This article is part of the That Insidious Beast series.
The angel called the Hierophant intrudes in my brain. I scream and thrash within my own mind, fighting to take control from this usurper. Fighting to command my finger - just one damned finger! - to trigger the explosives strapped to my chest.
The hulking creature is only inches away from me. We share its unwholesome envelope of exhaled fog. My nostrils are stuffed with the acrid stench of ozone. Tiny black eyes glitter behind the cracked lens of the Hierophant's mask. Its breathing is the sound of the crematorium's furnace. Spiracles along its neck whistle and puff out foul vapor.
When it speaks, it is with many dissonant voices booming within my head. My nose begins to bleed immediately. I sag and slip to my knees, buffeted by the force of its idiot words.
"Hello buddy," the voices slither and slip over one another, a river over stones. "How you feeling?"
"Ah!" I cry, flopping onto my back, writhing beneath it.
The Hierophant leans over me and cocks its head like a bird examining a worm.
"Fleshborn little man," the voices are addressing me. "Relax and enjoy the show."
I try to scream and rebuke the voices, but only a strangled gurgle escapes my lips.
I lapse into unconsciousness, the voices quieted at last. When I come to I see the angel still, preoccupied with feeding on one of the cattle carcasses. A grotesque act my mind refuses to fully comprehend. I struggle to sit up, to escape, but the fiend notices my movement immediately. In three long strides it stands over me once again and leans down to inspect me.
"Lookin' good," it drowns my mind with its inanity. "Relax and enjoy the show."
I fight against it. Grunting and spitting and battling for control of my body.
"Relax and enjoy the show," it repeats, smothering me with its mind.
Without warning or ellipse I am somewhere else. Standing. Thousands of faces surround me. Bodies press in around me and prevent me from moving.
I recognize the faces. From the television. Sitcom stars and game show hosts. Harriet what's-her-name and the guy who hosts Pass Game. Stand up comedians and Robby Turner from the Tonight Show. That singer that used to sing about politics before he disappeared. They all share the same expression of intense happiness.
"Bad reception," they say in perfect synchronization. "No habla espanol. Listen up, detective."
"What do you want from me!?" I cry, finding my voice at last.
"Put together. Difficult. Your words."
Each sentence fragment is spoken as though taken out of context. It's as if someone is editing the words together from pre-recorded tapes. I search for a face to focus on, to diminish the vertiginous feel of being encircled. I settle on Don Early, the local news weatherman.
You ask how his day went and he responds, "Fine." Or, you ask what he's up to and he says, "Nothing."
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