Let's Dance! season 14 episode 03
America's Next season 14 episode 04

Blind Shrike Page 2

Stunned, Spyder reached for his cash, hoping this would get the guy to back off. The mugger came up and slammed his boot into Spyder's midsection, then kept kicking, even after he'd snatched the money from Spyder's hand. Spyder didn't even get a decent look at the guy and that really bothered him. He wanted to see the face of the man who was about to kill him.

As if the mugger had heard Spyder's thoughts, he felt himself being pulled up by his collar until he was standing upright. Then Spyder's feet lifted from the dirty alley floor and he hung limp in the air at the end of the mugger's arm. "You know how to whistle don't you? Just put your lips together and blow," Spyder croaked as he hung there. He punched the crackhead as hard as he could. The guy's face gave as if there were no bones in there, just a lot of flesh-colored pudding.

The mugger's face began to change. His skin crawled in the jittery sodium light from a street lamp. The mugger's eyes swelled and burst from their sockets, black and glittering with facets. His lips seemed to melt, drawing down into a long, twitching tube. Cracked, curved horns burst from the sides of his head. The mugger exhaled a fetid cloud of steaming breath. Spyder's brain was on overload. The adrenaline rush and oxygen-deprivation had him flashing on a frantic stream of schizophrenic data. Snakes. Insects. Wolves. Angels. The mugger had a smell. Overwhelmingly sweet. Vanilla roses. Rotting fish. The perfume of dead school girls. Spyder thought of his room in high school. He'd had a poster on the wall, a parody of the kind of out-of-date Civil Defense instructions they used to give kids in case of nuclear attack. The last line had read, "Put your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye."

Spyder vomited on the mugger's arm. The puke seemed to have some kind of mysterious juju power because at that moment the mugger's head sheered off and rolled to the alley floor. His body, which still had a solid grip on Spyder's collar, follow a second or two later.

When he could open his eyes, Spyder saw a pair of shiny vinyl boots in front of his face. He closed his eyes again, ready for this new intruder to finish him off.

"Get up," came a woman's voice.

Spyder looked up and saw the blind dancer he and Lulu had spoken to in the bar earlier that night. She was holding a long and bloody sword in her hands.

"I'm tapped out. The dead guy got all my money," said Spyder.

"I'm not mugging you, fool. I'm saving you. Not that you deserve it." The blind woman reached down for Spyder's arm and helped him to his feet.

"Thanks. What the f**k just happened?"

"A Bitru demon attacked you. I killed it."

"I don't believe in demons."

The woman nodded. "All right. It was a junkie with the head of an insect and possessing superhuman strength."

"Okay," Spyder croaked.

Spyder looked at the body at his feet. He hadn't been hallucinating. The body wasn't even vaguely human.

"What the f**k… Why would a demon want me?"

"A Bitru doesn't just drop by for blood and crumpets. He doesn't come unless he's called."

"I did not call any goddam bug monster thing to kick my ass. I wouldn't even know how."

"You must have his mark on your body. Near your heart," said the woman. She ran both sides of her sword across the demon's body, cleaning the blood from the blade. Planting the tip of the sword on the ground, she gave it hard shake. The sword blurred and when she stopped shaking, it had transformed into the white cane she'd had earlier.

"Damn." Spyder opened his shirt and looked at his chest. "I have a lot of ink on me. Geometrics. Tribal work. Religious geegaws."

"Any runes or symbols?"

"A shitload."

"And do you know the meanings of all those runes?"

"'Course. Some. In a Trivial Pursuit kind of way. They're just designs."

"So says the man covered in demon blood." The woman moved closer to Spyder. "Did it ever occur to you that those symbols have meaning and power?"

"Where? How? I've done a thousand tattoos like that on people."

"Some of them are probably going to have a dream date like the one you just had." She laid her hand over his heart. "You don't believe in demons, but you believe in magnetism, right? These symbols you put on your body, like the Bitru's sigil, these are a kind of magnetism. You don't have to understand how they work. The demons do."

"What can I do?"

"Take it off. Change it. All the signs and symbols that you don't know."

"What's your name?" asked Spyder.

The woman took her hand from his chest. "Most people just call me Shrike."

"Thank you, Shrike."

She ran a hand lightly over Spyder's cheeks and jaw. "Good thing you're pretty. You're not the quickest little pony on the track, are you?"

"You underestimate me," said Spyder. "This was all my clever plan to meet you. I think it went pretty well."

"Take care of yourself," Shrike said, moving back toward the mouth of the alley.

"My name is Spyder," he called to her.

"Take care of yourself, Spyder." She waved without turning around.

"Wait. Do you have a phone number or email or something? I owe you."

"You don't owe me anything."

"But I'm madly in love with you and stuff."

She turned gracefully and continued walking backwards, never breaking stride. "Not the quickest pony at all."

She was gone. Spyder started after her, but when he tried to take a step, his legs shook so much that he fell against the alley wall. A few minutes later, Lulu came outside looking for him. She helped him back into the Bardo Lounge. Spyder noted that Lulu didn't seem to notice the large dead demon lying nearby in the alley. Together, -Spyder and Lulu got very, very drunk.

Four

Traffic Jam

It was light out when Spyder woke up, but his eyes refused to focus, so he couldn't read the time on the Badtz-Maru clock-radio near the bed.

His head felt as if someone had scooped out his brains and filled his skull with broken glass and thumb tacks. When he tried to sit up, every part of his body ached. He rose slowly to his feet and walked stiffly to the bathroom. Spyder's shoulder throbbed and when he switched on the bathroom light he saw why.

There was a long gash running across his shoulder and down his chest. He had a black eye, a swollen lip and his arms and ribs were spotted in livid purple bruises. Spyder remembered the scene in the alley. It wasn't a dream. He had been mugged.

Blood from the gash had dried on his skin, gluing part of his white wife-beater to his chest. Spyder stood under the hot shower until the blood softened and the water soothed his knotted muscles.

When he stepped out of the shower, he left the wet shirt draped across the towel rack beneath the framed Lady from Shanghai poster that Jenny hated. The gash on his shoulder burned and his headache was com- ing on strong behind his eyes. Spyder slapped on some gauze squares and taped them down with white medical tape.

Christ, he thought, I was supposed to call Jenny last night and tell I was going to be late. She must be pissed. Then it hit him, as it had hit him almost every morning for weeks: Jenny was gone. She'd packed up and moved the last of her stuff to LA. That's why he'd gotten so drunk with Lulu. It was the one month anniversary of her desertion.

"No f**king way I can put ink on anyone today," he thought. It was already after one in the afternoon. Spyder didn't want to go the studio, but he needed to call his clients and reschedule. He dressed quickly into battered black jeans, steel-toed Docs and the largest, loosest gray Dickies shirt he could find in his closet. A pile of Jenny's abandoned textbooks were stacked at the back, The Gnostic Gospels, Heaven and Hell in the Western Tradition, An Encyclopedia of Fallen Angels. Spyder slammed the closet door.

The warehouse Spyder rented was across town from the tattoo studio. He usually rode the Dead Man's Ducati-the bike he'd bought cheap from a meth dealer he knew down in Tijuana; the previous owner had gone missing and did Spyder want first dibs?-but he felt too shaky for two wheels today. He called a cab and waited by the curb in the warm afternoon sun.

"Do you have the time?"

Spyder was so out of it, he hadn't seen the tall man in the gray business suit approach him. The man was bald, but tanned and healthy-looking, with deep wind and -sunburn creases on his cheeks. It took Spyder a second to answer.

"Uh, no. Sorry."

"No worries," the man said with a slight Shrimp-on-the-Barbie accent. "Lovely day."

"Yeah. Great," said Spyder

"You all right, mate?"

"Just a little hungover's all."

The business man laughed. "That's how you know you had a good time," he said and clapped Spyder on his sore shoulder. "Cheers."

As the man walked away, Spyder saw something attached to his back. It was sort of ape-like, but its head was soft, like a slug's. It had its teeth sunk into the man's neck and was clinging onto his back by its twisted child-like limbs. Spyder wanted to call out to the man, but his throat was locked tight in fear and disgust. The parasite's head throbbed as it slurped something from the business man's spine.

Spyder took a step back and his shoulder touched a rough wooden pole planted in the ground through a section of shattered pavement. Pigeons and gray doves were nailed up and down the pole. Animal heads were staked around the top. An alligator. A rottweiler. A horse. Other more freakish animals Spyder couldn't identify. Each head was decorated with flower garlands and its eye sockets and mouth stuffed with incense and gold coins, like offerings.

Across the street, a griffin, its leathery wings twitching, was lazily chewing on the carcass of a fat, gray sewer rat. Emerald spiders the size of a child's hand ran around the griffin's legs, grabbing stray scraps of meat that fell from the beast's jaws. The spiders scrambled up and down the griffin's hindquarters. Gray stingray-like things flapped overhead, like a flock of knurled vultures. A coral snake lazily wrapping itself around the sacrifice pole stopped its climb long enough to call Spyder by name.

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