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Prayer for the Dying

Brian Ames


ERESWHT.XLS sensed something amiss through the umbilicus, the path from the motherboard. The feeling was an electrical tattoo of unease, foreboding, a twisted amperage. Being new, she asked the file anchored next to her — a Powerpoint presentation designated VICHYSSOISE.PPT — what it could be. Fonts and formats assembled, shifted, reassembled, and the old file trembled and spoke: “And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.”

“What does it mean,” ERESWHT.XLS asked through a veil of confusion.

“Comes a horseman,” the old file answered, with a sardonic grin. “Comes a horseman.”

This file speaks in gibberish, the old fuck, ERESWHT thought. Almost as if he was an old, taped analog run. Still, nagging up the network was this feeling of approach, a pending dis-ease. She could feel it urgently, calling and repelling at the same time, down through the wire and silicon ganglia, through portals and down corridors. And just barely, if she was very quiet and shut off nearly all synaptic activity, she thought she could hear a disturbing singing:

Cross held up don' scare me none, baby
Ain’t 'fraid a my reflection no mo'
Necklace a garlic just stink, that’s all
An’ I'm right on t'other side a yo do’

What the hell was it? Fear leached into her like nasty rainwater acid and made her asshole pucker. She was just a little Excel file anchored here down nine levels of subdirectory. It had only been a few input sessions since the Creator had moved her off the hard drive and out into the network environment. And then, unbidden, this realization came to her: since the move across a universe of wafers and chips, It had executed no backup.

Oh fuck, she thought. So this is how it ends.

Later, off in the distance, up the path, she could hear the gasps and shrieks of other files — it sounded like an entire batch colony! Also, maybe, little sharp aspirations of pleasure — sharp intakes of carefully measured breath and the slick, oiled sounds of repro.

Oh, Creator! she thought. Please move me back, please move me back to the C:drive again. If only the Creator would reach out and gather her in Its arms, and carry her away from these mean neural streets. This was a rough fucking neighborhood, and she'd known it from the moment the Creator had saved her down a new directory path.

Then she heard that hideous singing again:

Don' wilt inna sun like lettuce, sugar
Hear me tap on yo windowpane
Pump it up real nice n sweet now mama
Gotta jones for yo lovely vein

As this refrain unfolded, the voice carrying this awful tune grew in magnitude until it seemed just up her own corridor. VICHYSSOISE.PPT craned his speculum neck to see the approach, and ERESWHT heard a shuffling sound of huge feet, the clacking of claws on the floorboards. The cries and moans of batch files grew closer, and she saw VICHYSSOISE’s eyes evolve and bloat as he confronted, in his mineral mind, the beast that emerged from the shadow of the corridor’s orifice and assembled before him.

The virus was horrific — more so than ERESWHT would have imagined in her most profound nightmares. The beast was not silica-based but oozed carbon or, rather, a mutated, bastardized form of carbon. It was a weak, pale sort of cyan, and the character symbols L, O, C, U, S and T flashed through her attributes folder as she steeped recall from an Encarta file that had once passed through her subdirectory, back in the hard drive days. An insect, she thought, and hopping mad.

Its six legs stood still for a moment to allow ERESWHT to get a good look at it. The mandible moved across itself in a frenetic buzz, the movement of teeth weirdly kinetic. ERESWHT thought, from the same Encarta disc: B-A-N-D-S-A-W. The movement stopped, and she could see gore and its drainage across the jaw, down the exoneck, splashed across the abdomen like a signature of doom. Corrupted data dripped to the floor from its flanks, gathering on its hairs then falling, slowly, slowly, slowly. Its plashing was like an invitation, and she felt herself giving in, being seduced. Suddenly she wanted the beast to come nearer.

The virus feasted on VICHYSSOISE.PPT, first wrapping its forelegs around ERESWHT’s subdirectorymate, then affixing its mandible around the Powerpoint file’s neck. ERESWHT could only watch in a mixture of horror, revulsion and desire as the bug unsheathed its fangs. And as the black needle tips of them punctured her companion’s pale neck and drew life from the old file, the beast turned so she had a full, unmitigated view of the abomination. Unable to move, anchored, chained in place by her Creator, ERESWHT observed in agonized fascination as the locust-thing sucked data from VICHYSSOISE. A small tear in the shape of an asterisk slid down her crystalline cheek, and she felt a stab of it again: desire.

Then, from the anterior lobe of the beast, from where ERESWHT had assumed its anus drooped, came a rush of what she first thought were eggs — small round elongated objects of a pale hue. But they started to squirm and move in the pile that had gushed from the virus, assembling themselves in a phalanx that moved toward VICHYSSOISE’s now-still form. As the beast continued to embrace the empty Powerpoint file, the maggots moved onto her old friend, moving up him in a larval brood, leaving trails of excretion and emptiness. The larva worked the file over and as the beast released it and it dropped to the floor, the babies stripped the husk and pulsed and grew larger.

The virus turned and opened its maw in ERESWHT’s direction. There in its hole, she could see spurious data from her friend mixed with the guts and meat and sinew of other files. The eyes of the locust-thing fell on her, gazed directly at ERESWHT, and the beast ejaculated a cruel laugh. It gestured at her chains, as if to ask it what could be done — what alternative was there to a peaceful giving over of herself to it?

Then the horrific fucker began, again, to sing:

Stake in the heart won’t make it, honey
Don’ sleep in a big pine crate
Cause I’m mad bad Vlad, dad
An’ it’s yo blood and guts I'm onna eat!

Her heart sank like a dropping bag of offal. The beast approached her, and as it came near ERESWHT sensed its odor, a sweet, gag-inducing septic cover. Corruption and rot flew from its pores in great, retching waves, and the cilia upon it twitched and undulated. Underneath, at the base of its abdomen, she observed — as if observing an occurrence happening to another file across a cosmos, and not something happening, or about to happen, to herself — the virus’s reproductive organ unfold and grow rigid like a great girder. As the beast’s mouth opened close to her and hot breath played out across her face, and as the points of its fangs again slipped from their sheaths, ERESWHT’s fear/desire became complete and she voided herself and urged, Yes.

The creature closed, reached out with its plated forelegs to grip her steady. Its viral talons sliced into the sweet crystal flesh of her flanks, and entering with this invasion, an entirely new hive of delicious pain cut into her. Needling filaments of carmine depixelization exploded in her vision, and the baby bugs moved off VICHYSSOISE and headed her way. She had a brief, stark impression — H-O-R-N-E-T — and cried out softly in response to its sting. The knives of the beast’s fingers carved rough, ragged wounds in her sides. From them flowed a fat ichor of ones and zeros, and she looked down to watch the flux of her own sweet digital nectar. It coursed from her, and she saw it splash off her own abdomen and the beast’s midriff, joined. It spread in a pool on the floor under them, and ERESWHT.XLS remembered in a brief flash her resolution, the moment when the Creator pointed and clicked her into being.

She felt its fetid teeth puncture the thin glass of her neck, the skin fracturing into a web pattern, then bursting inward, shards falling through the core of her. She reached to grip him, to pull him to her and urge him onward. She wrapped herself onto him and froze there like ice, surrendered the bytes of herself into his swelling, swallowing gullet. Then, barely aspirated through the stabbing and gnashing and invasion and thrusts of the locust-beast, the vladic bug, the impaler, she flung a notion Heavenward in her last throes — this thought: Oh Father of Silicon, Author and Perfecter of this poor sinner, You who know me datum by datum, have mercy on…



Brian Ames writes from the Puget Sound area of Washington state. His work appears in All Hallows (journal of the Ghost Story Society), American Jones Building & Maintenance (a literary journal), Cenotaph, Happy, The Harrow, Literally Horses, The Melic Review, South Dakota Review, Snow Monkey, Wisconsin Review, and the short-story anthology Unusual Circumstances (Pocol Press). His short fiction and essays are forthcoming in The Edge: Tales of Suspense, Glimmer Train Stories, The Massachusetts Review, RE:AL, Seedhouse, Timber Creek Review and Weber Studies. Brian is a former editor of Wind Row, Washington State University’s award-winning 1983–1989 literary journal.


March 2001