excerpt from the "llustrated Book of Wrath" and the "Book of Wrath" novel
excerpt from "Illustrated Book of Wrath" and the "Book of Wrath"
"In the sea of nothingness are there clothes to die in?"
Outside the constructs of time, was a massive swirl of creative energy. God put his hand into the massive swirl and separated the light from the darkness. From that moment forward, the Manifestations from that event struggled to balance the now divided polarities of energy.
A light flooded through the basement window of the church and jarred Famine from a nightmare. Sleep was like any other human quality to the immortals – they could take it or leave it. As Famine lay sweating in the bed, he wondered why he bothered with sleep. It was just something he felt like doing, but it was filled with the same hunger and death that he had to deal with day in and out. The worst part of sleeping was waking to the realization that it was time to go to work. In that regard, Famine wanted to stay in bed most days. However, last night’s dream gave him the unnerving feeling that his job would never end. He would spend countless days going through the same repetitions, ending life and joy with very little thought other than if it was the job that got him one step closer to the end of the day.
Famine was like any human in that he didn’t remember his birth.
He was different in that he didn’t know what or who gave him life, but he was sure that it was from a dark place. He was a being of darkness.
Famine drifted listlessly over the cold cement floor, and wrapped himself in the white sheet that grew to his body over the years. It was somewhat tattered from the wind and elements. When he was alone, he wore it so that it flapped in the breeze loosely and fell in different heights and angles around his legs. He liked the simplicity of it. In public, he did his best to make the sheet resemble the dress of the times. In the current age of tanks, t-shirts and jeans he was finding it increasingly difficult to fit in. The sheet had a special magic that let him mold it to his will. But even so, it was still a white sheet – and there were only so many ways to wear even a magical one. Luckily, he was alone most of the time – and those who entered his presence weren’t there for long.
Famine nervously wrapped the long knotted locks of his icy blue hair around his pointer finger. Each of the dreadlocks held a memoir to remind him of the passage of time that his skin did not record. In the front locks there was a bloodstained pen once owned by the Marquis de Sade. The end of many of the locks were sealed with bits of glue from the seals of Kings’ creed. Famine pressed in his gaunt cheekbones, and held his breath when he approached the door to the outside world.
It was the jackdaw that brought him his work each morning. There were days when he would step outside the door and the birds would swarm around him before he had a chance to see the light of day. Their dirty black feathers would fill the sky with dark feathers and bloody scrolls, and he would have to get to work right away. A political embargo here a food shortage there, greedy politicians all over... and that would be his day.
Famine turned the doorknob slowly, and poked his head outside. He could see a bright sunny light shimmering off the asphalt street. There were no birds. He cautiously stepped out and shut the door. Famine let the shadows of the church stretch around him like long comforting arms. Humans had abandoned the halls of the church over 300 years ago, and now it was Famine’s home. It wasn’t exactly a warm or even safe home – but it was comforting. Many of the rocks on the side wall were beginning to bloat out, like the building was going to collapse under the weight of its own heavy slate roof. The rocks were jagged and rough, and gave the church the appearance of an old withered hand reaching towards the skies. At one time, it was the only building for miles. Now it was no
more than a silhouette surrounded by neon signs and plastic homes that clashed with its ancient structure. Many people thought the building was an eyesore. Famine himself gagged at the sight of a billboard that glared out an appeal to the present, “UR Information Services” and an ad that spilled out from an overturned garbage can that read, “Life is Dull without NicFix. Get Your Fix.”
Famine was old enough to know the history of the cracks that had been creeping inexorably across the stone skin of the temple. Most of them started when the major city street was built right next to the building.
Famine searched his surroundings more thoroughly. Sometimes the birds were slow. They would come every few hours just as he thought he was done for the day. Famine’s frigid gray-blue eyes were very powerful. It was where his own magic lay. A human who could survive gazing in his eyes was lucky – or rather very unlucky, because death would have been much swifter than the torture of hunger that Famine’s gaze caused. Famine could also see for a longer distance than the human eye, and catch another’s gaze from that distance, even if they were not aware of it.
Right now, Famine could see a lone dark jackdaw make its way through the maze of buildings many miles from his home. He could even hear the distant thunder, which was the beating together of the wings of this unnatural beast.
Famine dodged toward the front of the building where the angel Gabriel stood with his vengeance sword in hand. Gabriel guarded the temple; perhaps, the angel would guard him despite the fact that one of his wings was broken and the tip of his sword was gone. Famine bent behind the angel. Famine liked to imagine that it was Medusa herself who had turned Gabriel into a stone statue on his porch, and it really was the angel forced to live out Famine’s days of agony.
The thunder was growing closer. The wind whistled under the bird’s wings as it circled to the front of the church. Panic-stricken, Famine covered his eyes with one hand and jumped out from behind Gabriel with the other hand flailing in the air. He felt his hand smack against wet feathers. Scroll and bird toppled to the ground. Famine uncovered his eyes to see age-old blood stained across the tips of the bird’s wings. A waft of rot made him almost fall over. The bird was so surprised that it staggered away with the undelivered scroll still stuck within its beak. New blood began to drizzle down from the bird’s forehead onto the scroll.
Famine, at the moment was relieved to know that he wouldn’t have to read what judgment was coming, or what evil would befall some innocent soul. The sound of bird’s wings had been like a shackle on his life for eons. His life... was it his life? Was he even alive?
Famine had never known who sent the birds. He was a wrath, and his job was only to carry out the judgments. As far as he knew, the birds were God’s ugly messengers -- or Satan’s. In many ways, he lived his life like a human. He did his job without knowing if it was his true purpose or if destiny even existed. Most of all, if there was purpose -- who was the director? Famine had hit the bird on impulse. He had never dared before. Surely, there would be consequences. But he couldn’t think of that. He was tired of mindlessly accepting the scrolls.
Many people were judged in many places. They were sentenced to misery. Their judgments, as far as he knew, had nothing to do with their morals. It appeared random. He had seen good men suffer as much as the bad ones, and sometimes more. Humankind could exist without him. He was retiring from his job, and if he could figure out how to retire from life, he would do that, too.
The present had a new face, but the underlying personality of the city was as immortal as he was. Cincinnati was one of the older settled cities in America. The Industrial Revolution had gripped the city. Cincinnati was Famine’s home, if a wrath truly ever could have a place. Many had thought him to be almost beautiful, like a starved angel -- as if an angel could starve.
He knew he did not live in a simple world. He was tired of being immortal. His long, deep sigh created a little cloud in the air in front of his frozen gaze. A new type of anxiety was creeping over him. What would be the consequences of his action? He couldn’t turn back now. But what if everything fell apart – what if the world became worse than it already was because of his selfishness?
Death was creeping over the city, or maybe having eternal immortality made it seem that way. People often mistook him for Death. He was certainly pale and gaunt enough, and maybe even terrifying enough, but he certainly was not Death. He had never even met Death. Death was like a god, untouchable and uncertain.
Famine feared the idea of God’s existence more than Death, because if there was a God, then there was order and definition -- and maybe even Time. If there was order and definition, then he felt there was no hope. Of course, if he were mortal he would fear Death more. Hope was another story. Last he heard, Hope was wearing a black dress and mourning for the world.
Starvation for the truth about his existence ate at his stomach. He starved the world for truth. At times, he prayed there was no truth, because then he wouldn’t have anything left to think about for the rest of his eternity.
Famine stretched out his long legs over the pavement like a spindly, white spider. The smell of rot on the pavement was seeping into his mind. Often, his head would swoon after those ugly birds visited him. He was certain their wings filled his head with delirium.
Poverty increased year after year. That was his fault. The crimes, too, were his fault. All of it came from some type of hunger, and he made people hungry.
Famine walked the streets with his eyes lowered to the stone ground. He was ashamed to watch the havoc he had created. Hunger was always in the eyes, and that was where his power remained. He observed life through the corner of his eyes, as if he was looking through a peephole. After all, he wouldn’t be able to find what he was hungry for if he closed himself off from the world completely.
Young punk kids drew a mural on the side of a corporate building. He passed them slowly enough to watch their arms make the circles of a panoramic earth in all its hues of blue and green. Then their wrists danced and writhed as they wrapped a serpent around the earth and lifted it to the teeth that protruded from its open jaws. Two black clothed teens stood guard. Their spiky, black locks of hair darted back and forth over the streets.
The darkness spread out before Famine as if he and it were the same.
An old woman’s empty eyes stared up at him. She was curled up between two trashcans. A dirty little boy with big wide-eyes tugged at her ragged clothes.
“Wa-a-ake up,” the boy whined. “Wake up, mommy!”
Only the eyes of the dead could look into Famine’s own. His eyes saw only sadness.
The streets were dangerous downtown. Even the cops were frightened to patrol the area. Poverty and crime had existed there for years, but then one day it just spilled into the streets. It was beginning to overflow. Really, Famine was only a sliver in the heart of darkness.
His reverie was broken by a group of people chanting, and it was growing closer. It seemed he wasn’t the only one that was uneasy. Protesters were filing into the streets from several directions. It was far from the first time that protesters had filled those streets.
Cincinnati was a breeding ground for corporations, which made it a political hotbed. Many of the largest corporations in the world were his neighbors, and he wasn’t particularly the neighborly type.
Today, the protesters made a presence all around him. Their chants were like modern day rituals to rid the world of hunger and injustice. Famine almost believed together the small gathering of people could summon all the good in the world. For one moment, a flood of warmth washed over him from the wave of their voices. It dimmed quickly, and left only a small sparkle of happiness in a vast nothing.
The truth of it was, inside, Famine was as empty as he was hungry. It went much deeper than his stomach. Often, his mind was dull, and therefore the world outside was, as well. Nothing, not even the wave of the hopeful voices gathered in the streets by his home, fed his hunger.
“Power to the workers,” one group bellowed out hopefully.
“Not corporate pigs,” another answered.
After a few moments of angry protests, their chants evolved into a unified chant.
“The people... united... shall never be defeated! The people... united... shall never be defeated!”
They threw the words around like deadly weapons. Famine dove through the crowd and expertly avoided each person. Other times they pleaded for others to open their eyes to their truth. Famine could only keep his head lowered in shame because he didn’t understand.
Unlike most people who recognized faces, Famine recognized a man from his shoes. Today, there were many worn tennis shoes, sandals, and occasionally a set of combat boots. His own feet were bare. He had no thoughts of whether it was comfortable or uncomfortable to roam barefooted. He was uncomfortable most of the time, anyway.
A pair of old dusty army boots appeared in front of him. One of them came down on his left foot. Famine’s head jerked up instinctively, and the man’s eyes had locked with his own. Famine barely noticed the man’s long, sticky hair that fell as low as his bell-bottom pants, which dusted dirt up from the ground. Nor, did he notice the man was in his early twenties. His deep azure eyes drew him in. Famine struggled to pull away from the lock, but he was already deep inside the man. If he pulled away too fast he could pull out the man’s entire entrails in one long, clean sweep, or at least make it feel that way.
Famine took a deep breath and then slowly closed his eyes.
“Don’t look into my eyes,” Famine whispered in pain.
He heard the man fall to the ground. At first, the man’s screams rang in Famine’s eardrums. He covered his ears to erase the mistake. When the man’s screams became a whimper, Famine’s heart began to break. He slid his hands from his ears and cautiously opened his eyes.
A great ball of hair wound around the man who curled up into the fetal position. Famine’s head was thumping with pain. He struggled to create a way to reverse what had happened, but one never existed. It had been awhile since he had met eyes with anyone.
“What have you done to me? Who are you? Please make this pain stop,” the man was whimpering.
“I’m sorry. I can’t,” Famine whispered.
The man tried unsuccessfully to free himself from the curtain of hair. His knuckles were bloody from hitting the concrete. He tried to push himself up, but collapsed. His hand brushed the tip of Famine’s left foot.
“What did I do? Why me?” the man pleaded.
“You’ve done nothing, Demetre Dale. I’m sorry to have caused you pain, but there is nothing I can do for you now,” Famine said.
“How do you know my name?” Demetre whimpered with what little energy he had. “I feel so hungry,” his voice trailed off.
“It should pass,” Famine said. “A gripping pain will seize your stomach. Your belly may swell. You’ll feel an insatiable hunger, but you won’t die.”
Demetre’s fingers tightened around Famine’s toes. “Make it stop! You did this to me. You can make it stop!”
Famine lifted his foot so the man’s hand fell feebly to the sidewalk. “There is nothing I can do. It was an accident. I can’t help you now. I’m sorry.” He stepped past Demetre and walked briskly through the crowd of protesters.
There was an ocean of blood on Famine’s hands. Sometimes he could still smell the rot of all those he had murdered. As he saw it, Demetre was lucky. Another minute swimming in his eyes and the torture would have been so unbearable the man would have wished for death. Human misery prevailed. Famine didn’t want to be a part of it anymore.
A light drizzle touched Famine’s skin as he reached the edge of the protest. He approached a stone wall, his heart grew faint, and his knees buckled. All his emptiness collided with the spray-painted murals. “The End is Near. Repent,” glared out in red paint and fancy lettering. Famine repented, but he doubted it would change anything.
Robin Coe is a journalist and author. She wrote the fantasy novel "Fly on the Wall" and graphic novel "Illustrated Book of Wrath".