QSFer Cody Sisco has a queer paranormal story in a new anthology:
Readers in Los Angeles are thirsty for stories that bring their city to life. This anthology features a diverse range of voices and genres. Like the City of Angels in which these stories were born, nothing is off-limits. Literary or contemporary, noir or ghost story, fabulism or science fiction, each story in this volume will forever change the way you look at this iconic metropolis.
Made in L.A. Writers is a collaborative of Los Angeles-based authors dedicated to nurturing and promoting indie fiction. This 2018 volume is the first of the annual Made in L.A. anthology series. While our styles, themes, and story locales differ, our work is both influenced and illuminated by our hometown and underpinned by the extraordinary, multifaceted, and often surreal culture and life in the City of Angels.
Believe and Live by Cody Sisco – one woman’s struggle to survive a madman’s attack. Free when you subscribe to Cody’s email newsletter:
Salt in the Hell Mouth
Fair warning: it’s never a good time when the Hell Mouth opens.
I’ve seen it happen so many times. I’ve heard the gut-wrenching rumble. From Redondo to Pomona, Anaheim to Ventura, once in Bakersfield—I won’t be going there again—and more times than I can count within the L.A. grid-and-noodle streetscape, darkness explodes and blots out the sun.
I try to be there when the mouth opens. We have “demonic detectors” in every neighborhood—our network has the best coverage—giving me one to two hours notice. Sometimes it’s not enough. L.A. traffic is the worst.
This morning my brain is de-fogging slowly. Events from last night replay in my mind, nightmare visions of blood and gore, the tang of smoke and sharp knives. Sobs. In my line of work, you’d think the screams would get to you. Nope. It’s the sobs that give me shivers and make me want to crawl into a hole and plug my ears.
My little clay gargoyle starts mewling. I pick it up and the voice on the other end—I’ve giving up trying to picture what a call center on the “otherside” looks like—tells me we have a situation. It doesn’t matter how foggy slow I am, I have to get in gear.
The rideshare car picks me up ten minutes later.
Yes, I rideshare. It’s not that I’m a fan of the gig economy. I get “rewarded” per demon vanquished so I understand the stress of the hustle. But my “rewards” are spiritual-redemptive so there’s no way I can afford a car payment.
You might think a demon hunter would have a magical teleportation device or at least a fancy helicopter that could reach the scene fast. Well, this isn’t a Hollywood movie and I’ve never had anyone offer me a gazillion dollars. My progressive friends are like, you should write a grant proposal. They start talking about 501c somethings, which I now know are nota type of jeans, and they seem to miss the point that since there’s no legal recognition for what I do, anything contract, finance, or government-related is a no go. Besides, you don’t want a bureaucracy involved in demon hunting. It would get… messy. Demons infest bureaucracies for lunch and eat them as dinner. What do you think happened in the 40s?
Never forget, they said.
And then what happened? Cambodia. Rwanda. Srebrenica.
You’ve heard of these places. You think you know what happened. Some innocent bystander bullshit, or a clash of nations narrative, or some other dogma. You want to know what really happened? I’ll tell you, but you won’t remember—it’s the Hell Mouth. It makes us forget. That’s what makes mespecial. I remember. When everyone else, or nearly everyone, has a demonic encounter, which can range from steamy to unseemly to sadistic, they always forget. It’s like a veil draws down and their memories—poof!—they disappear. Even if you’ve had your fifth encounter, you don’t know how to deal because it’s your first time, again and again. The scars add up.
Luckily, most people never pop their demon cherries. Nor do they rideshare with a chatty driver all the while worrying that they’re too late, that hell is literally spilling over, and they are the only ones who can stop it.
This isn’t me feeling sorry for myself. This is me explaining what it’s like so you’re prepared. Remember.
My rideshare stops in one of those neighborhoods where people live their entire lives hustling to make a living and probably never see their account reach a thousand-dollar balance. These are my people. When I get “rewarded,” this is where I go, to spread the “rewards” around, to prevent the Hell Mouth from opening in a place like this.
Today it’s already too late.
Getting out of the car, I’m hit by a wave of dry heat. The air feels both hollow and filled with something like static electricity but a thousand times more powerful. My ears ring with a high pitch like the last unending death cry of a tortured angel. I smell blood and rot. The Hell Mouth is ripe.
None of these sensations are real in a measurable way, but they are real for me. Cosmologists take for granted that every place in the universe obeys the same natural laws, that time—as measured by the distance light travels in a vacuum—moves constantly forward, and that mass and energy are equivalent and interchangeable.
So. Much. Horseshit.
I long ago made peace with the illusion that I’m a three-dimensional animal imbued with consciousness by virtue of the density of the brain tissue in my cranium. Whatever we are—holographic intersections of higher dimensional forces, simulations in a cosmic multiversal computer, a dream reflected in the cornea of a goddess sleeping with one eye open—we’re not aware of what we are. My greatest fear is that when any one person, or alien, hits on the truth, the whole thing will collapse like a house of cards upset by a fretful toddler. There’s a theory of inflationary instability that says the laws of the universe could fluctuate, anywhere, for the briefest of moments, and that change, which is incompatible with our reality, could spread instantaneously and bring about the end of everything. What if that instability originates in a Hell Mouth—a spiritual black hole here on Earth? If it was going to happen somewhere…
My ears are burning. A thing is here that doesn’t belong. Demonic emanations don’t coexist well with our normal lives. That’s why my senses are going bonkers. Some people feel it; some people choose not to. Most just don’t remember. Remember.
The street is blocked off at the intersection. Police cars are parked across the road at angles that announce something bad is going down. Their lights flash meekly under the bright morning sun.
Cops can’t do shit about what’s wrong here.
I’m sweating. There’s no cool marine layer. 100 degrees might not be the high today; we might go higher to infinity, to inferno. I feel bad for them in their uniforms for a second, and then I’m reminded that I’m too late and yet I still need to hurry. As usual, all I can do is damage control.
When you’re a curanderx, you see things quickly and clearly. You’ve had years of seeing layers of gender painted on peoples’ bodies through clothing, mannerisms, and makeup. You’ve had years of practice looking past all that to the heart of truth. You see the truth because you don’t take it for granted.
I see that here, today, someone has died horribly. The house at the center of the commotion flares magenta in my vision. Problem is, the infection has already spread. There are two police officers interviewing a woman on the sidewalk who sobs between her answers. One cop nods, listening. I can see on his face that he’s trying to keep it together, but this crime, this time, there’s something that bothers him, he’s seen too much, or too many of these scenes, and her pain is his pain and he’s doing his duty, but fuck if this might not be the last straw. He’s human. I don’t worry about him.
His partner is possessed.
Infected. Compromised. Whatever you want to call it. His face isn’t shocked-slack; it’s frozen. His gaze moves from person to person, he keeps an eye on the scene, he asks the right questions. But something has taken hold of him and will only get stronger. I wish I could exorcise whatever has him, but that’s not how all this works. I meant it when I said I was too late. There’s nothing I can do for him.
I move deeper into the scene. There might be someone here I can help.
Sidebar: you probably want an explanation. What’s a curanderx? Who the hell am I? What am I doing here?
Short answer: I’m a healer.
Long answer: the day I was born my parents took a look at my genitals and decided they had a girl. They were wrong. I’m not a being that fits into any box that’s already been devised. Binary sex assignment and fixed gender identity are as much overused and abused vestiges of patriarchal legacy kingdoms as the House of Lords, colonial racism—whose wombs matter?—and bride prices still being paid in backwaters of global progress toward gender enlightenment. I can do whatever I want with my genitals using what biology, my imagination, and a consenting partner allows, and it’s none of anyone’s business. In the meantime, I call myself a curanderx to anyone with an open mind, and everyone else can call me by my chosen name: Salt.
I am the salt crusting the tears of the survivors. I am the salt that returns to the earth within the bodies of the fallen. I am the salt that turns demon blood to stone.
Caution tape, a waxy sulfur yellow like the blood of demons I’ve not yet petrified, blocks my way. There’s a man in extremis—I think perhaps he’s a friend of the family—chasing away onlookers, yelling in a strained voice that crackles. He’s seen the body of the victim, I think, and it’s breaking him, the imprint of it.
Neighbors who have wandered over to see what’s going on catch his eye. He lopes toward them, eyes bulging, spit flying; he’ll turn himself inside out screaming, “You want to watch this shit! You want to watch!?” The neighbors turn away, slink back to their houses. He spots me, eyes widening, for I’ve ducked under the tape, and he comes at me.
I hold up a hand and whisper when he’s close, “I’m here to help.”
Cody Sisco is the author of speculative fiction that straddles the divide between plausible and extraordinary. Tortured Echoes, his second novel, continues the cyberpunk alternate history series that began in Broken Mirror, which tells the story of Victor Eastmore’s journeys on Resonant Earth and beyond.
He is a 2017 Los Angeles Review of Books / USC Publishing Workshop Fellow, and continues to serve the Workshop leading Alumni Affairs. Sisco is also co-organizer of the Los Angeles Writers Critique Group and the co-founder of Made in L.A. writers, an indie author co-op. His startup, BookSwell, provides readers with a calendar and newsletters about author appearances at bookstores and festivals in Los Angeles.