In His Teeth

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He has stolen many hamburgers tonight.

The thief is running. He is springing from rooftop to rooftop. He is hunched low, and the sack with the hamburgers in it is low against his back.

Pacing him on the left roof there is one of the aliens.

“Ptui,” spits the thief.

The alien is spinning. Its body is bright red, like cloth or rubies. It is covered with long tendrils, poisoned like a jellyfish’s. Its eyes are artificial, great glass structures with floating, drifting pupils. They help the naturally blind beast see. The alien reminds the thief of nothing so much as the freedom fries sticking up from a plastic carton; but, the thief reminds himself, these creatures have nothing to do with freedom.

The thief drops to the ground, still running. He ducks under an arch. The creature follows. There is a yellow one to his right. Its eyes shine in the night, laughably twinkly for such a brutal beast’s.

“Here,” says the thief. He has reached a blank wall. He passes his hand over the wall. He says the Words, the Words that call to the seething darkness at the universe’s heart. The wall ripples with shadow. It peels apart, like a plastic seal breaking. The bricks open to him like a toothless mouth opens, and he passes through. The alien strikes the bricks behind him as the wall seals shut.

Ironically, he is inside a burger vault now. They are stacked on every shelf and on the floor, each in their little paper wrapper. Most of them are old and rotten and the stench staggers him; but one or two are fresh.

He lingers just a bit too long, seizing them. When he emerges from the building’s other side, the aliens surround him.

“Ham,” they say.

He casts his eyes this way, that way. He sees no escape.

“Why do you resist us, Ham? Why do you struggle? We bring only goodness and virtue to this Earth. You must know this. You must see it. You are of the Changed.”

The thief sets down his sack.

“The way of life you have created for the humans,” he says. “It is wrong.”

The aliens spin. They are frustrated with him. He can sense it in the attitude of their tendrils and the scent that rises from them. They are speaking to him as to a child, who does not understand.

“If we had not taken this world,” says the red alien, “then it would not have cast forth the Changed. It would have remained forever outcast from the truth, forever a land of blind soulless beasts lacking a bond to God.”

“The striped God,” whispers the orange alien.

“The golden God,” whispers the yellow one.

“Duh, yeah, the hungry God,” observes the great purple load-beast that lurks in the aliens’ ranks.

“You would never have been born!” the red alien rants to the thief. “You would be one of the useless masses of the undercity, unable even to appreciate the hamburgers you steal!”

The thief clasps his hands together. He cries the Words of darkness into the night: Robble robble! Cerain ca’fiena! Robble robble rob!

And the darkness is there.

“Stop him!” shouts the alien.

The load-beast lumbers forward. It is too late.

The thief has already called forth that knife of shadow and of stars that is free with every happy meal in the era of the beast. He has already driven it upwards into his brain. He is already dying.

The tendrils of the aliens are lashing at him. They are stinging him. The paralytic venom races towards his heart. But he is dead. His bodily functions have ceased. His flesh dissolves, unweaving. In the emptiness beyond death the darkness reaches for him, and he flees into its heart.

He tumbles into the courts of the dead where he learned his trade, and slowly and with great pain the thief summons the life back into his flesh.

“There are no hamburgers with you tonight,” says his master and his lord.

“I am sorry,” says the thief.

He does not steal the burgers for himself, though tonight—and certain other nights—he has seized and eaten a happy meal of his own.

He steals the hamburgers for his lord.

“Tomorrow, I will try again.”

“They will be stronger. Each night that you fail, they will be stronger.”

“I know,” says the thief.

It will take ten thousand, no, ten thousand thousand hamburgers, to free the world, to seize it back, for the darkness, from the aliens that hold it now.

The thief runs his tongue behind his lips and feels a certain satisfaction.

He is sad that he has failed, but there is happy stuck between his teeth.

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