The Blue Blazes - By Chuck Wendig

CHUCK WENDIG

THE BLUE BLAZES

PART ONE

SALT & SMOKE

PROLOGUE

They have a name for it, in myth. Katabasis. The descent. To descend. Mythically speaking, into the Underworld – the so-called “Harrowing of Hell.” Inanna passes through the seven gates to see her sister. Izanagi’s wife Izanami is burned to death while giving birth to the fire god, and so he travels into the land of Yomi to defy death. Eurydice is envenomed by a nest of vipers after fleeing a satyr’s attack, and upon her demise her lover Orpheus descends into Hades to rescue her from that subterranean place. The Katabasis has its opposite, the Anabasis, or the ascent. But one’s ascent is not guaranteed. Izanami turns to a monster and refuses to go home, so Izanagi is forced to close the world of the living from the land of the dead to keep her from dragging him back to be with her. Orpheus betrays the one rule he is given and looks back at his bride as they flee, thus sealing off the worlds and losing his love. Inanna finds that despite the costs she has paid, another secret price will be extracted: she must choose someone to enter the Great Below and take her place. And so it is with the Underworld: you may enter its depths and walk into the dark, but something is always taken from you. And it remains ever-uncertain whether your entrance will be mirrored again by your escape.

– from the Journals of John Atticus Oakes, Cartographer of the Great Below

1

They want what we have. The denizens of the Great Below care little for the humans of the Infinite Above except as providers, as resources, as dogs or toys or tools. They rape and kill and feed. They drink our pain, supping at it like we’re each an endless goblet of wine and blood. But we are not endless. We can be used up. And they don’t care, for they are predators and parasites to the last. This is why the intersection of our world and theirs is found most cleanly in the places where the mythic and monstrous Underworld clashes with the more criminal one. For the criminals – organized crime and violent gangs and the whole miscellaneous lot of murderers and human monsters – feed on us the same way. Another set of parasites and predators. And so it falls to these criminals, the most selfish among us, to act against the terrors that lurk and writhe in the darkest chambers of the Earth’s own ugly heart.

– From the Journals of John Atticus Oakes, Cartographer of the Great Below

This, then, is Mookie Pearl.

He’s a high wall of flesh stuffed into a white wife-beater stained with brown (once red), a man whose big bones are wreathed in fat and gristle and muscle and sealed tight in a final layer of scar-tissue skin. At the top of his ox-yoke shoulders sits a head like a wrecking ball with black eyes and shorn scalp and a mouth full of teeth that look like white pebbles fished from a dark river. He’s got hands that could break a horse’s neck. He’s got Frankenstein feet and a Godzilla hunch.

He’s built like a brick shithouse made of a hundred smaller brick shithouses.

Mookie the Mook. Mookie the Meat-Man. Mookie the Monster.

Butcher. Bruiser. Breaker of legs. Some legs human. Most not.

Some call him “Mook.” Most don’t call him anything.

Tonight and every night he’s scarred up like the walls of his bar. The walls are carved with names, and Mookie’s carved with the scratches and teeth-marks of subterranean monsters, monsters who wanted to take what he earned: a shipment of the Blue stuff.

They tried. They died.

He rounds the bar, pops the door on a micro-fridge beneath it. Pulls out a paper plate covered in plastic wrap. The oaken bartop’s got the texture of an old cowboy’s face: creases and canyons in the dark wood. He sets the plate down.

This is Mookie’s bar. He is its sole employee. He is its only customer.

It’s also the place he calls home.

Mookie feels old. Every one of his forty-some years on this Earth have come back to haunt him, each bringing another friend – the age is settling into his bones like a cold damp, the years chewing at his joints like rats eating wires.

He reaches up, grabs a bottle of cheap vodka. Most of the liquor behind the bar is firewater. Bad Polish vodkas and off-off-brand tequilas. But there are a few bottles of good stuff, too. Basil

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