This is some kind of fuckin' joke. It has to be. Any minute now, God is going to come out from the cosmic back room with his camera crew telling me I was "Christ'd!" People don't die like I do and just come back from it, not even in shitty daytime soap operas.
I'm sure many of you had already assumed as much, and congratulations, you were right, I was killed! Again! That's two, if you're keepin' count. One more and you all have to throw your hats at me. You are probably wondering, though, how the fuck I could pull something like that off twice? Am I some kind of human cockroach? Possibly. I've been called a lot of shit in my life and I wouldn't be surprised if that was one of 'em. Am I a magician the likes of which Harry Houdini could never dream of becoming? No, probably not, though there isn't a straight jacket in the world that could hold me. Am I some immortal Scottish warrior and the only way for me to die is if Christopher Lambert chopped off my head? No fuckin' way! Those movies were trash.
The simple answer is that people like to fuck with me, and I guess that includes really bored gods.
As I told you before I disappeared again, I was going to see an old friend who would probably know something about the fuckheads who stole my computer and burned down my apartment building. I figured 'em for spooks, y'know? Some black ops paramilitary rejects gone soldiers of fortune. What the fuck they would've wanted with me, I have no idea. I'd been off the government radar for years, every price on my head had been dropped, I hadn't even rented any porn from the video store or checked out any library books in a while. I was perfectly content to wither away in my shitty apartment and rot my brains out of my skull with some cheap drugs until my landlord had to bust my door down one sweltering Summer afternoon to mop the stink of decay out of his already disgusting apartment building. What they wanted with my computer is still a mystery to me; but I convinced Anansi, the King of Stories, that what they wanted was one of the greatest stories ever written, something of much interest to the old spider, which is why he brought me back to life after the fuckers cooked me alive in my ratty shithole of an apartment.
That was the first time I'd died. This last time was a lot less dramatic and overly complicated. In short, I was shot in the back. A lot. But I got better.
Now, to elaborate on that, let me take you back to the swingin' Eighties. Oh, I loved the Eighties. It was all coke and whores and gun running and ridiculous music and fucked up hair and stupid clothes. Truly a Golden Age. It was also a decade of huge economic turmoil and foreign affairs fiascoes. You see, kids, I wasn't always a charred, homeless drug addict. For a time, I made a living doing horrible things for horrible men in horrible countries. I'm ashamed of it, which is rare for me to admit, being than I'm a shameless bastard. Eventually, I got tired or bored or sickened enough to stop selling little pieces of my soul for a couple hundred grand a sin, but I'd made a lot of connections.
Which is what led me to Munich last month. Back in October, a certain powerful individual who owed me more than a couple of favors was run out of Paris for all of the horrible things he's done in his life, more so the horrible things he's done recently. He was spending some time at the embassy here, cooling his heels, relaxing after the circus show in Paris. I decided to pay him a visit, see what he knew about these guys who were after my shit, if they were after me, who sent 'em, why, and all of that.
Now for the idiocy. I don't know if it's that I'm rusty in my old age, or if I just wasn't in my right mind, or something else; but instead of slipping in there in the dark with a knife in my hand squatting on his chest with a wild grin and a glint in my eye as the moonlight caught me just right, just in time for him to open his eyes from his comforting dreams of strangling puppies and jerking off on dead hookers to be terrified by this mutilated face from his past, instead of something timeless and classic like that, I walked right in the front door.
I blame the mask. With it, I can look like whoever I want, whenever I need to. It's come in quite handy since, without it, I look like an overcooked campfire hot dog. The trouble is, when I wear it, I don't feel right. I don't feel like me. I feel normal, but not my kind of normal. I feel like I used to, long ago, before I ruined every inch of myself. I don't like that feeling anymore. And it gets worse the more often I use the mask, which is probably what led to me slipping it on and appearing as the bastard himself as I waltzed through the doors of the embassy to see my "old friend."
It wasn't hard getting past security. The mask lets me look however I want, and if I know exactly who I want to look like, I can become that person, from their looks right down to their voice and mannerisms. It's fucking creepy, but effective. It even convinced the two guards at his door who swore up and down that I never left my room. Of course, the one person it didn't fool was my old friend, but it wasn't meant to. All it was meant to do was confuse him long enough for me to take him to the floor and gag him with his own tie while I revealed my true face.
I don't know how he knew, but he recognized me. Maybe it was the sharp, narrow chin, or my high cheek bones. Maybe it was the disgusting grin and my wheezing laugh that whispered through my crooked, smoke-stained teeth. Or maybe it was my eyes, the same steely eyes he stared into decades ago as he ordered me to do horrible things for him and his bosses. Whatever it was, he recognized me; under all of the wrinkled, crunchy flesh, he recognized me.
Dragging him off the floor, I took the gun from the back of his waistband and held it to his head as I drove my arm into his back, gripping his collar like a reign, and burying his face into his mattress. I told him specifically to answer my questions by nodding or shaking his head, nothing else. When I asked him if I was back on the government radar for anything, he shook his head. When I asked him if he was sure he wasn't lying, as I cocked the gun and pushed it harder into his skull, he nodded. I asked him if he knew about anybody putting a price on my head. Shake. I asked him if he was surprised to see me. Nod. I asked him if he heard that I was dead. Nod. I asked him if he believed that before I busted into his room and pinned him to his mattress with a gun to his skull. Shake.
Then, I was going to ask him if he'd recognized the three men who broke into my apartment, when I realized something: I couldn't remember a fucking thing about them. There were three of them, I'm pretty sure they were wearing suits, and I remember one of them pulling something out of somewhere and setting my apartment on fire, but nothing else, which is impossibly odd for me. Forever, I made a living remembering everything about everyone I ever met and using it against 'em, and no matter how much of whatever I stuffed up my nose or shot into my veins, I'd never forget that much. Everyone has something distinctive about them to remember them by. So I asked him, "do you know of anyone in existence so unremarkable that I wouldn't be able to remember what they look like?" And he hesitated, which in hindsight may have been a feint, but seemed genuine at the time. Then he shook his head.
Of course I was intrigued, and if it was a feint, it worked perfectly, because I wouldn't have wound up the way I did otherwise. I loosened the knot in the tie around his head and took it off as uncomfortably as possible, grabbing the back of his skull and getting my mouth as close to his ear to whisper to him like a violent lover. I told him, "if you raise your voice any higher than a high school girl losing her virginity in her bedroom as her parents slept one room over, I will shoot you in the fucking skull and use your body as a goddamn shield to make my way out of this fuckin' place." I must have used that one on him before, because he laughed, so I cracked him with the butt of the gun and told him to get talking.
He went on for minutes about a ridiculous conspiracy that goes above and beyond any national government or global religion, about impossible experiments being performed deep beneath the capital, and about the faceless leaders of the world controlling their puppets from the shadows. Then he told me about stories he heard, of men without faces, without forms, figments of the collective imagination of humanity existing in the creases of reality, serving the secrets masters of creation. They held power over even the most powerful men on Earth. They manipulated the manipulators of the masses. They were cosmic agents of order or chaos or both. If these beings existed, and were indeed the men responsible for my current situation, what the fuck could they possibly want with me, let alone my computer?
It all fell apart after that. I heard something in my head, but out of my mind, something faint but familiar coming from existence itself. It startled me, and in that one moment, all of the things that could've possibly gone wrong went wrong. The old fuck threw an elbow just right, caught me off guard and sent me backwards over the edge of the bed. Between the clamor and his choking cry for help, security was in the room immediately. I figured I might have been able to make a dive for the window in the couple of seconds they'd be confused by the disfigured man who just attacked their employer, but apparently they make these boys as brainless and violent as they did in my day. I made it to the window, but not before I caught a hail of bullets in the back.
Movies and television glorify the shit out of bullet wounds. They're small and painless and either "shock" or "nerves" are responsible for urban cowboys taking slugs like fucking monsters and diving out of windows without feeling a thing or dropping more than a couple dots of blood. Fuckin' horseshit. Unless you're lucky enough to take one in the spine, you feel everything: from the white hot burning pain of a projectile tearing through your flesh and bone and organs to the searing, lingering feeling of jagged metal ripping your insides slowly apart, and the utter horror of having a bullet explode out of you, Jackson Pollacking your insides all over a window, right before you barrel into it and slice yourself up even more. You feel all of that. And if you're really lucky, you land on your neck and don't have to worry about surviving the fall.
I'm sure all of you know by now that I'm a lot of things: an asshole, an alcoholic, verbose, but I am not lucky. When those boys opened fire, I felt it all. Every last bullet, every shard of glass, and every inch of pavement. It may have been only minutes later, or even seconds, but as I lay in that alley while blackness clouded my vision, it felt like an eternity again. The last fuckin' thing I wanted was another one of those trips. Of course, the next to last thing I wanted to see was a tall black figure stalking down the alley on three legs to greet me, or the top hat he dropped right before I passed out.
Once everything had gone dark, I became more aware. I was dead. It was beginning to become a more familiar feeling than being alive. I wasn't quite back in the little corner of creation I'd wound up in before, but I knew Anansi was there, in the darkness, watching me. He didn't say a word, but I could feel his thoughts. The phrase "heart full of venom" came to mind, and I suddenly felt very hot- a stark contrast to the disheartening cold of my first trip into nothingness. And then, another phrase, "the secret masters of creation," exploded in my brain, and I remembered something from my talk with the spidergod. Nothing specific, but something prevalent in everything he said to me, as if he was telling me two things at once and I could only hear the first. And as my mind wandered, my body suddenly shuddered and my veins exploded with fire. I screamed, but whatever cracked noise escaped my throat was drowned out by the darkness around me as it fell as a deluge of black spiders over me.
All too typically, I woke up screaming, thrashing about wildly in a bathtub filled with warm water and a shower running over me. The angel beside me tried to calm me down, but I was so disoriented and confused by my last seconds of consciousness, I grabbed her by the throat and growled something hateful and guttural as I glared at her. She was helpless in my hands, and she looked so sad, but not for herself. She looked sad for me. Then I realized how I must have looked, mutilated as I was, recovered from some dingy alleyway with two whole clips of bullets in my back and bleeding from cuts all over my body. And despite all of this, this poor woman, this beautiful woman, dragged me into her home and tried to help me, and in my weakness, I rewarded her kindness with violence.
I was ashamed, a feeling lost to me ages ago making its long-awaited comeback. With shaking hands, I let go of her elegant neck, and as her expression relaxed, I cringed. The bathtub was pink with blood, I could see the bullets laying at the bottom of the basin. My hands traced the exit wounds on my stomach, already scabbed over with even more scar tissue. Whatever disgusting poison my heart pumped now instead of blood, it healed me. My body at least. The angel spoke to me in German, "It is alright. You are alright. Everything is going to be alright."
And with burning tears in my eyes, I looked at her and said, "No. I don't think it is."