|See the Light|
© by Gary Morton (1550 words)
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Neon blazed on a rooftop, sending colored haze down to a grimy window where it haloed the face of an old man. His wrinkles shone like a web of silver, his cross-eyes were alive with inner turmoil. A beast of possession lurked in him, and he could see a garish light of salvation crackling in electric tubing that spelled CHANNEL 38.
It seemed like a thousand years had passed since the days when he'd preached on the street. Then he'd told of the neon god and the doom he would bring to end the world. Now he was hearing the voices of the angels again, and again he could feel the evil of night. The buildings, the city became a blur in his teary eyes. Twilight was a bruise, the final rays of the sun and darkness bled in the alleys, and at the bottom of his heart embers of worship smoldered.
“The fallen creature shall be crushed in the hand of God,” he said as he spotted a young blond man moving furtively in the alley below, and the words had the power of scripture. He knew he must carry out the command soon. He would let the skies blow with the scented ashes of sacrifice; sweet smoke would drift with the neon blaze at the feet of his god.
Turning, the old man faced his huge loft-like apartment. In the days before the voices, when he'd been only an artist, it'd been a musty, cluttered place. Now that he was a priest of light, it was a temple. An obsidian dagger rested on a marble pedestal before him, it had a kneeling Aztec for a hilt. Picking it up, he headed for the center of the room. There in dim light stood a knight and dragon and unlit neon tubing that spelled CHANNEL 38. The knight was smoke-stained in places where he'd done some work on it, but the dragon looked brand-new. He stopped for a moment to admire its fine variegated hide and scorched metallic nostrils. Then he heard a thump. Moving quickly across to the dials of his security panel, he killed the lights.
Fury nearly sent him flying murderously across the room as he heard the sacred stained glass in his door shatter, but he managed to keep control, knowing his security system would do the work for him. Crouching in the darkness like a cat, he waited and silently vowed that this intruder into the holy house of the neon god would pay as others had paid. He would be sacrificed, purified by fire, while the riches of the neon god, a mattress stuffed with bills, would remain safe.
Iron bars were setbehind the broken glass, and when the burglar came up against them he swore. They were too narrowly spaced for a hand to go through, so he took out a halved key and pin pick and pick-sawed the lock open.
The old man listened intently; it was a matter of moments, then the door whispered open and he heard the creak of footsteps -- and the snap of a bear trap and a scream as steel teeth bit into the intruder's leg.
Feeling triumphant, the old man put the lights on. He saw that he'd captured the blond kid who'd been passing in the alley. A closer look showed fashion-torn jeans, a black leather jacket and a face that was cruel even in agony.
Picking up a fake gold ornament from a shelf, he walked over and struck the kid on the side of the head. The kid collapsed, and working quickly he freed him from the trap and dragged him over to the knight. Sticky bubbles of purplish blood showed on the gashed leg, and they set ashes blowing in the old man's head. His vision clouded, he set the neon tubing in place, and then he was deafened by the singing of angels.
The young man,a teenage thief named Davey, awoke to the sound of his own moaning. The old man guessed that the pain in his leg was intense; it'd be like hot rivets with a horrible itching. No doubt, the lump on his head throbbed around the knowledge that he'd been captured by some kind of vigilante or madman. He'd never guess that he was in the hands of a priest of neon.
Now that he could see Davey's face twitching, the old man bathed the room in turquoise light that illumined the dragon and gave it a lifelike look. It seemed to burst into brilliant existence with its neck already moving. Slowly it turned jeweled eyes and faced Davey more directly, and then it roared, a canned roar that no one would ever think was real. It was obviously cheap digital sound playing.
“What in the hell!” Davey said as he shuddered and the rippling of his flesh knocked away a skin of numbness. The old man smiled as Davey tried to move and found that he couldn't. Even his neck was frozen. His gaze lowered and he saw why; he was locked in metal, a gleaming suit of armor to be exact. It was rigid and he was held standing, fixed in battle posture with a sword at ready as he faced the dragon.
A purple web of facial wrinkles and cross-eyes caught the light as the old man stepped forward. He was wearing his priestly garb, a flowing robe that shimmered; its scaly surface reflecting various colors like the dragon's hide. The robe was open at the front, revealing a T-shirt with CHANNEL 38 stamped on it in large silver type.
Picking up a helmet from the floor, the old man moved in close and watched Davey's face twitch with desperation as he slipped it on him. Davey struggled and tried to throw himself forward as the locks clicked in tight, but the suit was firmly planted and wouldn't move unless the old man gave the command with the special app he’d created for his holy cell phone.
Retreating out of the bright lights, the old man picked up the holy phone and began to make adjustments. Instantly, Davey heard a creak and felt his arms move, then a razor flash of pain caused him to yelp as his legs moved.
A canned voice blasted in his ears. “I shall strike you dead, dragon! And bury your bones at the feet of the neon god!”
The dragon's roaring grew distorted as it increased in volume and through the visor he saw it begin to belch fire. Plumes of crimson and smoke curled at its nostrils and mouth, then large bursts of flame began to lick at the lower portions of the suit. Davey reacted with electrocution agony and motion as the metal grew burning hot. He gasped and yelped until his lungs nearly burst, but gravity held him tight to the searing suit. His skin turned to popping boils and he felt his flesh roasting and sticking to the armor.
“Prepare to die vile dragon!” boomed the helmet's speakers. “Your fire is . . . .”
Davey's tortured screams flowed with the programmed roaring and voices. Rushing flames consumed the suit, and finally smoke rushed in and asphyxiated him.
The suit of armor swung openlike a type of sarcophagus and the charred body slid to the floor. Released from the pressure it visibly swelled, smoking with lumps of blackened flesh and pus. The old man dragged it aside, and it hissed gas as it moved. He left it in the center of the room, where it pulsed and spit fluid as it cooled. Taking a holy torch, he used it to burn away the skin and flesh stuck to the inside of the suit.
When everything was cleaned up he went to the window and looked over at the CHANNEL 38 building, then he turned and watched the patterns of light falling softly on the blackened corpse, and the rivulets of bloody fluid flowing from it. He found that the sight failed to truly move him and he fell to his knees and stared at his trembling hands. There was no enlightenment this time; the neon god would not speak to him. Anger crackled on his brow. All of his work, his saintliness, had led to nothing. Then a memory came to him. It was years ago and he was building the sculpture on the roof of CHANNEL 38. His beautiful knight and dragon; he'd worked them so fine that heaven had come into his hands and the neon god came alive and spoke to him. But those betrayers at CHANNEL 38 had put him out and denied him access to his rooftop temple. They'd turned his sculpture and the neon god into a cheap sign.
Crossing the room, he opened a closet and removed a shotgun. At the door, he knocked out the rest of the stained glass with the butt, and then he threw it open and headed for CHANNEL 38. The day had come; the betrayers of the neon god would die. He would speak the words of judgment from the muzzle of a RUGER 12-gauge.
. . . . . . . . . . .