We rode for several more minutes then, much to my relief, the spider opened and let us out into a large, open room that had a dome shape like the last one and like the underground complex we had left in our world. John nudged me and pointed to a row of windows above us, like the observation areas seen in some hospital operating rooms. Behind it were naked hooded figures, a crowd. I wondered if they had paid for tickets to this. Many people in the front row of the observation deck were pressed nakedly against the glass, producing a squished scrotum effect that I knew I would see in my nightmares. Just below the windows were clear vats, like man-sized Mason jars. They lined the walls and each were filled with deep red fluid. I was about to ask the man what the fluid was, but then he disappeared through another door and urged us to follow. We went through a hall, past another door, then the stench hit me.
Sulfur. A smell so strong it was a solid thing in my lungs. We went through and came out onto a catwalk, suspended in a dark space that seemed to go forever in each direction. I stepped out and stopped. I craned my neck, looking up and up and up, then looked down. I could see neither the top nor the bottom of the thing that grew before me.
Oh, dear Jesus . . .
“Gentlemen,” said the large man. “You are seeing what only a select few have seen. You are looking at the ultimate manifestation of Mr. Rooney’s creation, which now stands as the absolute wisdom and strength in all of existence. John, David, meet Korrok.”
I hesitate in the telling of the story at this point. When I try to bring up an image of Korrok in my mind I see only the glob of stuff that collects in the kitchen drain, the mass of grease and hair washed by years of filthy dishwater. It was like someone collected all the drain slime in the world and knitted it into something the size of the Statue of Liberty, then brought it to life with the psychotic energy that fuels lynch mobs. There was so much to Korrok that it was impossible to see it, a jumbled mess of exposed organs and fibers and dangling, club-ended limbs, of dripping orifices and slimy orbs and dark, black bulbs with colors that moved on the surface like the rainbows in an oil slick. Every inch of it was moving. I stared and stared and stared, found my brain couldn’t contain it all.
And then, in my head, I heard the high-pitched, cackling laughter of a child.
Welcome, said the alien voice in my head. It sounded like a toddler. Your wiener is even smaller in person.
It giggled. I thought, Is this Korrok?
With a tiny change in your brain chemistry, I could make you a child molester.
What do you want? I asked it, in my head.
Not big, black cocks. So we don’t have that in common.
A long, loud laugh that rattled my bones. I glanced over and saw that John and the large man were talking to each other, oblivious to me.
I thought, Get out of my head. You’re not worth talking to.
I AM KORROK. In the mountains of Uruguay, a goat gets its hoof caught in a posthole and the bone snaps like a twig. The splinter juts from its skin, blood spraying onto white fur. It is stuck like that for three days. Finally, a wolf mother comes along, carry ing her pup in her jaws. She lets the pup feed off the goat, gnawing bits of fur and skin and tearing at muscle. The goat feels it and screams and there is pain and pain and neither the goat nor the wolf nor the pup understand their place in the machine. I stand above all, and call them fags. I AM KORROK.
Fuck off. You’re just something they grew. A big, fucked-up mess. You look like you were made by a committee.
Long, loud, childish laugh.
David Wong, son of an insane prostitute and a mentally challenged Amway salesman. There are worlds and worlds and worlds, an infinity you cannot grasp. You could travel from one to another to another and find me in thousands upon thousands, spreading like stars in the sky from reality to reality. They invite me in. They give birth to me. And soon, yours will do the same, men are working tirelessly toward it. They bring me into their world because they always want what only I can give. In this place, seven billion men bear my mark. And of the limitless infinity of worlds, I rule over almost half of them.
And then I saw, for the first time, the way the darkness in the chamber moved. The black shapes, the shadow men, the little slips of nothing swirled in this place, covering Korrok like smoke from an oil fire. They moved over and through him, in and out of every orifice and fold of skin. His dark disciples. I heard a sound and realized I was being talked to from the outside. I turned to face the large man.
“. . . the greatest good for the greatest people,” he was finishing. “So you understand. When Korrok judges, there is no question. All of the human minds who have ever lived in history, all of your thinkers and writers and phi los o phers and teachers, could not equal even one node of Korrok’s neural web. We have learned this the hard way.”
I looked down at Molly, then sort of nudged her belly with my foot. Try to loosen that shit up in there.
The large man said, “Twenty years ago, Korrok foretold your coming. Korrok showed us the way to your world, opened lines of communication. We could not cross to your plane ourselves. We tried. Oh, did we. You see, when a man is transferred to the other plane, the body arrives. But only the body, walking aimless like a cow. The person becomes . . . detached in the transition. But nonetheless, we worked tirelessly to create in your world what we have here, in preparation for the glorious day when we could overcome these obstacles and set our own feet on the land and see your sun with our own eyes.”
The large man put a hand on my shoulder. I shuddered.
“Your friend, the girl, Amy Sullivan. She is known because she was the first step. She was successfully transported from one location to another in your world, without passing anywhere in between and without harm. Your people did this. Korrok showed them the way. With that, we knew we were close, could see the faint glow of the sun signaling a new dawn. Gentlemen, with your arrival, that dawn has come. What one man can do, other men can do, and you will show us the way to pass from world to world. It is the ultimate good. And it is impossible for it to be otherwise. Korrok told us you would be honored, and well you should be.”
The man craned his neck, looking up in the darkness. He said, “You cannot begin to calculate the wisdom, the continued melding of a billion geniuses. You see, in our world, whenever a man is born with special wisdom and intelligence, he shares his wisdom with Korrok so that Korrok may be greater. Watch.”
A thin structure emerged from the wall about two stories above us. It tilted down and seemed to have no steps, as if it were a chute of some kind. An orifice that seemed to have something like a beak opened on Korrok at the end of the chute. A fat man came tumbling down the slide, his limbs flailing. He wore the same brown strips of clothing I saw in the video of the bug room. Korrok snatched the man into the beak, crunching his bones in a wet, red spray.
I heard a high-pitched laugh in my head.
In front of me a slit formed in Korrok and opened wide. An electric blue eye the size of a movie screen was peering out at me. A thin, black, vertical pupil.
I sprinted back through the door, off the catwalk, back through the other doors and down the hall and back into the round room with the naked viewing gallery. People were still up there, rustling and gesturing now, excited to see the crazy happenings with the strange visitor. The door out of the round room slid shut before I got to it and I slapped at it in effec tive ly with my palms. The large man called out from behind me and I spun, breathing hard. He held out his hands in a calming gesture.
“We understand. I assure you, we do. I have observed you. You know I have. And you have seen some of our work. We are advancing into your world with astonishing speed. Our workers prepare day and night. There are legions on our side there. And soon all of your turmoil and unrest and confusion will vanish under the soft hand of Korrok.”
A kitten put its paw on my foot. I punted it across the room.
“Just watch,” said the large man. “We can perform what in your world would be a miracle. Observe.”
The floor under my feet vanished. Or, I should say, it turned transparent, like glass. Under me were dozens of terrified upturned faces. They were uncovered and they looked just like people from my world. And right then, somehow I knew that under the large man’s mask I would find something quite different than the wide eyes and unshaven faces I saw now below me. I was looking down at what was a sort of prison chamber on the floor below, each person down there trapped in a hexagonal glass section not much wider than their shoulders, a massive crystalline beehive. The floor wasn’t quite soundproof, because I could faintly hear their screams. I saw John step through the door and stop in revulsion.
The large man motioned with his hand and one hexagon rose silently up from the floor. Inside was a man in his thirties with curly black hair, held there in the glass booth like a museum exhibit. I heard the hiss of the same mechanism raising other pods, and soon we were surrounded by six of the hexagonal glass booths. The large man said, “We command the cell itself, at will. We can turn muscle to bone and back, skin to carapace, fingers into claws. And we can do it in any way we choose. Watch.”
The curly-haired man stared at us in terror, his palms flat against the glass. Then he screamed. It wasn’t immediately apparent what was wrong with him, but then I saw one of his knees bend backward, splitting the flesh. The other one did the same, his legs extending upward, jutting as high as his shoulders. His skin melted from his face and hardened into a small, insectile head and skin that became gray and notched like alligator hide. Molly whined and trotted off into a corner. I wasn’t sure if she was terrified or if the burritos were finally getting to her.
I pivoted around the room and was now looking at a half dozen of the beasts that had chased us here, the beasts from Jim’s basement. Beastments. The glass walls lowered and the creatures were standing open in the room now, facing us in a circle.
“And once the bodies have been changed,” said the large man, “the brains have changed. Memories are only arrangements of neural connections and once altered they can no more resist our commands than a twig can resist the flame.” He studied me from behind his rubbery face, said, “As you know.”