League of Puppets
Tim Curran

The coveted benediction of the most holy of needles begins on a yawning dirt morning in the museum of flesh. Adorned and love-polished like an old-time sideshow queen, the Messiah makes his way down the litter-strewn streets in flapping burlap robes. His meat market Halloween eyes seek survivors of the pageantry of self-abuse, namely life and its unholy machinations. He seeks splendor, riches of the soul, and the metastasis of immortality. This and followers to lead beyond the grave-veil brink of hot, heady worlds. He’ll take them young, old, infirm, and insane--for only the truly mad bow down at his anointed altar of higher suffering. And while he searches with beady vermin eyes for his heart’s cold desire, his mind blinks on, blinks out, adrift in a lost world cornfield where the sacred scrolls of Ra are praised in flame.

So see him now, blind and blinder, skeleton-thin, shroud-skinned, glistening like an exotic call girl’s oiled privates. He has a rotting dog smile of worried limbs and slavered bones, a stink of windblown ash and furnace soot, a wriggling belly of cold snakes. And he is the Messiah of Need.

His first mark is an old leper wearing the patchwork flesh rags of his breeding disease. The leper, quite naked with anything to be ashamed of long gone to putrid dust crumble, offers him a numb smile.

"Will you come onto me, my son?" the Messiah asks, his rearing underwater eyes sucking disbelief from the leper’s rabid tongue.

"Yes, father," he pants, "I’m no stoolie, show me the way."

The Messiah squats down, hater of fish and loafs, and finger-scans the leper’s needle-scarred flesh, finds an opening. He empties a hallowed syringe of sainted cold burn juice into his follower. The leper’s throbbing glycerin eyes roll like slot machine windows, spin, come up all fruitful cherries.

"Blessed be the Lord of the Needle," says the Messiah.

"Blessed is the of Way of the Divine Spike," says the leper, finding the cloth rag strips he uses for feet and embracing his savior, "and most holy is the Juice of the Lord."

Now, together, they move up the gray, stinking streets, collective murder, humming engines of blind faith and immoral addiction. Clattering spoons and spikes and bags of scheming powder, they praise the slum of junk obscenity. They burn and shimmer in the sepulcher frost air, twin sputtering corpse-fat candles, spirit lamps of amethyst flame. The shadows they cast are long knives of barbaric empires thrust into the bleeding body of humanity.

They come to a syphilitic young man bathing in his own acrid waste. He scratches out lost love poetry on the piss-stained concrete with ragged fingernails and douses himself lovingly with alcohol. Touched by flame, kissed by fire and sparked ignition, he does not burn. A monk squelched by his own abstinence.

"Will you join us, friend?" asks the leper, now adored in shimmering rags taken from the wasting, blackened plague bodies of soldiers.

The Messiah squats next to the youth, grinning a hungry grin. "Will you come onto me, my son? Blessed is the way of spiritual redemption."

"Fuck off," says the young man. "I am Jack, don’t you know. I kill whores in dark streets, carve ‘em up like slabs of beef and nibble on their innards. Bloody death to all whores who fill men with the infection, give men the crawling jack."

The Messiah smiles a patient smile of habitual cure. He brushes his straw fingers over the young man’s girly-tattooed arm, prepares a burning place, cooks up the balm in the consecrated spoon and spikes the breast of a green dancing girl.

"Will you come unto me, my son?" asks the Messiah yet again. "Praise the God Of the Spike in the highest."

The youth who is Jack afflicted with the jack and displays a fine and ready set of rusting surgical knives, whirls his witchcraft eyes in a socket stew of promise. "Jack’s your man, oh father, blessed be the wine of the gods, the way of lesser pain."

A threesome now, no more spinning wheel of frozen flesh, they thaw together in the rays of black godhead infection. With crocodile smiles and eyes of flaxen grain, they spread speech and hot seed to the faithful of the Nameless City of Starving Dogs. Their faces are quite colorful now, bright red, ocher, blue, and cadmium vermilion. Aztec fertility masks blazing under the death-sun of peeling skins.

"Blessed be the Lord of the Needle,’ chants the Messiah and his followers. "For He is good and He is wise, Sage of Tomorrow’s Shattered Dream."

A yellow cherry mephitic dead stench misting in their wake, the true believers move with godless sibilance down noisome boulevards, spreading the Word, offering the spike, their hollow skins flapping in secret winds like the frayed flags of fallen realms. They gather their flock one by two by three and four until they number fifty, the Messiah and his Wise Men. They openly display the marks of office, the holy punctures and contusions of true faith. Atrophied moons for eyes, they seek and are sought. Men, women, children.

On the first sleeting afternoon of the quest they come upon a despotic individual clothed in greased human leathers who broods aimlessly over a simmering pot of baby fat. His gasoline eyes and ruined putty face offer only hatred and toothy appetite. He smiles a black demon grin of broken glass.

The Messiah studies him with a ruthless smile, shimmering eyes of white noon. "Will you come onto me, my son?" he asks. "Will you accept the needle into your life? Blessed be the Way of the Spike."

The cannibal killer, exhaling black smoke and a nauseous film of excrement, cackles dryly with the shrill sound of skinned monkeys. "Accept the needle? Ha! Look upon me, False Prophet! I am a night-haunter, devil of the ditch, gaunt phantasm of the dissection room! I am a flesh-eater, a child-eater! I roast fat babies on black spits and pick my teeth with the bones of infants! Look upon me, tasty one, and despair!"

"I feel no despair, my son, only communal love," says the Messiah, all addictive joy and good glory. "I welcome you into the House of the Lord."

The cannibal killer’s wide moonish Cheshire-clown grin of knives remains in place. His own teeth have fallen to black rot, been replaced with silver roofing nails driven into gray rusty gums. ‘I’ll eat you up, savior. I am Nick the Black One,

Fallen angel of butcher shops and morgues…"

The Wise Men, twice twenty-five in garish number, take hold of old Nick now, securely binding him with loops of tanned viscera that are strung about the entrance of the cannibal’s lair. They beat him into submission with pearly gnawed leg bones. The Messiah, humming metallic insect, cold steel taste on his slavering tongue, baptizes Nick then and there.

"Glory to the spike in the highest," hisses Nick.

And it comes to pass that the Messiah and his flock take up cancerous refuge in the black bowels of a ruined church. Many times daily they indulge in the Sacraments of the Needle, blaze in the ice fire of withered papistry. They turn away heretics with emaciated fingers, bless the sacraments of the Sacred Cow of Junk, feed themselves into reptile-eyed skeletons with the blessed avatar of sharpened steel, bubbling spoon-powders of divinity.

One colorless, corpse-smelling day, the Messiah gathers his flock of flesh zombies about him and looks into the convoluted depravity of their dead fish eyes. "The balm of the Lord is no more," he tells them. "No more shall we inject the fruit of poppies."

A new and wondrous junk is laid out for all to see. Crystal nightmare ash of the savior’s own powdered blood. The flock imbibes and finds it to be good, the very heady vermin blood of the Messiah. It burns through them with blackened fleshy orgasm, dry fire of cemetery cinder forest.

"Blessed be the Lamb of the Needle," say the Wise Men.

It is on a cold medicine day of cawing dead birds when the Messiah is taken away in the tattered, infectious skins of dark back monkeys. The air smells of sewer gas and incinerated flesh, mephitic black carbon and the forge-stink of the hammers of fallen gods. He is fitted with an autopsy crown of broken needles, chained to a crucifix of flea-infested vampire ash tree, and paraded like a fresh meat kill through the shattered glass Streets of No Remorse. And in the potter’s field of sheet-flapping lamb and goatskins where the human oil barrels burn and cast mildewed light, he is nailed to the crucifix with empty bloodstained syringes and left to rot. His wise men visit him, as do the carrion crows of the graveyard empire.

He spends forty brisk days in the damp embrace of a nameless echoing tomb. Nibbled on by black blind rats and gorge-tunneled by fat crypt worms, he rises on the fortieth day wearing a webby wreath of chewing red spiders. His face is a murmur of wasting, hallowed agony and his body a winter-dead thicket sprawl of broomstick limbs. His knotty fingers bear the blemish hole stigmas of the ritual bleeding and the empty cadaver hunger twists in his belly, slick serpentine tapeworm of destruction. He dreams of fat, full-blooded babes and the running orifices of seed-sucking women.

He is first seen shambling whitely in trailing grave cerements by field workers plucking juicy olive eyes from vines. Haggard crew they are with crisp stubbly faces, distorted backs, and blistered fingers. They look into his glaring, moon-washed yellow gummy eyes and begin to scream and shout. They flee long before his scabrous shadow blights them.

The Messiah searches out the scrofulous rat pack of his fire-fingered Wise Men. But like crematory urn ash, they have been scattered on the swimming plague winds. The Messiah accepts this, grinding headstone teeth in decayed sheath gums.

"The Messiah has risen!" they scream in the Streets of No Regret as he drags himself forward with a white heat of rent veils. "He has risen!"

"Will you come onto me?’ asks the Messiah in a chattery voice of scraping razors. "Blessed be the Lord of the Needles."

For as he says this with a skullish grinning face of sterile fields, the masses are transfixed by his eyes which are arc moons sinking into a sea of rotting fish. The Messiah now not only needs them to follow him, puppets on threadbare ligament strings, but he needs their blood. Needs to inject its coppery burn into the mausoleum concrete canals of his empty veins.

But they are not of the Way of True Addiction and they offer up no hot junky, cherry wetness, but vileness spewed from frothy peasant lips. And with no heed to the roasting glory of the Lord of Sepulchers, they turn on him, bury him in a raging ocean of blessed steel and staked wood. His skull empties beneath the melodic drumming of sacrificial clubs, spongy flowers of thought spattering the grimy streets. His bones come apart, his leather skin bursts, collected rancid fluids of electric blood and neon piss steam in the gutters. The black dusty meat lump of his heart is impaled with a stake of splintered wood.

And his clattering, fleshless skull whispers obscenities to the ripe wind of surgical gash: "I am the Death and the Resurrection."

Some weeks later, from the ditch-grave he was shoveled into, a dripping garden of blood red orchids sprouts and grows.


Read Tim Curran's story Brimstone Cowboy in the Hell on the Installment Plan chapbook available from The Dream People store.

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