Fallen Nation: Babylon Burning Prologue

Fallen Nation: Babylon Burning Prologue
by James Curcio on 2008-03-25 08:15:26
tags: fallen nation, james curcio, mythos media

[Editor's Note: James Curcio and Mythos Media have been nice enough to allow us to publish the prologue to Curcio's latest novel, Fallen Nation: Babylon Burning]:

PROLOGUE:

2011 Wasn't So Great, Either

“Fallen! Babylon the Great has fallen! She has become a home for demons. She is a prison for every evil spirit, every unclean bird, and every unclean and hated beast.” - Revelations 18:2

The sizzle of a match sparking to life momentarily mingled with cricket-song in the swampy air. A large, calloused hand guided it towards a hurricane lantern in the dark, its nails split from work and grimy to the quick.

The wick of the hurricane candle borrowed life from the match, which expired with a wet sizzle in the palm of the other seemingly disembodied hand. The sweet pork and sulfur smell of burnt flesh filled the room with the growing light, revealing shelves of yellowed bottles holding dried herbs in front of a mildewed Confederate flag.

Agatha loomed over the splintery hardwood of the table the lamp sat upon, the washed-out flower print of her dress barely visible in the flickering light. A broad-brimmed leather hat twisted the outline of her head demoniacally.

Two eyes, long-lashed and gorgeous, regarded Agatha in terror from the other side of the table. The orange puffing of the cigar she clenched between her teeth reflected in those doe eyes as she sat a moment in brooding silence. The smoke quickly blotted out all the other scents in the room.

Agatha marched down the cinder block steps outside her trailer, holding the lamp in one hand, and a taut, rusted chain in the other. The trailer was once bright blue, but now it was slate gray and pitted with mold. Shelf mushrooms protruded occasionally along the warped side of the vehicle, amidst vines that wandered willy-nilly from the trailer to the cracked staircase, bordering ‘gardens’ of toxic plants.

“Foul. Win’s got teeth tonight. Fiyah an piss an teeth,” she said to her daughter Mary, who was barely able to keep on her feet as the chain dragged her along.

“…There’s a three, lil’ cuntling. Fastah now,” she continued impatiently.

With a powerful arc of her masculine arm, Agatha yanked the chain. Mary lost her footing completely, and slid down the concrete stairs on her face. She fell in a heap at the bottom of the stairs, the skin shucked from her hands and knees like corn husks. Stomaching a sob, she rose to her feet.

“Thas’ mah darling,” Agatha said, turning towards a rusty machete that rested at the base of the stairs.

A baleful moon shed its light down on a cluster of trailers, almost swallowed by the surrounding swamp. At their center sat Agatha’s trailer, and an overgrown yard almost half-again its length. Dead pickups, trailers, garbage heaps and piles of lumber sprouted from between the foliage.

Agatha thumped her way in a direct line from her trailer, Mary still stumbling behind.

“Mebbe you ain’ seen, but us folk ah stahving. Die’n in ouwah wood jes lik’ lil’ los babbies. The world’s a changin’, darlin’…” She said over her shoulder, unaware that Mary’s terror totally overrode her ability to listen. Or care.

“Fiyah, piss, teeth…Time ol’ Agatha did sumpin’ ‘bout it all.”

She made her way down a sloping path to a rocky, dried stream bed. Mary shivered involuntarily, shrinking from the tendrils of growth that crept their way onto the path. The woods seemed to radiate illness.

Agatha smiled as she spoke, “Gone put you down heyah a bit. Cain’ have you hollerin while ah fix thins’…” She chained Mary tightly to the tree. Mary strained against crying out as the cold metal bit into her rust-stained skin.

“Is a new world, ‘lil bitch. Them wot’s strong gone eat them wot’s not. Gone git fat lik’ big ol’ mountin’ cats,” Agatha said, pinching Mary’s cheek with a gnarled hand.

“You jes’ res’ heyah a piece while ah go star’ it rollin’. Mebbe think awhile, why you ain’ the one getting et.”

Mary bit her quivering lip but remained silent. For a horrifying moment she thought the machete had her name on it. She concealed a sigh of relief when her mother passed her by.

As Agatha trudged back up the hill, crooning to herself, the sobs Mary had been holding back finally overcame her. The cold stones around her echoed her unanswered pleas as her mother’s out-of-key singing voice came rolling down the hill to her, “’Neath the trees wheyah nobodeh sees, wi’ll hide an seek wheyahevah we please…”

Now back at the foot of the staircase outside her trailer, Agatha picked up the machete. Her tongue lolled between her teeth like a corpulent earthworm.

“Vernon!” she called, tapping its hungry edge against her back.

A weak-looking, servile man poked his head out of the trailer door. “Hullo, sweetie?” he replied.

“Git out heyah, Vernon. Ah need ya,” she said.

He stumbled down the broken stairs like an awkward puppy, wearing stained long underwear. Moonlight reflected off his wedding ring as he stood uncertainly at the base of the staircase, running his hand over his balding head.

“Sumpin’ wrong wit’ the pig pen, ah need ya. Come on,” she said, moving the machete to her front nimbly as she turned and began walking away.

Vernon stood over a stained bathtub in front of an empty pig pen, scratching his head.

“But sweetie, whas’ wrong with it?” he asked, after inspecting it another moment.

Agatha neatly split Vernon’s skull with the machete in reply.

“Is empty!” she proclaimed proudly as he fell forward with a splat, his legs sticking out unevenly from one end of the tub. She wiped the machete on her pantleg as they twitched spasmodically.

“Cause thas’ the way us teddybehs have to piiiiic-nic.”

“But Motherrr,” Darell droned on in a whine, “how we gonna get out of here with no gas…no ’lectric?”

“Swamp seems to grow each’n every day.”

“No food,” another complained, holding a flabby stomach which pushed his overalls to the limit.

“Yeah, what we gon’ do?” yet another of the boys asked.

She stuffed the sausage in her mouth, savoring the salty pork flavor as her children wrung their hands. When she finished with it, she leaned forward with a grunt, and lifted a rusted chain from the filth.

“Hook this here on the wagon’n strap yerselves in. You gon’ carry us on outta here. Hitch it an’ get movin’, maybe then I feed ya.”

The trailer bucked and trembled as it wheeled over ruts in the road, Agatha’s boys dragging it forward like a pack of oxen in the field. They hobbled past abandoned gas stations, surrounded in broken glass, rent and rusted metal, abandoned cars stripped down to the chassis, and occasionally, charred bodies, tangled in blackened cypress roots.

Mary lay on top of the trailer, her hands bound, watching carrion birds circle between the limbs of the trees.

The trailer bucked one last time, so fiercely that it seemed it might overturn. It didn’t, but Mary was pitched off to land with a thud in the grass. With the wind knocked out of her, it took a moment to realize she was free. The old ropes must have snapped.

That night, she shivered up there on the roof as the bulk beneath her continued to quake, though the trailer no longer rolled forward. The quaking was now accompanied by the sound of Agatha bellowing like a gorilla, and the pathetic whimpering of her many sons as they spent themselves in the moist folds of her girth. Mary had no more tears left. Instead, she stared blankly at the moon as the world continued to shudder and groan.

Without a thought she took off into the brush, terrified they may have heard her gasp when she landed.

Her tender feet split on stones and roots, and her lungs burned as she ran through the forest, too terrified to look back or down. The taste of copper filled her mouth, adrenaline wracked her body. She was certain she was hallucinating when two lights drifted down a nearby road, Will-o’-the-wisps with a V-6 engine.

When the lights stopped with a punctuated screech, she realized this was no hallucination. Wonder was replaced by terror. She was an attractive, exhausted, barely clothed fifteen year old alone in the woods at night. This was a bullet-hole ridden Ford Explorer, cruising along like a hunting cat on the prowl. Though not worldy, Mary was well aware that never the twain should meet.

Hours before, she had wished for death, now she wanted nothing more than to live. Still, there was no way she could get very far on foot. And what fate could be inflicted upon her that was worse than what she had lived through?

Stepping onto the cracked street, she waved her arms back and forth. Having already seen her, the driver continued to stare. She couldn’t make out anything other than a blurry silhouette, blinded as she was by the light, so she inched up to the passenger side of the vehicle.

The driver seemed to be motioning for her to get in.

Cautiously, she opened the door.

A slightly plump man gazed back at her with a mixture of curiosity and guiltily restrained lust.

“Hi,” he said plainly.

“Um,” she said. He had a necktie wrapped around his head like a bandana, a white collared business shirt left mostly unbuttoned, and a SIG sniper rifle balancing across his lap.

“I’m Agent 79.”

“I’m…Mary.”

“So…” he said, looking at the tattered rags that covered her young frame. “Going for a jog?”

Mary couldn’t reply. Instead, she started sobbing uncontrollably.

Agent 79 put his hands up as if to console her, but didn’t seem comfortable touching her. They floated there, uncertainly.

“Do you want me to…?”

“Drive!” She said suddenly, forcefully. “I don’t care where you’re going just drive!”

He dropped his hands to the steering wheel, “I am headed West…”

She wiped her nose with one hand. “I don’t care,” she said more calmly. “Drive.”

Mary was still shaking.

Moments before, she had been strapped to the top of a filthy trailer as Agatha was delightfully gang-banged by her inbred children. She would never call her “Mother,” she realized, though couldn’t help thinking of what a Mother might be. Agatha was the exact opposite of everything motherly. She was like Baba Yaga without the walking house. Mary’s brother’s, who Agatha referred to as “ma pups,” couldn’t help what they were, but she still didn’t like thinking she came from the same stock. She refused to talk like them. They were animals. Maybe Agatha couldn’t help being what she was either, but Mary felt no pity for her. Agatha should boil to death in a cauldron of scalding oil, covered in the Colonel’s Secret Recipe of eleven herbs and spices.

That thought made her smile viciously, though it was all distraction from what was going on.

Distraction was a unique skill she’d developed, fermented like a fine wine.

“Excuse me,” Agent 79 said, “but what the hell are you talking about?”

“Talking about?” Mary asked. “No… but I was thinking quite a lot just then.”

“Oh I’m quite certain you were talking. About Kentucky Fried Chicken? Fine wine…And Baba Yaga. You read uh, Russian folk tales? And talk really propah for a Belle… In third person.”

She looked at him, startled for a moment, but then drifted away again.

That old book of fairy tales was her first. No, no that wasn’t true. It was the only book she’d managed to get her hands on and hide. She’d read it over and over, her brothers lost in the zombie-trance of television… before they lost the electric. And yes, she fancied the British. And would never, ever talk like the others. But was that important? Now she was riding in an SUV with some kind of Secret Agent. Nothing like James Bond, though. He hadn’t even given her a proper name. Agent 79? Agent of what? None of the answers he gave to those questions made any sense to her. A “disorganization” of “de-ontological post-capitalist collectivism?” That answer, he admitted a moment later, was a load of bullshit. So she asked again, and he told her it was like a cult, but with better benefits. And he winked when he said benefits, which was kind of creepy, but kind of cute, too–

“You’re doing it again.”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. You just– you have no idea where I just came from.”

“You’re right about that,” Agent 79 said, waiting for a reply.

As the hours and miles of road slipped by, Mary came to realize that things weren’t nearly so dire as she had imagined. She even saw electric lights, magnificent beacons of a world she only dimly recalled from her childhood.

By foot, they had not wandered far. Agatha told them civilization had fallen. No one came looking… Who was to know?

“It’s almost like when the barbarians sacked Rome,” Agent 79 said. “The world didn’t end– just the civilization.”

“I’m sorry?”

“You were talking, I thought–”

“You really are a strange girl, do you know that?” Agent 79 shook his head and made a left.

“Where do…did…you come from?” she asked, trying again.

“The land of barbarians and anal rape,” he said immediately.

“Huh?” she asked.

“Figuratively, I mean.”

“Huh?” she asked again.

“Los Angeles. Back before the bombing I worked in surveillance. Corporate, mainly. I mean what isn’t these days, right? I helped run a music label on the side. Ever hear of Babalon?”

“I’ve been strapped to a chair, mainly. The last year. I mean, or a tree. Or the top of a trailer. Sometimes they’d let me out in the yard, though only on a chain. Then my – I mean uh, Agatha– killed my Dad with a cleaver and made sausages out’ve him.”

“Ah…ha.”

Another long, uncomfortable silence followed.

The sound of the door opening awoke her. She didn’t recall falling asleep, and for a moment struggled against the restraint of the seatbelt before realizing where she was. Outside she could see a long line of shoddily-built windmills, and a vast town of tents and buzzing electric lights.

“Wait here,” he said. “It’s not really safe in these villages…I have to trade some guns for gas and food…We have a long trip ahead. Just. Actually, get in the back where the windows are tinted, I’ll lock the doors from the outside, you’ll be fine. Trust me.”

She looked at him skeptically, her body instinctively falling into a fight or flight position.

“If I wanted to…do anything to you…I could have already. I’m not like that, OK?” He paused. “Not without your permission, anyway. Now please, get in the back.”

He went around the side and pulled out a large black canvas bag, slung his assault rifle over his shoulder, and slammed the door shut behind him. A moment later the vehicle pinged as the doors automatically locked her in.


Doug leaned around the redwood he was pissing on, calling out to his friend.

“You think ther travellin’ long the crick?”

“Nah,” Frank said. “Back ther, I think.”

Zipping his fly, Doug re-shouldered his 30 ought 6.

Frank tossed Doug a beer as he rounded the bend, which he caught and cracked open before he even knew what happened.

“Thanks,” he said, after downing the can and tossing it over his shoulder.

The two of them started down a slight incline, before stopping at the intersection of two dirt paths to crack open another beer.

“You see that bitch that was all over me at the bar down in Oakland?” Frank asked. “I didn’t understand a damn thing she said. I mean, I still fucked her though. Of course. But, y’know. So uh…”

Doug was looking over his shoulder. He had the momentary feeling they were being watched. “What’d ya say?” he asked, shrugging.

“The uh…Oh nevermind. What wer ya lookin’ at?”

“Nothing,” Doug said. “I just thought someone was…You have another beer?”

Fishing around in his backpack, Frank’s fingers came on a now warm can. “Ya. It’s a little pissy…”

Not hearing a complaint, Frank tossed it at him without even looking. A moment later, he heard it thunk on the ground. His brow tying itself into a knot, he turned around.

Doug wasn’t there.

Time was slowing down. His fingers tingled. Leaves overhead rustled in the wind.

A foot came down. It was his. Another and another. He was running.

“HELP SOMEONE FUCKING HELP!” Someone was screaming. It sounded like his voice, but he felt so calm. It couldn’t have been him.

Nymphs in the trees were mocking him. He must have had too much beer…

Something stung him in the neck.

The ground felt warm.

As Frank drifted up on his balloon, he thought he heard a female voice say, “that was a hell of a shot, Mary. Artemis is going to have to take a look at this. Really too bad he’s only a two point buck…”

Mary had found her family, and her home.

To read more, check out the Fallen Nation web site, or purchase the book from Amazon.com.