art by Jason Barnett
The noxious frying stench of the Brain Builder-Heads’ ventilating system (aka: the BB-Heads, as they were so mockingly referred to by their Leader) stank like that of some ancient and long searing, ever-present smoldering toxic-waste slag dump. It had been this way for so long that even The Leader’s Life Support System cronies (the LSS, His armed protection) perceived the stench now as a pheromone of sorts—bringing out large and pinpoint erections on them whenever the stink was heavy, getting them to more resemble the bio-stone domes that had forever now become their heads—enhancing that which lived within them. When things would get that out of control, and it came to those violent and vile forms of punishment, the LSS would just use their strange and mutated architecturalized phalluses, and take by force whomever of their choosing—the act resulting in the Dwellers down there screeching in agony, painfully shaken and forced out of the LSS steam pipe urethras—only to be crushed and suffocated in the ever-forsaken wood-oven wombs.
The Leader’s Guard, His “congress,” the pullers of the strings to a madman, as well as the planters of insidious seeds within his oddly orbital cranium (the only head of that shape) knew better however, and had been fully vaccinated through a process that lay somewhere between daily numbered injections of “unknown compounds” and the most minor of exposure therapies to their own poisons. These were never meant for the BB’s or LSS, however; they got injections of a much different sort. And not for the poisons. They were for things far worse.
The Leader held a sick fascination with observing the suffering of his followers. He took a dark erotic pleasure from watching his subjects suffer the effects of the ever-present toxins that clung even to the air molecules, and delighted in the strange and ever-altering mutagenic effects on his subjects, on top of their daily injections.
Once again, the Leader had His LSS gather all civilians together for another one of his rallies. But these meetings were never simple. Not only was there a well deserved and long festering dissension among the ranks, but also an incessant chatter of those near-invisible things that existed deep within each one of the Heads, including their Leader and his puppeteer Guard as well. These were tenderly referred to as the parasitic Dwellers, renting out their own little shoebox-room living spaces within the Building Brain-Heads structural skull psyches, carrying out all of their thought crimes. Collectively locked inside, albeit the thought crimes of over one million Dwellers at once, could be a lot to withstand. These holed-up souls screamed out for food, for knowledge, for sustenance of any kind, as long as it was not the shearing asbestos-flesh fibers that the Dwellers were forced to parasitically collect (to wholly survive off of) from the interior walls of the anguished BB’s themselves. The Dwellers tore the wretched scarlet-grey substance directly from the intracranial architectures like a rotten cotton-candy made from ill-refined intestinal matter. This substance seemed to partially replace their forever-sleeping while incessantly-awake brains.
There was so much screaming and bellowing and chattering going on (both inside and out of their gravel-scaled and misshapen heads) that most of these meetings would end in violent madness; rioting, sometimes cannibalistic throw-downs of sheer and utter chaos. Deranged public displays to sate nothing more than The Leader’s own twisted, deeply rooted repressions, largely sexual in nature. Vile acts supported by The Guard, enforced by the LSS, and which terrified the BB’s to no end, but which they were completely powerless to control.
The rallies always ended viciously. They’d get so bad, so confusing, that many of the Heads would crackle and crumble apart under the high pressured anxiety alone, the constant howls of the Dwellers inside not helping one bit, but there to service the BB-Heads collapsing upon each other like the poorly structured tenements they’d been coerced to become. Their heads and minds would smash down like poorly constructed Jenga tower high-rises, as though in a powerful San Francisco earthquake.
It was His idea, the short man with the round head in the round black spectacles. The Leader, as He liked to refer to Himself, and forced the rest to address His Highness as well. He’d put this all into action aeons ago, as His incessant rhetoric so claimed. But no one could tell anymore. Time now was a non-sequitur; had been for countless forgotten millennia. No one knew. Once indoctrinated, time was out, almost instantaneously.
The Leader, however, was merely another puppet for The Guard. A narcissistic, power-crazed and blinded Figurehead controlled without even His knowledge by The Guard, the counsel of His choosing. Historically, of course, this rift of mass madness had been forever circling the nanosphere like some kind of pit-viper waiting to strike, peering silently down with the aimed blood-point eyes of a rifle-scope, and the same forked tongue.
As The Leader approached His crowd, The Guard followed close behind, their usual scowls and smirks aimed like intense laser-beams at His back. The Leader had worn out his welcome quite some time ago. With The Guard, the LSS, and his very own civilians alike, with their skulls now and forever remembered as concrete towers (housing those horrid Dwellers), their veins running hot with the blood of molten mortar, they leered at him with the same contempt his own guardians demonstrated.
But there was one with just a bit more disregard for all of this than the others’ spite combined, assuming they even had the ability to feel antipathy, or anything for that matter, after having been subject to a lifetime of the Leader’s warped and frequent harshly imposed whims.
Her reasons were scary and legitimate: she was quite forcibly trapped somewhere she did not belong. She had no memory of ever volunteering for something like this; of how she had gotten there; nor why everyone was so hideously malformed, lurking about in the clammy and dimly lit room, their shapes suggesting they had once been human. Something was now terribly wrong with their skin and features, not to mention their minds.
Except for The Leader . . . and herself . . . mostly.
A remembrance occurred suddenly, somehow pulled down and out, from a rare dream that she could not share with the physically attached other half of her, who was too zoned out to receive and overpower her thought-dreams.
In fact, Nila had no definite memories of a time before The Leader and his New-World Disorder; not of a youth, or family, or love, pain, joy, sorrow, holidays, or even time. Just this, along with a deep inner boiling that was something akin to hate.
The Leader claimed that all had been wiped from their minds, like a flesh-compelled EMP, in the wake of the atomic destruction. He raved in fits of lunacy about the cruelty they survived, and how He had found them, raised them with The Guard. He said that they’d been there since they were children, too young to remember; that this complex in which they dwelled was once a day care center.
The bellows in the BB-Heads had already sprung into manic hyper-action, however. Hell, that would happen if a BB-Head merely rolled over in their sleep, causing a constant mass insomnia for all the Dwellers within the Heads—and for the Heads themselves. Nila learned long ago to be still. Her connected other, however, did not—and it howled and shrieked in unexpected Tourette’s-like bursts, just like the rest of these “saved” civilians.
Except for The Leader and The Guard, of course.
The Leader raised his hands and a silence hushed over the lips of the sleep deprived, the listless BB-Heads, but not the Dwellers within them. Instead, those parasites merely got louder. They could be heard as vicious little barks of confinement, befuddlement, anger and sheer pain, echoed out from inside of the Heads, louder than the loudest of BB-Heads themselves.
As The Leader stood between The Guard and the sweltering, stinking, toxic steam-billowing civilians, there was that one in particular, Nila, who refused to stare at The Leader’s ever rambling lipless mouth and his pinchy, black bespectacled face of deceit, as it filled her with such sickness and loathing. Instead, she glared at the fool to whom she’d let The Leader conjoin her with.
Oh yes, for the deliberate chromosomal damage to the BB-Heads had rendered them all sterile, with no capacity for love, empathy, or compassion (but for Nila, whose dream tingles and elusive memories—if that was indeed what they were—still seemed to be buried in there, somewhere).
Each new accidental and non-ratified birth spawned forth ever more hideous things, ever cheapening degenerations, mutating quickly away from the visions of perfection of the post-atomic shamble-world The Leader had so lovingly fed into his subjects minds and bodies (the original idea of which really came from The Guard—or, really, The Leader’s Leaders, if you will). He transformed them into virtually dysfunctional, barely mobile chunk-puddles of endlessly diseased genetic uselessness.
Nila stared viciously at the cruel crackpot joker she had involuntarily agreed to be conjoined with (been forced to, as all were) in order to try to return to the feelings of that love and compassion she once believed she felt as a child (of which she was certain she had experienced) to return to that now so long dead sixth sense of empathy.
This was a cruel ruse, all of it. Nila’s conjoined counterpart was a vague and ugly caricature of the male form. His chin was tripled, his skin pockmarked, littered with grit and flyspeck yellow, and his face bore only the sedate, affectless clown-features of a long-time, wet-brained drunkard. He never had anything nice to say or even think to her, if ever anything at all. Quite against her will she was physically and psychically attached by the head through a makeshift flesh tube that merely processed their mutual negativity round and round and round.
The birth was both accidental and non-ratified.
Nila winced in pain once again as their sloppily devolved six year old hermaphroditic child bit forcefully into her nipple, the areola bruised purple and persistently exposed and bleeding from its constant gnashing on her breast. Psychologically, this mutant (barring it lived beyond ten years, were years still counted) would always be at a mental two.
The Leader began to speak in His superior and trickily forked tongue; meaningless words belted out to the illiterate, ignorant, and almost wholly inattentive yet quiet and fatigued crowd before him.
Nila, however, was quite literate, actually intelligent, and thoughts began occurring to her in painful rushes of flash-focused bits of memory along with those damn dream tingles, as she thought of them. And growing ever more so resolved into a potent, dangerous internal wakefulness.
Her gaze drifted over to The Leader, and with each gnash of her young mutant’s gnarled teeth clamping down on her raw, shredded nipple, her Dwellers screamed louder and louder until Nila’s head began to feel awkwardly hot. Abnormally so.
As The Leader spewed his words out like the rotten vomit they were, words that meant nothing, the crowd of concrete-skulled human monsters before him just gawked in awe (as they always did) whilst He rambled on in stilted sentences and multiple intermingled languages. It all meant nothing but to advance forward in creating more synthetic sociopaths, until they were perfect, vampiric hive-minded human monstrosities of mentality and form with which to finally rule the lands outside of their former day-care-center turned nuclear-dome-cave structure of The Leader’s emancipation. It was to be His perfect society, His perfect world. Synthetic sociopaths, just like the discolored and deformed beast still ripping at Nila’s teat.
Nila’s head began to grow ever more hot with every passing second and word spat from The Leader’s crumbling granite-flesh lips, her own stinking vent-steam beginning to glow a vicious red, as opposed to its usual soot-black.
The Leader, ever so unaware, kept on with his pinched and twisted smirk and round, blackened spectacles (the goggles by which he claimed he could see into every mind with) punctuating his long, bewildering speech. Instinctively, Nila tried to approach, but was stuck fast to the immobile triple-chinned clown, whose own face was beginning to contort into something like actual pain. His blackened soot on his head began to glow red as well, though nowhere as vibrant as Nila’s own.
The mutant toddler champed its maw down on Nila’s breast for the last time. In one swift maneuver she both pushed the bestial kid away, fully tearing her nipple off as she did so, the pain feeling like both relief and agony at once. Nila then yanked her near atrophied neck to the right as hard as she could, ripping the frail flesh tube connection to her Siamese-clown goon, a horrible cascade of stinging spray of odd fluids and boiling blood scalding and soaking all Heads around them. It was quite the attention grabbing scenario she did not intend, nor was she the least bit ashamed of.
The Leader fell into an immediate silence of the most deafening kind. He stared, astonished, as the hot blood chemical fluid spray began to douse the others around them. A mass awakening seemed to begin within the screeching parasitic Dwellers always lurking and feeding off the pink mold on the intracranial walls of the BBs.
A sound exploded en masse, all at once, like a high-decibel sonic weapon of some kind. Their slummed flesh tenements of concretized skulls were beginning to collapse and shatter from the inside out, sending millions of those Dwellers running mad for escape with every crumbling dome.
The mutant child tit-mangler disappeared among the chaos, finding anything it could now latch its jagged teeth into. The triple-chinned goon merely fell over with renewed spasms of atrophied muscle, twitching like a victim of end stage Parkinson’s, sickening fluids still sluicing from his torn connector.
As The Leader saw all of this, he began to back up, only to be stopped like a wall by The Guard, even as they were backed by his own mangled LSS. The masses moved in closer, collapsing, screaming, coming at the little dome-headed and pinchy-faced bastard in the round black spectacles.
But it was Nila who charged her way through the crowd with violent shoves and a strength of body and mind she had no idea she possessed, all of which virtually exploded from somewhere deep within her. Fighting her once soulless atrophy, pushing the far more weakened Heads out of the way like a crazed animal. Nila was bee-lining her way straight toward The Leader.
The BB’s granite and flesh concrete skulls were beginning to catch fire, countless Dwellers still scattering, running, escaping—some still with bits of the almost edible intracranial asbestos-like moss dangling from their chins.
The Guard and LSS walled The Leader in tight, letting the gathering of waking and disoriented, yet slowly focusing BB-Heads come ever closer, discombobulated, skulls aflame, faces of magma and rage becoming awake again, ever so painfully.
Nila pushed herself into The Leaders face, spitting contentions of venom and disgust: You did this to us. You.
A sheer act of rage, she bit hard into His cheek. No one stopped her, nor was going to. After all, Nila didn’t just have a little extra loathing for The Leader, but during his little experiment on her and the triple-chinned goon, The Leader decided to have a little sick fun himself. He had given her the head of a broken condom, not a standard concrete Builder Brain-Head. She looked the consummate fool, the top of her head sagging like a deflated rubbery whore dunce-cap connected to that waste of a clown, and a mutant monster consistently biting pieces of her left breast off for years (she'd given it solely the one breast, after the initial, terrifying incident of mangling).
The Guard and LSS merely held The Leader down as He tried to flee from Nila’s own mad gnawing. She spit the piece of His raw and bloody-pebbled cheek-chunk back into His own face. “Take the fucking glasses off.” Her command could not be argued with.
The rancid flavor of his bitten off cheek still clung to the inside of Nila’s mouth, the initial texture off-putting and wrong—the blood-pebbles being gelatinous beige tumors and nodes, feeling almost like tapioca—Nila could taste The Leaders oncoming death.
The Leader, craven, in a state of pure terror and surrounded by nothing but these crumbling hateful BB-Heads of his own creation, reached up to feel his own cheek gnawed off, and let out a ghastly groan.
The Leader then removed his mysterious black and all-covering spectacles with albino-white and trembling hands.
There was nothing there.
He had no eyes, just empty abysses of maniac hate.
Most of the Heads had now crumbled, fallen to the ground, flames of the deepest reds and oranges and blues now flickering uncontrollably from their skulls and setting everything on fire, the entire former day-care-center turned granite-death-camp burning up in toxic waves of strange, thick blue smoke.
Everything was aflame, that is, except for the little Dwellers that knew they’d need new homes. A slum; new kinds of rotting minds; somewhere they could feast and enjoy the agony of these monsters . . . whatever these monsters may be.
The Leader was trapped and frozen catatonic with fright, as all the Dwellers began to form their bodies together, climbing up and over him. He was covered in them now but far too weak to try and shake or brush them off. The Leader fell back, The Guard and LSS backing away as far as possible, as his whole body was strewn with the squirming mass of strange little creatures.
The Dwellers had just discovered his empty eye sockets, into which they crawled with such glee that their all-too-familiar shrieks and screams of pain now became an intoxicated, euphoric laughter of a new kind of madness. It almost sounded as if they were having a New Years Eve party in there.
New years eve—words verboten—there was no time anymore...or was time indeed returning?
No one was quite sure whether The Leader was still alive, but his Dweller-riddled body was squirming along the charred ground like that of a maggot-filled roadkill rabbit.
The Guard, and the LSS as well, they just disappeared silently, almost invisibly back into the poisonous coal-like blue smoke. Never to look back or even let themselves think on this again. They just got out fast.
The Dwellers were all over and inside The Leader, behaving much like the one hive-minded creature they’d become; like that which He tried to create, perhaps almost successfully so, albeit in a much different fashion. It was truly grotesque to behold.
Nila wandered off into the roiling smoke and pungent stench of the bio-stone, the flesh-burning magma, the rapid decay, through the atrocity that surrounded her. This was no longer her world, nor had it ever been. All shrieks and self-absorbed pleas for help fell upon her newly unbound and beauteously deaf ears.
Flesh. Nila was of the flesh again, the dunce cap gone.
She did look back one time, back to the forsaken Leader, Mr. Mok Popolac, and giggled delightedly at his writhing, near-cadaverous form. She could now hear only the echoes of the Dwellers having the party of a lifetime going on inside The Leader’s own rotten mind. True sounds of joy, so long unheard.
Nila turned back, and walked from the flesh-charred smoke of a hazy, gradually lightening indigo and into a world she was told was long dead, that was never there.
It certainly seemed there now.
For the first time in as long as she could remember, she felt truly free of both The Leader and the bellow of the Dwellers. At that moment, amid the conflicts of chaos and sheer personal joy, Nila genuinely smiled.
“Miss!” Nila thought she heard a voice yell from the now blue-black smoke of apocalyptic waste that surrounded her.
A man, in an odd suit covering his entire body, stood before her. He even had a mask on, his face visible to her through its clear plastic shield. His eyes looked intelligent, blue, and kind.
“I’m Dr. Chorn, I am here to help. Are you okay?” His words were calm, steadied, and sounded almost alien to her ears. She understood some of what he said, but there was a time when she could’ve fully understood those words just fine, and reply without such hesitancy. “Apocalypse,” was all she responded.
“Don’t talk. Some other paramedics will be here to further assist you shortly. If I can do anything now, please let me know.” He watched her carefully, glimpsing her soul deep in her jade eyes. He knew she was in there, somewhere.
Nila then brought her hands to her matted, stringy dark-blonde hair, ran her fingers through it, and stopped to rub the back of her neck ever so gently, in a gesture of self-comfort. She saw her reflection in the doctor’s mask, noticed how beautiful she was. Nila touched her own face.
She was real.
She touched the doctor’s mask. He was real.
She then let out one of the most blood curdling screams one could ever hope to never have to hear . . . and, in Dr. Chorn’s case . . . feel.