Revenge Is A Dish Best Served Cold, So Wear A Sweater
John Scalzi was walking through a back hallway at Whattacon, netbook clutched firmly in hand, when the Star Trek the Next Generation theme started blasting from the phone in his pocket. That could only mean one thing. Wil was calling.
“Hey Wil,” said John, answering the phone. “What's up?”
There was a dead silence that seemed to last for years, then a gravelly and worn sounding voice said, “You know what's up John. I know. I know it all.”
John flushed red, and started gesturing with his notebook. “It's not what you think. It was years ago, and an honest mistake.”
Wil continued, sounding more and more like he was speaking from the grave, “How could you John? I suffered for years because of this. Did you think some fancy velvet painting would make up for that?”
“Look, Wil, I'm at a con and late for a panel. We'll talk next week when I get back home. Bye.” John ended the call, turned the phone's ringer off, and stuffed it back in his pocket. He hadn't been completely lying when he said he was late for a panel, so he tried to force the guilt out of his mind as he continued rushing down the hallway.
“He hung up on me,” said Wil. His words were directed at the Infamous Clown Sweater hanging on a plastic hanger from the knob of his office door. There was no anger and no sadness in his voice, not even a little irritation. The words arrived dead, as if the body that uttered them had long since lost it's soul.
You knew he would. The voice seemed to flow across Wil's brain, like a spreading oil slick. He'd been hearing it for weeks now, ever since he'd found the sweater, ever since he found out what John had done. At first he'd fought the voice, railed against, but bit by bit, piece by piece, his resistance had failed. The part of him that kept fighting had grown smaller and weaker, until now it was almost gone.
“What can I do,” Wil asked. He looked at the sweater, faint lines of hope showing on his face. Maybe if he had an answer this would all end, and that little part of him that still fought could recover the man he used to be.
Revenge, purred the voice, lashing Wil with images, sounds, and smells, each one tied to a painful memory. He put his hands to his head to steady himself. Revenge, it said again, the sensations coming faster and faster. He rose from the chair, clutching his head as if to keep it from bursting. REVENGE!, it screamed, overwhelming his senses and sending him to his knees.
“Yes,” he said, his voice hoarse from the effort. “What do I need to do?”
Put me on, and say the words. Wil rose from the floor and walked to the door. He slid the sweater off its hanger and pulled it over his head. It fit like a second skin. Some of the threads touching his skin began to unravel, and there was a brief moment of pain as they penetrated his body and began to wrap around his nerves and burrowed into his muscles and bones. A moment later the pain intensified as the sweater began to change Wil, warping him from the inside out.
“I WANT REVENGE!” he screamed.
It has begun, oozed the voice, and the last bit of Wil that fought was snuffed out like a candle in a rainstorm.
John was lost. Somehow he'd gotten turned around while navigating the back hallways. It should have taken him only five minutes to get to the next panel, and been a nearly straight walk down the theatre service access, but the direct route had been blocked by equipment for tonight's dance, and his detour and left him completely and utterly lost.
“Man, where the hell am I?” he said, rounding another corner in the seemingly endless maze. He spotted a sign that said EXIT and, hoping it lead somewhere public he could get his bearings, he opened the door and walked through. He found himself in what appeared to be a small storage room, stuffed to the brim with food products, and no exit that he could see. The door clicked shut behind him.
“Crap,” he said, turning around and pushing on the door's latch. It wouldn't move. He pressed harder, his face turning red and sweat forming on his forehead. It was no use; the door was either stuck or locked. Either way it wasn't opening.
“Oh, this is just great. First Wil and now this. Can anything else go wrong today?” John pulled out his phone, and was about to call for help when he noticed the LOOKING FOR SERVICE message. He sighed and started wandering the room, looking for a window or another door hidden in the back. He didn't get far before he ran into a pallet brimming with tightly wrapped bottles of Coke Zero.
It was then that John realized how thirsty he was. It felt as if all the moisture had been sucked out of his tongue, like it was a lump of hardened clay in his mouth, covered with a gummy paste of saliva. Surely no one would mind if he took just one bottle. He placed his netbook on the ground and then ripped into the pallet's plastic wrap, like a junkie after a fix, and yanked out the first bottle that came loose. He opened it and raised it to his mouth, his body practically vibrating with anticipation.
It seemed forever before the liquid touched his lips, as if time had slowed. He could hear his heart thumping, his breath filling his lungs, and then it hit him. The soda rushed past his lips, over his teeth, and onto his tongue. The bubbles burned away the dried saliva, and then soaked into his taste-buds, infusing them with flavour. Next the delicious nectar flowed to his throat, tickling and tingling all the way down. Then the sensation was gone, as the bottle was empty.
John barely registered reaching for the next bottle and drinking it. Grabbing the third was only a hazy feeling of his hand moving, and after that all he could sense was liquid filling him, being absorbed by every cell of his body. It seemed as if only seconds passed before the last bottle on the pallet was empty. John looked around to see himself surrounded by empties, like spent shell casings.
“Whoa,” he said, and then let out a thunderous belch. “Must've been thirsty.”
It was then that the hole in the wall registered in his Coke addled brain. It wasn't a big hole by any means, but it was roughly Scalzi sized, and roughly Scalzi shaped, and blacker than a Republican's heart. It had been hidden by the pallet of soda. It never occurred to John to wonder why it was there. All that entered his brain was, “Hey, there's an exit.”
He pulled out his phone and walked into the hole, pressing the buttons every few seconds to keep the display lit. It was a tiny beacon of light in the smothering darkness.
John just kept walking, farther and farther into the hole. Each step took him Somewhere Else. The temperature started to rise, and a sulphurous smell filled the tunnel. It was so gradual that John didn't notice, just as he didn't notice the changes taking place within himself. His Coke Zero soaked cells started to warp and twist, changes starting in the centre of his body and flowing outwards. His skin turned green, his muscles grew, and his ears lengthened and formed into points. The changes did not stop with his body. His clothing compressed and formed crude leather armour with a skirt of metal scales and spiked shoulder pads. His right ear suddenly sprouted two gold earrings.
The phone in his right hand warped, lengthened and widened, it's light going out as it turned into a rough wooden shield, banded and cornered with thick pig iron. It didn't matter to John, as his eyes could see just fine in the ever lightening gloom. A point of red light in the distance grew larger with each step he took. His new ears could hear the steady rumble of thousands of tons of molten rock shifting and rolling. The last thing to change was his netbook, and as he stepped out of the tunnel, into a blasted volcanic landscape, he hefted a wicked looking axe in it's place.
John continued to walk, exploring his new environment.
Rise, said the voice to Wil. The body holding the shattered remnants of his mind obeyed. Open the door, it commanded next, and a wave of heat and sulphurous odor struck him as he complied. His expression didn't change as eyes surveyed the seething volcano the thrust itself upward from what should have been his neighbours lawn.
Look down, said the voice next. At Wil's feet was a gleaming bronze spear. He reached down and picked it up, and as he rose he saw the mount. It was as if a kitten had been crossed with a pegasus and a unicorn. Without being prompted by the voice he walked towards it. Slitted green eyes watched him as he approached and then reached out to the creature, petting and scratching the fur at the base of it's golden horn. It purred, a subsonic thrum that travelled through Wil's arm to the rest of his body. He stopped stroking long enough to mount and grab the reigns. Knowledge of how to command the beast flowed into his brain. With a flick of the wrist they were off, flying through the air with a seemingly feline grace.
“What now?” asked Wil.
The voice replied. Fly south, look for green.
That shouldn't be too hard, thought Wil. Everything around him was either red or brown, including his mount. After only a few moments his spotted a green figure making it's way across a cracked plateau. He steered his mount towards it.
That is Scalzi, said the voice. Kill him, kill him, KILL HIM!
A nearly blinding rage overtook Wil. His vision rimmed with red and locked onto the green figure. He signalled his mount into a dive. The closer he got, the more his anger intensified. It didn't matter who or what the figure in front of him was, it was going to die.
Just before he struck, Wil screamed, “SCALZI!”
John looked up just in time to see his doom.