“Tendrils of Chaos”
a short story
Gary Baker, early 2016
Smoke wafted like tendrils of some deific tentacle from the microscopic sea of a lit cigarette set aside in an abandoned ashtray on the brass countertop. “Shit, man,” choked Gril as he set down a thick nine-millimeter with metallic clunk. His eyes started watering, and his cheeks warmed into a deep red even as he reached out and retook the burning tobacco. “Now that is some potent shit, if you ask me.”
Oria scowled, offended, and swiped the cig from the other man. He took a long draw and held it for a count of seven before exhaling, eyes closed, through the nose like a bipedal ape-like dragon. “Trust me, Gril, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
Finally Gril was able to unclench his teeth and pryed open his eyes again, to look his greater with increased respect. “We gonna go for another round?”
“Hell yes, my friend. Hellz yes.”
Oria reached forward and grabbed the thin man by the wrists, fingers lacing around his leather sleeves, painfully pushing the steel zippers into his skin. On cue to his humming, the room seemed to glow, the air thickened, and the incessant ticking of the chess-timer slowed. Red lights tocking back and forth on the “we’re open” sign hesitatingly became one-sided, the tufts of smoke ceased to rise, and a barmaid wearing black fishnets purposefully making her way toward them stopped in her tracks, slowly making that last step. Her booted foot came down like falling rain, then slowed to a feather’s fall, and finally simply ceased to move less than a centimeter from the wood-panelled flooring.
Gril wanted to look about, but felt the pressure of the air around him as though he were encased in solid glass. He couldn’t breathe. His lungs scrapped within him, trying to break out and suck in whatever happened to be there, be it oxygen, formaldehyde or even liquid water. All he knew was that his lungs wanted air like the moon wants water. It felt like he was creating a solid block of cold, hard ice deep inside of himself and he could do nothing about it.
Eyes wide, he looked to Oria, smiling like the devil he was and blinked. Once. Twice. Three times.
Cue given, the man clenched harder, digging his nails into Gril’s wrists as though he were trying to kill him, blood began to seep out and around the man’s dull nails, and, finally, the smoke began to descend just as quickly as the barmaid’s boot began to rise and move back to where she’d previously been.
Gril wanted to moan, his testicles felt like someone was massaging him where it truly counted, and the air began to move within him like a living being, forcing open his lungs to flow out like cool liquids going in the wrong direction. He could feel the different coils that the air had made on the way in begin to form again and shift back toward his teeth and away from the sponginess of his lungs. He felt the tingling sensation of the electric zap that he’d been given when the cigarette had been initially picked up, but in the opposite direction. The gust of air that had been loosed when Oria had opened the window hit him like a fist from the wrong side, moving toward the window as though out into space, and the scent of chimichanga’s from the kitchen wafted back to his nose once again.
It was tantalizing to say the least. His muscles contracted instinctually at the point when he’d picked up the martini glass on his table, and he watched as the glass moved as though by his hand again. Suddenly warm liquids shifted up and out, flowing through his throat and across his tongue like before. Again his gums burned as the alcohol coated his teeth and he watched it all pour into the salted glass as if watching a POV video of a man drinking a manhattan in reverse.
The glass then moved out and down to the counter between the two men and settled beside the ashtray where the now just-lit length of tobacco rest with a full arm of white and only partial burn marks. Oria grinned and the coin he’d flipped into the air only moments ago, despite the ages since he’d released it, tumbled high again from far behind himself and slowly, ever so slowly, revolved until it held in the place he’d had it before picking it up to flip it in the first place.
The cigarette then lifted from the tray, as with a lighter tucked into Oria’s breast pocket, and met each other in the middle where the embers seemed to spark a flame that then simply ceased to exist, causing the smoke to end in a flash leaving the paper and cut leaves as burnless as water.
Oria grinned at Gril and let go at long last. Instantly the world started up again, the man drinking rum alone while failingly hitting on the barmaid brought his hand back down to her bottom only to receive the same slap that Gril had seen, now, many times over. The girl in high heels and a mini skirt who’d come here with her boyfriend again found herself slipping on the unseen, fallen ‘wet floor’ sign, and despite the expectation of it, Gril found himself once again stunned at the kid’s ability to catch her mid-fall. Again she turned to the young man and planted a wet kiss in gratitude, not noticing as the drunk at the bar leaned back to check out her thighs.
The headache Gril had gotten was gone, as was the intense high that he got from the trip each time. He felt the urge for a smoke rise, and Oria whipped out both in perfect response, as though they’d been thinking the same thing.
“Want some blow?”
That was different.
Gril hesitated, eying the white length warily. “Um,” he breathed, “sure, why not?”
He reached out, grabbed the white roll, already lit, and brought it to his lips to take in a long draw. It was worse than he’d expected, the sensation nearly killing him in the process of going in. He felt his heart race for several moments and his ears pop when he thought the world had become a hallucination. Worried, he reached out and grabbed Oria’s wrists and fought to speak. Blow was not his thing. Not in a smokable form, at least.
“End. This.” He choked.
Complying immediately, Oria wrapped his long fingers around Gril’s wrists again and the chemicals came out and back into the blunt, recombined into one log of paper and powder, then unlit itself and made it’s way back into Oria’s pocket. Like a cat, Oria watched Gril from across the counter as he felt the high increase despite the loss of the chemicals.
Gril slapped himself loudly, feeling the strike of icy fingers hit his soft, warm cheeks, and again felt the need to stare as the drunk groped the unsuspecting barmaid, or the man catch his date before she could crack her head open on the hardwood floor panels.
The high increased still, as though, despite the absense of chemicals, his mind wanted nothing more than to obey to what it had initially been prepared to see and feel. His fingers went slightly numb, his throat tightened, his pupils dialated, and his nostrils went cool as his breath chilled somehow.
“Here,” Oria chuckled, “let me get that for you.” He reached forward with the cigarette again, lit and ready as it had been before, and again Gril felt himself complying without objection.
He brought it to his lips, drew, and exhaled softly to feel the tingling numbness overtake him and add in to the otherwise increasing high. Suddenly he could feel the burn of the alcohol overtake his tongue and gums again and stared with wild wonder as though the Manhattan was about to lift into the air and pour itself into his open mouth.
It didn’t, but that wasn’t the point, either.
“What,” he stammered, “what is this?”
Oria shook his head laughingly, and stroked his sideburns with a stray fingertip. “Just you wait, my friend. It gets better.”
Gril looked up with incredulous eyes. “How?”
The man motioned toward the drink, still full and still very much untouched. “Take a sip and you’ll find out.”
So he did. He brought the bourbon and cherry to taste-moistened lips and felt the familiar loving burn begin to take him anew. His tongue warmed as it coursed across to his tonsils until at last Gril swallowed and felt that same searing intelligible electric heat as it made it’s way down.
Oria grinned like the cheshire, and once again grabbed Gril’s wrists.
The feeling was as nauseating as it had been the first time, but when it had ended he felt both the high of the blow, with the numbness of both singular drinks that were actually the same one, as well as the mental clarity brought on by the number of cigarettes that he’d had, without lighting more than one.
A tear made it’s way down his cheek and onto the countertop with a near-inaudible splish and again the drunk snuck his dirty fingers out and onto the plump flesh of the barmaid’s shorts. Again Gril watched with horrendous awe as the young man caught his date. Again he felt the need for a smoke increase within and could predict the precise moment when Oria would whip both items out and around, when the smoke would begin and just how the tuft would rise and shift about when Oria opened the window to avoid detection.
“God, man,” he breathed aloud, “this is intense.” He looked to the curator of all this with a smirk-turned-sour, “have you ever done this before?” He looked around, at the folks moving passed on the street outside, at the barmaid making her way toward them with heavy footsteps, to tell them to stop smoking inside, at the way the drunk heaved down another pint. It was all so surreal. Colors seemed to shift and warp, smells seemed to combine and alter each other, tastes ceased to be while overpowering his mouth in the same thought, and his pulse quickened.
Oria smirked in response but said nothing. He merely tucked his hands away where Gril could not reach, and kept the burning cigarette perked in his pursed lips, letting the smoke fray and splay out in the incoming breeze. He exhaled off to the side without taking away the tobacco, and shrugged.
Gril blinked and suddenly maroon flecks lay silent off to the side, the bar completely gone, and his gaze now looked where a limp arm wilted like an overheated rose trimming, adding more crimson coalescing into one greater pool with the continued ticking of the clock. The longer Gril looked, the more he started to realize that the bloodied arm he was staring at, the one extending from beneath his prone form, lain awkwardly on a glorious wooden floor, was his own.
He turned his head in shock, the pain coming in tides of greater and greater agony, his senses blaring, his nerves undone by the burn he couldn’t comprehend. What happened? What was all this? What had happened to the bar? How had he gotten here? He winced as the pain roared within what few portions of himself had yet to go numb, and he shook for a moment with the electric insanity writhing under his skin.
Then he glimpsed Oria smoking a cigarette while leaning against the balustrade of a balcony just outside. “See, the thing about time,” Oria took a drag almost ending the drug, then the cigarette nauseatingly burned in reverse to become a full piece again, “is that it moves whether you are there for it or not, you dig?”
Gril tried to sit up, but found his torso unwilling to comply. He rolled in his mind about the thrum of the hot, endless horror that had become his limbs. It took all his concentration to simply focus on Oria’s words.
The dark shadowed man paced over, his hands hidden behind his back. “I feel kinda bad, actually,” he mused as though talking to a failing student, “here you are with absolutely no clue as to what you did,” Oria paused looming directly over Gril and pulled his hands out from behind his back. In his hands were a pair of bloodied steak knives. “And yet, what would I be if not consistent? You’re not exactly the first to do this, I should mention.”
Gril panicked. He raged within and fought to move, fought to be free of this torment, fought to get out and away and to live. His whimpers must have done something to the man who almost seemed to dissolve with the shadows at the peripherals, for he stooped low and cocked his head to the side.
“What did you do?” Oria asked. “Is that what you’re trying to say?” He paused a moment as Gril nodded violently. “Well I guess cutting out your tongue might have been a bit much...huh.” He shrugged. “Fine. You were too curious. You found out my secret and threatened to expose me. You found out how…” the impossibly-calm man looked to his fingertips and the cigarette rebloomed and unlit itself, then moved to his ear of it’s own accord to rest there quietly, “...how I do this.” He turned back to Gril and winced. “It’s not magic, that’s for sure, but for me to remain a god no one must ever survive to tell anyone else. That means you, too, Gril. You discovered my secret and now you must pay for it.”
The bastard had the nerve to caress Gril’s cheek absently as one might with a loved one. “You were so close, Gril. We could have been lovers. We could have ruled the universe together. But… as they say: curiosity killed the cat.” With that, the blade in Oria’s right fist struck to the hilt and Gril’s world went dark.