well, you look like a matronly orphan-master.”
She sarcastically flicks her skirt like an ill-outfitted salsa dancer then stands aside and beckons me into her office: a dark little affair full of couches, the back half of it taken up by a ridiculously overwrought wooden desk which is of course painted black. A coffee pot burbles in the corner. I glide over to it, pick up the carafe, and pour it, steaming, into my mouth. My intent is to establish my intense presence and high tolerance for pain but Madeline seems unimpressed. I quit only when the pot is empty, then sigh contentedly, as a mortal might, to emphasize my pleasure at painlessly consuming the boiling drug.
Madeline has meanwhile sat down at her desk and begins shuffling through papers. Begrudgingly, she hands me three envelopes.
“These all came today.”
She then unstoppers a bottle of firewater that has appeared in her hand, seemingly from nowhere, and takes a resigned draw from the neck.
I open the envelopes, the familiar scratched handwriting on the front, and eagerly read the words of my budding acolyte.
[unwriteable name] how is it you have come to the very country Where I have long sought you?
“The Time of Great Succor is swiftly bearing down on the Starved and the Obese alike, on the Underripe, the Ripe, and the Overripe all in a kind, and the Succor shall be called -Unkind- and as well shall be called -Freely Given-
Clearly your hand will be in this
[unwriteable name] how could not seek me when I have become wasted seeking you?
“Draw back your bow and you shall hit your mark, hunter. Careful only that you draw back your own bow, and not the Dragon’s bow in your hands; for one is much like the other. Set forth your banns bridegroom and welcome the people to your union. But do not look too long in the faces of the crowd or you will see the Dragon’s face many times over, yes, even upon your own bride.”
Do not keep me too long
[unwriteable name] the time of Bleeding is practically upon us and still you have not sought my arms.
Now is not time for scripture. New scripture is to be written in the coming weeks. I have sensed Saul stirring in my bowels, and moving through the trees outside my window, and indeed moving within and without me. When will you join him?
Come find me soon.
Come find me soon,