Chapter 8:

The Gospel of Elm (Reprise)

The Sequence of Kai

The bell at St. Ambrose’s Chruch sings 12 times for midnight.Bookmark here

I’ve never been here at night before; mass has always been more of a morning vice to me. Bookmark here

I give the outside a look over before I do anything else. There are no cars in the parking lot, no one hiding around back. I put my hand to the walls. I can only sense one active sequential connection. That means Elm is on his own. Bookmark here

I rush back to the church doors. If he’s alone this is the perfect time to take him down. The church is quite old, unusual for a catholic one in England, but luckily, for me at least, that means it only has one entrance and one exit. I’ve heard that Father Walsh is resistant to the idea of remodelling the building and that the local council is hesitant to get involved because of that, so they let this expensive fire hazard stand as it always has.Bookmark here

I push open the big wooden doors into the moonlit halls of the church. No one here, he must be in the back room.Bookmark here

“Get out here Elm! If you offer yourself up like a man, I’ll consider making it quick!”Bookmark here

No answer. He must’ve been in the back room when I arrived, he’s probably cowering in the corner now, awaiting his fate. Bookmark here

As I get closer to the door my unease grows. I can hear muffled sounds from inside the room. Did he bring someone else with him? No point in worrying about that, there’s nothing he could do to stop me now.Bookmark here

I kick open the door and, as I do, the lights in the room flash on. In a split second, I see dozens of scared, naked women whirl up in a frenzy as they take in the words on the walls around them. Bookmark here

OBEY THE WORD OF ELM.Bookmark here

“Take down the girl that opened the door.”Bookmark here

I turn heel to see where his voice is coming from as a few of the girls tackle me to the ground.Bookmark here

He’s crawling out from behind the church organ. A child’s hiding place, one I didn’t even consider.Bookmark here

He rushes to intercept a couple of the girls who try to escape, who must’ve been too panicked to read his message. He gets between them and the door and tackles them both to the ground.Bookmark here

“Four of you get over here and restrain them!”Bookmark here

Four of the girls get off me while the others drag me to my feet. They keep me immobile by clutching to my limbs and hair, any part of my body they can get a hand on. Bookmark here

Elm walks up to me with the two other restrained girls in tow.Bookmark here

“Line those three up on the altar, make sure this one doesn’t move an inch.”Bookmark here

He points at me when he says this.Bookmark here

In a matter of moments, me and the two other girls are lined up in a row, restrained by the naked zombies under Elm’s control.Bookmark here

“Help! Help!”Bookmark here

The girl to my right starts screaming.Bookmark here

“No one’s coming to help you girl, shut your mouth.”Bookmark here

“Help me! Someone please!”Bookmark here

She screams despite his order. This angers Elm. He pulls a gun out from under his jacket, an army-issue revolver, and shoots her in the jaw. It doesn’t kill her straight away but absent of a mouth she can no longer scream for help, beg for mercy. He turns towards me and the other girl.Bookmark here

“Either of you feel like calling for help?”Bookmark here

The girl to my left shakes her head viciously.Bookmark here

“Why would I bother? I’m not the one in danger here.”Bookmark here

So predictable that those words would rile him up. He puts the barrel of his gun under my chin and uses it to tilt my eyes up to his.Bookmark here

“You’ve had your moment of control already, give it up.”Bookmark here

Keeping his gun on me he uses his left hand to check the back of mine for game markers. Of course, none are there for him to find.Bookmark here

“You should’ve taken my offer to leave while you had the chance, I’m going to enjoy killing you.”Bookmark here

“Look at the position you’re in Kai, you have no way out. If I were you, I’d start your bargaining with God while you still have time.”Bookmark here

He steps back from me, performs the sign of the cross and points the gun at my forehead.Bookmark here

“How did you know about my powers Kai? What do you know about that unnamed game.”Bookmark here

“I happen to work with someone who sits at the same table you do.”Bookmark here

“And they sent you to kill me? Why?”Bookmark here

“They actually told me not to, I decided you were worth killing. I shouldn’t have listened to them, right? I should’ve killed you the first time we met.”Bookmark here

He puts his left hand to his face and sighs in disappointment.Bookmark here

“The chosen should never involve those not in knowledge of God, tools like you should be kept mindless, where they are best”Bookmark here

“Did you just say chosen?”Bookmark here

“Of course I did, who else could grant me these powers other than God? Your master too, I don’t know what their powers are, but they didn’t come about through hard work or random chance, they came to them because of divine intervention, as a result of being chosen by God.”Bookmark here

“What do you think you were chosen for, exactly?”Bookmark here

“Those of us who sit at the table are the chosen few who will tear down and remake the world in God’s image.”Bookmark here

“And your idea of remaking the world is fucking teenage girls on the south coast? What about that is new for the world? What about that is even new for middle-aged men?”Bookmark here

“You’re right Kai. I had lost my way, you were a test. I had thought that punishment of the sinning population would suffice but that was so naïve. You can’t remake anything without first destroying it completely.”Bookmark here

I struggle a bit to contain my laughter. The arrogance of this man to think that I was some sort of test for him.Bookmark here

“Did I say something worth laughing at?”Bookmark here

“Yeah, I don’t buy that you could seriously believe any of that without being a total fucking idiot.”Bookmark here

He strides up to me and puts the tip of the gun in my mouth. Tastes odd, they must be using different paint on the barrel these days.Bookmark here

“Do not doubt my sincerity! I am one of the blessed few with a seat at God’s table!”Bookmark here

The gun in my mouth does little to stop the laughter spilling out from deep inside me. Bookmark here

“Yoawre papetic.”Bookmark here

“What did you just say?”Bookmark here

I spit the gun out of my mouth so he can hear me clearly.Bookmark here

“I said you’re pathetic. Hilariously so. How can you honestly believe you were chosen? You with a hand so weak, you with a mind so weak. The three of diamonds is a joke compared to what I’ve seen. You need to write your control, I’ve seen men with control innate. Domain over blood, over space, over the mind absolute, these are gifts from god, far higher than anything you could ever hope to achieve. You’re the kid that was chosen to fill space, so that both teams could have an equal number of players, so empty that you thought that meant something. It doesn’t. You’re weak. You’re pathetic. You’re hilarious. All in equal measure.”Bookmark here

The girl to my left looks at me terrified. She knows what I just said ended any hopes of us getting out of this alive. She can’t comprehend why I didn’t just keep my mouth shut and let Elm do what he wants.Bookmark here

For his part, his eyes are doing a good job of imitating calm. Bookmark here

“Do not speak for God, you could never understand how his mind works.”Bookmark here

He points the gun between my eyes but then pauses. A smile appears on his face.Bookmark here

“I want you to know, I lied too. That Trish girl? I fucked her. More than once. She hated every second of it, but I kept making her come back for more. I’m sure you understand she’s too pure a gem to let go once you’ve got your hooks in her.”Bookmark here

I try to burst forward out of my captors grasp but there’s too many of them. All I manage to do is press the barrel of the gun further into my face.Bookmark here

“I’m going to kill you! You think you’re evil? I’m about to show you evil, I’ll make you scream in agony and beg for mercy!”Bookmark here

“Sure you are.”Bookmark here

He pulls back the hammer of his gun and lets go, sending a bullet crashing into my head.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

So close to death once more, I haven’t felt this rush in a while. Bookmark here

Being on this knife-edge is so exhilarating, I wish it could last forever. It can’t. I know it can’t. These momentary imitations of death come to pass all too quickly and then I’m right back where I started.Bookmark here

Why was I dealt in? With 52 cards in play at the table, why was I dealt the 53rd? I have nothing to gamble with, I can’t play the game, I can’t go all in. All I can do is make others fold or watch on from the sidelines. I have nothing to gain, and no one has anything to gain from me. So why?Bookmark here

A deck of 52, 13 to a suite, 4 suites in total. This is how the game should be played. But sometimes before you start dealing, you forget to remove the extras, the 53rd and 4th cards. The red rose through the middle of the masquerade mask, the jokers. Bookmark here

Can god forget? Was it a mistake that I’m involved in this game? Or was something meant by it? Is there something I’m meant to do?Bookmark here

I CAN’T DIE LIKE THIS.Bookmark here

The bullet Elm fired enters my head just to the left of the bridge of my nose. I feel the bone cracking, the eye popping and my consciousness fading. The chains that mould my mind into a single piece shatter, I’m a long way past being able to hold it together with will and chance alone.Bookmark here

K̷̺̾i̴͙̔l̷͍͛ļ̸̈ ̵̢̓h̸̭́i̷̢̽m̷̖̈́.̸͍̐ ̶͚̂Bookmark here

H̴̺̓ǔ̵̝ȑ̴͖t̵̹͘ ̶͜͝ḣ̴̼i̸̧̇m̶̤͐.̸̨͂ ̵͓̎Bookmark here

M̶͓͊ù̶̠ť̷̰ị̸̈l̴͍͠a̷̮̋t̵͉̏e̴̙̐ ̷̼̌h̴̺̉i̶̞̿m̴͕̈.̶̝̀ ̴͙͑Bookmark here

K̶͓͌ǐ̸͙ḻ̷͊l̷̡̂ ̶͙̄t̴̠̍h̸̞́e̵̲͋m̵̜̄ ̶̪̔ṫ̷̜ö̵̳õ̸͉.̷̬̽ ̶͔͆K̶͚̿ì̷͇l̵̅ͅḷ̵̒ ̴̼͊ṭ̷͛h̸̜̀e̸̬̽m̷̝͂ ̵̛̟a̷̬͌l̶̫͑l̶̬͗.̶͈͊ ̷͚̊Bookmark here

M̷a̵k̵e̷ ̵t̴h̷e̸m̷ ̶f̶e̵e̴l̸ ̵w̷h̴a̶t̶ ̴w̶e̸ ̸c̵a̴n̸’̸t̷.̴ ̸Bookmark here

F̷̟͛ẹ̵̆e̵̥͊l̷̡̾.̸͙̑ ̴͙̅Bookmark here

P̶͍͌ä̷̞́i̵̳̓n̸̖̓.̵̲̊ ̶̞̄Bookmark here

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B̸̦̾ư̷̰̰̾ŕ̴͓̊n̷̪̠̎̄́ ̶̩̟͂̈́̀ţ̷̚h̷̩̓̓͜ȇ̴̝͈͛͠m̵͇̋̓͝.̶̤͉̈́̍͊ͅ ̴̩̏̀Bookmark here

B̴̡̡̳̰̱̭̙̭̀͂̓̒̀͛̚ų̵̗͇͎̖͇̮̬̏͒̋̾̊̄͘̚ͅr̴̯͍̼̪̎͐̂n̴̢̳͖̜̄͐͗̈́̀̐͠ͅ ̴̘̥̦͈͚̝͙͔̤͋ḧ̸̦̪̗̦̪̝̎̏i̵̛̺̻̒̄̍̿̈́͆̔̽ḿ̸̨̢̪̺̺.̵̣̻̙̜͙͚̞̠̏Bookmark here

All of the thoughts I’ve been keeping down spill out of my body and echo around the halls. From deep in my mind, I can see the fear etched on Elm’s face. The head of the girl closest to me has a bullet wound. Right between the bridge of her nose and her left eye. Bookmark here

Elm frantically empties his remaining bullets into me. One girl’s ear comes off, another’s heart explodes inside her chest, another has a hole open up in her neck and another still loses an eye as she slumps to the ground. Each one of them, hurt by a bullet that hit me. Bookmark here

I can’t die like this. Bookmark here

I can never die. People can only die in my place. People can only be hurt in my place. No matter what I do, I hurt people, I kill people. My cells don’t divide, my heart only beats to laugh at me, my lungs only breathe to allow me to scream. Bookmark here

I am a monster.Bookmark here

The sight of bodies exploding for no seeming reason snaps the horde out of their trance and they all run for the door screaming. Bookmark here

Elm tries to run with them but my body grabs him and throws him hard against the altar. My ears hear the bones in his back snap as the tapestries lining the walls all catch fire at once. Bookmark here

I can’t see the actions of this girl as me anymore. This is all of us.Bookmark here

We take the sacramental wine out from under the altar and step on Elm’s chest.Bookmark here

“Please! Don’t kill me!”Bookmark here

“You had your chance.”Bookmark here

We grind our foot into his chest, pressing his broken back further into the jagged edge it’s resting on. His screams barely register with us. All we can hear are the flames creeping up behind us.Bookmark here

“Why aren’t you dead? How? What did you do?! I shot you in the head, in the heart, no one could survive that!”Bookmark here

“I can.”Bookmark here

I lean over to give him a look down my shirt, at the game marker on my chest.Bookmark here

“I’m afraid I might’ve embellished the truth a little bit. This isn’t a tattoo, it’s the sign of the game. I hold one of the joker cards. If you want to call it a power, you can. I call it a curse. I’m not allowed to die. I cannot be harmed. Even pain is fleeting to my body, it barely feels real.”Bookmark here

“But that’s impossible! It doesn’t make sense! There are no jokers in this game, they shouldn’t hold any power, they should be against the lord’s rules!”Bookmark here

We lift him by his collar towards us, his limbs are all limp and blood squirts from his back before sizzling as it hits the floor. The flames are engulfing the church now.Bookmark here

“Weak, pathetic, hilarious. How could you be so arrogant and naïve as to think things wouldn’t make sense only in ways convenient to you. Don’t put rules on god. Don’t speak of impossible when you speak of him. Do not presume to know his intentions. Do not presume that he even has any. These powers could mean we are chosen, they could also mean nothing, random gifts from a bored god with nothing better to do. If god has a message, we can never hear it without becoming gods ourselves, we can never know anything about him. God is both beyond and beneath us. We do not need him. We need him to die.”Bookmark here

We drop Elm back down to the ground with a thud. He screams once more. We could never tire of that sound. He’s sobbing, pleading with us.Bookmark here

“Please…. Please don’t kill me…. I don’t want to die…. I have to live…”Bookmark here

We open the bottle of wine and pour some on his face.Bookmark here

“Mr Preacher, have you heard of the saying ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’?”Bookmark here

All he does is continue to sob. We step on his knee.Bookmark here

“Have you heard it or not?”Bookmark here

“Yes! I have!”Bookmark here

“Good.”Bookmark here

We release the pressure.Bookmark here

“We understand why we should not see evil, so that we do not imitate it. Why we should not hear evil, so that we do not understand it. Why we should not speak evil, so that others do not understand. But humans are smart creatures sometimes. We never preclude ourselves from committing evil, even though it’s a perversion of the Analects from which the phrase hails. Because we know that evil is necessary, we just can’t think of it as evil. As long as we don’t understand evil, we can commit it or let others commit it on our behalf. We can pretend to be good so well. Mr Preacher, do you agree that evil is necessary? I think you do.”Bookmark here

“I do… evil is necessary… to bring about the new world.”Bookmark here

“Then why do you speak evil? Why would you break our illusion? You’re performing evil and you’re doing a bad job. I’m going to show you evil, punish you so that you’ll never give such a poor performance again.”Bookmark here

“I’ll do anything you want, please!”Bookmark here

We gouge out our own eyes so that his explode. This is when the screaming starts again.Bookmark here

“Take his eyes so that he may not see evil.”Bookmark here

We rip off our ears so that his tear from his head.Bookmark here

“Take his ears so that he may not hear evil.”Bookmark here

We put the neck of the bottle of wine in our mouth and bite it off, allowing the wine to burst out onto our face. We chew the glass in our mouth to lacerate the inside of his and then swallow it to slice up his throat.Bookmark here

“Take his mouth so that he may not speak evil.”Bookmark here

The screaming has turned into a gurgle of blood and body tissue. We grab our upper right arm with our left and rip it clean from its socket before it instantly re-joins. His arm just splits from his body without any resistance.Bookmark here

“And take his hand so that he may not do evil.”Bookmark here

Our laughter echoes in the halls. By now the fire has spread all around the building, to the outside. It’s collapsing in on itself. I can hear the sirens. They’re too late. The ceiling falls in from above and crushes us both.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.