SOON TO BE PUBLISHED IN THE UPCOMING ANTHOLOGY, INFLUENCE OF THE MOON
REBECCA FOSTER IS HAUNTED BY NIGHT-TERRORS AND HALLUCINATIONS. OR JUST MAYBE, GOD IS A RABBIT BENT ON KARMIC RETRIBUTION. ...READ GOD IS A RABBIT IN THE TRANSMUNDANE PRESS ANTHOLOGY, TRANSCENDENT
By J. Robert Kane
Originally Published In Pulp Modern Magazine
Jaden Baker focused his thoughts and sent a tendril of white-hot energy out into the night. It collapsed, upon contact with its target, into a seething ball of flame.
The unlucky young woman, who’d been jogging along a well-lit and well-populated area of the park, slowed to a stop. She looked down, examined herself. Her reaction might have been comical, under less fatal circumstances. Her fiery form regarded itself and its new state with a complete lack of understanding. The fact that she was on fire seemed, for the time, to bother her less than the fact that she didn’t understand why.
Her reaction, Baker knew from experience, was more common than not. People simply don’t expect to spontaneously combust, and when they do the shock can be paralyzing. Eventually, though, they all scream. The pain overcomes the disbelief to become the center of the victim’s consciousness. By that point, any people in the immediate area are usually screaming also. When at last the victim falls, he or she bends first at the knees, and invariably falls flat on his or her face.
Baker’s latest victim did just this. Her slight body twitched and jerked. Her skin, hair and jogging-suit smoldered. The shrieks and screams of the lookers-on receded into moans and then sobs. The sobs collapsed into a low, droning chorus of whimpers.
He’d seen enough. And more importantly, the pressure was gone...for now.
Godhead. That, Jaden Baker knew, was his saving grace. It was the reason that he was no murderer, the reason he had no stain on his soul. No longer was he bound by the rules that govern mortal men. He’d been...elevated.
Jaden Baker’s apotheosis had occurred on March Eleventh, Two-Thousand Four. He’d been riding the subway home from work when, unprovoked, a disturbed passenger (it would later be discovered that she suffered bipolar-depression and was off her medication) jabbed a nine-inch knitting-needle directly into his eye. The experience had been every bit as excruciating and terrifying as one might imagine...
It had also proven the most significant event in his life. Because as he stood screaming and holding his eye-socket--as he wondered whether it would be better to leave the needle as it was, or to try and remove it--he felt a presence surround, and then fill him.
At first it was just the single presence...a single consciousness. Once the presence permeated him, though, Baker had quickly become aware of others around him--presences unseen to the human eye, but no less tangible for that...
“He’s your guy.”
Detective Sanchez looked less than convinced. He fixed the other man with a glare usually reserved for suspects in the interrogation room. “You’re sure?”
Jaden nodded. “I’m positive.”
“Can you prove it?”
“That’s your job, detective.” Baker indicated the check-register the detective had taken from his drawer, had placed on his shit-heap of a desk. “But he’s your guy. The usual fee, I take it.”
Sanchez opened the register, went about writing-out payment. “You know, if it was up to me, I wouldn’t even let you in the front door.”
“You don’t say. I would never have guessed.”
“You’re a con-man, Mr. Baker. I’ve seen your type before.”
I sincerely doubt that…, the earthbound god thought.
He wanted to sleep. And, if sleep evaded him, he wanted to curl up with a good novel, or find an old black-and-white movie on television. There were times when he felt so...human.
There was business to be done, though. Always, there was business. He was on a mission now; he’d been plucked from his mortal condition and made to understand the universe at a higher level of description. This, he knew, had not happened so that he could read the newest Stephen King book, or watch Cagney in “Angels with Dirty Faces” for the thousandth time.
How gratifying it would be, he thought, if he could choose his own targets. He fantasized about it, sometimes. To focus his mind and burn the Detective Sanchez’s of the world would be satisfying, to say the least. Being more than human now, though, Baker recognized the human-ness of such lower thoughts. As such, he pushed them aside.
He had work to do; He would sleep when it was done.
When he’d been human, Jaden Baker had assumed that people were, for the most part, good. He’d taken comfort in the idea that most of the thoughts being radiated out into the universe were positive, hopeful ones--or at the least, neutral ones.
Upon achieving godhead, he’d quickly learned the truth. That fateful day in March of Two-Thousand-Four, as he’d pondered his seemingly imminent death--as he was mistaking the presences filling and surrounding him for his guides to the afterlife--something had happened to his brain...to his mind.
The change was heralded by an audible pop from deep within his own consciousness. Immediately following that, Baker had experienced an acute sensation of connectedness to his environment. Suddenly, he could see the wonder of mathematics in everything around him. It had been both beautiful and terrifying; awe-inspiring and anxiety-inducing.
And then the voices had started.
He’d been so focused on the incorporeal beings with which he was suddenly communing, that he’d at first taken the voices to be theirs. These voices were strange, though...disjointed. They were trains-of-thought given voice.
…my God, what do I do? If that bitch gets anywhere near me I’ll…
...fuck. I won’t be getting home in time for…
...so much blood. My God, I hope he doesn’t have AIDS…
...should be videoing this, the news might pay for…
...this is SICK! This is better than DEATHBRINGER FOUR…
...poor man, someone should help him…
The disappointment he’d felt, upon realizing that what he was hearing were the thoughts of his fellow passengers, had been almost too much to bear. For just a second, Baker forgot completely about the needle protruding from his eye-socket. He wanted to be angry at his fellow passengers, he’d wanted to hate them for the things they were thinking--for the things that had preoccupied them all as they’d watched him suffer.
The others were still with him, though. They soothed him wordlessly; they reassured him. He found that, in their presence, it was impossible to stay angry. The usefulness of anger as a shield against sadness was made painfully clear to Baker, and he fell to his knees, clutching the handrail for support.
Another victim burned alive. As always, the experience left Baker feeling beleaguered in body, mind and spirit. The echoes of the screams of the dead reverberated in his mind. At heightened moments of awareness, such as were necessary to utilize his pyrokinetic talent, he could more than hear his victim’s tortured thoughts...he could feel them.
There were moments of doubt.
Jaden Baker was an educated man, and the idea that he’d become a god (or a demigod, or a deity of any sort) was a lot to process.
The pyro-kinesis, he knew, might possibly be explained away by the brain-damage he’d suffered. He’d done research, and found one or two “documented” cases of people who’d demonstrated exactly that dubious talent after having suffered massive brain-trauma.
And if the pyro-kinesis might be explained away by the brain-damage he’d suffered on that fateful day, so too might the telepathy be.
On long, creeping nights such as this, when his mind turned to such things, Baker felt the ominous specter of guilt. It was deep and somehow attractive; it bespoke fathoms of soul-crushing anguish…
The beings with whom Jaden Baker had communed since his apotheosis did not speak, even within his mind. Rather, this was the feeling that the alien consciousness was radiating into his own being. Peace, child…
His sense of identity refreshed, the earthbound god relaxed.
Jaden Baker watched his latest victim collapse at the knees and fall forward. He experienced the old man’s anguish, his terror.
There was a sharp pop then, not unlike the one he’d heard when he’d been stabbed in the eye. His telepathic bond with the burning man was broken. He turned and saw an approaching police officer. The cop was holding his gun over his head; as Baker turned, he leveled the weapon.
“Stop right there! Don’t you move!”
The officer approached with caution. He was about twenty feet away, and closing.
Baker, startled at having been identified, broke and ran. There was another pop. The fleeing god was nearly to the woods surrounding the park. From there, he could disappear.
Just as he reached the wood-line, though, something stabbed Baker in the left shoulder. A fraction of a second later, another pop. He spun on his heel, but kept his feet, and fled into the natural cover.
Thirty minutes later, Jaden Baker walked into his house, exhausted and wounded. He sat in the darkness of his living room, forgiving the officer who’d shot him, and considering the implications of this troubling new development. He was shot, and bleeding. It wasn’t a mortal wound, by any means, but then he was not a mortal man…
I am the god of fire…
But gods shouldn’t bleed, should they?
He must have fallen asleep as he pondered this, because he came abruptly awake as the front-door of his small house burst, frame and all, into his living room. Amidst a shower of splinters and broken glass, five heavily-armed men in tactical gear ran through the new opening.
“Do you know where you are?”
Baker nodded. “Mercy-General.”
The mountain of a nurse nodded, smiled. “Good. And can you tell me your name?”
I am the fire-god, and my name is my own…
“Jaden Baker,” he heard himself say.
“Okay,” she made a note on her clipboard. “Very good.” She leaned forward to check his shoulder dressing. Her enormous tits brushed his arm and he felt a decidedly mortal urge. “Are you comfortable?” She straightened. Her cheeks were flushed.
The earthbound god concentrated on not getting an erection. He wore nothing but a thin sheet. “Yes, thank you.”
“Okay, well, if…”
Baker sat up. “Wait, I’m sorry...can you turn that up?”
The nurse narrowed her eyes, but she walked over and raised the volume on the television.
“In his basement laboratory in the Mind and Consciousness Center, the doctor you’re about to meet says he’s found a way to simulate the “God Experience.” The news anchor paused for dramatic effect. “By employing a small magnetic charge to a specific area of the brain, he is able to create a sense of being in the presence of the divine. We talk to the good doctor, and to a number of his test subjects…”
The weight was smothering, goliath. It was enough, Baker had to concede, to crush a god. Because first there was the weight of realizing that, despite the feelings of assurance being generated still by the consciousness inside of him, he, Jaden Baker, was not a god. What he’d experienced that day had not been an apotheosis, but a catastrophic brain injury that had affected his right temporal lobe. Now, his feeling of communion with the divine could be explained away as rationally as his other godlike powers.
What was worse, though (and much worse, because Baker had never wanted to be a god--it had been both a bitterly sad and an emotionally painful experience,) was the guilt. It was staggering, the size of it. If he’d had the immortal life of a true deity, it might take him ten-thousand years to process it all.
It wasn’t at all easy, Jaden Baker thought, falling back to earth.
Detective Sanchez stepped into Baker’s hospital room. He removed a handkerchief from his breast pocket, held it over his mouth and nose.
The smell was overwhelming, but it was the sight of the corpse that made the seasoned detective’s stomach flip-flop in his abdomen. Burned beyond recognition, the remains could barely be construed as having been human. All over the crime-scene (because really, what else could you call this?) bits of white foam clung to organic evidence and burned bedding. Some good Samaritan had tried the fire-extinguisher, apparently.
Still holding the hanky over his lower face with his left hand, Sanchez made the sign of the cross with his right.
He lowered the handkerchief. “I guess I was wrong about you, Baker. You weren’t a conman after all.” He turned to leave, glanced once over his shoulder. “But what the hell were you? What sort of demon?”
Author’s Note: There is no scientific evidence to support that either pyro-kinesis or telepathy exist, or are even possible. There are many documented cases, though, of catastrophic brain injury resulting in all manner of strange experience and/or behavior, ranging from drastic changes in personality to severely distorted perceptions of time.
The “God Helmet” is real.