Carolina Daemonic- Prologue and First Chapter
In his mind’s eye, the Kabbalist could still see them raging from all directions; soldiers in blue and gray, slaughtering each other in an onslaught of chaos. Families were made enemies, friends were deadly opponents. The hell of war rumbled through blood-soaked landscapes and bitter farm lands.
Zev huffed heavily in panic, as the death scenes seemed to replay over and over. Armed men blasted away at each other with muskets and carbines. The stench of rotting men flooded the scenes heavily.
The screaming, the blasts, the destruction - all of the war’s chaos was fresh in Zev’s mind, as if it happened yesterday. Suspended animation offered that effect, it seemed. Zev remembered being in the war so clearly, but not of his own will. He saw many things, horrid sights and spectacles, and was forced to participate in the bloodiest war ever seen on American soil. His services were needed, and then discarded. His magical expertise was abused.
That was then, and this was now. A present-day Zevulun Kodhorov was encased in mounds of paroxysmal flesh and flying through the deep phantoms of space. Yet, in his mind’s eye, he was still on the battlefield, in summoning rooms performing operations, and in many other shattered realities. One of the many replayed pasts brought the Kabbalist back into President Lincoln’s office, speaking of secrets with a trusted circle of fellow colleagues. Frederick Douglas offered his support, as a dozen esoterically-educated men, along with Zevulun and Paschal Beverly Randolph, spoke of magical tactics to use against the South.
Many final scenes and memories flashed in Zev’s spiritual sight, as he slowly rose from his induced coma, his hands ripping at the cocoon of chaotically pulsing skin and tissue wrapped around him.He could remember the feel of the amulets on his neck and in his hands, the summoning of great golems sweeping the Southern landscape, disguised as Union soldiers with Hebrew letters on their foreheads, giving each earth-made man their own name and number. Figures formed from American dirt and clay rose from the earth, wearing blue uniforms and carrying guns of their own, while the South played the hand with its own collected brand of zombie soldiers. The dead and the supernaturally conceived blended in well with the horrors of war, fighting alongside their human comrades; farms burnt to ash, slaughtered civilians rested in mud pits and along dirt roads.
I was commissioned, the rabbi’s son remembered, commissioned and given asylum.
Back in the President’s office, in hidden rooms behind brothels, in the homes and tents of generals... everything was coming back in flashes, in stretched moments of time. Zev sat in backrooms with war strategists, watched them draw up maps of Gettysburg, Appomattox, Yorktown, and New Orleans. A drunk Ulysses S. Grant offered the magician a swig of liquor and scowled when it was politely refused. Zev drew up his own images to show the generals who’d hired his services, explaining the intricacies of the Etz HaChaim, the powers of the melakhim... most of the time, the men had offered blank stares to the rabbi’s son, but none of them thought he was crazy. They knew of his great reputation, and they’d seen his powers on the open field, along with the other occultists the Union employed.
Zev could still remember his family, Charleston proud and angry, infuriated by their traitor son, the one assisting the yanks. He possessed no knowledge of whether they were still blowing themselves apart on that blue sphere, or if the war finally ended all those years ago. By now, surely...
Blood. Blood everywhere. Bodies gushing and dripping with gore, being ripped apart by horrible, unspeakable things that swooped down from the sky. Even the golems weren’t a match for the evil that had been created by the Confederate occultists.
If Zev hadn’t been fighting to save his life, and the soldiers he worked for, he would have been impressed by the powers the Confederate-hired magicians possessed. The Confederate sorcerers proved to be a terrifying match. Magically-propelled flames, summoned by the enemy, melted the Union soldiers’ limbs and living tissue like hot candle wax. Mounds of crackling ice shot from the earth, capturing unfortunate soldiers in miniature frozen spikes before breaking apart into fragments, shattering like glass, with joints and limbs separating.
What left Zev even more spellbound was that outlandish technology the south employed; steam powered giants ripping through fields and plains, crushing men under metal feet and hands, spraying kerosene-fed flames that burnt human flesh to charcoal and golems to mud puddles. The states became unrecognizable in those grueling war zones.
Those machines were probably the main reason we lost.
Unfathomable daemons, various spells of elemental magic, and strange mechanized berserkers brought damage along many a battlefield. They swept through the southern cities of Columbia, Fredericksburg, Nashville, and Wilmington. Other ill-fated metropolises and towns lay in rubble, ash and dust.
Then, the South had claimed Washington D.C., the Union’s Capital. The war was close to being over by that point, with the Union’s devastation close in foresight. Warriors, both human and magical, raged through the Border States and the North; Baltimore, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, New York City.
Would future generations know the war as it really happened? Zev couldn’t help but ask the question, albeit to no one, though he wished someone could be there with him. Who knew how the past would have been recollected down there in books and pamphlets? The true horrors of the war would undoubtedly be unimaginable to the common human mind.
The memories were fading into the black clouds of his mind. As reality formed into one solitary present, Zev was becoming fully aware of where he was. As the rabbi’s son’s hands finally dug through the unfathomable film of skin and carcass that encased him, he saw the ship, flesh made and moving. Cerebral lights of yellow, blue and red floated and flashed under the ship’s walls of carrion.
I’m in the house of the animate dead, Zev reminded himself upon waking from his slumber, his hands reaching to pull apart. Where they said I would awake.
This floating collection of dead flesh was his new prison. The skilled magician was clueless as to how long he’d been encased up there, moving in suspended animation aboard this prototype ship. He only remembered what his taunting captors had sworn to him, and what he believed without a protesting thought; he would awake ages after all the people he knew and loved were dead and gone. Zev felt it was safe to say that the horrid Confederate cabal responsible for placing him here was immensely successful in their prediction. Their ship of flesh was successfully floating with Zev trapped in space, and from transparent walls on the far end of the spacecraft, Zev could see seas of stars, flashing lights all around.
“You win, Edmond,” the magician murmured to himself. “We lost. Damn it.” He felt around his neck, his arms, and wrists. The bracelets and amulets were gone, all of them, even his protection from the lilin and their horrid mother.
How far am I from Earth? the magician wondered, as he ran towards the tall transparent windows. He was so perplexed, afraid to even wonder what could possibly have happened in the time that he was out. He looked at his hands, still familiar, as they were before the moment he blacked out. With some luck, as he approached the windows, he could see a faint reflection of himself against the void of space with the aid of the flashing lights. He hadn’t seemed to age a bit. His beard was still slightly kept and presentable, his dark hair only a little ragged, but not too long. Those brown orbs of his shimmered a bit.
The unfortunate exile began to pray, hard and heavy, reciting the sh’ma over and over.
“Sh'ma Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Eḥad.”
What else could he do? The prayer brought him a feeling of peace, the sh’ma he was taught to recite upon waking and before sleeping, ever since he was a child. It served as a prayer for the dying, a prayer for the living, a prayer to remind one of an ever present Father, even in the cold darkness unwanted life circumstances could bring. As a Jew, they were words Zev could trust, his connection to an infinite ruler beyond his comprehension. Zevulon needed to recite those pristine words, for nothing else seemed more logical to say when one was faced with no other option, but living death.
If Charleston could ever shed its boisterous, rowdy and outright lunatic reputation, 2020 wasn’t the year. One of the shining beacons of the Confederacy, a late-night pub on Meeting Street, was filled with all sorts of scallywags; winners that might be deemed losers in another man’s perceptual paradise. In this refuge for drunks, however, the night belonged to them: thieves, pirates, bootleggers and ex-convicts amongst aristocrats and dames, be they southern belles or prostitutes. Robotic bartenders were the servers, as would be expected in The Thirsty Rooster, whether they were working the counter as brawny tin men or serving drinks from silver platters as perfectly manufactured steam waitresses. They could get many things done quickly and no task was a problem for them, making any human applicant obsolete. Many a poor, down and out local could complain until their eyes watered, and many of them did. The haves-a-plenty, however, found no reason to cry from time’s advancements.
“Play another tune, Sammy boy.”
The robot from the piano heard the command from the sailor and immediately started to play an old time tune. Another man standing beside the jukebox got angry as the jukebox shut off in midsong. Traumatic situations could break out easily between two bar patrons hoping to hear music from different mediums- hopefully, this night wouldn’t evoke a common sour event from such an expected rivalry. Tuesday was too early for such chaotic madness.
“Oh yeah!” the sailor started to snap his fingers, immediately recognizing a tune that everyone knew, smiling as the mechanical piano man played with virtuoso creativity and pizazz. “Look away!
Look away! Look away! Dixieland...” Titus Hemsley snorted.
The engineer didn’t do so as an emotional response or a need for attention. Titus merely snorted, to clear a clogged nose probably tampered with by the allergy season, and that was that. May brought a few showers, some hot days warning of upcoming summer heat, and lots of pollen. Dandy, thought Titus sarcastically, just dandy. Once his sinuses were cleared, Titus wiped his brow with a tattered black hand riddled with diving cuts and a crocodile skin surface, licking his lips before drinking another swig of his beloved ale. As rough as his hands were, the rest of his skin’s complexion was relatively smooth, a medium-toned brown that was a bit darker than it was light. There was some Scots-Irish floating in him somewhere, some Cherokee, a common blend within a Carolina Negro. He looked at the many ladies and men that filled the bar, and thought about taking another round of ale and possibly going home after that, maybe accompanied by someone. It would be the usual night, some drunkenness and a nightcap. What could be sweeter?
“You know, they got that ancient royalty in Europe,” the sailor shouted to a stranger across the bar. He was proving to be a drunken loud mouth, at least to Titus. “Queens and Kings and shit. Fuck that, eh, Sammy? Hahaha! Here in Dixie, we’ve got real honorable men. Men like my pappy.”
Christ, here we go again, Titus thought venomously as he promptly swallowed another swig.
“Now, you wanna talk about real heroes and real honorable men to mention, you talk about my pappy! Navy hero, before the robots and drones and all of that other shit took over! I bet if you think real hard, you still can’t remember a time when people risked gettin’ blown to smithereens, havin’ a leg torn off. Hell, I can’t. Followed in the family footsteps, and fer what? To sit and shit on poop decks, scrubbin’ and waitin’ to catch scabies! Daddy survived by the white skin of his fuckin’ teeth. Served the Confederacy proud. Even went up north before the War to work in some stupid yank factory and make the President proud. Real proud. Got three war medals. Even though it’s all a part o’ the Confederacy, you gotta sacrifice some damn pride to go to some damned Northern state just to help forge weapons and bots for the military. Pricks act like they ain’t lost up there. Selfrighteous pricks. Fuck the north.”
Titus eyed some of the women at the bar. Luscious, thick and curvaceous beauties lined the counters, getting drinks and laughing with friends. Some Nubians, many Caucasians, at least three Latina women. There was skin as dark as nocturnal shadows and as fair as porcelain statues. Lace and leather on some of the bad girls, summer dresses on the dainty southern belles insane enough to come to The Thirsty Rooster. Short blonde hair, long ravenous tresses, curly locks, straight; the variety was vast for such a small place. The selections could be broad.
Perhaps he would just fancy the feminine species tonight.
“I can’t blame them damn yanks. I mean, they got a lot to spite us for. Ha ha- we basically turned them states into prison zones. Put their violent, crime-lovin’ darkies in their place. If they like them mullers so much, they can have the lot of ‘em! Chain gangs for gangs! That’s what I say. Good for ‘em! Yanks... heh. They hate rebels, and I’m a fuckin’ rebel.”
None of the men seemed appealing to Titus, and it could take forever to read the signs of a man that was open to his own sex in a straight bar. Titus didn’t possess the patience for the dramatic scene and blatant racism of the gay spots that night, so he would have to make do with what The Thirsty Rooster offered. Was The Thirsty Rooster any better? Hearing the crowing of a narcissistic racist sailor over piano keys made Titus rethink his biased opinion of gay clubs like Ruthie’s and Exclusivisions. The engineer also considered the overall makeup of the male population in the pub. Ruffians and scallywags were everywhere with the exception of a few flashy-suited guys like Titus himself. Titus saw a man with a heavy jaw and shaved head that was somewhat appealing, but not enough to get Titus really excited. Sure, his expressive, menacing tattoos were hot, and a couple of scars added to the exciting sense of danger shrouding the stranger, but there was still a ruggedness to him that was too rough. Titus liked manly men, but at heart, he was a gentleman, and expected his male choices to be gentlemen as well. Also, the stranger didn’t seem to have anything queer about him vibe wise, and Titus couldn’t help but think of a fist flying in his face upon even the subtle hint of a proposition… so it would probably be best to leave the mongrel alone.
Excuses, Titus thought shamefully with humor.
Perhaps it was the hate of a hunt that made Titus really cautious about approaching men in these straight pubs. Usually, the closet cases came to him, sensed something from his mannerisms, or perhaps remembered seeing him from afar in a queer venue. With the discrete men, Titus took care of the situation like laundry duty. Sometimes men would approach Titus, and they were often drunk, racist louts, secretly queer men with a taste for black dick, but it would take a real eye catcher to persuade him tonight. Titus was a bit turned off by men at the moment anyway. Titus’s sexual interests could flicker back and forth like a fluctuating meter. Ladies were at the top of the menu tonight. Seeing the flesh of lusciously ample breasts beneath the many feathery tops around him was driving his alcohol-fueled mind wild. He wondered how many women were disappointed with the grimy showcase of men that night; lummoxes that looked more fit for serial killing than one night stands. Then again, a lot of ladies went for such rough edges, especially in the seedy playground of nightlife Charleston. The human succubae and incubae hiding amongst the modest Southern population were free to roam in these shadowy, liquor surged depths of metropolis sprawl.
“So many uppity mullers in here tonight, eh, Winston?”
The sailor was still talking. Winston. Some stupid, meaningless term of endearment to no one and nothing other than the sailor’s demanding ego. Titus doubted that there was even a real barfly named ‘Winston’ anywhere in The Thirsty Rooster that night.
The sailor’s demented mind probably thought he really was talking to a specific someone in that pub as people diverted their eyes away from him, attempting to ignore him. With the names he was saying, it wasn’t hard to tell he didn’t know a soul in the bar.
And the word muller was even more familiar. A word meaning trash, used to refer to blacks and anyone else deemed subhuman by white supremacists and separatists. The ignorant term, brought to the country by German immigrants, was just as hateful as many other words well documented in the history books. The word muller gained more dominance in the country shortly after the War of Northern Aggression.
Titus, however, was unfazed by such stupid terms. Words couldn’t penetrate his mind or derail his actions. To the engineer, only unenlightened minds with a need to feel superior to blanketed groups of people did their best to strip people’s humanity through obscenities and insults.
Incompetent ass, Titus thought to himself as he reached into his coat and pulled out a cigar. It pissed him off to see that his hand was shaking. He hated to show any sign of fear or weakness around individuals such as this sailor, whether the man was paying any real attention to him or not. Asses like the sailor fed off trepidation. Racism was nothing new to Titus, and he didn’t like to feed into it. Human hatred was unavoidable, and Titus felt the best he could do was accept its vile place in the world. Still, as a tall and strong male, he loathed feeling wary, fearful, or cautious in a way that seemed to expand beyond his control. Experience gave Titus enough reason to get anxious, however, he knew from the past how a few hateful comments could turn into a backroom or back street brawl, especially in Charleston. For that, he couldn’t fault his small, jittery reactions.
“I’m thinkin’ I counted... say... five, six mullers? A lot fer a bar like this. Funny. I was told about them uppity mullers here in Charleston. You know, they were lettin’ them boys roam around free for a long time in this city. Way before Lincoln’s surrender. You want to talk about some crazy shit? When ol’ boy Lee the Fifth was allowin’ schools to integrate in the seventies, he nearly didn’t abolish slavery. He caved by 1975, the prick. If you want to know the truth, the only thing that really pushed him into doin’ it was the robots taking over.” The proud sailor slammed his drink on the countertop in front of him. “That’s right, ladies and gentlemen! The robots made the smelly mullers obsolete!”
Titus took the time to look at some of the patrons in the crowd. The bar held a mixed gathering, mostly white, but most of the people there looked annoyed and embarrassed by the sailor’s remarks. A few looked ready to cut the throat of the man interrupting their tranquil evening. There were only a small few, maybe three or four out of over thirty people, seeming to grant any smile or snicker to the man’s comments. His expressed ideas were mostly seen as an old world contraption of mental farts, even in the Charlestonian neck of the Confederate States of America. Slowly, but surely, it was becoming a thing of the past.
“It’s all economics, people! Mullers are a great physical workforce, and when they ain’t liftin’ lumber or pickin’ cotton on a plantation, what ‘ave ya got? Darkies runnin’ rampant in the streets, killin’ each other and sellin’ dope. Fillin’ up prisons and hospitals. Inflatin’ taxes. God, it makes me sick bein’ here.” The sailor seemed to be tearing up from the crumbling sound of his voice. Titus couldn’t tell if such an emotional reaction resulted from the lack of responses to the sailor’s speech, or the fact that the robotic piano man stopped playing Dixie. “Ya’ll ain’t proud like we are in Mississippi. Politically correct featherweights. Inspired by Jaystone and Princely. Them damn gays are destroying the nation we’re built upon!”
Titus could still hear the man ranting away, but he was more magnetized and aroused by the Asian woman he saw near the window. She was chatting away on a Talkbot securely fastened to her ear and along the left side of her face, pumping with steam as it sent out instant audio messages. Paying close attention, Titus could recognize the woman’s accent and language a little from past familiarity. Although he couldn’t speak a lick of it, Titus felt pretty sure that the woman was speaking Chinese. Mandarin. Pu tong hua. She could have been a local, a travelling businesswoman, or on vacation. There was really only one way to find out.
“Some of them mullers are alright,” the sailor continued. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a racist! Just hate them uppity types. Used to know this real good one. Jimmy. Hard worker. Great blackface minstrel. He could really put on a show. Got paid good money starrin’ in my daddy’s films. My daddy got into the movie industry after he retired, if you must know. Too bad they banned blackface last year...”
“I couldn’t care less,” an immaculately dressed mulatto woman in white shouted from nearby, her raven hair draping over her shoulders with curly, sensual locks. She was quite beautiful, her light voice bordering a soprano tone.
“You should care, darlin’,” the sailor said, his tone suddenly becoming cheery. “I would care to know more about you, too."
“Why don’t you hit the docks and eat lead?”
Titus finished his drink and tipped the bartender. He was making his way over to the Asian woman now, studying her features. She was wearing a very soft white ensemble. The tips of her hair were dyed a bright neon blue to match with her eyeliner. The cigarette she was smoking seemed so brittle and slender. Her soft physical nature and the calm way she carried herself screamed aristocracy.
“Wait, baby, you ain’t offended by all the stuff I was sayin’, are ya?”
Damn, if I can’t shut that sailor out of my ears, Titus thought.
He finally approached the attractive Asian woman. “Excuse me, ma’am.”
“I don’t get offended,” the mulatto woman spat in the
background. “I just don’t like trash, is all.”
The Asian woman looked up at Titus with very attractive, light hazel eyes. Maybe they were contacts. “Yes?”
Titus could hear the mulatto woman and the sailor still sharing insults in the background, none of them pretty. He would try his damnedest to block out as much air garbage as possible. “Titus
Hemsley. Are you new to this area?” The woman nodded. “From Beijing. On business.”
“Really? Well, your English is quite impressive. How long have you been learning?”
“Don’t flatter me, please.”
Titus was taken aback only slightly by the Chinese woman’s defensive bluntness. He knew she was in the right to be so direct and subtly harsh in her tone. Titus could feel the woman’s hazel eyes burning with a trenchant beam through the heart of his poorly shrouded agenda.
In the background, the sailor was still hitting on the racially mixed woman. He must have been daft. Insults ensued.
“I didn’t mean the comment for flattery,” Titus half-lied. “I’m really impressed. Honestly, it’s a compliment.”
The woman rolled her eyes as she grasped the Talkbot on her head. “I studied at the Beijing Institute of Confederate English from the age of twelve. One of the best second language English schools in the world. It’s really not a miracle for me to speak English so well. Now, if you will excuse me. I’m a busy woman.”
“Oh... well, I’m sorry to bother you. I see you have a call. Please forgive me.”
“If you’ll excuse me.” The woman continued to talk into the Talkbot once again, Mandarin replacing English.
Damn, I’m a fool, Titus thought as he walked away from the woman. Oh well, I might as well continue searching.
There were still many, many women on the scene. A lot of them kept their hair up, looking nice and pretty, while wearing glamorous accessories and earrings. Very nice perfume adorned their skin, their makeup clean and smooth. Still, Titus didn’t know exactly what he would need to look for in order to feel fulfilled.
How shameful... me looking at women to satisfy my needs. In your fifties and still as selfish as ever, Titus. Still a horn dog and greedy. Impotence surely missed Titus, but on feverous nights like this, sometimes he wished his cock would fall limp, his sexual desires lifeless and dead. Even as an old man, sex ruled his life, forcing his eyes to wander like a somnambulist lust slave.
It wasn’t too hard to notice that most of the female patrons were on Talkbots.
What’s the point of going out, Titus thought angrily, if everyone is on these damned things when I’m trying to get laid?
The Talkbot was an interesting little doo-dad. Thelonius Punk engineered the earliest prototype of the gadget in roughly 1920 AD. Punk was a black inventor and musician from the Mississippi Delta, a free man that was eventually lynched during a visit to Atlanta, Georgia, after he was accused of whistling at a white woman. Leaving the world with the extravagant Talkbot was both Punk’s gift and curse to the metastasizing communication era of the early twentieth century. It was a step above the telegraph and the telephone, using steam technologies and invisible air ‘circuit wires’ to transmit verbal messages globally, reaching far off distances. The invention connected the world in a new way. Punk was still seen as a genius a century later, and he’d created many things, but the Talkbot was still hailed as one of his best inventions. Different designers improved the model and made it better with each coming age. Now, it was a global device mixed with steam and solar technology that could contact any place in the world, free of charge, with the exception of how much it cost to initially buy the horrid thing, let alone upgrade it. Five Robert E. Lee’s, or five-hundred dollars, was the usual cost unless one was smart enough to get an older version, check a pawn shop, or go black market shopping as most usually did.
Titus owned a TalkBot, but he rarely used it. Staying connected to a global communication system like that all the time was scary. There was no question that being a bot engineer in his working profession made him more wary about using such technology, mainly for privacy reasons. The engineer didn’t fear government agencies listening to his calls or knowing his most secure details, but he didn’t care to have too many people reaching out to him, interrupting his solitude. Titus was an intimately confidential and reclusive person.
If people could buy a bot to shit without going to a restroom, chances are they’d buy it, Titus thought often. Such a device would not go into his creative plans for work anytime soon. Human laziness really worried him. Whether or not it was the reason he was so misanthropic and even distrustful of modern life in general was still a question he was trying to answer. Why did he choose the profession he was in? To be around machines, robots... he liked creating, he loved hardware and science, but still, there was a limit.
Well, that mixed girl was quite beautiful. Maybe I should-
The mulatto girl was gone, and the angry sailor had left as well.
“I don’t know,” he muttered, as he decided to walk out of the bar, away from the busy clientele, the loud sailor, the beautiful women and robotic servers. “I just don’t know.”
Charleston. It surrounded the old timer like a sinking ship surrounded by tumultuous waters. He was getting old in a decaying city, walking past old slave markets and edging closer to black impoverished neighborhoods. Those run down blocks were hardly too far from the opulent and posh areas of “Fair Lady Charleston”, the nice and polished old houses were still filled with many wealthy aristocratic families and cocaine dealers. Those areas were filled with robotic trash men coming in steam powered garbage trucks, solar energy panels on the slanted roofs of every house, advanced plumbing and fire hydrants. What did these hellholes have? Cracked asphalt, dirty sidewalks littered with trash and broken shards of beer bottles, the stench of body odor, liquor, and sewage. Titus grew up seeing it all, and still wondered how those decrepit streets did not make him violently sick.
Gas lamp streetlights cleared the way for the night. Such lamps were one of the few hints of a slightly modern society in these archaic slum grounds. Glowing vials of different colors filled with syrupy, fluorescent oil added some interesting style to the scenery along sidewalks and miniature bridges. Under the streetlights’ glowing vigil, nighttime was tranquil, even in the seedy streets of Charleston. There was hardly any traffic on the roads, though every now and then, a steam car would zoom by. The drivers were usually bearded with brass goggles over their eyes, the lenses obscured with a black hue, as their hands wore dark, shiny rubber gloves. Everything about the drivers’ looks, and even the fact that they drove cars, indicated they were far too affluent and well off to live in these areas. The streets merely served as conduits to better homes and environments, as the drivers’ cars flooded the air with vaporous mists sputtering from their tail ends. The cars usually swerved a bit, since the drivers were obviously drunk, which helped feed their audacity to ride courageously through the dark city neighborhoods.
One of these days, one of those idiots are going to kill me, Titus reckoned.
Titus walked through the twilight maze of King Street, seeing some of the night shift workers doing their seedy jobs to survive. Prostitutes swung their asses and showed their stuff, fluffing their tits like pillows as they stood awkwardly in high heels. As skanky as they could be, there were women with regal poses and the long limbs of ostriches, their necks slender as vain, vacuous eyes travelled the street. Some of the young bloods called to Titus, offering a good time with pouty lips and drug-ruined eyes, their gazes glassy. The older, more recognizable faces ignored him. Titus wondered if he knew some of the older, wrinkled and sluggish women from his whoring days.
Of the geezer prostitutes, some were bony, possibly from starving and malnutrition, and others were fat, sloppy, and greasy. Many of the whores, young and old, were already taken, walking side by side with horny gentlemen. A quarter of the women of the night would probably end up getting robbed, a small number of them killed.
A horrid business, Titus thought, with sympathy and disgust. He knew all too well what this life gave its employees.
Titus kept a pistol on him, just in case anyone did choose to get violent. He kept a legitimate gun license in his wallet as well, just in case, though he knew he couldn’t get off on a self-defense case unless, maybe, his assailants were black. Sadly, such a circumstance would most likely be the case. Titus could hold his own with his hands, anyway, and he’d boxed down a few pickpockets, and even robbers, in his day. Maybe he was a little older and slower, but he was still a healthy man. He didn’t fear the streets that used to be his purgatorial home.
Titus Hemsley wasn’t perfect. He knew the ins and outs of ‘tricking’, prostitution, the illegal profession he experienced, both in pimping and whoring. He knew the plight of these women, along with the occasional transsexuals and gay men, who wandered from corners and alleys. Titus has been through so much. Accused of murder more than once while luckily escaping conviction for such crimes. Jail time. If knowledge of his past was widespread, some people would try to peg him as one of the Confederacy’s worst nightmares, a common mongrel Negro, a scoundrel that slipped through the cracks and was somehow allowed to become a well-off robotics expert and engineer. He could fit as a prime example of what should be subjugated, imprisoned, and even destroyed.
Titus found the fear and paranoia rising within him to be ridiculous. The street life was behind him. He’d made it out alive as a successful robot designer and creator. The man often pinched himself to see if he was dreaming. He was fifty-four, still strong and robust, doing himself prouder than he ever did at twenty or even thirty. Maybe it was just a rushing dream, something that lasted only a bit over a decade and would come crashing down any moment now. Sure, he used to be a prostitute. For a shorter period, he was a pimp. Most of the money he made in those seedy professions, however, had funded his education. All of that cash helped him to buy a house for his estranged father before he died, burying the hatchet on their awkward, nearly nonexistent relationship. It helped him provide a proper and respectful funeral for his mother. Titus knew fortune and luck first hand, the result of a man that came from shit and crafted his own heaven in hell.
More good than bad came Titus’s way after he left the Yoruban Nation in his early twenties. The Yoruban Nation was a pro-black, anti-Confederacy religio-political cult. Titus wanted to kick himself whenever he thought of how involved he got with what he now saw as a racist group. When the strange Yoruban Nation cult spread throughout the southeast of the Confederacy, it inspired dedicated, albeit fanatic, radicals unlike anything the western world had seen before. Their talks of anti-imperialism, reparations, and a separate socialist utopian system outside of the empire, appealed to many street kids and angry black youth. Their charismatic leader, Manti Ogun, was often compared to Nat Turner and seen as a real living incarnation of an African god of war.
Titus was a young and dumb teenager when he looked into the cult, trying to find a culture, a sense of identity, and a place in the world. He learned many things, secret things, but when his time with the group came to a close, he experienced first-hand just how wildly dangerous such communities could be. There were rumors of a hit on his head for a while, making Titus worry every time he left a building or walked through a door. A messenger sent by the Yoruban Nation quashed Titus’s fears when he announced the hit was called off. Titus was free to pursue his life. The only obligation on Titus’s part was that he was to leave the group in the past, never speak of them publically and cut all ties with active members.
It was a miracle that the Yoruban revival dolts didn’t hunt him down in his older years, instead allowing bygones to be bygones (Titus hoped). Titus often wondered if the Yoruban Nation would really bring an end to the oppressive nation that was his home since birth. The group was the source of many protests, riots, and a few militia led attacks on the Confederacy for decades. At one point, Titus believed in their cause, but he now saw it as the whims of youthful ignorance and confusion. He could never find the sense in belonging to such a strange organization with his seasoned, more mature understanding of society and the world.
Titus was around at the beginning of school integrations, the slow abolition of racial slavery, although, arguably, sexual slavery and robotic slavery still existed in the Confederate states. The engineer knew enough to be aware that many prostitutes on the street were not working by any will of their own. Things weren’t perfect; the Confederacy fueled a higher number of serial killers, steam train accidents, tube train wrecks, terrorism, rioting and violence more than any other place in the world. School shootings in private Confederacy institutions were quite common. The only places close behind in such unsettling statistics were the Confederacy’s greatest allies; the Union of South Africa and Iron Russia, the world’s foremost leader in steam technologies as well as the Confederacy’s biggest provider of steam products. Middle Eastern countries held the monopoly on oil, or dinosaur blood, as it was adorably called by many leftist and counter Confederate groups. Things weren’t all bad, one could suppose- the Confederacy still rivaled the rest of the world in vegetable production, their genetic plantation departments producing the most GMOs in the world, all thanks to OrbTech, and they were the second biggest supplier of warfare devices. More military drones and robots came from Iron Russia, but the Confederacy was close behind, especially when it came to bombs and sea crafts.
Take that, stupid sailors, Titus taunted mentally, as he thought about the drunken buffoon back at the bar. You have no work to return to, and that’s why you live on bar tales. Old stories of wars gone and dead. Unemployed fuckers, you fool no one.
Titus turned around to see a very familiar person staring at him with weary, sierra toned eyes. It was a black male with very unkempt, wooly hair. His goatee was tangled, and his clothing seemed as worn as damp rags. Whereas Titus stood at an imposing six foot three, this man was about five foot nine, his lips chapped and dry, white at the corners. His features were rougher and more worn in comparison to Titus’s smoother skin. His muscular build was somewhat impressive, though he was a small, nearly wire-framed man. Titus didn’t want to make any comparisons by matching his well matched suit or glossy shoes to the poor man’s dire look, but the contrasts were far too obvious. For a relatively cool night, the man wore no jacket, possibly because he couldn’t afford one. His blue shirt was tattered and torn, stained from an improper use of bleach. His pants were equally as dirty, ripped in different places, the shoes beneath them filthy and riddled with holes.
“Reuben?” Titus asked, with disbelieving, squinting eyes staring at the impoverished looking man.
The man’s hands were shaking, his eyes looking with a mix of elation, a mix of dread, and an iota of anger. “So you still down here?”
“Yeah. I’m still down here. How long have you been back?”
Reuben looked to his left, then to his right, all very cautiously. “They just let me out. Up from New York. Around six this mornin’. Ain’t they still got a different curfew fo’ the blacks?”
“Curfew? The Negro laws were abolished. A thing of the past, Reuben.”
To spite the North after the War of Northern Aggression, the Confederacy set up a base in New York during the eighteen-eighties. The very decade was often cited by liberal school professors, political activists and angry anarchists as a prime example of martial law used exploitatively in Confederate history. Confederate troops marched through the towns and cities of New York, placing generals and colonels in political seats. They changed the laws, rewrote the state constitution, and set up facilities to police the state. Many men went up to the North in a mission to ‘reform’ schools and courthouses, reinstalling a slave culture and making sure that blacks were not illegally paid for their services. Negro males once living as free men in the Union became slaves in the Confederate takeover.
New York was also the main place scientists conducted experiments for genetically processed and modified vegetation, starting in the nineteen-twenties, around the time Punk invented the first Talkbot. Genetically modified foods helped to feed the growing demand of the Confederate Army as they fought to establish a ‘complete’ Confederate nation in the reinvigorated ‘Manifest Destiny’ campaign. From the Midwestern region of the states all the way to California and the western territories, the Confederate Army warred with native tribes, Mexicans, and rebel forces attempting to create rival governments against the Confederacy. By the nineteen-thirties, the Confederate takeover of all Union states and territories was fully realized, including the control of many Caribbean islands from Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, and Cuba. Many Native tribes were exterminated, and the legacy of the Cherokee, Apache, and other aboriginal peoples was now mostly confined to history books.
The Confederacy seemed to take most of its anger for the War of Northern Aggression and many Manifest Destiny conflicts out on New York and Washington DC, leveling homes, imprisoning dissenters and creating prisons in condemned neighborhoods. By the nineteen-seventies, the entire city of New York City became the biggest industrial prison complex in the Confederate States of America. The run-down city of Washington DC, which still held a relatively modest urban population clinging by its last breath, was heading in the same direction.
Prison was a huge business in the Confederate States of America.
“Is that so? No curfew, huh?” Reuben laughed. “Probably good for people in the business, now. Don’t know how we did what we did with that damn night curfew. Cops left and right. Crazy how we survived way back when.”
“Past days gone behind us.”
“Yeah. I didn’t think I’d be runnin’ into you like this. Bet you ain’t never thought you see me again. You went through a growth spurt, boy?”
Titus folded his arms. “It’s been years, Reuben. Many.”
“Damn. You was, damn, what, twenty-seven, twenty eight when I saw you? I mean, you was talla’ than me then, but I swear you gain an inch or two. You know,” Reuben continued, his nervous face doing its best to wear a smile as he trembled a bit, “I read about you a bit in some magazines, while I was doin’ time. You a big bot man now, huh?”
“Some would say I am, but not too big to walk out the house without being harassed, fortunately.”
“Yeah, yeah, but bein’ in magazines and all, that’s big. Real big. What it is you do exactly?”
“Engineer. Design. Create.”
“Damn.” Reuben laughed just as nervously as he smiled.
“That’s what bot men do, huh? And to think I remember you turnin’ tricks here for old men and nasty rich bitches lookin’ for black dick.
Right here on King Street.”
“What exactly is it that you want, Reuben?”
Reuben stared the suited man deep in his eyes, with as much pain as all of those prison years could have mustered in his weak, graying stage. “Who the fuck said that I want somethin’? I just ran into your groupie sweet ass, lookin’ all cockadoodle doo and holy. Well, damn. I ran into you, you ran into me. What can I say?” Reuben laughed and shrugged. “What is there to say? I didn’t expect to run into your sorry, uppity ass tonight. Boy, you thought you was somethin’ even back in the days. Better than all them other mullas. I know you think you betta’ than me still, but since we here, we might as well talk
about what I was owed.”
“Owed for what?”
“For takin’ care of yo’ prissy ass. The pimpin’ and the time I did. Prison. Standin’ in for you when you needed help.”
“I didn’t kill that girl, Reuben.”
Reuben slammed a foot on the pavement under him. “And you think I did? You think I did? I never did. I hadn’t never seen the bitch! Had me doing time.”
“Until when?” Titus asked. What exactly would get a man off a murder charge?
“Until DNA results came back.”
Titus stared blankly. “DNA?”
“Yeah. Surprised myself. This evil gumment don’t even do much DNA testing. Just let us rot away behind bars most of the time like some damn dummies on some bullshit!”
“Well, congratulations. Did they find out who did it?”
“Yeah, they found out who did it. Wooky.”
“Damn.” Titus immediately recognized Thomas Allen’s alias, Wooky. He had been a prominent drug dealer and pimp in downtown Charleston.
“Damn right. You know he dead too. Been dead for five years.” The old man shook his head. “We was at the wrong place at the wrong time. You know how they think. We been all up on these streets and these spots, we seen the girl a few times trickin’, they went grabbin’ up mullas left an’ right an’ went through a list. You and me weren’t the only ones they questioned. I was just the brotha they chose to throw the book at.” Reuben hocked a massive wad of phlegm and spit it out on the cracked asphalt.
“Wooky’s death. Huh. So you heard about that.”
“Ha. You think bein’ behind them prison walls will keep a man out the loop? I’m a real man, Titus. Streets ain’t never leave when you behind them walls. Mullas come in and out with all kind of news. I had good ears on the street, Titus. Lots ain’t loyal out here, but I got friends. They don’t fo’get hands that fed ‘em.”
“Reuben. I’m really sorry for what you’ve been through.”
“Yeah, yeah. Just remember, I served the time you almost got.”
“You don’t know how many people have.”
Reuben looked down on the ground, rubbing his arms and producing a small cough. He looked back into Titus’s eyes. “True. Like you got some guardian angel or somethin’. Ain’t never done no time, even now, I bet.”
“No, I haven’t.”
“Lucky ma’fucka. Hey, Titus... you mind lettin’ me take a little bath? Or can you give me some food, some good clothes?”
“Sure. It’s the least I can do. I’m on my way home, anyway.”
“Thank you. Just don’t try none of that fruity shit, please.”
Titus rolled his eyes. “I’ve told you before. I won’t. Even though you’re so irresistible.”
Reuben gave Titus a fearfully inquisitive eye.
“Reuben. I told you before, you don’t do anything for me. No offense.”
“Okay, okay. Just makin’ sure, you know. I made money off yo’ bitch ass, but I don’t play that shit.” Reuben shook his head, as he started to follow behind Titus on a steam-laden street surrounded by bourgeois apartments and bright streetlamps. Gentrification was funny like that. One minute, you could be in the hood, and the next, in paradise, or vice versa.
Titus hoped no police would harass them this night, especially with Reuben dressed so poorly.
“You know what, Titus? Everythin’ bout you annoys me. The way you all dressed up, the way you talk, the way you smell- just another mulla chasing night passions. Bet you chasin’ white men, white women, gay as hell, livin’ that devil life. Don’t think you better than the rest of us.”
“You always used to put some weird shit over my head, Reuben, even though I made you lots of money.” Titus reached in his coat pocket and pulled out a cigar. “Just to let you know, I’ve slept with men and women of a variety of races. Race doesn’t matter to me.”
Reuben sneered. “You still all dolled up like some little girl toy.”
“You’re still uncomfortable with my sexuality, Reuben. After twenty to thirty odd years, even after I was one of the few people that kept the lights on in your brothel. Some shit never changes, does it?”
“No, mulla. Them things true. Truer words never come out of your fat lips.”
It baffled Titus to think how often he heard the word muller, such an outdated term, fly so carelessly from Reuben’s tongue. Though Titus was rarely troubled by the usage of words, he never understood how a man could be proud of himself and use a term known to symbolize his perceived inferiority in a racist, classist, societal structure so freely. Some of his own people tried to justify the word’s usage by a slight dialectal change, the end of the word changing from er to a in pronunciation, and even in written form. Oh well, Titus thought as he heard Reuben ramble on, tuning him out with mock attentiveness. No need to be a prude, since I’m so damn ‘uppity’. No need to be a hypocrite, either. If I hardly bat an eye at a white sailor using the word in a bar, why cry when my own people use it?
People could use and say whatever words they wanted. Titus could only focus on constructing the words that flew from his own tongue, minding his own thoughts and actions in a chaotic world.
As Titus lit the tip of his cigar, he led Reuben into one of the many steam-powered trans-elevators standing at the edge of the street. Its exterior was of golden brass with compartments, as hard and wonderful as bone. Its interior was a delicate scarlet, an analog computer set against the wall opposite of the door. Visually, the vehicle possessed a piquant style, quite savory to the human eye. A wide screen above it, showing various maps of Charleston and the Lowcountry surrounding it, though it didn’t go too far out of the city, accompanied the computer.
The trans-elevators, or transelevators as the word was often spelled, could be found throughout Charleston and any other major city in the Confederate States. Similar devices were found in other areas worldwide, operating to connect areas in metropolitan locations. Transelevators were often referred to as special “keys to the city”. In Charleston, they could take people anywhere they’d like to go, from the different streets of downtown, to Folly Beach, the Isle of Palms, and even over Cooper River towards Mount Pleasant, where Titus lived. Whatever the rider keyed into its coordinates with the identity card provided, that’s where the elevator would go, unless the location was barred by password to the elevator rider, of course.
“Bet you live in a fuckin’ mansion,” Reuben suggested, with a vile and harsh tone.
“Welcome either way,” Titus replied.
Titus swiped a card in a little slot. A keyboard popped out, allowing Titus to punch in the password to his home. It took him a matter of twelve seconds to type the long, difficult code. After everything was entered into the analog computer appropriately, the trans-elevator buzzed and hummed as its inside monitor portrayed a mapped route to Titus’s destination. With a few pumps of hot, vaporous air, the golden brass transelevator sunk into the ground and sped off.