This article is part of the That Insidious Beast series.
"Funny trick," the tall one says. "Now we go."
Their dark gray uniforms are crudely cut and disheveled. The shirts are mottled with grease spots and stained with the brown remnants of blood. They wear their trousers bloused into heavy rubber boots that go up almost to their knees. The green rubber is caked in clumps of drying, foul-smelling muck that they have carelessly tracked all over my house.
The eyes of the taller tender are bulging with unhealthy tumors. His thick lips are rimmed with sores and he slurps drool back into his mouth. The fat one is stooped over, hunchbacked, and he has a left hand twice the size of his right. It flops limply from his wrist when he moves his arm.
They both wear nylon belts festooned with knives, truncheons, and handcuffs along with various religious charms and totems.
The backs of their uniforms are daubed in white paint. HIEROPHANT is written across the shoulders. The name of their patron. An uneven Christian cross is painted down their spines. The asymmetry is purposeful. It is the symbol of their kind.
"I'm ready," I say.
"About time," gurgles the taller tender. "Wasssste all day on you. Wassssste all day long. Ssssupposed to have meat in ten minutes. Not gonna be there for that. Not gonna be there in time."
"Hope they keep some by for us," says the fat tender. He licks his lips. "Maybe we'll take our meat from you, boyo. If they don't keep none by for us we're gonna take it from you."
"Yeah," the tall tender says and then noisily sucks drool back into his mouth. "Your nose and lips and eyes. Gonna hurt you real bad if you make us misssss."
They lead me to an old truck parked in the street. It is a big civilian pickup truck painted blue and flecked with rust. The tender's cross is splashed across the hood. I can see my few remaining neighbors peering surreptitiously out at us from the safety of their houses.
Every sensible citizen fears the tenders. I heard all the stories before I joined the Army. They're cannibals. They're the living dead. They're sorcerers. Be good or they'll come and snatch your soul away.
Or so they say. Now eat your vegetables.
The truck smells like cigarettes and rotting meat. The seat creaks beneath me. Cockroaches scurry to their hiding place behind the sun visors. The cracked dash is piled with crumpled packs of Victory brand cigarettes and the passenger side foot well is full of stained gauze.
I sit sandwiched between the two tenders on the bench seat.
The angel called Hierophant has demanded my presence. No one can refuse the call, whether it comes as a beckoning voice in your head or the tenders. Few return. That is just fine by me.
I don't plan on returning.
"Really, Holmes!" I dropped into my seat, shocked. "You are remarkably tall! What are you, six foot six? Six foot eight?"
As the 19th century diver approaches a giant clam, a flash of brilliant golden light flares from within the shell. I emerge in a swirl of bubbles and do the timeless universal underwater hand signals for the following: ZODIAC KILLER, KKK, BLOOD OF YOUTH
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