The Writers of the Universe
4. The 5th World
The hand that had come from within the map and grabbed Jeremy was attached to a body, but it was unlike anything Jeremy knew could exist. The skin was seared red like it had been boiled. Its body was contorted and broken as if the bones had been set without care or thought. Half of the creature’s face was rotted away revealing bone that stuck out on one side like a horn, and on the other side, a boot hung, concealing a possibly worse experience.
The creature clicked at Jeremy, shouting words that made no sense. Every once in a phrase Jeremy could pick out a normal English word, but then the creature would revert back to the more basic speech pattern that its broken face would allow.
It held onto Jeremy with a grip tighter than he would have preferred, but even stranger Jeremy did not feel threatened by its clicking shouts or by its grotesque features. Somehow in all the ugliness, Jeremy saw something more akin to a loyal dog than something to be feared. Instead of repulsion, Jeremy felt inexplicable companionship.
Looking around, Jeremy found himself on a large red hill overlooking jagged cliffs that snaked their way across the landscape. Everything around him had a burnt tint to it, the same hue as the skin of the creature. A cloud zoomed over them, flashing black lightning and spilling red droplets of what appeared to closely resemble blood. Sickened by the disturbing idea of raining blood, Jeremy allowed the creature to lead him down a path to the cliffs.
As they approached the edge, Jeremy looked over and saw a cut into the ground that appeared to be a mile deep. There was no definable bottom that Jeremy could see. All the way down was carved roads and cities, interconnected by a honeycomb-like network of tunnels.
A hazy brown mist filled with cobwebs settled around them, disfiguring the twin sun’s light that had cocooned them in an overbearing brightness from all directions.
Stumbling as they made their way down the rocky crevice, they were approached by a small legion of creatures. As they grew closer, Jeremy felt more and more uneasy. Instead of how humans have more or less the same basic body configuration, not a single creature was even the same shape. It was all random parts, stuck in places they shouldn’t be. The more he took in and noticed, the more it made Jeremy physically sick to his stomach.
One of the creatures had extra eyes that took the place where a normal mouth should have gone. The eyes blinked in unison, giving it an impossibly disturbing ambiance.
Another one was simply a leg and a foot. In order to move, it would rear back on its one haunch, while simultaneously thrusting the lower half up into the air, all the while leaping forward. It seemed to be a terribly complicated and burdensome way to travel. There was a sick humor attached to the freakish nature of the walking leg.
This horror show was led by a sort of dog-crab creature. Its four limbs were attached backward so that its head was always upside down, and it crawled like Frankenstein’s take on the fun childhood version of the crabwalk. Large ears flopped towards the ground, curling a tad at the tips like a German Shepherds. A black tongue lashed out as it had to work twice as hard to keep from being bitten off while the creature shouted instructions towards the rest of the hoard.
The half-faced one that was still holding onto his arm, dragged him in front of the dog-crab creature and clicked its shattered face twice before kneeling in reverent silence to the dog-crab.
Stepping forward from the crowd, the dog-crab surveyed Jeremy who desperately tried to avoid it’s upside down eyes. After another moment of inspection and a very dog like sniff to the air, the creature clicked down at the kneeling half-face. “Said me, who thist be’d.”
Jeremy coughed in the sudden confusion of hearing words that were English, but they were mashed and mangled in a sinister way.
The creature continued, “no from here. It shou’d not. Where is not it should be. Be you?”
Jeremy had no words. He wanted to cuss and yell, scream at the impossible task of trying to do the acrobatics required in his brain to understand the backward speak. Forcing himself to remember how the half-face one appeared to be quite kind and gentle, Jeremy stood up and opened his mouth. “Hello. My name is Jeremy. I think I am lost.”
Flopping its ears around wildly, the creature bent its neck up to look into Jeremy’s eyes. “Germy?”
“Yeah, yeah, Jeremy,” he encouraged by pointing at himself, surprised by the dog-crab’s quick understanding.
“Germy,” the creature echoed. “Germy is germ froam away, away, away. Too far. Only zero can he come.”
At once all the other deformations clicked and clattered excitedly in their own language. Jeremy could tell that they were now having a giant debate. Half-face had stood up and was now shouting even more wildly at the leg walker. The leg walker stomped his disapproval at the entire situation. And Three-eye-no-mouth silently blinked at Jeremy, forcing him to avert his eyes.
All the while, the leader stared into Jeremy’s eyes waiting for him to react. “Hey ya..uh…
Silence had never appeared faster.
“What’s going on? Where am I?” Jeremy begged.
The crab-dog bounded towards Jeremy and stood up putting its paws up on his shoulders. Stench fouler than decay rolled into Jeremy’s nose, as he tried to back away. The beast held on while speaking. “Day yes sun in sky high, today. Welcome, eat feast den speak. we. Said me, you be, Germy de lorth of chaos.”
Saliva dripped from the large tongue, as the last and most clear words slithered between Jeremy’s thoughts. Had the dog-crab called him the Lord of Chaos? He didn’t want to imagine what that could mean, and he also felt a nagging worry that his life would be him forever running from strange to stranger place. Jeremy could not imagine a place any more confusing than where he was. Apprehensively, he smiled back at the dog-crab.
“Let’s forward,” the creature barked while hopping back onto its four legs and leading the horde down along the side of the cliffs.
The party moved steadily and quickly. Jeremy tripped a lot as his eyes caught more and more of the strange world, amazed that he was not being murdered by the pack of trotting Halloween characters. The road his group passed by crumbled behind them. To his left was a vertical drop to the bottom of the cliffs. No creature appeared to own anything, they all looked starved and disturbed beyond just their physical appearance. It was like their harsh exteriors housed the most submissive of beings.
A bolt of lightning chased them a mile down the canyon. It zigzagged from point to point as they jumped into a cascading waterfall of molasses-like viscosity. Pulling hard Jeremy was able to fight his way down the still waterfall till they managed to land on another level.
Hours walked past them as they crisscrossed and traversed their way down. Eventually, a creature resembling a zebra, except where it should have had white stripes it had tongues lashing about all over its body, that had been traveling with them bolted off ahead of their pack. Soon, Jeremy smelled burning wood, but quickly covered his mouth as a second puff revealed a scent near enough to bile to convince even the worst nose on earth to snap shut in disgust.
As Jeremy was beginning to wonder if they would ever make it to their destination, the group stopped and turned towards a great door carved from the strange red-rust rock of their planet. The door was painted a watery blue color and depicted a surprisingly female human-like winged creature, clashing swords with a large six-armed beast. Crab-dog barked instructions at the door, “no shut.”
The ornate door folded vertically in half to allow their entrance. The crab-dog held up a paw, motioning them to stay put. It pointed to Three-eyes and motioned for it to go inside.
Three-eyes stepped towards the door. Blinking slightly faster and trembling as if nervous, the creature tiptoed inside the darkened room. Once past the shadow of the door, all the creatures surrounding Jeremy seemed to breathe with relief.
Next, the crab-dog pointed at Jeremy to go past the door. Cautiously, as Jeremy did not understand why they were all so nervous, he stepped onto the bottom half of the door. A sudden gust of wind alerted Jeremy to the fact that the top half was falling towards him. Frozen with shock, he stared up at the quickly descending rock. Certain of his swift crushing death, Jeremy froze.
Shutting his eyes as the door fell, Jeremy felt a large body collide with him from an unexpected angle that sent him sprawling. And then the deep rumble and crash as the door landed on the ground.
A terrifying screech echoed around the dark room Jeremy had landed in. Looking at the aftermath made him impossibly more sick to his stomach. It was Half-Face who had pushed him out of the way, his legs smashed between the two doors. The creature squirmed in agony, unable to tear away from the lower half of its body.
The rest of the group walked on top of the door, like a bridge, carefully avoiding the horrific scene. Crab-dog kneeled down and turned his head sideways to lick half-face’s pained face.
Jeremy could not remember feeling sadder. He ran over to the side of the trapped creature. As soon as he attempted to put an arm around his suffering companion, his motion was blocked by the crab-dog.
“But we can help!” He bellowed in frustration. “Can’t we save him!”
“No touch,” the creature sadly shook his head.
“He doesn’t have to suffer like this,” Jeremy leaped forward but was quickly grabbed and wrestled to the ground by the members of the crab-dog’s army. He fought with the monsters, though the fight was only his to lose. Inches away from a creature that would terrify a nightmare, and all Jeremy wanted to do was hold it and comfort it. Jeremy had lost too much in his life and couldn’t bare to lose again.
Rolling onto his side, Jeremy was able to free a foot and send it flying into the face of the tongue-striped zebra that had galloped into the scuffle from afar. The moment gave Jeremy enough wiggle room to roll towards his fallen friend. All throughout the mayhem, he could see the pain in the creature’s eyes.
A sudden burst of energy and light poured out from where the creature was trapped between the two rocks. The disfigurement that was Half-face’s body started withering as if losing mass and texture.
“No Touch!” Crab-dog yelled with a fury that paused the entire feud.
Half-face reached out obviously in fear of what was going to happen. With one last effort, Jeremy thrust his arm out trying to reach the now shuddering creature. His hand fell painfully short by mere inches.
“New friend, cry not for me. This is the fifth world, the land of confusion. Here nothing dies, only suffering infinite. Founded with synthetic process, are we ever truly alive.” Half-face exhausted, before being sucked into the door.
With a large rumble, the door folded upwards closing the entrance way. In the middle of the split door was Half-face, arms still outstretched trying to pull himself out of becoming one with the door. His grotesque face now looked awfully peaceful as it stuck out of the door in petrified pain and death.
“Let us forward,” Crab-dog said quietly.
Jeremy shook his head no. He didn’t understand how they could all have just stood by and watched that happen as if it was an everyday occurrence.
“If one skin touch while life refusion, the entire skin will restart,” the crab-dog explained.
“He said nothing dies,” Jeremy argued while standing up and rubbing his sore body from the small battle that had taken place moments before.
“True, we no not die. Change is constant. We will take you to the machine, where they make Tal-sen alive.”
“His name was Tal-sen?” Jeremy asked as the party moved into the center of an empty hall. Their steps echoed in the great cavern as the group broke into a rushed trot. Jeremy struggled to keep up with the group.
Before they turned a sharp corner, Jeremy could feel a strange electrical energy flowing around him. It caused the hair on his body to stand up and tickled his skin in an unpleasant way.
Once around the corner, the group stopped short of a small opening in the rock. Crab-dog turned to Jeremy and spoke. “Me said, are ready to you look onto inside the plain of Azark. It will hear the detuning of life. Until the sounds of death are squashed and fixed into feeling form. Become rock, being or else the machine decides. But the machine has no conductor. So ask us when you gaze, do you hear the scribble or has the noises harmonious of unseeing eyes ceased to be.”
Feeling out of his element, Jeremy followed the crab-dog’s pointing finger and looked into the hole in the rock. In the diminished light, all Jeremy could see was a far off flickering candle. The more Jeremy stared the more the flickering worried him. He noticed that the light was the same spectral color that had flown out of Half-face before he had become part of the door.
The light grew, only not towards him, but wider and longer as if a great opening in the fabric of the universe. Out of it spilled a tongue and set of teeth, licking the surrounding darkness away like a dog’s tongue. In place of the darkness were a million blank faces. Replacing the sickening tongue, was a large tentacle that grabbed a face far off on the left side and drew it back into the flickering candle.
The tongue came back out, wiping away the faces, only to replace it with bodies of all shapes and sizes. Again the tentacle picked one and took it into the strange light in the middle.
Too confused and disgusted to look away, Jeremy watched as the tongue and tentacle selected more and more body parts. Jeremy lost track of how many things were selected and what they all were as the pace of the selection increased.
Finally, a set of double eyes took the place of the tongue. The double eyes were not just two eyes looking into the light it had selected, it was as if on a human one had cut out where the eyes should be on a person, skin and all, and stacked them atop each other. One eye would blink down, the other upwards. Its middle eyelid stuck in a strange tug-of-war between the two eyes.
A beam of pink ether shot out of the lower eye and hit the flickering light. Darkness followed the beam until all that remained was a solitary figure. It stood far off, but even at the far distance, Jeremy could tell it was roughly the shape of a human. It stepped forward towards Jeremy and swayed on its feet.
The new form fell forward onto its knees. Bubbles formed inside of its skin until bones broke through popping, the growth with a wet spray of miasma. Jeremy watched in horror as a bubble formed on the right side of its face. Swelling to twice the size of its head, the bubble exploded with a sudden sucking noise as the extra skin fell away revealing a single large curved horn.
With a final screech of pain, what was left of the creature’s skin turned into the same blue color the door had been painted. Lines that looked like fine wood grain formed over top the blue color.
The transformation was complete, the creature slowly crawled forward toward the hole Jeremy gazed through. Pulling itself through, Jeremy recognized it as Half-face but with a distinct similarity to the door that had crushed him.
Dog-crab reached out a paw and pulled Half-face to its feet. Eyes still full of pained tears, Half-face turned to Jeremy. “Out of should be death, comes this personal cosmic joke of creation. The machine reforms the two sides of death. The killer and the murder, a generation together as penance for their past lives.”
“Tal-sen?” Jeremy asked too stunned to process all of the events.
Due to a bone that had hinged itself onto the top half of Half-face’s jaw, the creature could not fully control its mouth and only managed half a smile. But it was a smile of a friendship that crossed worlds. “Thank you, Germy, your compassion for fellow fifth-worlders is beyond anything we feel.”
Jeremy nodded his head, glad to have this strange friend back. He realized that for the first time in his life, he was in a place where all the pain he felt from all the losses and bad luck in his life would be understood. All the creatures around him wore their pain on the outside. It was there on the surface, nothing was hidden, only raw truth in this land of confusion. Jeremy wondered if he would look so disgusting if he had been forged by the machine.
Crab-dog tugged at Jeremy’s knee getting his attention. “Said me, you hear much scribbling or all nothing.”
Thinking back, Jeremy wondered if he had heard anything. He had been too fixated on what his eyes were viewing to even bother using his ears. Struggling hard to remember, he spoke. “I don’t…”
The words back from his tongue, as he saw how serious the group had become. Whatever noise he was supposed to hear, the answer was very important to the creatures. “I heard nothing…nothing at all.”
With a final sniff towards the hole in the cavern wall, Crab-dog turned and walked back towards the largest part of the cavern.
They had made it almost the entire way back to the door, when they turned down a dark corridor Jeremy had not noticed before. The dim light receded and he felt extremely nervous about the direction they had chosen to walk in.
“Where are we going?” Jeremy questioned Half-face who was a half-step behind him.
“Dinner time,” the skeletal face murmured. “Then we have day of lefting and misery special. You will get see the true hurt of Fifth world.”
Before Jeremy could ask what Tal-sen meant by true hurt, the group was interrupted by an intersection of sorts. It appeared to Jeremy that every single road that was within this section of cliffs, passed through this intersection. Thousands of openings up and down the walls led into this area.
Amazed, Jeremy watched as a group of creatures fell from an opening that came out on the ceiling of the room.
Immediately in front of them was an ancient snail-like monster that pulled a cart with triangle wheels. The cart seemed to exist only to make travel harder on the elderly snail. A small cat sized mouse cart-wheeled around the triangular cart, digging ruts in the ground that the wheels constantly fell into making the snail heave twice as hard.
The entire room carried on as if nothing strange was going on. All the hundreds of creatures passing around their small group simply accepted the chaos and insanity that abounded in the place.
This land of confusion was certainly living up to its name, but Jeremy wondered why none of the creatures bothered to fix anything. The creatures were so extremely passive; it made no sense why they could not put round wheels on the cart or prevent the needless falling from the openings 20 stories above them.
Taking a second spin around to try and see everything, Jeremy looked closer at individual creatures. Most were simply clicking away in their native tongue, totally ignoring the others. Soon Jeremy noticed a small huddle in a shadowy part of the room where there were no exits or entrances.
At the center of the huddle stood a large bulbous creature whose mass was so large that other smaller creatures had made his skin their home. Jeremy realized that the rotund creature was singing, only instead of using melody and rhythm, it shrieked at irregular intervals with a low rumble. Listening closely Jeremy caught a few of the lines of the strange poetry.
Is she dead no more Fell out of the universe She was first to hear the scribbles She was only to left Now no blood for a hungry world Her lost is ours, the stars crumble Consuming our world
Crab-dog nudged Jeremy to keep walking. “More on that in inch time. Put in brain keeper for moment, ask when rethink you to.”
All of the chaotic happenings around Jeremy were being funneled into the same chamber. Their party of oddlings joined a throng of hundreds shuffling their way into the same passage.
Once through, the overly-concentrated line broke out into a wide circle that overlooked a podium of sorts. Jeremy’s group was led to the first row of the circle and sat almost touching the podium with their noses.
The Leg-foot bounced up and down annoyingly behind Jeremy. He could hear a repeated murmur from its excited breath. “Left the princess,” it repeated over and over as it hobbled in place.
Pieces to a still-uncompleted puzzle began forming in Jeremy’s head. From what he had learned, there had once been a princess. But now she must be lost somewhere. Or did he have it wrong, were they celebrating their freedom. Jeremy wasn’t sure either way but knew he would soon find out as Crab-dog leaped onto the podium and barked one syllable that quieted the entire crowd.
A seeming mile long tubeish creature, that was leaking fluid from its pores, circled the gathering, closing everyone into a tight circle.
“Said me, Star one has come to the head of seven. Let us vacate ours plates in silence for the left princess.” Crab-dog barked to the crowd as he spun in a circle.
Hundreds of tentacles spilled out from below the podium Crab-dog had been standing on. Each tentacle was equipped with a tray. Jeremy ducked to avoid being smacked in the face by a rather tenacious strand. A platter fell into his lap, containing a glop of blue jelly(complete with captured floaty-squirmies inside), a fried leg of some creature that was still moving and topped off with a drizzle of shriveled brown stuff that might have been an onion if an onion had been replaced with shredded fur.
Jeremy could not stop as a volcano of fluid rushed out of his mouth at the gag-inducing meal. A snout of a creature three feet behind Jeremy flew forward and snorted up his mess. Holding onto his knees with his head between his legs, Jeremy attempted to block out his surroundings in order to not repeat his expulsion.
After a long while, the terrible smacking noise of so many things eating in close proximity to him quieted down. The tentacles returned from below the podium and gathered all of the trays from the crowd. This time, Jeremy was caught with a tray to the head from behind.
Rubbing the back of his head, Jeremy watched as a four-foot tall frog-like creature hopped onto the podium. It had a frog body but at the neck where a head should be, a bush of hair stood straight out another two body lengths. When the creature spoke, there were no lips rather the hair vibrated and shook in a way that indicated speech but did not show it.
The hair-frog flopped his hair, “All know this time very well. T’was the falling of the last tear we shall ever shed. Our princess, the last of the originals, and the last pure beauty of this troubled world. She felt the strings that guide and pull us. She followed, and she had forever been left from us. This time we gather, with hope we never had. Though we do not know how, a visitor has been sent from far star not our stars.”
The crowd erupted into a wild frenzy. Jeremy could feel the ground below him shaking like an earthquake as the large worm smacked part of its body against the red dirt. The Leg-foot behind him hopped up and down twice as far than normal with agitated excitement. He knew that they were talking about him, yet he had no idea what they were planning to do. At least their story kind of made sense. They had once had a princess who somehow ran away. Where did she go and how did it have anything to do with him, Jeremy wondered.
Tal-sen pulled Jeremy up and brought him onto the stage. He had never felt more exposed and weirded out. The crowd went on in all directions, and everything before him looked like a person with the worst imagination ever had created all the creatures that surrounded him. Many in fact were impossible for Jeremy to describe as he wasn’t sure he could form an accurate account of what his eyes were seeing.
Hopping to meet him, the Hair-frog shook excitedly. “Who are you stranger from far star not our stars?”
Jeremy looked at Tal-sen and Crab-dog for reassurance. Instead, all he got was intense stares of listening. They all wanted to know, perhaps more than he wanted to know about them.
“My name is Jeremy. I am from a place called Earth.”
“Germy, yes,” Tal-sen and the Crab-dog nodded, not entirely happily.
“How did you come to our world?” Hair-frog questioned.
Pausing for a moment, Jeremy wondered if he should tell them about the quill. There had been no indication of hostility towards him, so he felt that on good faith he would not hold back. “I came with the aid of this quill.”
Not a single formation in the crowd moved, they all hung in silence as many eyes viewed the now almost black quill.
The Hair-frog stood to its full height, which happened to be Jeremy’s belt level. “I believe you to be a good fellow. You are one of beauty. There is no longer any beauty left in this world, only ruin and chaos. All of me’s and you’s ask a favor. Go forward into the universe and bring back our princess, bring with you back beauty into this forsaken crust.”
Jeremy was flattered by being called beautiful and felt a sudden rush of proud emotion. “I have no idea how. But I will help. You do not see it yourself. Though your beauty may not reside on the outside, it comes pure and free from the inside. I would be glad to find your lost princess.”
He could tell his words had been met with great appreciation as child-like smiles formed over the disfigured faces in the crowd.
The frog nodded his head thankfully, “Me knows what actions the princess took to escape the planet. We have had no way to follow. Trace this paper on this podium. We think-hope you will be left to find princess Saesha.”
The Hair-frog and Crab-dog hopped down from the podium. Jeremy felt the urge to laugh at the ridiculousness of tracing a small tract of paper was the only thing between him and traveling to another place.
Tal-sen hesitated on the podium. He seemed torn between doing two things. After a strong internal debate, he turned his wood bound horn towards Jeremy. “I go with.”
It felt like a question to Jeremy, who was more than glad to have a friend along the journey.
The Crab-dog leaped up with his front paws on the podium, snout upside down and twisted into a snarl. “This you might know. If you die out there, there is maybe no machine to fix you.”
“We’ve all survived too much, too long, too far.”
“Let’s do this,” Jeremy stepped in.
He laid the paper on the center of the pedestal. His eyes tried to read the marking’s but they did not match words he knew. Tal-sen grabbed his shoulder as he began to trace the script.
“What does this mean?” He asked.
“In words of us, Get Back,” Tal-sen responded, as Jeremy’s quill finished the curved line and a rift cracked through the page. Like a black hole sucking away at star light, darkness pulled the two travelers into the rift.
Next Chapter – The Writers of the Universe: Chapter 5 – Hunted
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2014 © Stew Stunes