Peripheral Visions: War and Pieces
Kilian Melloy READ TIME: 25 MIN.
Peripheral Visions: They coalesce in the soft blur of darkest shadows and take shape in the corner of your eye. But you won't see them coming... until it's too late.
War and Pieces
Adolph Krenzler squinted against the sunlight, wondering why the light was so bright and so red – violently bright, blood red, searing into his brain –
Waking up, eyes still squeezed shut, Krenzler realized that the red blankness was sunlight shining through his eyelids. Throwing an arm across his face, Krenzler groaned at the pounding in his head and wondered what time it was.
He'd been dreaming. Something about a face... or was it a figure, some kind of doll... or a mannequin, something demonic and bristling... something living, but wrongly so...
Yes, that was it: A manlike shape, but not a man; more like an unfinished sculpture or a scarecrow made of twigs, light shining through the gaps of its body...
The memory almost came back, then slid away again. The feeling of the dream, though – it was cold, bleak, desolate...
Krenzler shook it off, rolled over, and looked at his clock. It was already nine in the morning.
Sunday morning, wasn't it?
His Saturday night had been like many Saturday nights throughout his life: Prowling bars looking for women, looking for fights, looking for satisfaction in a world that seemed determined to give him none. Last night, frustrated at the way he couldn't gain any female attention, he had walked drunkenly to a gay bar, lingered in the parking lot, and stared at the bar's neon sign with a building resentment as he listened to the thumping music and laugher from within. He had waited patiently, and it wasn't long before he was rewarded with a bounty of queens practically lining up to get bashed.
Who were they to be happy? – Krenzler had asked himself as he waited in the parking lot, and again as he staggered drunkenly home. Sinners, disgraceful and offensive to God. Pastor Klemca has said so often on his Sunday radio program.
Speaking of which...
Krenzler knew the preacher couldn't see him through the radio, but he still wanted to shower and shave and put on his formal blue shirt. His grubby common blues wouldn't do; Pastor Klemca deserved the utmost respect. He was one of God's Warriors, like President Kirsch, fighting the good fight for decent patriots. Krenzler, too, was a Warrior for God. His formal blues and his humility were his armor in the Everlasting Fight. No one was ever going to have grounds to say that Adolph Krenzler didn't give America's Preacher the respect he deserved...
Speaking of common blues, Krenzler realized, he had gone to sleep in his work clothes again, the same clothes he'd put on at 6:00 am Saturday morning before the mandatory half day of work. Fucking liberals still cried over the loss of the forty-hour workweek, but as far as Krenzler was concerned –
Krenzler lost his train of thought, puzzled at how stubborn the top button of his shirt was this morning. No, it wasn't the button; his fingers somehow felt wrong. How much had he drunk last night? Or maybe it wasn't the booze; maybe he'd busted a knuckle bashing on those gay guys last night...
Krenzler glanced at his hands, then froze in shock. They looked weird, unbalanced... somehow malformed. Looking more closely, taking his time, Krenzler realized that his left hand was fine; it was his right hand that was strange; and it was strange because...
Krenzler shook his head, trying to process what he saw.
Two of his fingers were missing: His ring finger and his pinkie.
There were bloody stumps, no oozing wounds; his hand looked perfectly intact, as if it had always been this way. It looked like the three-fingered hands of the aliens in that invasion movie he'd loved watching as a kid. He's loved how the gray hand fell limply from an open hatch on the side of the spaceship at the end; a limp wrist and a three-fingered had that was slender and...
And looked like his left hand looked now.
Krenzler shut his eyes, shook his head, willed himself to wake up. This was that damn dream, the one with the bristly, sketchy figure; a slapdash drawing made with charcoal strokes, an outline not filled in right. Krenzler looked around wildly for a moment, as if expecting to see the monstrous shape.
But he was alone. And he wasn't sleeping. He was awake.
"This can't be happening," Krenzler said aloud. He turned his hand from side to side, staring intently, waiting for the trick of light to stop fooling his eyes. Then he reached over with his right hand and felt: One, two three; a thumb, an index finger, a fuck you finger. And then nothing. A smooth blade of bone covered with skin.
Krenzler jumped up, staggered across his bedroom to the mirror, and looked at himself in alarm, wondering if anything else had gone missing. But no: He was all there, present and accounted for.
"I'll be damned," Krenzler said to his reflection. He held up his hand, looking to see if its reflection was also slender and alien and incomplete; it was. "I'll be a god damned son of a bitch," Krenzler said, the whole world feeling out of kilter and yet horribly real.
Krenzler kept calm and acted in a methodical fashion. He was going to have to wrestle his way out of his work clothes and take a shower before going to see Doc Joe at the free clinic. He didn't dare step outside his apartment looking the way he'd woken up looking, not on a Sunday morning. Saturday night was one thing – the security guys overlooked bloody shirts and busted lips and screaming queers; a little chaos was to be expected at the end of the week. But come Sunday morning all was to be in good order, and he was far from presentable. Sticky dark stains juddered across his clothing where the faggots' blood had spattered; there was a streak of blood in his hair, and speckles of dried blood formed constellations over one eye. Was any of it is own blood? The shower's cold water took it all off, and there was no sign of any cut or gash anywhere. Krenzler anxiously surveyed every centimeter of his skin, standing in front of the mirror again once he was scrubbed clean. Aside from the fingers, everything seemed in order.
Krenzler put on his good blue shirt along with a fresh pair of blue trousers. It wasn't easy with his hand being the way it was, but he managed. Then he left his apartment, walked down the stairs to the street, and tried to remember where he'd parked the truck. He scanned the street with quick movements. His monthly payments on the truck were more than for his tiny, shitty apartment, so that had better not also have disappeared along with his fingers.
Finally, he remembered walking home from the lot in front of the old supermarket. That was where he had parked the night before. The place was a drug den now days, but he doubted the junkies would have bothered his truck. He'd beaten up enough of them that they steered well clear of him and anything to do with him. Despite his anxiety, Krenzler smiled at the thought: It was good to be king, he thought, and if being king meant kicking some asses, he was happy to claim the crown.
All in service to the King of Peace, he reminded himself.
Climbing into the truck, Krenzler thumbed the start pad and listened as the engine purred to life. The radio came on, too; Pastor Klemca was already on the air, his thundering, angry voice accusing the usual perpetrators: Women, fags, liberals, any number of skin tones that descended in rapidly degenerating order from Aryan white to sixty degrees of dirt on the rainbow flag of decadence.
Ain't nothing in this world you can count on, Krenzler told himself, except Paster Klemca and President Kirsch. The rest are grasping careerists and gaping assholes...
But that wasn't quite right, either. Paster Klemca sounded strange. Had he developed a lisp? Was he going funny? No; not Klemca. He must have a bad tooth or something, Krenzler told himself.
Gripping the wheel tightly with his intact hand, Krenzler managed to both steer and work the radio volume. When needed, he managed to activate the turn signal. He made his way to the free clinic, listening to Paster Klemca's sermon and nodding along as though keeping time to one of those diabolical dance songs the faggots liked so much. A memory flashed suddenly before Krenzler's eyes: Clear and specific, it stood out from the rest of the night, which was an alcoholic blur. He'd bashed one of the faggots against the bar's brick wall in time to the thumping music. When the faggot's boyfriend had grabbed Krenzler's arm, shrieking and gibbering, Krenzler had dished him out a brutal beating, again in time to the loud gay music. The music was revolting, but it covered the noise of their screams as he beat them both to pulp.
Had they died?
Krenzler didn't know, but he smiled thinking they might have.
The clinic was just ahead, to the left. Krenzler pulled into its small parking lot, which was already full of vehicles, and looked for a parking spot. He saw one in a corner near the building and managed to fit his truck into the space, though barely. He'd driven truck and worked loaders and operated all sorts of earth moving machinery, so the parking job, which would have been impossible for anyone else under the circumstances, took him a few minutes of careful maneuvering.
Doctor Joe was an atheist, which is why he could operate his clinic on Sundays. It was proof positive that there was such a thing as freedom of religion in America, no matter what those bozos in Canada and Mexico and other overseas places said. Atheists could be arrested if they insulted religion, or anyone's feelings of faith, and the phrase "I don't believe in God" had been enough to land more than one of those miscreants in jail for a good long time. But Doctor Joe was careful about how he framed his belief system – that was what he called it – and besides, he was performing a vital community service, so the cops didn't bust his place up... or bust him up, either.
Krenzler had always had a grudging respect for Doctor Joe. He had tried never to go and see him – he was still a doctor, whatever his other qualities might be, and Krenzler hated doctors – but when he had seek medical care, well, he had to. He wouldn't have survived appendicitis without Doctor Joe and the free clinic. The scar running from the corner of his mouth to halfway up his cheek, from that time a tough faggot had slashed him with a broken beer bottle, would have been a lot worse without Doctor Joe and the free clinic. Some people in the town called the clinic a Marxist disgrace and talked about burning the place down, but Krenzler's aunt had gone there for the last years of her life and Doctor Joe had always made sure she got the medicines she needed. That, plus the fact that anyone who could actually get hold of medicine must have some pretty impressive connections, was enough for Krenzler to use his sway with the local guys and make sure nothing happened to the clinic or the doctor.
And now here he was, less bloody than the time he'd had his face laid open... any of the several times, actually... but probably in deeper trouble than ever before.
Doctor Joe was in, as he always was on Sunday mornings, and he was just escorting an old woman out when Krenzler barreled up to the clinic's entrance. Pausing to let the old woman shuffle past him, Krenzler held up his hand and started babbling. He was surprised at his own flood of panic, and the way his voice quavered and broke as he tried to explain the problem.
Doctor Joe escorted Krenzler right into the exam room – he knew, of course, how much Krenzler did to protect him – and had Krenzler roll his shirt sleeve up. The doctor examined his hand, having him raise his arm and turn his hand in all sorts of directions. Finally – after asking permission, and then repeating the request so as to ensure that they both understood he wasn't gay and wasn't taking liberties – Doctor Joe took hold of Krenzler's wrist and begin to feel his hand.
Krenzler gritted his teeth at the indignity of another man holding his hand... touching him at all, in fact... but he was in a doctor's office and no one else was there to see., so he let it pass.
Finally, Doctor Joe sat back in his rolling chair, a puzzled frown on his face. "You say this happened when?"
"Last night. Or overnight. Or maybe early this morning. Definitely early this morning, because I didn't get to sleep until probably about three o'clock. But it was fine last night, is what I'm telling you."
"You had all five fingers last night," Doctor Joe said.
"Yes, of course I did! But they're gone today."
"Not just gone," Doctor Joe told him. "It's like they never existed. There's no scarring no incision, no injury. It's like you were born with your hand this way."
"Yeah, but I wasn't," Krenzler protested.
Doctor Joe looked like was uncertain whether that was true.
"I wasn't, doc! Look, you know me. You've seen me here before. You've seen my hands, right?" Doctor Joe had seen all of him, even his private parts after he'd gotten some nasty bug from that woman a couple years back. No wonder she was screaming so much, telling him no and stop. He had thought she was being insolent, but maybe she was trying to warn him about what a nasty tramp she was.
"I never noticed anything unusual about your hand on those other occasions," the doctor said slowly, "and I am pretty observant. I have to be. Still, if there was no reason to focus on your hands, I could have been so busy that I simply didn't notice..."
"But that's what I'm telling you, doc! Even if you don't know, I sure do. My hand was fine before! It was never this way – not until this morning!"
"Yes, okay, I see," Doctor Joe nodded, but Krenzler could see that he didn't believe him.
"But doc, I know my own body, I know myself, and I'm telling you!"
Doctor Joe was still nodding, still not believing him.
"Look, what can I do?" Krenzler asked, trying to keep the panic and shrill tearfulness out of his voice. He needed to be taken seriously. He needed to sound like a man.
"I don't know what to tell you," Doctor Joe said, shrugging. "I'm a doctor. I treat injuries and diseases. As far as I can tell, your hand is exactly the way it should... I mean," the doctor corrected himself, seeing how Krenzler was glaring at him, "exactly the way it's always been. And if it works for you, if you've gotten through life fine so far, then there's no real need to change anything. Is there?"
Krenzler bit down hard on his anger. "I'm not bio seeking," he said. "I'm not looking to get a prosthetic or get stem cells therapy." The former was reserved for soldiers hurt in the war – well, soldiers from good families, anyway – and the latter was illegal, though there were underground purveyors of such treatments. Pro athletes – hell, even college athletes – got smashed knees and even whole hands re-grown on the sly. Not common people like Krenzler, though he had heard murmurs that Doctor Joe wasn't above trading in a little stem cell regen here and there.
"I didn't say you were," Doctor Joe told him. "I just wonder if maybe you're not remembering quite correctly what your hand was like before? Just because," he added hurriedly, before Krenzler could tear into him for calling him a liar, "just because what you're telling me is flat-out impossible. Or else an act of God... an honest to goodness miracle."
"Thought you didn't believe in that," Krenzler said angrily.
"I don't." Doctor Joe looked at Krenzler's hand again. "But let's say I did. Why would any higher power make your fingers vanish?"
"Yeah," Krenzler said, the wind taken out of his sails. Maybe it was God, he thought. That... or else the Devil? It made more sense that the Devil was targeting him for all his good and righteous work, his hard work clobbering queers. No, God wouldn't punish him like this, but the Devil? The Devil surely would.
Which meant that God was standing back and watching, testing, seeing what his loyal servant would do next.
So, Krenzler didn't beat up Doctor Joe Anyway, the poor schmuck didn't understand the ways of Supreme Good and Supreme Evil. The final battle was coming between the two elemental forces, and this miracle of the missing fingers was a sure sign.
Krenzler decided he would have to see a different sort of doctor – a doctor of the soul.
"What do you mean he won't see me?" Krenzler demanded of the receptionist at Right Think Ministries Radio. The radio station was nothing like what Krenzler would have expected: It was in an office building right downtown. The reception area was small and dingy. Somehow, Krenzler had expected a gleaming state-of-the-art building on its own campus, together with a host of other buildings, as befit a multi-media empire like the one Paster Klemca always talked about having on his radio sermons.
At least there was a security guy sitting on a folding chair in the corner. Krenzler nodded with approval. How could anyone take a Warrior of Christ seriously if he didn't have a guard posted at the entrance?
"Pastor Klemca is very busy with his latest book, which is on deadline," the receptionist, who had straight blonde hair, told him. She wore a tight-fitting red sheath dress, which Krenzler thought might not be quite appropriate for a respected preacher's receptionist – or even for an office building which, to judge from the business names listed on the directory on the wall, also housed publications like Steel Rod and outfits of uncertain character like Best Repped Secrets.
But then, what did Krenzler know about it? Pastor Klemca was a man of the cloth, a righteous man, and he reminded his listeners often of how closely he managed every aspect of his ministry, his publishing house, his cable television network, and his radio station. Surely he knew what was best.
And anyway, Krenzler thought to himself as he walked outside and crossed the parking lot to his truck, someone like Pastor Klemca, who had so many irons in the fire, had to be enormously busy. Why would he make time to see some nobody who came wandering in off the street?
But in his truck, resting his wrist against the steering wheel and staring at his ruined hand, Krenzler reconsidered. A man of God should want to know what the Devil was getting up to, shouldn't he? And he'd been so close... so close. The building directory had listed Pastor Klemca's studio and office suite as being right there on the first floor, no doubt behind the blank wooden doors that were visible beyond the receptionist's desk, just past a bank of two elevators.
Krenzler marched back into the building and to the receptionist's desk. The woman looked up at him with the same blank smile as before. Didn't she recognize him? It hadn't even been six minutes since he'd left.
"I know the pastor has a million other things to do," Krenzler said, holding up his hand to show her. "But I wanted to be sure and let him see what the Devil has done to me. I mean... I'm out there every week, every day, doing God's work, just like Pastor says we should be doing if we love Jesus and hate sinners. Does that buy me just two minutes with him? Two minutes to hear his advice, maybe receive a prayer of healing?"
The receptionist stared, wide-eyed at his hand. Then: "Mister, I don't know that Pastor or anyone could help you with that. I mean, if it was God's will that you should be punished at birth – "
Krenzler bit hard on his tongue to stop himself screaming obscenities at her. Like Doctor Joe, she assumed that his hand must always have been just as it was now. He didn't blame her for not understanding; he didn't understand, himself. But it did rankle him that she thought he must have deserved to be maimed. Naturally, God punished children for the sins of their parents; Pastor Klemca spoke about that often when he explained why people born with the Mark of Cain didn't deserve the same rights as blameless white folks. They were still paying off the debt of the world's first murderer, who slew his brother, Abel, out of jealousy and spite.
Still, Krenzler almost berated the receptionist for the suggestion that he could have borne any guilt. He had enough of a rational brain to understand, though, that the security guy standing in the corner of the vast, vaulted reception area would react strongly to a raised voice or to cursing – react with gunfire, perhaps. That was, after all, the law: If someone came into your house and started raising a ruckus, it was proper and legal to stand our ground on their ass,
It cost him: Krenzler could feel how white his face must be with rage, could feel the start of an intense headache coming on as pent-up rage pounded through him. But he said nothing; he simply turned around and left the building once more.
The guys at work, unlike Pastor Klemca or Doctor Joe, knew for a fact that his hand had been fine just a couple of days ago. No one could work at the machine shop without having two perfectly functional hands.
Still, Krenzler intended to try. He needed to do his job and earn money. The recent wage cuts – dictated by the company's board of directors – coupled with the recent surge in prices made it hard to afford even the basics. Krenzler had no time or financial breathing room to sit him and feel sorry for himself.
He repeated that thought as he marched onto the work floor, finding pride in his own determination. And if the guys gave him any guff? Well, he'd sort them out one way or another.
Less than half an hour later, Krenzler's resolve had wilted. Tasks that had once been fast, simple, and automatic were now impossible. The foreman had started scowling in his direction less than twelve minutes into the shift; before fifteen minutes had elapsed, he had swaggered over to where Krenzler was working, his face a twisted mask of fury.
Just that easily, Krenzler was out of work. No one spoke up for him; no one even commented on the state of his hand.
Krenzler walked to his truck, wondering if he could slash the foreman's tires without being observed by the security cameras. He knew that he couldn't.
The rest of the week was a matter of getting though, day by day. Krenzler worked his contacts and acquaintances, looking for a job. No one had any suggestions, nor did anyone seem to want to discuss the strange evil that had befallen him. Perhaps, like the receptionist, they believed that Krenzler had brought it on himself.
Krenzler knew better. When sinners found themselves short a few fingers or without a job, it was punishment. But a righteous man like himself? For him, such hardships could only be a test. Krenzler reminded himself every hour to stand up tall and go about his business knowing he was entirely justified.
But come Saturday night, he was feeling low and hopeless. He was also feeling angry and mean. Krenzler didn't even preface his gay hunting with a pointless stop at his usual bar; he just went straight to the faggot club and waited in the shadows of the parking lot. Pretty soon he had his sights set on his quarry.
"Hey big fella," the laughing little queen said as Krenzler strode up to him. The kid was more than a foot shorter than Krenzler and probably forty-two kilos lighter. Beating him up wouldn't satisfy his hunger for hurt, but it would make for a fine appetizer.
Sunday morning dawned much as it had a week earlier: With Krenzler lying fully dressed across his bed, his common blues an atlas of suffering. Continents of blood separated by expanses of blue: That was his shirt.
"Gonna have to do laundry," Krenzler yawned, looking at where the blood from his shirt had stained the bedsheets.
Something about the blood... its color, the shape of the smears... tickled his mind.
It was that damned dream gain, Krenzler realized. The sketchy man had been back, his voice a raspy sing-song as he recited a nursery rhyme. Or was it a football chant? Something about "crying" and "trying" and... "How ya gonna get it now." Something like that. Krenzler couldn't remember anything more.
Krenzler shook off the dream and the prickly sense of unease that it left him with. Surveying the rust-red smears on the white sheets, wondering if he could find some bleach, he shook his right hand, which had done all the pummeling the night before. His hand felt sore, or maybe sprained. Frowning at the rusty stains, Krenzler reached down to pull the sheet off the bed, thinking he might get to the laundromat after Paster Klemca's radio service, which was due to start in just a few minutes.
Krenzler froze in shock as he realized that his right hand was now a smooth, shiny knob. No fingers; no thumb; no wide, flat palm; just a truncation at the wrist, an impossible and feeble-looking roundness that gleamed like a bald head.
"What the fuck!" Krenzler cried out. The words were not matched by action; he sat stock still for long moments, the air vibrating around him with a terrible intensity. The world suddenly felt too real, too large, too heavy...
And too airless. Krenzler got to his feet, still staring at the stump where his right hand had been, and staggered across the room toward the window. He'd let some cool air in, he thought; he'd clear his head and see that this was his eyes playing tricks, or he'd wake up and laugh at the realism of the nightmare...
His right arms pushed at the windowsill, the right stump pressed into the pane. His left stump, as well.
Wait: His left stump?
Yes: Now that Krenzler looked, he saw that the remainder of his ravaged left hand was now gone, as well.
Two stumps, round and pale. Not a scratch anywhere. No cutting, no mark from a knife or an axe. His hands were simply gone, leaving unbroken skin behind.
Not knowing what else to do, Krenzler reached for the radio. He dropped it twice as he tried to pin the plastic box between the round nubs of his wrists, but finally he hoisted the radio to his face and turned the old-fashioned knob with his teeth. The radio came to life. The broadcast was already in progress, but it didn't sound like Paster Klemca. Or rather, it did; it was his voice; but the words were garbled. Was he speaking a foreign language? Krenzler would never have believed it. English was good enough for patriots and true believers. English was the language of Christ, after all, and the heathens had better just learn it if they wanted to be saved by the Words of God!
Even if the words made no sense, Pastor Klemca's tone of voice communicated everything. Rage! Aggrievement! Vengeance!
Yeah, Krenzler thought. Yeah. I want vengeance, too. The faggots did this to me. Every time I beat a few of them down I end up missing more of me. There's no doubt about it, they are behind my pain, my misery, my poverty, my suffering...
Of course they were! Krenzler looked up, as though seeing a map to life itself. There was holiness and the precincts of the holy, that rare preserve where the truly righteous would have everything their imaginations could comprehend or invent. And then there was the fallen world of men. And then there was the pit of depravity, which was where the unclean belonged: Faggots, fornicators, feminists...
The Devil might think I'm done, Krenzler told himself, holding up his tapered, truncated arms. But I'm not. Oh, no, I'm not.
How Krenzler got though the next week was a mystery to him. Surely it was God extending some small crumb of mercy that the landlord – or at least the building's AI supervisor – didn't throw him out when the rent came due and his bank balance couldn't cover it. Surely it was manna that fed him in the form of crackers that he found in the cupboard – first one box, then two, then four.
Miracles and suffering, Krenzler thought, crunching on the dry, tasteless crackers, crumbs filling his beard and dropping to the floor. Miracles and suffering.
When Saturday night arrived, he didn't have money for drinks at a bar, but he didn't want to drink anyway. He wanted to beat, to stomp, to kill!
The sketchy man was saying something. A Bible verse? A poem? Something with "these" and "thous" and "shalts." Something about damnation...
The sketchy man was leaning too close, his bristly head threatening to scratch Krenzler's cheek. Light bled through tiny gaps in his stacked-stick body, his blank, misshapen face – or rather, the mass of dark twigs that wove together in a rough approximation of a face...
The raspy voice continued as the sketchy man bounced, as if in time to a song. The distant strains of a dance song came to Krenzler's ears, threaded faintly with the cries of the faggots he'd bashed with is ruined arms, stomped with his booted feet...
Krenzler was in the parking lot, a squealing fag under his feet. Stomping, the sound of his boots resounding like a gong. Stomping, with bones breaking. Stomping...
And the sketchy man was dancing beside him, jumping for joy, urging him on. His arid voice became crisp and clear as a bell as he said, "Do it, laddie, do it well. Do it, laddie, dwell in Hell!"
Stomping. Gonging. A vast, deep-throated bell ringing from some unseen cathedral. A pounding in his head...
A pounding at the door. That's what it was. Krenzler woke up, feel tense and anxious. The room was dim in Sunday morning's grey, pre-dawn light.
The pounding was fast and hard and sounded vicious. Krenzler sighed and steeled himself. It could only be the building's manager coming for the overdue rent. Krenzler didn't have it. He knew he was about to find himself on the street for real, another homeless asshole, another loser.
"Christ, give me strength," he prayed in a whisper. "See me through, and I will kill in your name, in your honor, this I sweat as your Holy Warrior..."
The prayer evaporated into the dim air as the pounding grew faster, harder, meaner. Krenzler tried to ignore it, but the pounding only grew louder. He turned over, groaning, and tried to push himself up to a sitting position using both his diminished arms. But he couldn't, and a moment later he realized why: He had no arms. No stumps, no knobs, nothing; his arms had vanished entirely, all the way to the shoulders.
Krenzler rolled off the bed and stumbled, almost falling to the floor but managing to stay on his feet. He rushed to the mirror to see.
The sleeves of his blue shirt hung limp and empty.
"God damn it!" Krenzler cried out, forgetting himself.
The pounding at the door stopped and then the sound of the bolt sliding back came to his years. Someone was using an override key to open the door.
Krenzler turned to face the door, unsure of what he was going to do to defend himself and his home.
The building manager was a tiny, crabbed man. The cop standing behind him was not tiny; he was as tall and powerful as Krenzler himself. They both walked into the apartment and glared at Krenzler as he stood by the mirror, wild eyed and beside himself.
Krenzler was almost in a frame of mind to take them on, even missing his arms, but before he could so much as make a move the cop stepped forward and tased him. "Best just get this over with," the cop said, slinging Krenzler's limp body over his shoulder and carrying him down to the street.
Krenzler didn't even try to operate his truck. Without hands he'd been unable to open the door locks, much less try to work the steering wheel.
But he still had two good legs. It took him a couple of hours to walk all the way to Pastor Klemca's building, but rage carried him there by the time the Sunday morning broadcast was set to begin.
It was still early, but the blonde woman was on duty, this time wearing a blue sheath dress. Krenzler glanced around furtively and didn't see any security guys, just the empty folding chair in the corner of the shabby reception area. Maybe they were between shifts?
"Can I help you?" the woman asked.
"Is Pastor Klemca broadcasting this morning?" Krenzler asked.
She smiled. "Why, it's so good of you to come all the way into the city to ask in person," she said. "So many people have called and sent messages to ask if Pastor is feeling all right. He won't be in the studio today – "
"He won't?" Krenzler asked, alarmed.
"No, there'll be a repeat of one of his earlier shows," she told him. "Like when he goes to Uganda for his vacation very summer."
"He's on vacation?" Krenzler couldn't believe it. There was only one thing that could help him now – Pastor Klemca's healing touch, his prayer of power – but he couldn't get to Uganda for it.
"No, I'm sorry, what I mean is...' The receptionist took a breath and started over again. "Pastor Klemca is meeting important people today. He doesn't have time for the Sunday broadcast. But he's in prefect health. He wanted me to be sure to tell all is well-wishers that. And he – Wait!" she cried, as Krenzler started walking, heading past her desk toward the offices beyond the lobby.
"I've got to see him," Krenzler said. "He's here, isn't he? You just said he was meeting people?"
"Yes, he's in his office, but you can't go in there." The woman tried to step in his way, but Krenzler brushed her aside. Even in his diminished state he was a strong man.
"I'm calling security!" she called after him.
Krenzler shrugged. At least his shoulders still worked. At least he still had shoulders. But what would happen if he waited another week? What would happen if he waited even one more day?
Krenzler had beaten three men with his ruined arms the night before, had stomped them with his booted feet. He hadn't taken his boots off in a week... or any of the rest of his clothes... because he couldn't manage it without fingers. He'd barely managed to work his clothing in a way that let him use the bathroom, but it was a laborious process.
He was tired of his dirty, bloody common blues. He was tired of the boots that cramped his feet and made them hot. He was tired of losing himself piece by piece. Pastor Klemca had to see, had to hear, had to lay healing hands on him. Jesus had to see, hear, and heal him. They had to, they had to!
A door opened ahead of him. A white-shirted security guy stepped out. Krenzler barreled up and plowed him over, getting through the door before it could close again. The security guy tried to climb back to his feet, but Krenzler felled him with a kick to the jaw, flashing back to how he's done the exact same thing to his victims the night before. "Warrior of God!" he cried aloud, triumphant. Then he pivoted and started back into the office, toward the desk where Pastor Klemca sat, his signature burr of white hair like a beacon atop his florid, jowly face...
The desk was large and made of wood. Two comfortable-looking chairs stood before it. The sight grew larger in Krenzler's eyes as he neared the pastor, who sat looking at him with dark, inexpressive eyes...
Krenzler stopped short and stared. His head swam.
"No," he whispered. "No – no – no...!"
Pastor Klemca stared at him, not moving from the chair.
He had his arms; he had his hands.
But he had no mouth. There was just a smooth, taut expanse of skin under his nose and above his chin.
Because, the scratchy, sticks-rubbing-on-sticks voice of the sketchy man rasped in his ears, he used his mouth to hurt and kill. Just as you used your hands. And then your stumps. And now your feet.
Suddenly, Krenzler grew shorter; suddenly a sharp pain shot through his ankles.
Because his feet had disappeared, he realized, and the full weight of his body fell onto the stumpy nubs in which his legs ended.
Instinctively, Krenzler tried to take a step, regain his balance; instantly, he toppled over, his boots falling to the side, the round stumps of his ankles emerging from his trouser cuffs as he tumbled to the floor.
Lying on the carpet, staring up, Krenzler cried out, "Pastor! Pastor, can't you help me?"
There was a rustling of leather and a creak from the chair, and then Pastor Kremca's red face peered at him from over the desk.
Krenzler looked up at Pastor Klemca, his eyes hopeful. "I'm a Warrior of God," he pleaded. "Like you. Please, don't leave me to Satan's mercy!"
The pastor shrugged, his mouthless face working, his chin moving as though he was trying to speak. Then the pastor raised his arms as if in praise or benediction...
Or, Krenzler realized with a wave of crushing despair, in a shrug.
The pastor sank back, his face disappearing, obscured by the desk. The sound of his body falling heavily into the chair came to Krenzler's ears.
So did the raspy laughter of the sketchy nightmare man.
Next week we delve into the secret diary of a young man living in a world much like our own: A world where teachers are forced, by law, to out students like himself... students who can tell you "All the Secrets in the World."
Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.