Monday, October 10, 2011

FICTION: No More Stories by David Parchment

Blake looked at the corpses of the Feedback as he wiped the noise off of his jeans. These ones were just a little bit bigger than the ones before, much like the previous batch. He kneeled down to get a closer look, poking its television-screen-in-interference body with his boney sword. It had a humanoid body, limbs and all, but these ones looked slightly bloated, with extra noise around their stomachs. There'd been more of these guys than when he started this extracurricular activity, Blake was sure of it.

Croix turned to Blake, his majestic, shining armor spotless. His eyes suggested that he had a similiar question. Blake shrugged and continued to poke at the Feedback's body, turning it over to reveal its expressionless face.

"I swear, there's more of these guys," Blake said, putting Thanatos back into its sheath on his back. "They're fatter, too."

"Maybe our enemy's gotten stronger, from behind the scenes," Croix mused, similarly sheathing his Durandal to his hip. "Perhaps another leader is coming."

"It doesn't really feel like a boss rush." Blake scratched his short, curly hair. "Though it'd be a real pain if one popped up."

"Perhaps Mr. Steel knows." Croix had curled finger under his chin, losing himself in thought.

Blake had already asked Mr. Steel. A few times, actually. The first time, "it's simply your imagination, do not concern yourself with it, fight harder." The second time, "the demons must be feeding on the malice of this town even more than ever. Fight on." This might not end. They'd been fighting the Feedback for a year now without knowing what they were or what they wanted, and now they seemed to be multiplying even faster.

Something seemed wrong.

"If they come in greater numbers, though," Croix said, a smile on his face, "we'll knock them back."

"I hear that!" Blake slapped Croix a high five. He always looked taken aback when they did that.

"Shall we depart?" Croix stepped over a particularly large corpse, one that had nearly wounded him as he and Blake fought back to back. Blake nodded with a grin.

"I bet you know where we're going." Blake started down the street.

Croix groaned in mock contempt.


"Garbage, garbage, garbage." Blake picked up and put back at least ten titles. From the corner of his eye, he could see the comic store owner cringe. His fault, Blake thought, for carrying such trash.

Croix rolled his eyes.

Then, Blake saw something that caught his eye, beneath the cheesecake covers of well endowed superheroines and high school girls. The cover simply had kid with a radio on it, determination on his face. The title screamed "RADIO FREE" in block capitals.

"Dude, I've heard of this! It's really popular online." Blake's yell turned the heads of the shop owner and the old lady in the other aisle. "It's about this guy, see, and he's in love with this girl, but she'll only go out with him if he gets one thousand listeners on his independent radio channel."

"She sounds pretty mean." Croix vacantly looked at the wall.

"Well, yeah, but she really wants to see him make something of himself. Along the way, other girls come after him, and other guys go after her, and there's some great romantic tension. Then, his radio broadcast starts to reach other worlds, and - "

"Now it just sounds cheesy." Croix shook his head. "Why would you waste your time reading this stuff, anyway? Fiction has nothing to do with reality. Books are just vicarious acts of voyeurism that retard actual action."

Blake couldn't argue with his friend like he couldn't argue with the valedictorian. Croix was both.

"Hey man, I don't knock on your hobbies, alright?"

"All of my hobbies are productive."

Blake couldn't say anything to that. He sighed and put the comic back onto its shelf, nestling its previous home between two pairs of breasts. Croix would never go for comic books. Blake scanned the shelves for something that might draw Croix's interest, that might pull him out of his shell – maybe something about fencing, or loving Jesus, or something - but to no avail.

A majestic chorus, singing Hallelujah, filled the shop. Croix pulled out his phone and put it to his ear, nodding and giving confirmatory grunts.

"I'll be right there, sir." Croix flipped his phone closed and put it back into his pocket.


"Mr. Steel. I've got to meet with him now." Croix turned to leave.

"Hey, I'll come with you."

"He told me to come alone. Sorry, I'm not sure why." Croix left the store he had no business with in the first place. Blake blinked. Croix rarely refused company, and Blake rarely refused his. Unless he wanted to drag him to church or something. Shaking his head, not wanting to think about it, Blake picked up another comic book and flipped through it, careful not to bend the pages.


Blake's family sat on the couch, eyes stuck on the television. A singer drew attention in the center of the screen, belting out an off key number to the appalation of the unsympathyzing judges.

Blake's sister laughed and pointed. "Ain't I a much better singer than that?"

"Yeah!" Blakes mother agreed. "You should go on the show next time."

Blake's sister beamed.

"Imagine that," Blake's father said. "A Johnson girl, on TV."

Blake passed them by as he walked to his room, moving nonchalantly past the television set. His sister scowled at him, then looked back to the television.

"Dinner's in the fridge," his mother said, pointing to the kitchen. A cursory glance revealed that no one had cleaned up the cat puke decorating the white tile in the kitchen's entrance.

He grunted a response, something that could almost be a word in some distant language. His family quickly forgot about him and went back to laughing at the TV, now gawking at a handsome young man emitting nails on a chalkboard. The snide European judge insulted his style of dress just as Blake closed his door.

He took a deep breath when he got into his room, then threw down his bag next to his bad katana. He overshot, and his bag collided with its sheath, relocating it to the floor. Blake groaned and replaced it in its awkward stand, wondering why he still kept the thing. Its sheath was made of the lowest quality wood possible, and the blade hadn't even been folded. It was clearly made in China, but you tend to keep your first sword around, from when you just thought fencing was cool. After replacing the bad katana, he looked up at his good katana, held up on a display above his dresser. Two stacks of quality comics - all highly well reviewed and award winning within the comics blogosphere -

flanked it, inviting the spirits of excellence to dwell in his room.

Today, though, he didn't want to stroke the - allegedly - sacred oak of his good katana's sheath, or pull it out to admire the blade's sheen and have to immediately clean it with rice paper. Croix kept popping into his mind. Blake turned to the old French longsword hanging over his desk. He wondered,as he leaned in closer to see its inscription - Rachat - if Croix took as good care of his English broadsword. No, he didn't have to wonder. Croix definitely took better care of it.

Blake plopped down to his desk and laid out his homework. Lame Algebra, some vague literature assignment due tommorow he'd have to bullshit, and a lab report for one he didn't attend. He pulled out a piece of paper and wrote a very clear number one in the margin. He wrote his name. He looked at the picture on his desk, the one of him and Croix holding up the '12 Washington State Fencing Championship trophy. The really big one, with the two guys in full battlegear poking each other's faces with epees.

He threw over his almost blank sheet of paper and reached for a comic. "Midnight Sun," an action sci fi story with highly developed characters and a classic plot. Freedom fighters must gather together to overthrow an oppressive technotheocracy by channeling the latent power of the earth and combining it with new age quantum physical machines that take the shape of humanoid walking tanks. It had a bit of cheesecake, but Blake had to admit he liked it that way.

He flipped through it, finding himself laughing at its genuinely funny moments, and at its predictability. He had just gotten to the first issue's climax when his cell rang.

Croix's number.

"Hey." Blake's stomach began to growl, but he didn't notice.

"There's something I've gotta show you. Meet me in the Fold outside of Mr. Steel's bookstore."

He sounded urgent. When Croix had something to share, Blake knew, it was usually something important. He dropped his book and headed out immediately, passing a tearful recap of failed contestants on television on his way out.


Blake hated going into the Fold. He hated it when it first happened, when he stumbled into it on the way home one day, when he felt the sickly gel coursing through his body, like he was stepping through some creature's membrane. And now, he had stepped once again into the world of black and white, of constant static. The sky above him screamed with snowy noise, resembling ants playing soccer.

Feedback must be near.

"Blake." Croix stood in front of Mr. Steel's bookstore, sitting casually on the edge of its quaint little flower garden up front. He wore his full armor and had his sword at his side.

"I'm not going to mince words, Blake. I need you in on this. I need you to help me." His eyes held no humor in them.

Blake shifted his leg to the left. His knees began to tremble, but no one could see it.

"We've been causing this, Blake. We're behind the enemy's increase."

A freeze. The cold, black world turned frigid. Blake's pupils shrank as he stared at Croix's calm visage, wondering where his friend went.


"It's been us this whole time. With every enemy we slay, we create more imbalance, which in turn produces more of them." Croix looked up into the swirling, snowy sky, as if looking for stars in its depth.

"Croix, there have been more and more incidents with people dying, if we don't - "

"It's fine."

Blake would've dropped something if he could. He stared at Croix, whose eyes now held his old fire. Croix stood up.

"This is what we need."

"You're kidding."

"Do you know what Mr. Steel told me? Do you know where the Feedback comes from?" Croix stood slow steps towards Blake, his shining armor contrasting everything else in the world. "Us. Humans. Our confused, sinful little minds. Every one of them. They're our creations. Literally."

Blake backpedalled, a lump growing in his throat. His sneakers crushed tiny, snowy pebbles underfoot as he shifted through the pavement.

"I'm not sure I follow..."

"Human beings have always made stories, stories that give us meaning, stories that make sense of our world." Croix unsheathed his sword, the Durandal glinting with radiance in the greying scenery.

He drew closer to Blake, now looming before him on the sidewalk.

"The Epic of Gilgamesh. God-man seeks immortality, seeks to defeat death itself." Croix tore his sword through a power line, slicing off its bottom eight. It toppled over and creaked slowly down,reaching the ground with a resigned crash. Blake tripped and fell on his rump, staring up at his friend with blank eyes.

"The Old Testament. Man's God delivers his people from bondage and establishes a lasting dynasty." Croix bisected the bench next to Blake, its two halves perfectly caving into each other, joined in a dans macabre.

"The New Testament. Man's redemption arrives, and the birth of the world's most powerful religion." He slashed a lamp post this time, its burning white flame exploding on the ground intosnowy tongues. Blake crawled back, feeling the cold heat on his chest.

"The Vedas, The Noble Path, King Arthur, the Norse Cycle, the Talmud, The Cantebury, the body of Shakespeare, the Tale of Genji, the Romance of the Three Kingdoms!" He cut through everything he could find, chairs, windows, doors, the expensive cups and plates of the coffee shop, mannequins of clothes stores, display books. Everything.

"Yet human beings never stopped creating stories, even when they had run their course. Even with the truth before them, they still clamored for more. And now," Croix said, holding the handle of his sword towards a prone Blake, "we have no grand narrative. No meaning."

"What?" Blake had heard Croix's crazy speeches about the moral decay of American society, and his lust for traditional values, but he usually clammed up after them and went back to being fun.

But, now...

"No narrative, no god, no guidelines, no meaning. Only infinite, empty stories and constant intercultural mingling, diluting the pot of humanity." Croix shook his head. "Every single Feedback isa byproduct of that, the feedback of lesser narratives taking up space in the collective human unconscious, chipping and tearing at our minds and made flesh."

"And...and you think that's okay?" Blake blinked, staring at the golden handle that Croix still held in front of Blake's face.

"Precisely. I hoped you'd understand what Mr. Steel and I have in mind." Croix smiled, full of righteousness.

"You can't be serious." Blake felt like depositing his stomach on the floor, onto Croix's radiant armor.

"This is the only way to restore meaning to the world. To bring back an age of miracles, of righteous men against foul demons." Croix pushed the handle closer to Blake, nearly clocking his nose. "Please, join me."

One time, Croix needed help with his Eagle Scout project. It was kind of a hard project – he wanted to renovate a house for the homeless. An entire goddamn house. Now, after he renovated it, he'd send off its management to the local nonprofits, but he wanted to restore it with his own hands, to "sweat out some virtue," as he said. May was always busy, and it wasn't quite John's thing. None of Croix's other friends wanted to do it.

To be honest, Blake didn't really care that much about the homeless. Sure, he felt bad for them when he saw them, but - out of sight, out of mind, right? He'd much rather be fencing somewhere, or reading comics, or anything.

But Croix needed help, so they both restored that damn house. None of them really knew what they were doing. Sometimes, Blake's dad - he was a carpenter - would help them out. "You've got to keep this board level, then hammer it right here." "What the hell are you doing? You can't just half ass on the foundation, the whole thing'll fall down!"

It took them a long time. It was two straight months of sweaty Eagle project, but when they looked at that ugly, ugly, tiny house with big, dumb grins on their face. When Blake turned to ask Croix how he felt, though, he saw this look in his eyes. This look of pure satisfaction and confidence, the look made it clear that Croix would've done this no matter what, no matter who didn't help him and no matter who stood in his way.

Croix had that same look now.

Blake picked himself off the ground and dusted off his dirty jeans. He looked at that handle; he really looked at it. He was never the hero. He wanted to go dick around and read comic books instead of volunteering at soup kitchens or leading groups in Christian Youth. He never sprang to help people in need like Croix did, and when he ended up helping old ladies cross the street or helping clubs clean up the school, he'd complain a little.

"I won't." Blake could feel the tears.

Croix's face fell, like he'd been one off on a lottery ticket. He retracted his sword arm and held it in front of him, taking the ready stance. His eyes screamed confidence.

"If you are not with me, you are against me." Croix budged not an inch.

"Can't there be some middle ground, man? Isn't there some other way?" Blake shook his head, with no control over his body.

"Compromise breeds weakness. Compromise got us to where we are. When man stops desiring truth, he accepts anything." Croix's muscles tensed. "Do you really want that, Blake? That void?"

"Isn't it alright, though? I, I mean, that's how things are now, can't you just be happy with what you've got?" Blake began to stammer, his arms trembling.

"How selfish. It is the duty of every human being to restore truth to the world. Can't you feel it, Blake? The emptiness of daily life, of constant consumption, of our bumbling search to find some purpose?"

"I don't think that at all, man, come on - don't we have fun? When we fence, when we hang out with John and May, when we fight back the Feedback...?" Blake shook the tears off of his face. "Sunday Smoothies, movie night, boat trips, cooking in your kitchen...Isn't that enough?"

"It's not all about fun, Blake. I honestly thought you would understand." Croix's eyes darkened, and Blake could swear he saw a single tear in his friend's eye.

Blake knew Croix intended to kill him.

Blake held out his right arm and thought morbid thoughts. Before long, Thanatos spawned in his hands, dipping through the fold in a fast, violent motion. It dripped with ectoplasmic goop, getting black all over the black floor. Blake had done this a thousand times before, but this time, he wanted to vomit.

They stood five feet away.

Blake had a thirty to seventy win ratio against Croix on the sparring grounds. Croix favored a left middle, Blake favored the right middle. In every match they had, no matter what opposite stroke they chose, it came down to speed. They had the same strength, they had mismatched skill, but that reaction time, that twitch, the energy of the swing would determine the match.

Blake would sometimes joke that they may be on opposite sides on day and have to fight, like in Glaives of Contempt. A classic.

He almost couldn't see Croix's swing, and he'd bet money that Croix had trouble with his, too.

The shining sword missed the blade of bone as it dug itself into Blake's right side, meeting a wall of hardened bones. Blake's weapon sliced into Croix's left side, crushing through its armor and leaving a deep cut of blood. Both pulled away at the same time, panting and bloody.

Blake's ability to harden bones had given him enough internal armor to survive Croix's attack, but the Durandal cut him deep. Pain shrieking right to his brain, commanding him to stay put, or get aid, or anything to stop the hurting. He couldn't, though, because Croix came right at him. Grimacing.

Croix's second attack came down towards his head in a vertical arc. Blake thrust Thanatos up vertically to block, but Croix rode the momentum from the moment their blades met and slashed down into his shoulder. Blake screamed as he toppled over.

"Join me, Blake! It doesn't have to be this way!" Tears began to form in Croix's eyes.

Croix once protested a Christian Rock concert for straying from the path of righteousness.

Blake knew he would never compromise.

"Croix, I like comics." Blake pushed himself up, blood leaking from his torso. Croix made no movement to stop him, and they both held their swords out again.

"It looks like this is the only way." Croix spoke small words, then the fire returned in his eyes.

They lunged at each other, wounds fresh and swords swinging. They both swung for the middle, and both swords collided. Durandal's shining radiance danced with Thanatos' sawteeth before the top halves of both went flying across the avenue, clattering to the ground with a dink and a clatter.

Blake blinked, but he didn't have time to, because Croix dashed towards him and kneed him in the stomach. Deep. The lunch Blake wanted to evacuate earlier nearly surfaced, kept back only by the primal rage that comes from getting hit in the abdomen. Without even thinking, he hammered his fist into Croix's handsome face, leaving a purple bruise.

Croix rained blows onto Blake, impacting his muscular arms into his lower and upper body.

With every hit Croix scored, Blake countered with another, tearing his fist through Croix's armor with the hardened bone of his knuckles.

They punched the blood out of each other, screaming under the haze of the white noise sky.

Blake grabbed Croix's hair and tore at its blonde strands, Croix punched Blake's groin and sent him needling over. The black shape grabbed the white one's neck, the white one grabbed the black's eyes.

They yelled and squeezed, the shouted and pushed. When the pain grew too much, they thrust each other away, breathing heavily as they bled out.

"Get...Get out of my way, Blake," Croix said, his breaths labored. Blake could hardly recognize him under the black eye and the face caked in blood.

"Damn it, Croix, can't you stick to nice heroics?" Blake choked out his words, clutching his stomach.

"I thought you of all people would understand." Croix nursed a bloodstained hole in his armor as he lurched over.

"I'm not like you, man. I'm not that cool." Blake lowered himself to the ground, his knees scraping against the grey pavement.

"You should be." Croix coughed up some blood.

Blake's world began to blur, and the white noise above thickened into roach-sized blobs. He could barely see Croix in front of him as his friend staggered forward, taking painful step after painful step. They both raised their arms, grunting in pain, and threw halfhearted punches. Croix got Blake's shoulder, Blake got Croix's chest. They looked at each other for a brief moment.

Croix had the faintest hint of a tear in his eye.

They both fell back, with Croix breaking his fall with his arms. Blake slammed onto the pavement, hard. The pain screaming through his body made him wish, quite frankly, that he were dead.

"You've ruined it, Blake. You've just crushed the world in your hands." Croix's words sputtered out, each fragment filling the air between bloodstained coughs. "For what? Why?"

Blake said nothing. Blood seeping out of his wounds, taking liberties with his consciousness.

He could hear Croix speak, but his words made less and less sense. He couldn't tell if he or Croix had become delirious, but he didn't think it mattered.

"No more meaning. No more stories."

Blake could piece together those words, but he couldn't divulge their meaning. As he lay on the concrete, bleeding to death, he smiled a weak smile. Mustering all of his remaining strength, he raised his trembling right arm to the sky, balled in a fist.

In the screaming silence of the void, his arm stood tall.

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