The Power to Change the World
A Danyael story
Start at the beginning of the Danyael series
It's a cliche to say that power corrupts. It's obvious to see that giving Joe Random person the ability to satisfy their id is gonna result in them doing so. Especially when the consequences seem to be removed. That's basically what power is - escaping the consequences of your actions. The average person is afraid of the rules of society, and gives up any power they have to kowtow to the accepted way of doing things. Criminals get some power by just being clever, or fast, and not getting caught when they break the rules. Politicians just change the rules to suit themselves.
Fanatics though . . . that's where the real power is. They believe they embody the rules. There are no consequences for their actions, only rewards. Power doesn't corrupt fanatics. Nothing can corrupt a true believer, because in their mind they are doing the right thing. They're smiled upon by God, and what kind of pull does anyone else have compared to the Almighty. No, it isn't power that corrupts a fanatic. It's their corruption that gives them power.
People always think about little things enticing people away from their morals. That's not really what happens when you find a religion in an alley. Your whole world shifts around you. The rules are different. It's like waking up one day to find out that instead of water you now have to drink pencils to survive. A fundamental understanding of the way things happen suddenly breaks in your head, and everything tilts on an axis. In a lot of ways, you don't even see the shift it's so basic to everything around you. There's some confusion, and then you're slurping down the pencils like there's no tomorrow, even if everyone around you thinks you're nuts. That's just the way your world works now.
I'd gotten a taste of power at the Shark's house. I'd been riding the ups and downs of finding the angel for a while, and while on the ups I'd felt unstoppable. What happened at the Shark's proved to me that I could do anything. The potential in me had been fulfilled, and now I felt almost calm in my confidence. Gone was the feeling of the rush of adrenaline and excitement, the anticipation of great things. I had dipped my toe in, and now the fear that is exploring the unknown was gone. It left behind the self-assured quietness of my purpose.
I knew where to go after leaving the Shark's neighborhood. The cloud of smoke in my rearview mirror, and the crowd of people coming from their homes to see what was going on left a sense of deep satisfaction in me. Like a meteor from the heavens I had struck the earth and left no doubt to anyone that I had been there. Finally I had flexed my waiting muscles, the muscles of spirit that had been trembling with desire to do anything to carve my face onto the world, and it felt like a summer's day in winter. So few times in my life I had felt a real sense of satisfaction. I couldn't stop smiling as I drove away, watching things unfold behind me. I'm amazed I didn't crash into something, I wasn't watching where I was going at all.
The change from suburbs to downtown happens pretty quick. Highways have erased the gradual build of cities as you approach them. Just hop onto one and ten minutes later buildings explode out of the landscape all around you. It makes travel feel very disjointed, like bad cuts in a movie. Almost like you're not really travelling at all, only imagining yourself in another place. On a winter night, this is heralded by the sudden appearance of columns of lights stretching into the sky. Blue and red neon splashes form an aurora, a neon borealis amidst the stars of the building lights. I formed my opinions of cities during the 80's and will forever shape them in my mind to the cyberpunk dark tombs of urban sprawl and decay portrayed in movies like Blade Runner and Robocop. The buildings were the gravestones of childhood dreams, ground out by the treads of a million marching feet.
The hand of the angel rested on mine, half guiding the wheel. I didn't even really notice the sick heat coming from its hand. Every other time I'd touched its hand, or it had touched me, it had been cold and kind of clammy. Now it was hot and dry. There was a full faced smile on my face, not a grin, but a crooking of my mouth that pulled at every muscle in my head. I wasn't really used to smiling that hard and my head started to hurt pretty quick, the corners of my lips cramping and my scalp aching. But, I felt so good I couldn't stop the smile. It just pulled my face apart on its own. The angel had a mirroring smile on its face. That was the first time I'd seen it really express any emotion other than pain or fear. It's smile was more frightening than its scream. A happy angel only means that something terrible is about to happen.
By this time it was getting pretty late. I thought that would mean that there would be less people out and about, but oddly there was more traffic that night than there had been during the day. I guess people are more willing to come out into the cold to get drunk at the bar than to do normal daytime things. The sidewalks were masses of shadows and fuzzy orange light. The people on them moved quickly or slowly, depending on how much they were lurching and stumbling. No one really moved at a normal pace. Faces darted in and out of darkness and bar light, streaming out of windows to mix with the streetlamps. It made seeing any detail on the street all but impossible. The world beyond the angel and I was a shadow play made by mysterious people I couldn't understand.
The street where I'd schlepped my sack of quarters was a bit quieter than the main nighttime thoroughfares. There were no bars on the street, only tourist oriented kitch and local flavor shops. I could have moved faster down it, now that there were less cars, but instead I slowed even more. A bit of a drizzle had started outside. It wasn't freezing immediately in the air, instead turning into a sort of light dispersed fog that blurred everything on the street even more. The pizza car had shitty windshield wipers, as it turned out, and an even worse defroster. I had to roll down the window and lean way far forward against the steering wheel with one arm out the window rubbing the condensation off as much of the driver's side of the windshield as I could. I ended up peering through a tiny clear spot about the size of a softball as I drove down the road, with the angel's hand clamping my right hand to the wheel like a vice.
Brake lights coming out of the dark flagged my attention as I pulled up on the steep alley where I'd met the call girl. A car was idling just outside the alley. Its driver had pulled his left wheels up onto the sidewalk, either on purpose or accident, I couldn't tell. It looked like a new car, black and fancy convertible with a brown leather cover stretched over the roof. I thought it was a BMW. Who in the hell drives a new convertible in winter? The car was close behind a row of parallel parked vehicles, and I could its lights shining on the rearview mirror in the SUV right in front of it. It was almost like a spotlight shining back on me. I was about to take center stage and get my scene at last. Even if my act was an improv, I was pretty sure I'd have no trouble with my lines at this point. Improv had never been my strong suit, but everything was coming to me smooth as butter since the lamb's blood. The light shone on my smile, and I could almost hear the audience's applause already.
Leaning up against the idling car was a female silhouette. In that cold the person should have been wearing enough clothes that I couldn't possibly make out a gender, but because they weren't, I was pretty sure I knew who it was. The steam from the hot exhaust of the car billowed up around her, making it even more difficult to see. I wanted to be sure. Ice and snow crunched under the wheels of my pizza car as I pulled over to the side of the street, just a parking space behind the BMW. A truck tooled past down the street, the light of its headlights revealing pink leopard print and fishnets. Now I was sure. Now it was time to act.
I'd never squealed the tires on a car before. I didn't really do it on purpose. The back tires of the car were just on some ice, so when I punched the gas, the wheels spun out on the slippery road. The whole back end of the car fished from side to side for probably 10 seconds before the rubber caught some actual pavement. Then there was a high pitched squeal and the smell of burning rubber. The angel took its hand off of mine at the loud noise and covered its ears before adding to the car's scream with its own.
As the car leapt into motion, cracks began appearing in the base of the windshield, and I watched them shoot upward through the glass. My brain was screaming at me about the brake lights in front of me, approaching rapidly. It was as if they were in the dim unfocused foreground, blurred and foggy through the windshield, growing closer and turning the whole frozen, wet, and shattering glass a dull red. The Pink Leopard staggered back from the BMW and slipped on the ice to fall back onto the sidewalk. My ears grew warm, and then hot, and the sound of my tires suddenly cut out, along with the angel's scream. Everything was silence. Then the pizza car hit the BMW.
The car I was driving had only moved about 8 feet, so there wasn't much oomph to the impact, just a sudden violent jolt. I realized at the last second that I wasn't wearing my seat belt, and I came up off of the seat and whanged my head against the inside of the windshield. Apparently that was the straw that broke the camel's back, because the glass exploded in a field of razor sharp icy snow and collapsed into the car. My eyelids fluttered madly, the unconscious parts of my brain trying to keep the glass out of my eyes. They succeeded, luckily, though a small chunk of it bounced off of my forehead and left a stinging pain in its wake. My hands were on fire with a hundred pinpricks of pain. There was still no sound. Amazingly I was still holding onto the wheel and my foot still had the gas pedal to the floor. It felt like there was something on top of my foot pushing it down, but as I brushed the glass off of my face and looked, the angel's leg was on its own side of the car. It hadn't jolted in the crash at all. I guess Heaven builds airbags into all of its employees.
The pizza car had pushed the BMW into the SUV in front of it, and then started to push the whole mass of crunched together vehicles forward, sliding on the ice. The front of the BMW was crushed in where it had slid under the rear bumper of the SUV, and the leather covered top had sprung open and retracted halfway before getting stuck. It kept moving forward and backward by about a foot over and over. As the pizza car pushed against the back of the convertible, it started to fishtail on the ice again. I could feel the plastic and metal of the cars grinding together, but there was no sound. My vehicle took a big swerve to the road and caught on my mostly dry pavement which jolted it askew from the BMW and it shot up onto the sidewalk and into the corner of one of the buildings flanking the alley.
That was a LOT bigger of a jolt than the first one, and my head rebounded off of the steering wheel. It felt like something shook loose from my ears and then I could hear again. The sound came to me like I was underwater listening to something, distorted and muffled, but it was something. Plastic grinding, car horns yelling, car alarms yipping, a woman screaming. I took my foot off the gas and the grinding stopped. My ears still felt hot, and now I could feel liquid dripping off of them - a maddening slow tickle of individual drops running over the skin and tiny bones to flow to my lopes and detach themselves. I rubbed at one and my hand came away sticky with blood. The realization that my hands and face were also bleeding meant little to me.
The door didn't want to open. I guess the chassis of the car was bent up and getting in the way of the hinges. The handle was completely loose in my hand as I pulled it. There was no resistance when I tugged and no thunk of the door mechanism opening. It just swung free in my hand, clacking back and forth. I started putting my shoulder into the door trying to smashing it open, but that didn't really seem to do anything. The Pink Leopard had stood up outside and was screaming at me, coming over to the car. I couldn't understand what she was saying at all. She started beating on the window. I shifted in the seat, turning my legs toward the door and leaning back over the angel. I braced myself on its wings and started kicking the door as hard as I could with both legs. On the third kick there was a pop and the door flew open, right into the Pink Leopard. She fell down again.
My legs got cut up on the glass bits as I slid forward out of the car. That hurt pretty bad, and I started rubbing them with my hands, trying to overwhelm the nerves and make the pain go numb for a bit. It's kind of strange, whenever I feel pain I always try to poke at the spot and make it hurt MORE for just a second, as if it's some kind bubble that I can just pop and it'll go away. I just feel compelled to put some kind of pressure on cuts and bruises and sores. It never really works. It sure didn't that time, though I was able to get the glass off of my pants and legs. The Pink Leopard got up on her knees and was trying to wobble to her feet. I could see that one of her heels had broken and she was having a tough time balancing, so I just reached out and put my hand on her shoulder and pushed. She tumbled back down to the ground, still screaming.
The angel perched on the top of a fire hydrant and kept flapping its wings slowly. It was giving a long, phlegm filled gurgling hiss. I walked over to it, and it said "Lust lust lust lust" over and over. Then it pointed to the BMW. I got the hint, and started walking toward the busted up car. There was a smooth strip of ice free of snow and slush leading down the sloped sidewalk to the car, so I took a quick stutter step and slid down it on my feet, holding my arms out to balance. I slid all the way down to the side of the car and had to brace my arms and stop myself as I bumped into it.
The driver was kind of slumped over the steering wheel a bit, confusedly trying to grab at the door and let himself out. White shards of plastic were all over him, one sticking out of his shoulder. I could see the letters "Pizz" on it. I guess when I hit his car part of the pizza sign went flying off and hit him in the head. The car roof made a whirring and clicking noise as it jerked back and forth. The guy managed to get his seatbelt off just as I slid up, which I thought was pretty convenient. I grabbed him by the top of his hair with both hands and started to pull as hard as I could. He came up off his seat and started . . . man, I don't know. Yodeling is about the best word I can use to describe it. This high wail that kept breaking and going up and down in pitch. I leaned over and used my body weight to pull him forward and he tipped over the side of the door and out of the car where he landed on his shoulder and flopped forward.
I had let go of his hair on the way down, so his head kind of bounced back and forth off of his shoulders limply. He looked like a bobblehead or something. He kept up that weird yodeling, and I wanted that to stop, so I kicked him in the stomach. I almost fell down myself when I did it, slipping on the ice. The yodeling changed into gasping, whistling noise. He sounded like he was trying to drink the air like a slushy. My knee got soaked through again as I went down on it and rolled the guy over onto his back.
To my surprise, I recognized him. It was the guy from the unemployment office who had screwed me over. I didn't even think about it, my hand just went up and down of its own accord. My knuckles plowed into the guy's nose and knocked his head back against the concrete. He made a noise that sounded a lot like Marvin the Martian yelling about his space modulator. I found myself punching him in the face with both hands at the same time and yelling "Did you get fired or quit? Did you quit? Are you a quitter? Quitter! Quitter! Quitter!" He had on one of those ties that are just made of string, shoelace ties or something I guess, so I grabbed that and started just pounding his head into the ground. After a few smacks he stopped making noise. I gave him a few more whacks for good measure, even going so far as to use his tie as leverage to headbutt him. That was a mistake as I smashed my nose into his forehead. I'm pretty sure I bloodied it.
I stood up and turned around, breathing hard, and looked for the Pink Leopard. She was standing now, staring at me and holding a knife. I guess she must have had it in her purse or something. Probably a wise precaution for someone in her line of work. It was a pretty big knife too, one of those Rambo knives that they always have on the top shelf at the fair so that all the 12 year old boys will try and knock down the milk bottles with a softball. I'm actually not sure how it fit into her purse. Her eyes were wide and she was breathing just as hard as I was, spewing forth a cloud of steam. She held the knife out in front of her with both hands, pointing the tip at me. I realized that she was talking, saying something like "He dayd! He dayd!" Then she came at me.
I am not a ninja. I am not a samurai. I'm not an action hero badass. When Pink Leopard charged me with a knife, I screamed and lifted one leg in front of my body, throwing my hands up over my face. If it hadn't been for that broken heel, something pretty bad probably would have happened to me right there. Getting gutted by a hooker with a knife Crocodile Dundee would have used is not a way I would have expected to go. Luckily for me as I was standing there wimpering Pink Leopard slipped on some ice, tried to catch herself on her wobbly foot, and fell flat on her face. The knife made a shrill squeaking sound as it slid across the sidewalk and bumped into my foot hilt first. Pink Leopard and I stared at the knife, and then at each other. I slowly bent down and picked it up.
Power corrupts. At the dawn of time the simplest form of power was a caveman having a pointy stick when another didn't. Things really haven't changed much at their fundamental level. I had the pointy stick, I had the power. I shouted "You were gonna kill me!" Then I jumped forward and stabbed at her. I kind of went down on one hand, still up on my toes, and stabbed her in the back.
Classically I should describe the feel of the knife in my hand, the shock of it entering her body and hitting bone, the spurt of blood on my body . . .but I really have no idea what it felt like. I didn't black out or lose control of myself, that's a copout I'm not going to take. It's all pretty clear to me. There was just no sensation at all in me. I couldn't feel anything other than a massive hot pulsing in my whole body. It was like the time I did nitrous and it felt like entire world was throbbing around me, moving in and out and squeezing me in the middle.
She gasped and tried to scream, but only blood came out of her mouth, then she squirmed and tried to crawl away from me. I hopped up, stabbed her again, and then my hand slipped and I fell onto my face. I rolled up onto my side and stabbed her one more time. Then I rolled back onto my stomach and lay in a pool of blood. Unlike the angel's blood so long ago, there was no steam or smoke.
As I watched the blood run across the street and into a drain, I reflected on power. I remembered the scene from Willow, where the old magician asks which finger contains the key to the universe. Willow chooses the wrong finger, against his own impulses, when he really wanted to say that his own finger had the all of the power he would need in it. I'd spent a long time choosing other people's fingers, and now that I'd finally woken up to the power of my own, I'd jabbed it into someone's eye.
The easy sense of confidence with which I had come here had fled. I was left hollow, even more so than I had been before I ever pulled the angel out of the alley. It was like my blood was pouring out onto the street, letting the cold of winter fill the empty places inside. I'd heard the expression "veins run with ice" before in a lot of books. I'd never know what it really felt like though. My muscles wouldn't move and my whole body felt like rubber. I lay face down, my chin resting on the wet street, watching the red river run away to the great darkness below. I shook a bit as I tried to move and failed.
The angel perched on top of the smashed pizza car and watched me. The remains of the fresh delivery sign now promised that a fat man with no face and one arm would deliver . . . something. I was pretty sure what it was going to deliver now. With a small hiss, the angel spread its wings and hopped from the car, coming to me in a strange small glide. It reached down and grabbed the back of my shirt, then hefted me into the air and set me on my feet. The dry and emaciated claw like hands tried to brush the snow and blood off of me, but only succeeded in spreading it around. The angel finally gave up the task and hopped back, bouncing up and down from a crouch to a standing position and chirping. It opened and closed its hands in rapid succession, producing a small clapping sound of flesh. Vacant eyed and blasted, I walked toward it and it opened the car door and put me inside.
Power is an illusion. There are always consequences for what you do. Consequences of flesh, or spirit, or blood. I guess I wasn't a fanatic after all - the justice of my actions didn't melt away with the snow on my jacket. No, the consequences lay heavy on my shoulders and on my future, coming for me. They always find you, because they start off buried deep in your chest. It just takes looking in the deep dark places of your mind and heart to find them.
Story and image by Nick Bergeron, Copyright 2009