“Do you also dream of green Towassa?” It asked, from the ceiling, spreading wide the jaws and the teeth, long lines of mucus and saliva linking together each so that it glistened in the fading light.
My sense of the air shifted as I stared at it with great legs, human, sprawled out like a spider, many toes, many knees, shifting around.
“Do you also dream of the vines that drink dreams, in green Towassa, where the politicians live inside of their legs and dream of their life before?”
I stared up at it. “Hands. Turn off the light and go get help.”
“Go get help. I’m going to be running.”
The light flecked off, and I felt a great movement in the air, then I turned, and saw the beast in front of me, jaws reflecting the meagre light above.
“Do you hunt in green Towassa?” It asked, clicking the jaws together. “For I have dreamed of the hunt, but all that is down here is already dead. I have dreamed of you in Green Towassa.”
It spoke in a sibilant voice, something from the depths of my head, and the words didn’t match up to jaws, but I didn’t need to listen to it to know what came next.
“So I will hunt you, too, in green Towassa. But until then I will hunt you here, Gale.”
It lunged forward, leaping through the air with a dozen rotting hands, bones exposed. How many scientists had died down here, when they could’ve yet lived? Or did it simply scurry about the dark compound in the depths of the night, snatching up bones and the dead we’d forgotten?
I dove forward and heard it collide bodily with the bank of monitors behind me, crunching glass and dead electronics, and I slammed my feet forward, almost immediately stumbling in the dark.
I couldn’t keep running and keep my sense of the air on the creature. I needed to choose to know where it was…
Or know where I was going in the darkness.
“Do you dream of the days before?” It whispered, sweetly. “Do you dream of great stacks of paper and resentment? Do you dream of wishing you knew who you were?”
“Shut up,” I hissed, and made the choice.
I started running and knew a cone of the ground in front of me, and could only hear the wet slap of rotting flesh against the ground, could only taste the smell of decay and ash high in the air.
Could only hear it racing behind me with all the grace of a lumbering wolf, with all the manners of a tiger.
With all the teeth of both and the rest of the zoo.
I swallowed again and my burning legs leapt blind over top of an upturned chair in that dark place and I heard it catch against the night predator’s legs.
Knew it wouldn’t stumble, but there were many walls yet to travel through. Many things left in the dark to try and lose it with.
“Do you think of the days with the gun to your head and do you wonder if you should die by the bullet or die by the beast aside you? Wonder at the cage and wonder how much torture you could dream of in green Towassa where the vines drink dreams? I see it now, you know,”
“Shut up!” I shouted back at it, and then hurled myself up farther and farther. Air carried me slightly up onto a bank of monitors, and then I hurled myself off of them, sending them crashing down towards the thing whispering sweet things at me.
I could taste floral notes in the air as I wound the next corner and impossibly the ashen floor was covered in vines, as my airsense told me and yet my feet passed through them as if they were not there, and yet they were because I could taste the green in the air and knew what it was like to be Gale, Gale, lost in a dark place and being hunted, and I knew what it tasted like and the
Jaws snapped beside me, clicking together in two mouths on top of each other and I stared up at it in the darkness
“Do you dream of the green things, Gale, in the dark of the night? I once thought that if I just breathed longer of Green Towassa, I too would be immortal.”
I could see Green Towassa then. A palace of green vines atop an ancient village, with sleeping people trapped inside of trees, planted like a garden. Could see a man in a mask. Could feel my throat, no longer my own. Memories unspooling like great flowers behind my eyes, under my gut, internal second skin.
“Where the man sells teeth for immortality?” I whispered. It wasn’t me, but it came from my throat but I knew him, yes, I knew him like I knew my own face, hidden behind a protective gas mask.
But I didn’t know him, not really, I could not tell anyone who he was, but I knew that he was the man with teeth in the world that knew not death.
The beast (for I could see it without light then) clicked once from somewhere deep in a rotting throat that could create no words but spoke all languages, and leaned forward.
“Do you know of the goat man atop his throne of cartilage stripped?”
The com went off in my hand (when had I clutched it) and Towassa disappeared, slamming back into reality.
I couldn’t go back there, couldn’t see the place with the green sun, not while my jaw ached and not while Mobile burned, but it was not burning yet, but I could not let it do so, there were so many things lost in the darkness, and this would be one of them, and I was Gale.
The beast remained, and I was Gale again, and I slammed the Com up into the beast’s jaw and felt bone.
The beast hissed, and I dove under it again, could smell the rot of knowledge in the air, could smell it on the breath, could taste ash, the ash that had once been mortal, and then I took off running again, but the air was humid and moist now like the bayou, and I could hear the roar of distant mosquitos.
“I studied you once,” The beast languidly whispered, each spider human leg crawling easily over top of the stretches of destroyed monitors and charred desks. Glass broke underneath of repurposed human feet and rotted where they stood, chemicals spiking the air like saffron, and I could remember charts with my name on them, a history of my family.
“And I remember you, child,” The beast muttered. “And you will be there in Green Towassa, at the end, and I have been there, and will I be there? I remember how it once was, a paradise and now the vines that drink dreams are in my head, too? Am I a dream or a vine? Dreams, you know, that drain you much the same, and they drain everything they touch? Am I a doctor or a villain? Where was I once?”
I jerked away, recoiling at the thought of the beast, and I was freed, again, just for a moment, the dark place under the earth a perfect web, ashen, shivering, shuddering, like I was stepping across the very fabric of the mind.
And then it was in front of me again, vaulting lazily ahead, and it’s mouth, toothed with many many many many human teeth seized my left arm. Eyes locked with each other, my two warring with many many others, and then it bit down.
Pain was something I knew a lot about at this point. I’d felt the pain of watching people I knew die in front of me. I’d felt the pain of being torn apart, of not being good enough. I’d felt the pain of wasting away at a job I hated, and I’d felt the pain of hopelessness.
I’d never felt the pain of knowledge before. Of painful contextualization, as things shifted around me and my eyes fed lies through my brain.
At once I was a scientist. Many, with guns pointed at us, bristling armor, and then I was studying the strange and the unnatural, watching how it affected reality. Theorems and equations spirally crazily from my fingertips but I lacked true knowledge of them and they burned like hot cinders until they were removed like the forbidden they were.
Lungs ached, but here in the darkness there was nobody to feel my pain but Green Towassa and the beast overhead, watching with eyes gleaming from no light but a green sun hovering in zenith over the forest, never moving. “Where life flows eternal?”
“And you have killed a child of Green Towassa,”
the lost boy
“But it wanted to die,” I finished, wheezing, standing back up. “It wanted to die more than anything.”
“But all Towassa gives is life,” The beast agreed. “It is not up to us to give death, Either.”
“But I will gladly give it,” I said. “I’ll give it to you, and I’ll give it to everything else in your Green Towassa.”
“Yes, you will gladly give most of yourself, won’t you?” The beast, asked, and the desk exploded into splintered particle board and a spray of metal shrapnel. I felt it fall across my armor, and I felt my fingers grope against the floor. How much of this was a prison and how much of it was a black site where the best of the best of the best groped for knowledge in the darkness?
How much of it was dead and how much of it was yet alive, when scientists dreamed and wrote down their dreams of green towassa, and whispered under their breath about the beasts asleep in their cages?
My fingers stumbled across my leg, nearly numb from running, nearly numb from the visions and I found a flare.
There was no such thing as Green Towassa. Not here. Not inside of me. I couldn’t go to that green place, not today, not now.
“This is a vision of your green Towassa,” I shouted, and lit the flare. “TAKE IT AND LEAVE ME ALONE!
Light hissed and my eyes, though tightly shut, ached and burned, and I thought I could see that green sun twisted high above, but all I could see was the red light.
The beast screamed, and howled, and I brought the flame up to the flesh above me and it burned and twisted and resisted because it could not know death when it was life itself.
“If only I breathed more of Towassa I could be immortal instead of a cancer of life,” The beast hissed.
The flare disappeared through the hole of rotting flesh, and then there was only my hand pressed against the smooth knit stomach. Slightly warm, moist, human.
But I could see through the dim holes in the creature’s complexion, could see the beast burning, could see smoke pouring from every hole.
But it would take more to deal with Green Towassa.
“It gives and it gives and it gives and it gives, and I thought, staring down at the gun that perhaps it would be better to be eaten by my work, where I could make a final observation for the sake of humanity, than to die, rotten, destroyed, and it hit me like a flare that perhaps everyone else would be saved if only they were dead too, like me, and the bullet that struck me could not stop my hands from awakening the beast, and the beacon oh the beacon oh the beacon. I thought perhaps I could be normalized too, that I would not die in that creature’s aura. For it knew not what death was, or what death could be, and thus it could not die, and now I know of only life.”
The face was human, eyes rounded with knowledge, but I could not bear it to live, the world could not bear it to live, not in this strange place where reality was a quagmire of green and things that should be dead.
“In Green Towassa?” I asked, then stared up at the thing, could not count the legs, could not count the arms, could not count the jaws, could not count the bones, tendrils of flesh and cartillage, but could count the eyes, 17, burning high and smoking like old wiregrass.
“In Green Towassa the beacons shall shine across the face of a mad man and he will be asked for his teeth and he will give nothing,” The beast replied, happily as ash poured from many mouths and dripped rudely down like blood from eye sockets that I could hardly taste but we knew for a moment that it would be the end, but not because it was a cancer of life and not immortal.
“I wonder if Rebecca knew that her project would be so successful, when she told us she could give us immortality, if only she were given time.”
“She wasn’t given time,” the reply was ripped from my mouth because my throat was not my own.
The com went off, and I slammed the top of the desk into the beast’s face and heard teeth break like wind chimes and the pin of a grenade, and I was moving again, and the world was not green, it was ash, though the vines remained, searching for my dreams, for my dreams of distant Towassa, where knowledge flowed like sweet honey and teeth screamed to be free of mouths.
I was moving again, and then I wasn’t, and I was against the far wall, where the divider lasted.
“There was never enough time for the immortal,” The spider agreed, slowly climbing down the wall. “But now I must consume your dreams, so that I too may live long enough to meet you again.”
“I will not live if you consume my dreams,” I warned.
“But if I do not, the land will grow sick and wither.”
“The land has grown sick and withered before,” I returned.
“Who are you Gale?”
“I am Gale.”
“But are you not also Hurricane? I remember Hurricane.”
“But I do not,” I said. “Not in your world.” My arm bled readily onto the dusty floor, ruined with ash, but the beast did not move, did not stir bloody appendages, watching me, tasting myself across those human teeth.
“You do not dream of Green Towassa, but you will then?”
“I will dream of that queer place where the land hungers for flesh and the world is raw,” I said.
“I am not the creature today then,” The spider said. “And I wish to die, if you can manage it,”
The com buzzed in my hands and I felt around for it but could not find it in my palms, for Coms did not exist in Green Towassa, but I knew that I didn’t exist in Green Towassa, not yet.
“I do not dream together, not with you.” I declared.
“Not yet, but I do taste you.”
“What are you?” I asked.
“Subject shows strong normalization capabilities. Request requisition for Fafnir treatment.”
“Hurricane denied it,” I said.
“That’s fine,” The science-spider said (and now I could see the name tag pinned through the skin) “because the man who killed me already took the treatment.”
Too many layers for me to think through with Green Towassa in my head and the vines that drink dreams surging forward, too many thoughts to stream through but… but… but…
I could taste myself and I thought that… through the haze that…
That was anger.
I remembered anger. There was no place for anger in that queer place where politicians scrambled for life.
The dream died, and I was back, again, in a place choked with ash and the dead. And there was nothing in that place that was living except for the thing, clinging to a dream of green places. Did it exist?
I didn’t care.
But anger didn’t exist there.
So I was anger.
I was angry.
And there was something to be angry at.
“Patrickson…” the voice that said those words was my own, from my own throat. “Patrickson… took it, didn’t he?”
“He had many tricks,” The spider agreed. “But he could be eaten, couldn’t he? You could eat him for me? Pluck his eyes from his skull?”
“You were human then, when he was here.” I said.
“Yes, I was, but I cannot crawl back to then, can I? Though I have always existed, I did not, then?”
“Do you dream of Green Towassa?” I asked, taking a step forward.
The beast scuttled back.
“When I close my eyes I am there at the end, and I see great power and greater ideas. I see a great face, but hidden behind a mask, but I see it, covered in teeth, but I see nothing as well, for what a face that could be hidden not hidden hidden not hidden and-”
I was angry. I was so fucking angry, and the Com went off.
Patrickson… Patrickson… Patrickson…
And that queer dark place stretched deeper into the ground and Patrickson…
But there were other reasons to be Gale as well, weren’t there? Crawling in my own filth beneath a boot, but… there was Hands, yes… yes, Hands was there, wasn’t she? Could I feel her then, instead of the vines that fed upon dreams?
Colton, yes, with his mind of knives, and there was Excelsior, and Rebecca, and
“Time time time time time,”
Because time was up, wasn’t it?
The beast loomed over top of me, a mess of limbs and dripping things and burning ash, clotting things and sharp sharp sharp and green towassa.
“Hey, Gale,” I did not know that voice, but it wasn’t coming from my mouth or the mouths of the beast.
“Cover your ears.”
Green Towassa was quiet as the spider turned to look behind itself.
My ears were covered, ear plugged. Over the creature’s shoulder, standing behind it, unwavering, inoculated against it all, hair styled back across her face. Didn’t recognize her. Couldn’t see her.
Then the front half of the strange creature exploded in the blast of a gun.
Then another shot.
Then another shot.
Then another shot.
Then another shot.
And gore rained down, piece by piece.
“There will be a reckoning.” the beast whispered. “Sickness shall fall upon the land and disease shall ravage this place.”
A woman stepped out of the darkness, softly illuminated in the movement of a torch in the distance. Groggily I stared at her pale red skin.
“We have modern medicine,” The woman said shrugging, and the shotgun in her head twisted and dug up under the creature’s neck.
“Do you also dream of green Towassa?”
The girl laughed. “Fuck your green places.”
The gun went off, and then creature slumped and fell onto its side, sputtering. The skin split open, piece by piece, as the thing finally knew death.
Skeletons spilled out. A half dozen skeletons, covered in ashen skin and death. Covered in bullets holes.
One rolled over and stared at me. We stared at each other.
“We dreamed we were gods once, and we made so many gods of this world, and they are so angry to be forgotten. How many saints did we burn, Gale?”
The shotgun leveled underneath of the thing that had once been human, but now was grey skin stretched thin over breaking bones.
“I don’t care about saints,” The red skinned woman said, and pulled the trigger one more time. “Go to hell.”
“Who…” I rasped, my mind fragmented, uncentered. Flickers of visions drifted about my head, of things to the north, of the future, and of the past, but Gale, Gale Gale, I was Gale. “The hell are you?” I hissed, left hand twitching. I squeezed my right arm, watching blood roll off.
“Cassandra,” The red skinned woman said, shoving a hand out to reach mine. Gloved. She was armored, but couldn’t care about the trailing mess of dust in the air. She breathed easily.
I took the hand and she pulled me up, and suddenly I knew what Colton meant when he talked about the other thing, that he could not parse, nor understand, in that quiet place in the dark.
“Neutralization team Beta. Cuban Patrol,” She said, tugging me to my feet. “I heard you needed help from the others upstairs.”
My heart stopped, and my grip went a bit tighter on her hands.
“And I’m afraid we’re in a bit of a mess here, aren’t we?” Cassandra laughed.