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As far as a synopsis goes:

In essence a story about The Crow over a period of five days. The protagonist is unhinged by the events surrounding his death and reincarnation and goes about setting matters right in a most violent fashion.

Warning: this story contains graphic violence.

Evermore. A lullaby.

"All worn now my love?
Rest a while sweet dove."
Tempts the Midnight song.
"Slumber close anon."

So dusky promises seduce
And soothe with soft embrace

But ware guiling lies
Of dark haunted skies

For death is eternal sleep
We are the waking dream
Kissed with red roses
Supped on white lips

"Goodnight sweetheart
Sweet dreams."

On the first day...

Can you smell it? Not its stale cancerous breath but something much more pernicious. Stretch the olfactory nerves. Inhale. Can you smell it? The reek of death and rotted meat. The issue of a decayed and festered soul. Dark noxious actions have permeated its flesh. The husk throbs and pulsates with over ripened energy, longing to expunge itself in an explosion of virulent odor. I wonder what perversion of nature propels this carcass.

I can barely look. I force myself. For this shade has climbed a long way up Jacobs ladder. Crushing people beneath it as it climbs onwards and upwards. The crumpled rungs forgotten as it ascends towards the heavens.

Rapacious, the thought crawls, sharp and brittle.

I'm going to burst this creature's bubble. Throw it from its lofty heights. For only angels can scale Jacobs ladder. Angels don't exist.

* * *

Laughter. Brittle and sharp from the mouth of madness.

"Who's there?" Randle asks, his insatiable eyes searching the darkness. He fumbles against the wall and flicks a light switch. Pure neon floods the room. A room cold and sterile as stainless steel. The décor has all the trappings of affluence at its most understated. The barren austerity of a morgue.

Randle is shocked for a moment then pulls out a pistol and aims it at the laughing man. Gray mercenary eyes glint, calculating the intruder.

The laughing man is a mess. He is dressed in a charcoal top, black jeans and muddy GP's. He looks like a bedraggled corpse. Hair akimbo. Eyes sunken and dark. Veins yellowed. A pale haggard face.

"Who the hell are you and what do you want?" Everything is about gain for Randle.

The laughter stops and silence reins for a moment. The Corpse tilts his head as he considers the question. "I am the Emperor of the Moon, the bearer of gifts," he says.

"And what is your gift?" Randle asks mockingly, somewhat intrigued. He senses a means of bettering his situation.

The Pale Man's lips turn up in amusement, "enlightenment from the King of Lunatics my dear Scapin."

Randle blinks and shakes his head in confusion. He has a nickel plated automatic pistol pointed at this freak. He is in the position power. He should be dictating their transaction. From this mocking response it may as well be his finger aimed at this punter. "What the hell kind of joker are you meant to be. This ain't Halloween chuckles. Get outa my pad before I shoot you. I'd shoot you now but then I'd have ta clean up the mess."

The living corpse starts walking around the Spartan apartment. "You know that no matter how far you go, no matter how high you fly, you always end up back where you started," the man seems lost in his own tangential monologue. "Do you dream that you can fly Scapin? I did. It wasn't the nightmare where you fall and fall and then wake up. I had wings and I flew like an angel. Flew to the moon."

"Shut up and get out you freak. I don't care if I have to kill you. It's no skin off my nose," Randle says, a hard edge to his voice. Dealing with a fool is useless if they have nothing you can take.

The wind blows outside, a high pitched wail. "Can you hear the singing? They have beautiful voices don't they. They're almost done "

"That's the wind you idiot. You know what. I'm not putting up with your crap in my own house. Fuck the mess!" Randle shoots.

The muzzle flash flares red incandescence. The bullet rips through the ashen man's body, tearing through flesh and sinew. Gore spatters on the ground but the cadaver remains standing. He looks at Randle, unperturbed by the injury. "We're right back where we started Scapin," he states in a deathly quiet voice.

"I shot you! Oh Jesus." Randle empties his gun into The Corpse. He doesn't miss once. It doesn't matter. The slugs fly through The Corpse's body, shattering the window behind him. Cold wind buffets loudly into the room and the curtains furl like sails.

"It's reached a crescendo," The Corpse notes.

"Die damn you. Fucking well die!" Randle yells. For all his life there had been two constants. Death and money. This is all wrong.

"I can't. Not until the song finishes," The Corpse says crossing the distance between them. He grabs Randle by the arm and wrestles the empty weapon from his grasp. The Pale Mans grip is cold and hard like a vice. He casually removes a gold ring from Randle's finger and places it upon his own. "Can you hear it?" he tilts his head to listen, face serene and angelic.

"Hear what!" Randle bleats.

"The knell?" Death whispers seductively.

Randle's eyes widen in shocked recognition. "Let me go! We can make a deal," Randle pleads. "I can pay you!" Randle pulls out a large billfold.

"Money and death. They mean nothing when you sleep. But is this a dream or a nightmare? I can't tell," The Corpse's voice is filled with melancholy and longing. "I know how to find out. Let's see if we can fly to the moon," The Pale Man says with a wistful smile. He pulls Randle through the gaping window. Together they step out into the dark night. It's a long way down. The wind drowns out Randle's screams and the money is scattered like useless paper.

* * *

"What's with this killers morbid bird fetish?" the forensics man asks looking at the small origami bird on the dresser. It is surrounded by a circle of dried blood. A ring. "Jay?" He picks up the bird in his gloved hand.

His partner shrugs her shoulders. "I don't know. I'm just a scientist Rob. The last thing I want to do is get inside one of these wacko's heads. Give me something I can understand and quantify any time," Jay responds, looking intently at the clock. It seems to be another part of the puzzle.

"This bird is made from something strange..." the scientist holds the bird close to his eye. "I think it's a bus time table. How novel. Our killer makes origami birds from time tables. Just when you think you've seen it all, some madman throws you a new curve."

Jay nods, digesting this piece of information and filing it away. "This is odd too. The clock has been reset. I'd say within minutes of the murder.... Look at the clock over there on the video. It's been changed in the same way. So has the one on the microwave. Any ideas?"

"Well we know we have one dead mobster, probable cause of death a flying leap from the thirtieth floor. We have a shit load of spent shells from a gun. We have blood all over the apartment, probably as a result of a shooting. And finally we have at least one killer preoccupied with time, Japanese crafts and birds," Rob scratches his head. "I don't know what to make of it."

"It gets worse. See this cupboard? It looks like some kind of secret compartment. It's empty," Jay notes.

"So?" Rob is confused.

"Well it's full of weapon racks for pistols, knives, swords, sub machine guns, ammo and other stuff. All gone. Our nutter has a sizable arsenal. Hey. Did you just say that the dead guy had mob affiliations?"

"Yep. Randle Seppo. Big time connections. Cousin to the man himself," Rob says.

"You think the man did this? Killed his own cousin? If the man didn't order the killing, he's going to take this personally. You don't mess with the mob and more importantly you don't mess with their family. I don't like this at all."

"Something tells me this isn't going to be a normal case," Rob worries.

"I love it when you use your powers of deduction."

* * *

A dark scraggly figure sits atop the decaying rooftop, crouched amongst feeding pigeons and looking out over the sleeping city. There is an unearthly pallor hanging about the lithely effeminate man. He has the implacable face of a statue. A perfect renaissance sculpture frozen in saintly calmness and tranquility with the slightest hint of sorrow.

A speckled black pigeon pecks blindly at The Reaper man's foot. The wind claws and tussles the man's dark hair but otherwise there is no hint of life. Then his lips move, dispelling the illusion. As he talks the wind quiets and the nocturnal activity of the city diminishes to a silent hum. "Have you ever read Miyamoto Musashi's The Book of Five Rings?" His voice is melodious and soft.

The pigeon looks up and tilts its head quizzically.

"Let me try and explain his Heihó," The Reaper Man says, throwing a handful of breadcrumbs at his feet. The pigeon starts pecking with a gusto.

"Chi is Earth, the first ring of five. It is the foundation, the starting point of his path that all else is based upon. His path is the way of the warrior. According to his writings, to follow the way of the warrior one must build an indomitable spirit and an iron will. One must believe that one cannot fail in doing anything at any time and in any situation. To be a warrior one must have a resolute acceptance of death. The question is only when and how."

The dark figure turns Randle's ring over in his hand. "I have my first ring now. I am started on my path." There is a crack in his voice, hesitancy mixed with regret. He places the ring upon his long delicate finger.

* * *

On Love

Then said Almitra, Speak to us of Love
And he raised his head and looked upon the people,
And there fell a stillness upon them. And with a great voice he said:
When love beckons you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste your garden.

For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for growth so is he for pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
So he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.

Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.
He threshes you to make you naked
He sifts you to free you from your husks.
He grinds you to whiteness.
He kneads you until you are pliant;
And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God's sacred feast.

All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secret's of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life's heart.

But if in fear you would seek only love's peace and love's pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love's threshing-floor.
Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.

Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
For love is sufficient unto love.

Excerpt From The prophet by Kahlil Gibran.

* * *

Dear diary,

This is too odd. I can't figure it out. There is only one body. There should be two. No forced entry. Then there's the clocks and origami. Pieces of a puzzle that don't meet. The answers there. It is just alluding me. I don't like trying to think like a killer though.

What else? Spoke to Phil's mum today. She wanted me to come and visit. Stalled her. She misses him as much as I do. I want to tell her about the lead. She still clings to the hope that he's alive. Maybe I do to.

* * *
In my mind I have wings,My soul soars high,
Climbs moon beams,
Plays amongst the lofty clouds,Dances through outstretched trees,Skips over pristine valleys,
Approaches the living city,Lands silently and watches,If I can see all this in my mind,I must have wings.
On the second day...

I look along the street. It is truly the bowels of the city..

Weeping piles of evolving darkness climb from the gutter, desperate for their next fix. Somehow they find the money. Human detriment slides past me, peddling it's narcotic wares. The refuse and scraps of torn waste flock and follow the hawkers of pain. If they have money they procure their pleasured pain. They fuse it with their bodies. Ecstasy then agony. The cycle begins anew.

It could rain for a million years and all the suffering and sorrow would not be washed clean. I hum a tune.

street spirit [fade out] radiohead, the bends.

rows of houses all bearing down on me
i can feel their blue hands touching me
all these things will one day take control
and fade out again and fade out

this machine will not communicate
these thoughts
and the strain i am under
be a world child form a circle before we all
go under
and fade out again and fade out again

cracked eggs dead birds
scream as they fight for life
i can feel death can see it's beady eyes
all these things into fruition
all these things we'll one day swallow whole
and fade out again and fade out again

I shake my head and the images vanish. I'm standing on the street. I see the pushers. I see the buyers. I make myself see nothing else. Everything else is insanity and everything is within me.

* * *

"I'm telling you. This is the guy. He walks into our place this morning and lays a wad of cash on the table. -I'm moving in- he says.

"Fuck. He has money. Too much money. A place like our apartment is cheap and seedy. If I had money like this guy I wouldn't be there. He 's gotta be hiding out I figure.

"You have to understand. Our place is like the seventh level of hell. Roaches and mold fight for territory on the walls. The carpet has mated with leftover pizza and spilt beer to create a hybrid monster that you don't want to go near. Throw rugs bulge over bare springs on the brown velvet couch. Piles of Kentucky Fried Chicken bones and Mickey D's wrappers have intermingled with half eaten Asian leftovers in their second trimester to create truly inspired pieces of modern art. We're none too cautious about hygiene. Twelve guys and girls in a place made for three.

"So he lays down the money. My flat mates and I eyed each other off warily. Then we all sprang. The money disappeared in seconds. Most of them split to get a fix. Not me. I'm smart. I start thinking. This guy, I know he's bad news. His clothes are caked in something odd. At first glance it looks like mud but when you look closer you know it's blood. He 's got perforation holes in his jacket. Not the type made by moth's either. I figure the jacket belongs to a dead guy.

"He looks kinda like a Goth but is less concerned with the dark brooding image, tending more towards the wasted corpse look. Hell the guy looks half dead. Palest face you ever seen. All thin and smooth. Like a girls. You know those effeminate guys? Well I had to look twice to make sure he wasn't a girl.

"After dumping a bag in the corner he glances around the room and then walks straight over to the clock on the mantle. Picks it up and turns round. He looks me dead in the eye. I've been given the evil eye by some spooky people in my time but this is different. It's like he's looking into me. Gave me the creeps. He nods at me, this little cat like smile on his face. Then he sets the timer. Pleasant as you please. It's counting down.

"He slumps down on the ground and reaches into his coat pocket and pulls out some brochure. Starts folding it all neatly. Like he was waiting for something. Like he had all the time in the world. Check this. He's making origami birds.

"Now believe me. I do partake of the occasional cone, but I don't touch anything harder. I'm not totally witless like the other guys in the flat. I listen to the radio, read the paper and pay attention to the words of your feelers. I know you're interested in this guy."

"That I am. That I am."

* * *

I remember the time that cat scratched me. I was so angry. And I laughed. I remember that someone warned me not to piss him off. You shouldn't piss off a cat. Their vengeance is swift and harsh. I think I'm part cat. I have more lives than I should. I like to play with my prey before I kill it. I bring dead birds as offerings.

* * *

"You will keep this quiet Mr. Bolt. You won't tell another soul what you have told me until we have dealt with this Goth."

"I follow you. You don't want me telling the others in the flat. Can't warn the Goth. Fine. I can always get new flat mates. And like I said. The guy gives me the creeps. I'd be glad for you to waste him. After all, you're The Man."

"Yes. I'm The Man. Now Jeff, pay Mt. Bolt."

Jeff is a wiry man with hateful eyes. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out Bolt's reward. He passes it across slowly, malevolent eyes on Bolt the whole time. The informant takes the payment then skulks out of the room.

"Get six of the boys together. I'm making this your job, Jeff."

Jeff nods, an choleric smile creeping over his face.

* * *

My true love. I keep thinking about my true love. I can't get her out of my head. It drives me insane. Each day she gave me something. She was so generous. So giving. Life is strange. Quixotic. Do you get the joke? It would be funny if it wasn't so sad. I hear laughter. Wild and manic. Darkly absurd. Life is a joke. Why am I laughing? I never found a true love until now.

* * *

The van idled in the blue stone alley. Dark tinted windows made it impossible to see inside. For the locals there was no doubt about the occupants or their murderous intent.

"All right. We're going to do this by the numbers.

"Remember. We've paid the cops to be extra slow to any calls in this neighbourhood for the duration. Ergo we have plenty of time to go in there and waste anything breathing. All those shits and misfits are fair game but we have to nail this Goth friend of theirs first. I want to see this Goth's dead body before we start executing the others. When we start though, we make it loud and messy. That way we educate people. Anybody stupid enough to think they can dick with us will reevaluate their thinking." Jeff paused in his instructions. He was more than a little angry. Randle had been a good friend. "Now repeat after me. Loud and messy," Jeff chanted, waiving his pistol in time.

"Loud and messy," the six gunmen chorused in response.

"Amen. Fuck. You guys better shoot better than you sing," Jeff said, malicious eyes flashing. "Ned and Paul, you go up the fire escape. Dave and Phil, you guys cover the corridor with me. Nick and Greg, you guys bash in the front door. And remember. Finesse is for dealing with the competition. We're dealing with some kind of rogue vigilante and a bunch of drug fucked waste heads. This is an abject lesson in terror. I want overkill. If any one of you walks out of there with a bullet in his gun, I'll dock half his pay. Nobody fucks with the organisation. Am I clear?"

"Crystal," the six killers responded together, familiar with Jeff's tirades.

* * *

The cadaverous man walked up to the mantle and cleared off the rubbish and debris to find a Metronome. He started it swinging. The noise was predictable and monotonous.


The Corpse looked around the room. Sprawled all over the lounge were the co-tenants of the flat, wasted from their newly acquired drugs. It was a binge made possible by the fresh in-surge of cash. The Reaper shook his head. Hopefully they'd make it out in one piece.

There was only one tenant not present. Bolt. The Pale Man had stared into the man's eyes and known that this tenant would be a turncoat. It was meant to be.


The electronic clock was drawing closer to zero. The wan faced man picked up his bag. He sauntered into the middle of the room and smiled as his path became clear in his mind.

* * *

The metronome. Regular as clockwork. A machine of precision. It ticks slowly and loudly. An inevitable beat. Tick. Tick. I start loading the gun. A metallic cadence of death. Click. Click.

I think of them. I slide another bullet into the magazine. They give me clarity. Another bullet. I'll make them the punch line. Another. Of my insane joke. Bullet. I've started already. Slides. Poor Randle didn't learn to fly in time. Home. I'll send them all flying home.

Black Death enfolds me in its soft feathers. Darkness, my only friend.

Ring a ring a rosy
A pocket full of posies
Ah tissue, Ah tissue
We all fall down.

I weep for innocence lost

I start on the next gun.

* * *

"Okay we have time. Move!"

From the balcony, Ned and Paul charged into the room whilst at the same time Dave and Phil broke down the front door. They stood tensely. None of the comatose bodies moved or reacted to their presence. The Goth wasn't amongst the wasted souls. The room was silent except for a loud, slow, ponderous ticking.

"Where is he?" Jeff asked acrimoniously as he entered the room with Nick and Greg. Time continued to beat out its measured tattoo in the background. "Wake up this human trash. One of them must be cogent enough to speak."

The gunmen gathered the junkies together, guns pressed to their heads. Even in their disorientated haze the eleven drugged up tenants realised that they were in deep trouble. The incessant ticking continued.

Jeff was incensed. He had fired up his insatiable appetite for human misery but the focus of his ire was not to be found. "Would someone stop that noise! That ticking is driving me insane," Jeff ordered irritably.

Phil grabbed the moving wand and the Metronome ceased. But the beat didn't stop. Softer and a little different it continued. It sounded like metal dragging on metal.

"Where is that noise coming from?" Jeff asked, trying to place the sound. It was oddly familiar.

The thugs looked at one another and around the room and shrugged.

One of the captives looked up at the ceiling. At the man hole in the roof.

Jeff followed his gaze and understanding dawned. He recognised the sound. Jeff raised his submachine gun and started shooting. Plaster and chipped paint showered down as the moldy ceiling cracked and splintered under the barrage of lead. The other gunmen followed suite, tearing up the roof with their gunfire, blindly seeking out their hidden foe.

They finished their magazines and reloaded but didn't continue firing. A discolored circle of blood appeared on the ceiling and started to drip down. The metallic beat had stopped, only to be replaced by steady dripping that echoed in the cold silence.

"How the hell did he get up there?" Jeff wondered aloud, staring at the manhole. It was an old building and the ceiling was about ten foot high. "Phil, get up there. Make sure he's dead."


"I don't know. Use one of those chairs. Get one of the others to steady it."

It took some maneuvering, but Phil managed to get himself to the manhole. He pushed off the cover and raised his gun into the hole. He let off a few rounds in the direction of the blood stain. He shrugged down at Jeff, hoping that this was good enough.

Jeff scowled in response. "Get up there and look!"

Phil paled and grabbed onto the sides of the manhole, boosting his head into the dusty and cobwebbed attic. The bullet holes let slivers of light upwards into the attic. The disturbed dust hung in the air, shimmering in the unaccustomed shafts of light. There was a body. Shot through the head. A corpse.

"We got him," Phil said to those below him, still dangling.

There was a beeping sound of an alarm. Jeff turned and fired at the clock, smashing it to pieces.

Then all hell broke loose.

The attic was suddenly awash with white light as a gun went off. Phil was hit in the head, his skull cracked, shattering like an egg. His limp body tumbled to the ground landing splayed and lifeless amongst the killers. The six remaining murderers gaped in open mouthed surprise.

"One little,"

Gunfire hailed down on the killers and they returned fire. Dave took a shot in the neck. He forgot his gun and clutched his throat, collapsing to the ground as blood sprayed from the severed artery. A pool of blood grew around him, drawing him to the filthy floor. He crumpled ignominiously amongst the congealing refuse on the carpet.

"Two Little,"

Bullets buzzed through the air like angry bees diving from a hornets nest. In a shower of torn plaster and dust, the dark clad corpse plummets through the ceiling to land nimbly on the midst of the remaining killers. With an automatic pistol clenched in each hand, the white faced corpse empties his weapons double fisted into Ned. The killers chest is reduced to a pulverized mass of shredded flesh in an instant.

"Three little Indians"

"Somebody shoot this prick!" Paul yells. With indecipherable quickness the Corpse drops his empty guns and grabs Ned's sub machine gun. He turns and twists in one fluid move, opening fire on Paul, hitting him in the gut. The force of the rounds throws the assassin's body backwards. The smell of burned meat wafts from Paul's corpse.

"Four little,"

Two shot's hit the Angel of Death. One in the head, the other in the arm. Neither has any effect other then to drench The Corpse's face and arm in blood. The Cadaverous Man returns fire in like kind. Nick falls to the ground, a small hole in the front of his head, a gaping wound at the back.

"Five Little,"

"Fuck, I'm outa here!" Greg swears. He turns to run out the front door. The Corpse fires a blistering barrage into the retreating man's back. Greg careens sideways into the door jamb as his limbs flail in spastic disarray. There is a solid yet macabrely wet impact and Greg's body slides slowly to the ground leaving a trail of blood on the wall.

"Six little Indians"

The Corpse turns to Jeff and flashes a feline smile. Jeff empties his gun into The Walking Cadaver's chest. Glimmering eyes sunken in a face awash with blood mock the killer.

"I'm all out of Indians. That just leaves you chief. You have the most feathers."

"I shot you! I killed you," Jeff says. "I know you. You're dead. This... This..."

The Ashen Faced Man brings his gun up lazily and shoots Jeff in the heart. "I have more lives than a cat my little turtle dove. What do I care if you kill me again? My anger is legion. It transcends death. It is pure."

"No. No. No," Jeff stammers in denial, his ruptured heart labouring to continue beating.

The Reaper bows in a florid manner. "Scaramouche my choleric companion. Where does your hate spring from? It is though every person, every being is a personification of your loathing. I can scarcely understand it. Blind hatred cannot sustain you. It entraps you, binds you, suffocates you. Nothing good can ever come from it. Eventually you have to let it go. It must have an end."


"Do you understand? Do you have the remotest understanding?" There is a long silence. Jeff's heart slowly loses its battle.

"No," Jeff says weakly. It is uncertain whether the word is spoken in denial of his impending death or in answer to The Reaper's question. Jeff's bloodless face mirrors the madman's. The light flees his eyes.

"More's the pity. Not that it would have saved you if you did understand. Your fate was decided long before our paths first crossed. Oh well my little turtle dove. You'll sing no more. You are free." The Goth reaches down and takes Jeff's gold ring from his lifeless hand. He places it upon his finger beside Randle's. The haggard man reaches into his pocket and fishes out two origami birds and drops them upon The Corpse. The ritual is complete.

"Hey man, what's your name?" one of the eleven junkies asks.

* * *

What is my name? There is a lot in a name. It was once Jacob Squab. But that no longer seems fitting. Pigeons are meek. They represent life, peace and love.

Now I am Death. The Reaper. The Corpse. The Pale Wan. The Boatman of Styx. The Incarnation of Death. The Shade. The Ghost. The Wan Man. The Revenant. The Avenging Angel. Dark and twisted.

I am also ridiculous. The punch line of life's twisted joke. Arlequin. The Emperor of the Moon and the Raving Loon. The Patchwork Man. A Man of Infinite Jest and Unending Conundrums. The Crown Prince of Fools, The Master of Buffoons, The Jack of Knaves, The Black Queen, The King of Jesters, the Ace of Spades.

I have too many titles to choose from. Sometimes even I don't know who I am. I wear an epithet as the mood suites me.

* * *

Death shrugs. "It was Jacob," he looks over the assembled tenants, "but nowadays I prefer Arlequin. The capering loon."

"Hey, are you okay. I saw you get shot. Thanks for saving us man."

"I haven't saved you. That is your own task." His eyes travel over the gruesome room, taking in all the details. "You are all marked by Death," The Joker smiles. "Death begets death in this vicious circle."

"Fuck he's right man," another mainliner says. "I know these guys. They're enforcers for Frank Seppo. You don't want to get on that guys shit list. No fucken way. We gotta leave town!"

"Jesus. Why the hell did you come to our place? Shit!" Another junkie wails. "What am I gonna do?"

"There's just no pleasing some people," Death says as he gathers his guns and places them in his bag. He left the eleven stunned tenants in their charnel house.

* * *

"Get photo's." Police photographers traipse through the building.

"Man look at the roof. Shot to all fuck and covered with blood!" The roof is awash in white flashes of light.

"Some one went to town on these guys. This guys practically cut in half." A police officer kicks one of the corpses.

"Must be a rival gang," Rob suggests.

Jay reaches down and picks something up. "More origami birds." She frowns.

Rob turns to look as she unfolds it carefully. "Hey this bird is made from the form guide. He's circled a horse for each race today. I wonder how his picks will go. Our killer likes the races and gambling. "

Jay shakes her head. "No, it's a time thing. I'm sure of it."

"Speaking of time, someone shot the clock. Looks like our fruit can't reset it..."

Jay picked up the second bird and unfolded it. "This origami bird's paper has a written note on it. Hey, how about that. It's a poem called Joy and Sorrow."

"Now we have a homicidal poet." Rob noted.

"The poem is not by the killer... it's by Kahlil Gibran," Jay stated.

"Whatever." Rob shook his head. "I don't really care. It doesn't make my job any easier." Rob threw up his arms in disgust. "What a mess! Man I'm gonna be writing this one up for the rest of my life. Why do I always get bloodbaths on my shift."

One of the officers chuckled. "Hey Mister Forensics. What do you think the cause of death was?"

Rob scowled. "Lead poisoning you jackass!"

* * *

It's raining, it's pouring, the old man is snoring.

The rain poured down, blown at odd angles. It scoured inside the bus shelter, drenching the dark figure that sat hunched there. The lonely soul's shoulders rocked with drawn sobs, force of emotion wracking his body. He wept, choking upon actions and tears.

A gray pigeon alighted on the ground. The bedraggled man suddenly smiled at his unexpected visitor, tears forgotten. He felt empty and drained. His face felt unnatural as though painted with a shallow grin, the lingering effects of a catharsis torn in half.

"We're back together again pigeon. Did you miss me?" He dipped his head into the wind, pale face lost amongst the shadows as his dark matted hair. A circle of gold gleamed in his gaunt hand. "I have my second ring now. Did you come to see it? It matches the first. The second ring is Mizu. Water. What did Musashi say about the second ring? He talked a lot about fighting, attacking and defeating his opponents in the quickest and most direct manner. I have done this."

He clenched his fist about the ring. "But water is the source of inspiration. Apparently I have to maintain a fluid and flexible mind. I must be like water. Calm and implacable. I must strengthen my spirit and act in such a way as to not reveal the depths of my spirit to others. I must move like a force of nature, unstoppable like the tsunami."

The pigeon cooed, flapping its wings in the rain. Jacob held up his second ring to the light. "I don't think I've earned this. I'll wear it all the same though. I have to collect all five." He placed Jeff's ring besides Randle's.

The androgynous man broke into laughter that slowly died into body wracking coughing. In a final choking gasp he spat a bullet into his other hand. For the longest time he just stared at it. A squat mass of lead.

"Pigeon, I can't give a name to my dark hirraed. I know not where it wells from. In the thick of battle I can kill without qualms. Afterwards, when I have time to consider my actions, I am terrified. Why is that? Do I regret? I feel a blight upon my soul. A stain of blood." He threw the slug, skimming it across the puddles before him. "Personally I think water is for tears. Maybe they can wash away my actions."

* * *


Unlock doors and spring clean
Sweep cobwebs and upset spiders,
Sun light rooms, air stale halls.

Look at the tenants.
Who are they?
Look 'em in the eye.
Blink and they're gone.
Or do you still see 'em?
In the corner of your eye?

Turn quick.
You won't catch 'em.
Somewhere here is the answer.

* * *

Dear diary.

I have seen terrible things. I have attended bombings where there were so many body parts we couldn't account for all the woman and children. I have seen fire victims so disfigured that I was unsure if they were human. I have seen gun shot victims with intestines shot out, jaws shot off, compound fractures, mutilation... I have smelt, touched, heard and tasted things that have made me sick to the stomach.

Today I was truly horrified. Not by what I saw but what I felt.

I walked into a room full of dead bodies. Seven men lay dead. These were not good men. I have seen their files before. I know their faces. They are a regular rogues gallery. They'd all be doing consecutive life sentences if...

I looked at them and was untouched. I felt nothing. No. I tell a lie. I did feel something. I felt that these men had received their just desserts. Maybe I am callous. Maybe I'm unfeeling. But these men have reaped what they've sown. Someone out there got Jack of these animals and put them down.

From the prints that someone appears to be Jacob Squab. For the last year he's been a missing person. Slipped through the cracks and nobody cared till now.

Rob says we'll catch this guy. Good old Rob.

Personally, I'm in no particular hurry. As long as Squab sticks to this organized crime scum I'm going to put him low on my priority list. No matter how much arse chewing I get from above...

What was that poem again?

Joy and sorrow by Kahlil Gibran.

Then a woman said, Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.
And he answered:
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is it not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potters oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say 'Joy is greater than sorrow', and others say, 'Nay, sorrow is the greater.'
But I say unto you, they are inseperable.
Together they come, and when sits alone with you by the board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at a stand still and balanced.
When the treasure keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

I just read what I wrote. What am I to do? I need to get out more. Have a life outside of work. Move on from Phil. Dammit. I'll go to bed instead.


On the third day...

"Costa. You remember that drug addict that came in here the other day? The one that told us where to find our Goth friend?"

"Sure Frank. Bolt," Costa said. He raised a spoon and breathed on it, polishing it. He held it before him, covertly examining his reflection. Everything was in order. Hair, tie, jacket, face, smile.

"Well," Frank rolled some spaghetti onto his fork with his spoon and shoveled it into his mouth. "He's made a mess," the crime lord chewed noisily. He washed down his food with a mouthful of red wine then wiped the side of his mouth fastidiously with a napkin. "I want you to clean it up," Frank waved his pronged utensil in the air to underscore his words. "Find him," Frank stabbed into his food and started twirling the spaghetti again. "Find our little man." He raised the laden fork. It was poised before his mouth. "Then kill him." Frank engulfed the food with his mouth.

Costa nodded, a tight smile etched on his face. Seeing that Frank was done talking, he excused himself from the dinner table.

As he was exiting, Costa paused to admire his reflection, sprucing his hair and examining his well tailored suit. Damn fine. Tebor passed him. They nodded to one another. Costa wore a mocking smile.

The vain man was acutely aware of the power vacuum that Randle's and Jeff's passing had created. Tebor was too lackluster and ambitionless to pose any competition.

Costa straightened and marched out, exuding ego and self importance. He considered himself perfect for the role of Frank's right hand man.

* * *

Homing Pigeons

How do they do it? How do they know where to always go? How to find home? Those damn pigeons. Is it the same way I know things? About them. The rogues. Where they are? And where they are going? I know there is no heaven. There is only you my love.

Hush. Quiet my love. Just a while longer. I'll be with you when I'm done.

I have sins to lay bare. Rings to collect. Gifts of birds to deliver, courting gifts for you. Then we shall be free. And they will be in chains. We can forget. At home in our eternal embrace.

* * *

Tebor sidled up alongside Frank and placed a photo beside the crime lord. "I've just found out who our mystery man is. Prints from Randle's place and the tenement house match one Jacob Squab. Old J S has been missing for quite some time. Here's a picture. He looks familiar but I can't quite place him."

Frank grabbed the photo and looked at it. "Well I don't know him. Try and remember. This is important. Anything could help."

Tebor absently chewed a nail, searching his memory. Tebor was an indifferent man. The fact of the matter was that he rarely cared to dwell upon the present or the past as it was too taxing for him to contemplate.

This was because the very existence of a past and present implied a future. Thoughts of the morrow blossomed into new and confusing potentials. Avenues that could trap or paralyze Tebor's mind by their unpredictable nature. A paralysis of fear and uncertainty. Much better to exist only vicariously in the here and now.

It was quite strange the way Tebor's obtuse nature made him ideal for the organisation. His thoughtlessness robbed him of a conscience and made him the most perfect of instruments.

Right now Tebor had to think. Till his fallow mind. Sift through the scattered sands of his memory. As Tebor probed his attention came to rest upon one incident. "I know this sounds silly but I remember killing somebody that looked just like him." He struggled to dig out the remnants of the recollection. "Randle, Jeff , Costa and I were doing a job." He kept worrying the dust of his memories, his probing amounting to an archeological dig. "In the basement at the Lady of Immaculate Conception." Relics were being uncovered. They meant little to the man. They were something from a forgotten time. Buried in the past, indecipherable. "He interrupted us halfway through." He tapped the picture with his finger. "But this can't be him. We killed that guy good and proper. Dead ringer though." That was all. Tebor smiled, thankful for being back in the present.

"Maybe it's a relative of the dead guy. A brother or cousin. Look into it," Frank ordered.

"Sure Frank." Something simple to do, to take him away from the raw emptiness of his being.

* * *

Was it seven pieces of silver or twelve? Judas knows but it doesn't really matter. I follow my own Judas. He'll lead me to my next gift of birds.

* * *

The Crow Bar was a dark Art Deco building that had fallen upon hard times. The interior had long ago been gutted and turned into a bordello that catered to all manner of vice. Private rooms with bars. Girls. Drugs. Games. No request denied. Money bought whatever one wished. Among the more successful of Frank Seppo's operations. It was ironic that Bolt's trail led here.

Costa only needed to call in a few favors and liberally douse his informants with money to find Bolt. It was always this way. Rough cogs were swift to screw their fellows and money was the best lubricant of the underworld machinery.

The arrogant gangster strode into the bar, his face and reputation his pass. He nodded to the barman, surveyed the none too private booths with their lap dancers and lonely men. The barman pointed to the stairs and went back to cleaning glasses, eyes listless as he watched one of the girls going through the motions on stage.

Smiling, Costa strolled up the stairs to the second floor. He wondered how such a seedy and disreputable dive could appeal to anyone. Glamour and bright lights were much more appealing to Costa. However his role as a killer required him to lower his exacting standards from time to time.

At the end of a dark corridor, Costa pried open the door and looked in upon his quarry. It was too easy. Bolt was entangled with a voluptuous trollop, all soft skin and shapely curves. "Leave us now!" Bolt said. He should have been in movies.

Bolt sat upright in shock, the girl squealing in surprise. She turned, her face an ugly mask of hardened spite. Recognising Costa her acidic reproach died on her lips. She leaped from the bed and grabbed a handful of clothes.

Costa watched her with contempt, slapping her on the rump as she passed him. She departed hurriedly. "So Mr. Bolt. It would appear that you passed bad information onto my employer. He is unhappy," Costa stated. He loved to be melodramatic. He presented a striking figure. Imposing and powerful with elegant good looks.

"What do you mean?" Bolt was dumbstruck. He was celebrating his windfall of cash. Woman and grog. This was his due for betraying his flat mates. Frank Seppo should be happy with him... Costa being here made no sense.

Costa drew his gun. "You see buddy, I'm here to kill you," he prepared to fire.

"How quickly the hunter becomes the prey," a lilting voice noted.

Costa turned at the unexpected pronouncement. Crouched on the window frame sat a dark man with luminescent eyes.

"The Goth man. My this is my lucky night," Costa said, training his gun upon the dark clad man. "Who's your tailor?"

The bullet holes in The Corpse's shirt and pants had been sewn over, presenting a surreal patchwork quality to his garb. With his pale face and disheveled hair The Reaper looked like a clown

"Have you seen any westerns lately? I do so love the final shoot outs of spaghetti westerns. So theatrical," Death dropped loudly from the sill into the room. He held an antique silver watch upon a chain, spinning it around as he prowled.

Costa smiled. "What are you talking about?" he fired.

The dead man shrugged the bullet off and spun the watch into his pocket. "Timing and violence are very important." In a practiced motion he reached into his jacket, producing a butterfly knife. With an almost indifferent movement he spun it in his hand, the blade a blur of sharp flashing metal.

Costa frowned and shot again. The slug tore through The Dead Man's body with no effect.

The Pallid Man smiled a sickly smile and with a casual underhand motion threw the knife at Costa. The knife imbedded deep in the conceited thug's leg.

Costa crumpled to the ground in shock, his gun dropped. "That's going to scar!" he swore, pulling the knife free. Blood spurted regularly from the wound. "Look what you've done to me!"

The Deceased Man turned his gaze upon Bolt. Bolt shivered and shrank in upon himself under the knowing stare. "Bolt..." The Reaper said to the caged soul. Bolt lived up to his name and ran from the room.

"I'll kill you!" Costa said, his model features drawn tight with anger. He picked up his pistol and fired again and again. The cadaver watched Costa rage with indifference as the bullets passed through his body in explosions of gore. Then the gun was spent.

"I fear not The Reaper. He is my friend and boon companion. He rides shotgun with me on my wild jaunt," the Incarnation of Death said.

"Go to hell!"

"My dear Trivelin. I've been there. It was not to my liking," The Reaper Man produced his antique watch again, snapping it open with a deft flick of his wrist. "A fist full of dollars. That's my favourite. The final shoot out with the watch playing the tune. It goes on and on. Just when you think it's about to finish... it keeps going. I wish my watch played a tune..."

Costa wore a perplexed expression as he looked at The Reaper. "Fuck you."

"But I have a tune in my head. I'm up to the third verse now. There are twelve verses but I'll stop at five. Do you like music? No I suppose not. You love only yourself. Narcissism. It is unbecoming. You look to others only to see your own beauty reflected in their eyes. Do you know what is beautiful? Death. She has a simplicity about her. Restful poise. She is such a beautiful creature. When you see her you'll understand."

The Corpse turned, eyes resting upon two shot glasses and a bottle of Tequila amongst the throng of the well stocked bar. He collected them up and returned to sit cross legged in front of his foe. "Tequila. Vile stuff. Will you drink with me?"

"Piss off."

The Corpse placed the two glasses between them and unscrewed the bottle. "Let us drink to sorrow," the clown said. He poured his shot glass full, and then continued to pour, overflowing the glass.

Costa watched him pour, his eyes growing lazy and vacant.

By the time the bottle was empty, Costa had passed out, his head dipped as though in sleep. The Corpse looked at the drained bottle and at Costa's barren glass. "No more for you then." He tossed the bottle behind him and lifted his glass. "Salut." He downed the Tequila. The Corpse sighed and looked into his glass. "Just the drink for sorrow."

The door opened and the barman from downstairs looked in upon the dying man and The Dark Clown. "Come join us. I'm drinking with my friend! I warn you though. We're in a maudlin mood. This ones love is about to leave him and my cup is overflowing with sorrow!" The Jester said in greeting.

The man blanched and left, pulling the door tight as he did so. "Suit yourself," The Deathly One said, turning back to Costa.

"So Costa. You are a handsome devil. A rake such as yourself must have known many woman." The Fool smiled widely. "I envy you. You are about to meet the most wonderful of them all. Her dusky curves leave me breathless. I wish I could join you but I have other matters to attend to." Death removed Costa's gold ring and placed it on his own finger. He smiled, a feral, manic gleam to his eyes. "So have you heard of Myamoto Musashi? No? Let me elucidate my actions. The third ring I recall is Hi or fire."

There was a long pause as The Corpse looked at the dying man. Minutes stretched. Sirens waxed in the background. The Crow Bar emptied below. "Fire... Fire... But you deserve to drown. Drowning is the death of choice for all vain people. Do you know why? Ah myth and legend conspire to ruin you. Haha..."

"Hmmm. Where was I? Ah yes, Heihó. Timing is everything. It's like a dance. Move and countermove. I move first, attacking quickly and with force. I wait for the first move then counterattack with greater force. I move at the same time, feint to test, then attack. I injure the corners, attack the balance points. The organisation is crumbling from within and without. See the method in my madness? "

Costa paled, head lolling in lifelessness. A sea of blood creeped over the polished timber floor.

"No. I guess not," The Corpse looked down at the intricately detailed timepiece in his hand, recording the time. He then snapped the watch shut.

A megaphone boomed and bright light flared into the room from the street below. "Police. Throw out the gun. Don't make this hard on yourself. Release your hostage."

The corners of The Corpses mouth turned up in a smile as he turned to Costa. "How ironic. I have already freed my hostage." He scattered three origami birds upon the bent form.

"You are completely surrounded. Throw down your weapons and come out quietly."

The Dark Cadaver grabbed the other bottles from the bar and smashed them on the wall. He tore up the magazines and overturned the wooden table. "I shall make you a funeral pyre my friend." The Reaper grabbed a Zippo from the table, lit it up then dropped it amongst the fuel. The flames smoldered and struggled then burst into life, licking greedily at the wall like a newborn babe searching for its mothers breast.

"Gas!" Death said, going to the oven. He pulled the oven from the wall, exposing broken copper pipes. "That should sustain you!"

The door to the room was suddenly knocked off its hinges and two SWAT officers moved into the room with military efficiency, another two providing cover from outside the door. They trained their weapons upon The Reaper. The Ashen Man smile and pointed to the hungry fire and torn gas pipes which hissed angrily.

"Shit! Clear the room!" One ordered. The Swat team retreated hastily. "Call the fire brigade. Cover the roof and the alley."

Death took one last look around the room, searing the details into his mind. He gathered himself then leaped out the window onto the fire escape. He twisted and turned with the agility of a cat on the metal grating, grabbed a hand hold on the rusty ladder and pulled himself towards the roof.

"Hold it right there or we'll fire!"

There was a sudden roar and a shock-wave of flame and smoke erupted below him, billowing out the window he had just exited and chasing him up the ladder. Guns blazed from below. Bullets razored and whined past The Reaper as he raced upwards. Metal screeched and sparked around him as sharp chips of brick broke free from the building. Dark smoke hid him from the police marksmen. The Pale Man looked up through the dark wisps of the choking haze to see another SWAT team on the roof above.

"Cop's on top. Can't stop must drop!" he let out a crazed laugh as he gripped the ladder railings with all his strength and kicked into the wall. There was a soft grinding sound as the rusted bolts imbedded in the brick wall above slipped free. The ladder teetered and began to topple whilst the madman continued to climb.

The bottom of the ladder remained firmly attached to the wall as the top swung downwards into the alley, out of the cloud of smoke. Longer than the width of the alley, the top of the ladder hit the alley wall opposite.

The Corpse jumped nimbly onto a narrow precipice on the other building face, grabbing at invisible handholds. Two bullets hit him in the back, plastering the brick work with blood and bone. He edged into a bedroom window.

* * *

"Did you see that?" Jay gasped.

"Yeah, lucky chump to go from one building to another like that. We won't catch him now." Rob said.

"No he was shot! In the back," Jay said.

"I don't think so," the other cop scoffed.

"I'm sure I saw it." Jay said.

"Through that smoke? Your eyes are playing tricks on you."

* * *

Death didn't stop for a moment. He sped unhindered through the bedroom, into the living room, out the front door, down the corridor, up the stairs and out onto the roof.

He ran over crumpled black stained tiles, jumped refuse, slid under clothes lines, rolled across air-conditioning units, leaped gutters, tumbled over television antennas and regained his footing with the feline adroitness. Distantly he heard gun shots and snippets of yelled voices and sirens.

He soared from one roof to another in flying stretched out leaps, landing, dodging and sidestepping haphazard obstacles as he made his way along the mad horizon line. The one constant was the wind on his face.

Coming to a main road he paused and looked back into the night. He could see the smoke rising from the Crow Bar in a thick black plume. He watched as a fire engine hurtled by in the street below. He laughed aloud. The Crow Bar was aflame, confusion was in his wake. The Grim Man leaped the four stories to the ground and landed in a crouch. The back streets and dark alleys would hide him. He continued to chuckle as he strode slowly down the street, free as a bird.

A car rounded the corner. It idled as the owner watched the patchwork figure cross the road. The engine revved and the car accelerated, veering straight towards him. At the last instant Arlequin leapt and rolled to the side. The car ground to a halt and Tebor stepped out, gun in hand.

"You're dead pal," Tebor snarled as the dark figure stood. Death laughed again. I was after all a mad mad world. Tebor emptied his gun into The Dead Man. Bullet after bullet impacted into his body. Geysers of blood and tissue erupted from his body. The Corpse spun lazily around, arms outstretched, face to the sky as though he were dancing in the rain and not a hail of bullets.

Tebor looked at the cadaver's chest, the ripped and bloodied shirt, the healed wounds. He was confused.

The Corpse slumped as though tired and waved Tebor away. "I'm not ready for you yet. You have one last day to make your peace with your maker. Then I shall find you and scatter your remains upon the four winds."

"We did kill you didn't we! This is funny."

"A riot," The Pale Man said in a deadpan voice.

"It wasn't my fault. I was just following orders," Tebor protested.

Gleaming eyes fixed upon the criminal. "Really? Do tell."

"Frank told us to do it. Frank Seppo. It was his wife. She was at the shelter. That was why. That was why we killed her. That's why we killed you. We couldn't leave any witnesses."

Death sighed, a long resigned exhalation. "My dear friend I have a missive for you and it is bleak. Your soul is a witness. It records every action. Every deed. Every thought and intent. It reads like an open book. I see it laid bare. You cannot hide your misdeeds or send them away. They always come back to you."

Tebor looked at The Corpse in confusion then shrugged. "Whatever. So I can't kill you?" He looked down at the pavement, trying to understand.

"No. I'll come for you in due time. I'll be at the ruins of the Crow Bar tomorrow night if you wish to continue our conversation."

Death slipped away leaving Tebor to grapple with his thoughts. They were few and far between.

"Just remember. You can't cheat me..."

* * *

Dear diary.

This is all madness. Squab was shot. I found pieces of spinal cord... the blood matches that found at the other two crime scenes. Nobody should be able to move let alone run like he did with a severed spine...

I don't know exactly why I didn't tell Rob about this. I do know that he doesn't want to look too closely at the inconsistencies. I can see it in his eyes. On some instinctive level he feels it too. Something just beyond us. Rob needs to maintain the illusion of the mundane. I no longer have that luxury.

If I had any doubts now I don't. I checked the form guide Squab left as an origami bird. There were over one hundred races. Every horse circled won. I calculated the odds. God. He can shrug off bullets, predict the future...

It's just not possible. Squab isn't human. Natural order is being bent. Reality is askew. How? There's no drugs. No foreign substances. Must be magic. But magic is just something you can't explain or understand. God that sounds stupid. Nothing can be ever be completely explained or reasoned.

There would appear to be more betwixt heaven and earth than I thought.

I did some looking into Squab's history. There isn't much there. A hint though. He restored buildings. Churches. He went missing at about the same time as the Lady of Immaculate Conception exploded into the news. Phil was investigating this case when he died. It's a tenuous link. A Slim hope, but then again anything seems possible at the moment. I have to find Squab. I need to understand. I need answers.

On the fourth day...

"Frank, you don't understand. It's the dead guy. He's come back from the grave. You can't kill him again. I tried. Filled him with lead and he danced like I was spraying him with a hose. I think we should split town boss. This guy is bad," Tebor explained.

Frank looked down his nose at Tebor. "Tebor, in all the years you've worked for me, I have never once asked you to think. Do not start now. You're rattled. Emotional. Illogical -"

"But boss, this guy is coming after me. Once he's done with me, you're next."

"Tebor, do not interrupt me. It is one man. Take some of the boys. Go to the Crow Bar and kill him."

"But I think -"

"Do not think. Do what I tell you."

Tebor hung his head in defeat.

* * *

Dear diary.

Took the day off sick. I work nights so that makes no sense. God nothing makes sense. The pieces are all there. Squab. Phil. The Lady of Immaculate Conception. The mob. I'm missing one piece though. Well a few actually.

I'll follow this up myself.

* * *

The Crow Bar. A burnt out shell. In the centre of the room, the Specter of Death squatted as he toyed with fine charcoal. He painted his lips, made a mask of his pale face. A gaggle of pigeons cooed beside him. He threw bird seed down.

The Joker heard harsh laughter. He looked up from his pigeons and turned his gaze outwards, through the jagged fire stained windows.

A group of men were brightly lit for a brief moment as a car drove by, then the street was plunged into darkness again. His eyes adjusted to the internal shadows. Premonition. Something about the shape of the men. Something amiss. His visitors were arriving. He placed a comforting hand upon the hilt of the katana slung across his back.

A gust of cold wind from outside blew into the scoriae of the bar. Nine men strode confidently into the centre of the room, powerful halogen torches lighting the way. Sauntering. Swaggering. Kicking ash and stirring up the cinders.

The torchlight fell upon Death and the massed pigeons. The sudden light caused the birds to scare and they broke away, filling the air with thunderous and chaotic flapping. The Patchwork Man grinned, all black lips and white teeth, immobile amongst the confusion. "Ah, Les Italiens! Welcome my fellow players in this farce of parodied tragedy," Arlequin bowed with extravagant exaggeration.

Holsters emptied. Guns glinted cold metallic blue. The air frosted. Icy clarity gripped the eyes and minds of the gunman.

Tebor entered and leaned across the doorway, nodding to The Corpse in recognition. "Go on. Frank say's to kill him," he prompted the gunmen, "I'll see you outside," he said ambiguously then turned and left.

The men opened fire indiscriminately. The Patchwork Man moved without conscious thought, blindingly fast, throwing himself over a dividing glass partition which exploded as it was rent with flying lead.

The charred floorboards he had vacated were shredded, bullets arcing off the splintered floor in billowing clouds. By some quirk of fate The Reaper avoided being hit by bullets but the shattered glass cut his arm. Death smiled serenely in the dark, crouching, blood dripping from his arm.

Five of the men moved warily towards where The Corpse crouched. The other four fanned out to provide cover. The Corpse listened to their footfalls whilst dipping his fingers in the small pool of blood at his feet. He dabbed his face, a tear of blood from each eye. He stood, facing his tormentors.

Gunfire erupted, a storm of noise and thunder amounting to nothing. "The audacity of your ready repartee and apt illusion knows no bounds!" The Clown capered crazily as bullets rented his body.

The gunmen continued to fire, laughing, thinking it all some absurd joke.

"I see that all the madcap Zanni of the troupe are assembled. I am Arlequin, the patchwork man. Shall we dispense with the greetings my friends and commence the wild slapstick? "

They fired in response. "He should be dead by now..."

"Dead? Shhh, make not a sound. Death is here. Tiptoe lightly away and you may allude him for he is a most adroit knave. He can steal your life away in small snatches or all at once. See his dark form. Like a bird. Pray."

The Corpse leaped straight up, faster than the men could follow with their torches or weapons. He landed deftly on a pole and looked down on the killers from above. From on high they were insignificant. Milling milieu for carnage. He reached behind his back and drew his sword silently.

Torch lights zigged and zagged, searching the blackened room for the Clown. Pigeons fluttered and dodged the beams of light.

The roof above groaned. "Someone should condemn this building and all within it," Death said. The killers looked upwards and fired. Too late.

The Avatar of Death launched himself high again, describing a parabolic arc squarely upon one of the nameless men, knocking him heavily to the ground. "Goodnight," he cut down hard and the killers head flew from his neck and bounced across the floor. Blood gushed everywhere.

Torches fell upon The Reaper. He stood stationary above the headless corpse, sword held high at the end of it's arc. Blood dripped from the blade. Death's head was lowered. His face was hidden by his dark tangled hair. "Fuck, he killed Trevor!" Gunfire erupted, lighting the room with haphazard strobing. Like stop motion photography The Grim Reaper turned, ran and leaped for cover. Guns hushed. "Where is he?"

"My friend, you seem to have lost your head." Laughter echoed throughout the room. "Ah fluent eloquence and spontaneous wit. How I love thee..." Silence. The Reaper cut one of the support beams and the roof above moaned even louder as bearers and joists struggled to cope.

The killers continued their search. "We hit him didn't we? I swear we shot him. Argh..." A man was cut in half in the darkness. The Pale Man relieved him of his weapon.

"Such a troubling braggart." Death threw his sword across the room at another of the killers. The blade flashed white in the light of the man's torch, imbedding deep in his chest, nailing him to a support beam. The gunman looked down at the wobbling sword in utter disbelief.

"I am done with swordplay. Now I have a gun," there was the sudden surge of footfalls of someone running. Gunfire converged upon the noise.

The Corpse dove to the ground and slid backwards, firing upwards, laughing merrily all the while. The roof above two of the killers was pulped by bullets. The ceiling moaned, cracked, then disintegrated. Burnt timber joists collapsed heavily onto the pair in a shower of debris. "Hide, my dear Zanni. Maybe death won't find you. Maybe he already has..." A cloud of sooty ash blew outwards from the devastation. The four remaining men dived away from the wreckage of the roof.

They gathered themselves, looking for their foe. "There he is," one yelped, opening fire. The others followed suite.

The Pale Man sprang to his feet and cartwheeled single-handed over the bar, returning fire and spraying one of the men with three shots, one of which was a gut shot. The man dropped his weapon and clutched his stomach.

The second man looked at his wounded compatriot, belatedly realising that he was standing out in the open. Before he could rectify the situation he felt a searing blow to his neck. He reached up, a fine red mist hovering in front of him at regular intervals. The dull throbbing in his neck was a curiosity which he could not comprehend. He fell like a statue to the charred timber floor.

"Dear me, death has caught you unawares too."

The remaining pair understood that they were not capable of dealing with this man and under heavy covering fire, attempted a hasty retreat.

They fired at the fire scorched bar behind which The Corpse had landed. The metal plating buckled with an ear splitting roar, the staccato pounding vibrating the whole counter. Blackened bottles and glasses on the wall shattered under the onslaught, raining down behind the bar.

The Corpse by this stage had sprinted to the end of the bar and leaped over it, diving sideways, landing gracefully in a roll. The two men turned and futiley tried to aim their weapons at Death's quick and allusive form to no avail. The Reaper came up in a kneeling position and fired his machine pistol rapidly in succession. The two remaining men were knocked off their feet backwards, one after the other discarded in splayed disarray through the shattered front window.

Jacob stood slowly, looking at the wholesale carnage around him. He laughed insanely. He held the inanimate gun before him. The metallic instrument looked foreign to him. He dropped it, stepped away. In a daze he walked over to the hunched body impaled upon his sword. He gripped the hilt and pulled the weapon free. The killer's corpse sagged to the ground as Jacob sheathed his sword.

Jacob started to laugh, an off centre cackle. He felt like an outsider, as though it had been someone else controlling his body. He couldn't equate himself with the butchery around him. He stared at the blood upon his hands. His laughter turned into a paranoid giggle. Something seemed to seize his limbs in a paroxysm. He staggered away from the crumpled body stepping on to a nearby cadaver. Jacob looked down, his insane laughter ceasing, his wan face unbelieving.

He stood for a long time in the room. His only companions were the spooked pigeons which fluttered about the burnt out hovel. Finally he turned on his heel and walked woodenly from the shell of a building. Outside he stopped by a car and crumpled on the hood, ragged breathes and gasps issuing from him in laboured measures

Jacob closed his eyes. He clenched his fist in front of him. He had to compose himself. Had to reign in his sudden horror. Remember why. Dread receded to be replaced by purpose.

Death opened his eyes and focussed upon the three rings on his hand. There was still a fourth to collect.

"Hold it there," The Reaper was greeted by another gun. Standing nervously in front of him was a woman clutching a Berretta. "Squab, I know you."

"Yes. I am The Reaper in this sham," Death said. He was distracted. There was a dark car idling up behind her, tinted windows slowly lowering. Tebor's car.

"You have some questions to answer. I'm a police officer. You are under arrest Squab. Anything you-" The Corpse dove at the woman. She shot. He felt the familiar intangible ghost of a bullet passing through him as he drove her to the ground behind an old Ford.

Machine guns opened fire in a drive by style strafing from the dark car. Bullets bounced off the bonnet of the car they sheltered behind, ricocheting into the large windows of the buildings, shattering the glass in its thin plastic membrane. The driver planted his foot and fishtailed down the street, hanging a bootleg in the middle of the oncoming traffic and coming back towards The Pale Man to finish the job.

Lifting his head, The Reaper saw the car, careening down the street towards them. Gunfire greeted him and he ducked. "Where did you park?" he asked the woman.

"Just over there," Jay said pointing across the road.

"Give me the keys! I have to get you out of here," The Corpse said as he watched the car approaching their location, moving for a better angle, engine growling, circling like a tiger.

"I shot you!" Jay noted in surprise.

"I noticed. Keys." Jay looked over the bonnet at the car. There were three gunmen leaning out the passenger windows and Tebor was driving. Guns fired and she ducked. She nodded and reached into her bag, searching for her keys.

The car was moving slowly now, prowling between their cover and Jay's car. The Corpse looked at the car that was providing them protection. He gripped the back seat door handle and pulled at it. Locked. That was the least of his problems.

The Pale Man gripped the handle tightly with both hands and pulled with all his strength. There was a sound of snapping and buckling metal as the door tore open. "A bit more protection for you." He explained.

Jay fished out her keys with shaking hands. Death snatched them and found the right key just as bullets started to hail down on their position again. They hit the door he had used to create their cover. "I hope you're insured." The Corpse said as the bullets whizzed past their heads, embossing the metal hide of their shelter. The engine of the car revved as the driver accelerated to the other side of their cover.

"This is all part of the show ma'am," letting out a small laugh, the painted man reached up to the top of the door jamb. He stepped back from their cover and pulled himself forward and up, snapping his feet onto the car roof and kicking off again.

The villains car sped by underneath him, The Corpse leaping clean over the vehicle and landing in a graceful roll on the other side of it. "Tadda," he said. He pushed the key into the lock and turned, pulling the door open and diving in just as the gunmen in the car brought their weapons in line with his new position.

The rear windscreen shattered, a booming explosion of glass which cascaded over the back seat. The Corpse, sitting in the drivers seat took a number of hits. He jammed the keys into the ignition and pumped the gas. The engine roared to life and Death pulled on the wheel, planting his foot flat to the floor, the open door slamming shut as the car lurched forward.

With the screeching of burning rubber and smoke billowing from the tyres, The Corpse did a sharp U-turn and crushed his foot on the brake, leaning over to the passenger seat to open the door. Just as he did this the wind shield was turned into a latticework of cracks under another shower of bullets. The passenger door swung open and The Pale Man motioned for Jay.

"Climb in!" The Corpse yelled as he pushed the passenger seat from upright to a horizontal position. Jay took one look at The Reaper and then at the killer car. She didn't want to get in, but knew that she wouldn't survive the next wave of bullets. She ran forward and dived into her car, pulling the door closed behind her as she lay down on the passenger seat.

The Reaper pushed his foot down on the accelerator, shifting up to second when the engine began to sound like it was fit to burst. They sped past the villains car which hailed them with a spray of bullets, but apart from loosing the rear view mirror and the front windscreen collapsing onto the two occupants, no major damage was sustained.

Looking back through the rear of their vehicle, The Corpse saw that the bad guys car was turning to follow.

"I'd say that the chase is on!" The Corpse muttered.

The Corpse sat upright, an occasional bullet hitting him. Unfortunately their car lacked serious grunt and laboured to gain distance from their adversaries. It was only a matter of time before the killers caught up again.

They rounded a corner under heavy fire. Stray bullets hit buildings and cars. A young couple were narrowly missed, unaware until the pair of cars had gone that they had been inches away from death.

Irritation and anger played over The Fool's face. The thugs chasing them were unconcerned with innocent bystanders. The longer this escapade went on, the more the chance for injury or death to third parties.

His mind made up, The Corpse edged his foot off the accelerator, pumping it every now and then to make it look like their engine had been shot. The Corpse dropped his seat to a horizontal position.

"What's wrong? Get us out of here!" yelled Jay.

Ignoring Jay, The Pale Man looked up at the car approaching from behind, killers perched out three of the four windows as they blazed away with their guns. It wouldn't be long now. The Corpse pumped the gas a bit more then eased off, the car jumping and lurching.

There was a bump as their car was rear ended, the roof and dash being perforated by bullets, the men in the car raising their guns as high as possible to rain down on Jay's car from above. This went on for about five seconds. There was a sudden lull as the gunmen ran out of bullets. The Corpse pushed the accelerator down and gained some distance between their cars again.

"Hold it steady for a few moments, then pull on the handbrake," The Corpse instructed Jay as he placed the woman's hand on the wheel. "Keep your head down, I'll be right back."

"What...?" Jay asked. They were still going at sixty kilometres per hour, even after decelerating.

Without pausing to explain, the Avatar of Death turned around, pulling his feet up under him onto the seat and gripped the headrest. Arms straight he focussed upon the car behind them then snapped his body forward, using both his arms and legs to propel himself headlong through the cleft where the back window had been.

As he left the speeding car, The Reaper looked down to see the rushing blur of bitumen beneath his airborne body and heard the chatter of gunfire at a surreally slow pace. Bunching into a ball he somersaulted, his feet going over his head. A split second later he came out of his spin, feet leading towards the windshield of the oncoming car. Death felt the rushing air claw his body, phantom bullets rending his flesh, then a body jarring impact.

* * *

The armed gunman hanging from the front passenger window had just snapped a clip into his gun. Seeing the flying figure he acted swiftly, if not rationally. He let loose wildly at The Reaper, following The Deadman's flight path as he hurtled towards their car. Unfortunately the gunman in the front passenger seat fired to the very end, ultimately shooting through the front window just after The Reaper entered it, straight at Tebor.

"What?" Tebor wondered as he drove.

Bullets tore through the Tebor's body, causing him to turn the steering wheel sharply, a reflex action of pain. The three gunmen perching out the windows didn't stand a chance as the car went careening out of control. The tyres slid for a moment, then bit into the ground, sending the car tumbling sideways through the air.

The vehicle almost did a complete spin before landing on the bitumen road, the nose of the bonnet crumpling into the ground. After this the car continued twisting in the air, bouncing down onto its rear, the front flying upwards again. The car persevered with it's strange tangled roll that resembled a macabre walk. Centrifugal force hurled gunmen from the car in various states of mangled disarray before the car slid to a halt on its side.

The twisted wreckage smoked and groaned as the metal decided that it wasn't going to be battered any further. A door popped open at the top of the car and The Corpse clambered from the wreckage. He pulled himself out the top of the car and lowered himself to the ground.

Jay had pulled her car to a stop some distance from the wreck. She stepped from her vehicle and walked disbelievingly towards The Reaper and the smoking pile of scrap metal that had until recently been a car.

The Corpse let out a wet cough and spat blood to the ground. He walked around the car and stared at Tebor in the last laboured moments of life. "It is the fourth day. As I promised Death is calling you my little bird."

"Frank... do me a favor huh?" Tebor reached forward. Death took his hand. "Kill that sick prick good'n... kil... Fran..." Tebor spasmed and quieted forever.

The Reaper nodded, sliding a gold ring from Tebor's finger. He let go of the killers hand. Slowly, The Pale Man reached into his pocket and produced four origami birds. He dropped them ceremonially upon Tebor's body. "The fourth ring is Kaze or wind... I don't think you have the time to listen though. Suffice to say you should know your enemies, particularly their weaknesses. I don't have the time to explain further."

Jacob turned to face Jay as she approached.

"Are you all right?" Jay asked staring at the bedraggled form of The Pale Man.


"You need to go to a hospital!" Jay said as the severe lacerations, gashes, bullet holes and contusions healed. The Wan Man did not respond. "Right. You know you're under arrest... I don't suppose there's any way I could make you come down to the station?"

"Sorry. I have to be on my way. I hope I don't see you again," The Reaper turned to leave.

"Wait," Jay pleaded.

Jacob paused.

"I want to understand." Jay said.

"What is there to understand," he asked as he continued walking. Jay moved to follow him.

"Tell me. Are you dead?" She asked.

The Reaper Man grinned. "Are you?"

"No. But that isn't the point. I've seen you shot. You look like a corpse. Why aren't you dead? It's a miracle," Jay said.

Arlequin shrugged. "Is not all life a miracle? Totally improbable."

Jay's brow creased in frustration. "That's not what I meant. Talk sense. You should be dead. How can you keep going after you've been shot?"

Jacob turned and looked straight at a neon street light. His face was white. Dried tears of blood clung to his cheeks. His iris' shrunk to pin pricks of darkness. "Have you ever had something you needed to do. Something so important that you didn't sleep, didn't eat, didn't distract yourself from your purpose? You just ignored your body. Pushed through the physical barriers imposed by the flesh. Past exhaustion. Past rational thought. Beyond all physical and emotional reserves."

Jacob looked down, his face disappearing amongst shadows. His voice was quiet. Deathly quiet. "Well push yourself a little harder and you'll find a wall. It's not really there. Just imagine it's a window. Cloak yourself tightly in your purpose and force your way through. There is nothing on the other side but your goal. Nothing else matters. Here you can ignore anything. Death is superfluous. Pain is obliterated. Emotions are nihil."

Jay shuddered at Jacob's deathly voice. "Sounds lonely."

They continued to walk. They came to a bridge. The Clown jumped up onto the railing, walking the fine line on the edge. He balanced and teetered, the cold dark river flowing silently beneath them.
The Jester's white smile flashed in the darkness. Sardonic eyes gleamed as The Patchwork Man turned to the sky. "Hmmm. Look up and you'll see the bullet holes in the shroud of seething chaos. There's so many of them. Loneliness is like counting the spent shells that made the stars. Pointless..." his eyes became distant.

Jay shook her head in confusion. "Sorry?"

Jacob's eyes flicked down into hers. She has beautiful eyes. Warm. Alive. They smile, even when they look at Death. "Never mind. When I'm finished I'll rest with my true love." Even as he talks Jacob can scarcely believe his glibness. Empty words turn to ash in his mouth and longing for the unattainable strikes him.

"Why? What is driving you?" She can't understand the man.

Jacob reminds himself of the past and purpose takes hold. He grabs a light pole and swings around it. "I hear voices. They call to me and ask me that same question. I am searching for the answers." He stops his swinging and hangs above the obsidian river. "I need to look them full in the face. Greed, Hate, Vanity, Indifference, Pride. In exposing them to the truth I satisfy my design."

"Did you love her that much. This true love," Jay's eyes search The Pale Man's face. She waits expectantly for an answer.

"I never found true love." A wry smile is upon Jacob's face. He knows that this woman could be his undoing. "My love is Death."

* * *

Dream a little dream of me.

She looks at me, concern and understanding warring upon her face. "Show me where you've been shot."

I nod. I can't deny her. I step back from the edge. I pull off my patchwork top. Her fingers trace over the road map of my bodies travels. Each white line. Each scar. Contusion. Burn. Scrape. Healed by my resolve. Held together by will and nothing more. The Patchwork Man.

"So you are dead? You feel warm. Alive."

I have killed a part of myself. I'm just emotional stumps now, dismembered, scared and worn. I possess the shiny beauty of scar tissue. Unfit for anything more than a freak-show.

Still I look at her and wish. I feel something welling inside me. Maybe my innocence is not lost. Maybe... I am not dead? I had just assumed. Maybe it was only a passing madness. A new desire seems to be intruding upon my path. Does my path diverge here? What is my Heihó?

"Sometimes illusions seem real," I mutter quietly.

"You remind me of an Oriental Poem I read once. I forget who the author was. How did it go? Something about butterflies..." her voice trailed off.

Madness. "It doesn't matter." I pulled my shirt on and rubbed my face, smudging soot and dried blood. "I'm sorry I must look ghastly. I've been playing dress up and got carried away." I'm a fool. A clown.

The woman nods as she regards me. "I think you've sunk to the same level as your enemy." Her liquid gaze holds me firm.
"They're savages. So am I. They've bathed in the blood of innocents. I haven't. It's a fine line, but it's a world of difference."

The lady makes a face of irritation. "I hate people like you. I should hate you too. I think I pity you instead."

"Pity them. I can't. Afterall, you can't shake the hand of the devil then say your only kidding..." Pat and glib. I'm approaching emptiness, the dull roar of the world flowing through me, not even touching the sides. I look at her and wish I had found true love before I died.

"What is at the end of this for you? Revenge?"

"Five rings. I have collected four, now I need only one more."

Her eyes envelope me, swallow me whole. "Here take this," she pulls a ring from her finger. An engagement ring. "Now you have five rings." She has wise eyes. "There are no answers. You should stop now. It's not worth it. You win. You lose. But to win you shouldn't lose everything. You are alive. Leave this path..."

I wonder. In another life we could have been one. Together in joy. We could have shared bitter sweet separation. Been through high Helter Skelter times and low slow ebbed moments. We could have had harsh words and passion all mixed together. I could have woken next to her in the morning. I can even see her lying next to me. Beautiful in repose. Soft eyes closed, lips slightly parted, hair mussed. She is radiant.

I could draw my sword. Plunge it into the ground. Whip my hand across it and snap the blade in half. It wouldn't need to taste blood any more. I could discard the broken hilt.

But my path does not lead this way.

* * *

Images flash through the man's mind. A conversation never held. Dreams, nothing more. Things that cannot come to pass.

"What is your name?" The Man asks.


"Ah, I know about you. Phil talks about you all the time. Sings high praises to you in fact. I can hear his voice when I close my eyes. It's in the wind. In the background noise of the city. You must hear it sometimes as well..."

Jay nods.

"Don't worry, I'll avenge him." The Man grimaced. "Yes. Frank Seppo will pay. For Phil, for the Lady, for all his victims. Especially the children. Be glad you cannot hear them singing Jay. They sing a symphony of loss. It's all the more terrible because they'll never finish it." The Man has a haunted look upon his face.

"Live a good life Jay." The Man released the light pole and stepped off the bridge rail. He plummeted into the dirty river. Icy water enveloped him.

"Dammit!" Jay swore as she stepped to the rail. She looked over the edge, searching for him. Nothing.

* * *

The way of the warrior is empty. It leads to oblivion.

I can see myself from the outside. I am so evil. So sinister and cynical. So warped and unbending. So facile with my sarcastic comments. I bite with my tongue, laugh with my eyes, talk with my smile and see only with my mind. I am the unending conundrum, droll and taxing upon the thinking mind.

I see it within me. More evil than the devil. Greater than god. What the poor have and what the rich lust after. I've eaten too much of it and died. I see nothing within me. Emptiness. The gaping maw. I laugh. A microcosm of insanity. Nothing. The world spins about me in mocking circles that draw in upon themselves. My path is ultimately empty for me.

Still I must finish what I've started. This trip through Hades is not for me. It is for them. It is about retribution, restitution and striking the balance. I am merely the instrument of entropy acting upon the inertia of their actions. I'm almost done. I can live with this growing emptiness for one more day.

On the fifth day...

I dreamed I was a butterfly,
fluttering here and there.
I followed only my actions as a butterfly,
and was not conscious
of being an individual.
Then I found myself awake,
once more in my body.
Was I a person
dreaming about being a butterfly,
or am I a butterfly
dreaming that I am a person?

Oriental poem. Author unknown. From a letter in Frank Miller's "Hardboiled" Comic.

* * *

Death climbed from the river. Like a bedraggled cat he shook his dark mane of hair. His clothes clung to his lithe effeminate frame. He squelched as he walked to a phone booth.

A pigeon landed beside him. "Still with me my fine friend. It is true what they say about birds of a feather..." The Reaper grinned. "I nearly lost my path. Did you know that? I nearly forgot everything I've learnt." The pigeon ruffled its feathers.

"Let me show you something." The Dark Man reached behind his back and drew his katana. The blade flashed. Sharp. Hard and soft. Tempered steel subtly rippled with the distinctive pattern of the samurai blade. "Lovely, isn't it? And it's real. A thing from a forgotten age. See it's beauty. It is made only for killing. Once it is drawn it must taste blood." He lowered the sword to his arm and cut. Blood welled from the wound.

The pigeon was indifferent the act of self mutilation.

The Shade looked at the deep cut. "Nothing. I feel no pain. My flesh was flayed in phoenix fire when I died. It was wracked with stillborn agony when I returned. I am held together by paradox and dementia. Next to that this hardly even tickles." The wound healed itself and he sheathed the sword.

The pigeon cooed.

"Are you always this judgmental?" The Pale Man closed his eyes. "I suppose I must explain. Then you will not condemn me. I was at the Lady of Immaculate Conception."

The pigeon marched forward, searching for something.

"I was working there, restoring the basilica. That's where I met Randle, Costa, Tebor and Jeff. They were the ones that did it. All to kill Frank's wife. There was over fifty people there...I can still hear their voices. Young. Too young."

The sun was rising upon the city.

Jacob paused deep in thought. Looking at the blooming horizon without seeing. Suddenly his eyes rested upon a black and orange butterfly. It fluttered in front of him. He held out his hand and it alighted upon his outstretched finger.

"I'm confused. They're dead. Nothing I can do can change that."

The butterfly sprang from his hand. He watched it. The butterfly crossed paths with the sun. Jacob was blinded for a moment. Then the butterfly was gone.

"I have to make sure it never happens again. But first I need to call a friend." Death dialed the phone.

* * *

The waiting had finally become unbearable and Frank had decided to order some food. He refused to admit it but this incident bothered him. It didn't seem possible that one man could eliminate so many of his men. His best men at that.

The waiter entered the room and placed a steaming bowl of pasta in front of Frank. The mobster inhaled, savouring the fragrance of basil and garlic. He nodded satisfaction to the waiter. As Frank was sprinkling fresh parmesan over the ravioli, one of his men appeared bearing a mobile in hand.

"Frank, it's for you. I think it's Tebor."

Frank smiled, taking the phone. He was expecting good news.

"Tebor, what did I tell you. Just a normal guy that dies just like everybody else." Frank stuck his fork in the pasta and raised it to his mouth.

A quiet voice answered. "But I come back afterwards with gifts." It was said with such matter of factness that Frank merely frowned in confusion.

Understanding dawned. Frank lowered his fork. "Squab?"

"Ah Pantaloon. So good of you remember my name. I'll see you tonight old fellow. Ciao." The line went dead.

Frank turned to the man that had brought him the phone. "I think it would be prudent for me to maintain a low profile. Gather all the men you can. We'll hole up in the Factory. That place is like a fortress," Frank looked at his food. He pushed his pasta away untouched. For some reason he wasn't hungry.

* * *

She makes me question my path. Do I bring only death and destruction? Have I held too tight to the sword? Is it part of me now? Am I acting in response to aggression or am I seeking it out? Have I become what I abhor? Am I a monster?

I try to answer but there appear to be no correct responses. All I know for certain is that I have followed a philosophy of will power, I have forged an iron will and an indomitable spirit and I am responsible for my actions. I cannot take back what has been done but I do have regrets. I regret it was me that killed them. Still if I were to start over again I would do it all the same. Any way you cut it they deserve to die.

No. I don't regret.

* * *

Jay burst into the lab and ran up hugged Rob. Rob smiled and turned around. Jay started talking immediately "Rob, you'll never believe the night I've had. I met him. Jacob Squab. He's mad. An utter lunatic. He's... unearthly."

A concerned expression crossed over Rob's face. "Where were you? There's been another slaughter-"

"At the Crow Bar. Frank Seppo's men were there. There was a horrific fire fight. I was there too." Jay smiled triumphantly. "Rob, Frank Seppo was behind the bombing of the Lady of Immaculate Conception! Frank had Phil killed!"

Rob paled in shock at the revelation. "How do you know?"

"Squab told me!" Jay spun around, totally ecstatic.

"He's a killer," Rob said, "how can you believe him?"

"He's an angel!" Jay said. "Or something..."

"I think you need to calm down. I'll get you something to drink."


* * *

"Boss another phone call for you. It's that guy from forensics."

Frank frowned. "Give me that." He grabbed the phone. "You have news?" A cruel smile gradually materialised on Frank's face. "Really, how interesting." Frank nodded to himself, the wheels of his mind turning. "And you are sure of this?" Frank picked up a pen and started writing. "Well, well. Wonders will never cease. Yes. You will be paid well. Thank you officer." Frank put the phone down. "Spiro. I have a job for you. I need you to kill one cop and abduct another. There must be no loose ends." He passed the piece of paper to the thug.

"Sure boss." Spiro said.

* * *

Factory. Industry. The Broiler. Chickens stuck in cages. Blinders on. Seeing nothing. A front. A laundering facility. Money from the waste. Noxious and filthy, cleaned and spewed out. Mad pipes. Crazy. Dials and meters. Consoles. Industrial strength. Hazardous materials. High pressure.

Frank will be here somewhere. Hiding from me. Hiding from Death.

I will drop through the skylight in the office. I will have tripped an alarm. Oh well, it will save me the effort of finding them. "What are you looking for?" I will ask. "Bad people." I answer. I know I will find them here.

"Ahem." The room will be illuminated with the audible flick of a switch.

I shall turn. Behind me will stand an armed thug. A tall thug.

"Found one," I will quip inanely. Three more thugs will appear behind the tall thug, weapons drawn. "Make that four," I shall not desist with the bad jokes.

The tall thug will holster his weapon and walk into the room. In all there shall be a tall thug, a short thug, a skinny thug, a fat thug and me.

The tall one will talk to me. "Ah, the Goth. You don't look nearly as fearsome as I imagined." The short thug will walk to my left, right beside me. He shall start inspecting my bag of weapons.

I shall smile with all my unearthly warmth. "Well, I do try to be an amiable fellow."

The tall man will grin whilst he approaches me. Me, The Reaper. I'll soon scythe through these men with the force of an errant wind.

Fat and skinny will follow close on the tall thugs heals. "You look weak. Kinda like a scrawny little girl."

"Death never looks like it should." Time to act. These strands are to be cut. Life for them is at an end.

Am I here? My mind plays tricks upon me. Am I in the future or the present. How did I get here? I am confused. No time for thought, I must act.

* * *

"Fat and skinny went to war."

The Pale Man pummeled the tall one in the chest three times in quick succession, the air snapping at the speed of his blows. Inhumanly fast, Death gripped the tall man close, interposing the limp body between him the two startled gunmen.

The rotund and thin man opened fire upon The Reaper's human shield. The body spasmed in Death's arms. The Reaper's hand slipped into the tall guy's jacket and grabbed the man's pistol in it's holster. Flicking the holster latch, Death shot fat and skinny from under the tall man's arm without drawing. The two men tumble away like torpid masses.

The short man inspecting the gun bag turned, sub-machinegun in hand. The Patchwork Man is quicker. Quicker than thought. Quicker than Life. As quick as Death.

The Clown pulls the gun from its holster, drops the tall cadaver he is holding and shoots behind his back at the short thug. The diminutive killer is thrown back onto the table in a torrent of blood whilst his gun sails upwards as muscles spasm in shock. Smoke wisps from the tiny carcass. Death's gaunt hand grabs the gun from mid air. The Pale Man fires straight up at the light, plunging the room into darkness.

Men are charging through the door. The lithe figure of death twists like a double jointed freak, sending a volley of lead through the door. There are grunts and cries of pain as three men are bent and twisted by rending gunfire, their bodies collapsing in a pile upon the floor. The Avatar of Death's guns are empty.

"More," he whispers. Death grins happily when he spies the silhouette of a thug wielding a Stya in the doorway. He drops his spent weapons. Time distends as the weapons drop. Time has no meaning for Death. The life of an insect and a star are the same. The Reapers eyes drop to two pistols on the floor. He dives to the ground and stretches for the pair of dropped pistols. He grabs them and rolls away just as the hood opens fire with the Stya.

The ground is alight with tracers. The Reaper smiles a rictus grin in the half-light of the fire fight, shooting up from a prone position. There is a pained grunt and the killers body topples back through the door. The doorway is vacant again. There is distant noise as other crooks begin to rally.

The Deathly One grabs a double holster from his bag and slings it over his shoulders, tightening the straps. He gathers as many guns and clips as he can and presses them into his pockets and pants. He snatches his over coat and throws it over his shoulders.

"Ready for round two?" The Jester asks of no one in particular.

The Dead Man heads from the room and into the mad labyrinth of the factory. The layout is crazy and The Loon feels completely at home. He finds a control panel and pushes the start button. Machinery thrums about him. Human calls and shouts echo, competing against the mechanical communication of the industrial engines. The rush of many footfalls rises and fades. Strange noises filter through the pipes and tanks and vats. Conveyors transport odd components from one production stage to another. Darkness and light dance.

Death slinks from shadow to shadow, avoiding the mad charging mobsters as they hunt him. He climbs up amongst the pipes above and starts making his way like a spider into the mechanical heart of the building. Finally his pipe highway ceases. Below him are a mass of gunmen. He pauses, looks at the warning on the pipe and coughs.

"Ahem! Don't shoot!" Dark beady eyes look up at Death. Hungry. "I won't hurt you. I am here for Frank. You can leave and live."

Gunfire erupted from below. Bullets bounce and scream off the pipe, puncturing holes in it. Liquid spurts down upon the gunmen below in a gentle shower. "Or stay and die. I said don't shoot. This pipe contains acid..."

The gunfire ceased. Men melted. Death shook his head and swings down from his vantage point. "I said I wouldn't hurt you. You killed yourselves. How embarrassing." The Joker walked away from the horrid scene. "Is there ever a good way to die?"

The Avatar of Death rounded a corner and started down the corridor. Halfway down he came to a junction. Four gunmen rounded the bend. They paused a metre apart. Death held his guns aimed down. The gunmen gripped their guns tighter.

"Don't make me..." The Dark Clown began.

The gunmen sprayed The Specter in front of them with lead. As Death was knocked backwards by the physical force of the onslaught he raised his twin pistols. He landed on his back and fired up at the men. Blood and bone flew, chests were punctured, limbs were torn at odd angles, ichor and gore painted the pipes, internal organs were laid bare, bowels emptied and men howled or whimpered as their bodies were thrown into the walls like rag dolls.

The Dead Man stood and shook his head at the wasted life. Smoke wafted from his chest where he had been shot. A tear of blood welled in Jacob's eye. "It's like they want to die. Sweet god ... it's so senseless."

There was yelling and a group of men rounded the corner. The Joker raised his gun. Took aim. The men paused. "Listen to me. You cannot kill me. Frank cannot kill me. Even I can't kill me. I'm here to kill Frank. You should leave. I don't really want to kill you but I will finish the fight if you start it."

The men laughed at The Patchwork Man. "Well go on then."  They taunted. "Show us." They jeered.  "We're waiting." They cajoled. "Can't kill himself!" They mocked. "What a joke!"

Arlequin stood still. Gun raised. Aimed straight at his head. He smiled wickedly as he pulled the trigger three times until the gun was empty.

The men stared in open mouthed shock as Death lowered his smoking gun. Cerebral matter and bone dripped from the wall beside him. The Dead Man casually licked a finger and raised it to his head, snuffing a burning hair in between his thumb and forefinger. He then wiped blood and gray matter from his face.

The predatory eyes of a cat surveyed the killers from the sunken pits of his skull. The Pale Man exuded indifference and the readiness to pounce at the slightest provocation. "You're right. It is a joke. A joke of cosmic proportions. Now before I grind your bodies back into mud, I suggest you leave. Pass the word. Death walks the land and he has a quota to fill. And he's not picky about who he takes," The Reaper said softly, his voice cutting through the stunned silence like a knife.

The Dead Man walked away. None of the men followed.

"All of a sudden I've got a splitting headache," The Joker noted as he made his way to a flight of stairs that wended into the depths of the earth. Shouting voices assailed him. There was the familiar sound of gunfire. Death felt the giddy rush of bullets pulling at his body. Without turning to look The Deathly One returned fire blindly behind him as he strolled down stairs. He heard screams and bodies topple.

The thrum of the machinery and screams dimmed as he sank deeper into the earth. Death could feel the weight of ground heavy above him. "This place feels like a tomb. I must be well on my way to the next life."

* * *

How can nothing be of use? The answer is simple. Tao Te Ching explains it best.

Thirty spokes will converge
In the hub of a wheel;
But the use of the cart
Will depend on the part
Of the hub that is void

With a wall all around
A clay bowl is molded;
But the use of the bowl
Will depend on the part
Of the bowl that is void

Cut out windows
In the house as you build;
But use of the house
Will depend on the space
In the walls that is void.

So advantage is had
From whatever is there;
But usefulness arises
From whatever is not.

Tao Te Ching

In my own way I have embraced nothing. Actions flow through me without conscious thought. I have become nothing and everything at once.

* * *

Foot steps pounded distantly behind him. Death reached the end of the stairs and saw more men ahead. Frank was among them. The Mafioso smiled and waved as he stepped into a room halfway up the corridor. The reaper prepared to fire as Frank's guards follow him but pause in surprise at something unexpected. He had not seen this coming. There is a woman with them. Jay. They hustle her into the room. The door slams with ominous finality. The Reaper sprints after them.

Pipes run the length of the ceiling and walls. Crisscrossing haphazardly for god knows what reason. The Corridor is narrow and straight.

There is yelling from in front of Death at the other end of the corridor. The Corpses eyes narrow as he realises that Frank has set a trap. A corridor with gunmen at the end, a bolted door in the middle through which he's fled. The men jump out when he reaches the door. Simple but deadly.

The Deadman shakes his head. "You have no idea what you are up against, do you Frank?" Under heavy fire, the Reaper reaches the middle of the corridor. Bullets knock his body as the Reaper tries to force the locked door. He throws his weight against the entrance. The door groans but he bounces back.

Bullets keep tearing down the corridor, hitting The Loon. The Joker feels like he is in the eye of a twister as his body is pushed and spun by lead. The Corpse is not strong enough to fight this sort of onslaught and he is thrust away from the door.

Bullets continue to lacerate The Reapers body. One hits and shatters his left knee, another hits his jaw, several hit his chest and arms and stomach. In what appears to be an epileptic fit the Deadman is knocked to the ground. Lying on his side Death fires his twin pistols double fisted down the hall, heedless of the wasted ammunition. "You can't kill me! Get it through your thick heads!" he yells as he hits two gunmen. Their bodies tumble and collapse in explosions of flesh. The other gunmen duck for cover.

One bright spark holds his Ingram around the corner and showers the passage indiscriminately with bullets. The Dead Man fires a single shot, hitting the man in the wrist, smiling grimly when the hidden gunman drops his weapon and screams in pain. The Dead Man's guns are empty.

Propping himself against the wall The Dark Man regains his footing. He steps quickly towards a small alcove in the passage. He wracks his mind. He wants to charge into the insanity at the end of the corridor, lose himself in bloodlust. He can't afford to do that with Frank and Jay so near. Jay is not meant to be here. If she dies because of him... No he has to deal with Frank now. He has no time to waste on trivialities.

The cold metal of the wall chills Death's blood soaked back. The door opposite looks sturdy and will not be manhandled open, not even with Death's considerable strength. Even if he did get the door open The Joker needs something to confuse the killers. Something to take their minds off Jay. Something that will hold their undivided attention.

The Patchwork Man spies a fire extinguisher on the opposite wall, one of the inert gas cannisters. The Reaper smiles, quickly reloading his weapons. Holstering one weapon he jumps across the corridor and pulls the extinguisher from the wall.

He hefts the small fire extinguisher in his left hand. It is not too heavy and will empty rapidly. A cocky sense of bravado overcomes The Reaper as he eyes the closed door. A reckless course of action springs to mind. "This is going to be fun." The Reaper shoots the top off the cylinder, white gas spurting out in a haze. A smoky cloud forms which provides a frosty visual cover in the centre of the corridor.

Gun aimed at the door opposite, Death arched his gaunt body as he prepared to hurl the extinguisher. The Dead Man opened fire with his single drawn pistol, aiming at the two hinges on the door. Then he spun, throwing the canister with all his might. The metal container impacted with the top of the door. The door and the extinguisher toppled into the room

Two men at the far end of the corridor stepped out at that instant. The Reaper is still spinning on the balls of his feet. Obscured by the gas, the two men discharge their weapons in an invisible barrage of death. Blood spurts from The Corpse's body, tinting the gas red. He returns fire with his one gun. Bullets snap and whine. One killer is incapacitated by a head shot. The Reaper's gun is empty. Still twirling in a rapid blur Death fluidly draws a fresh weapon, using the momentum he has gained to return fire, eliminating the other man.

The Loon finishes his graceful but inhumanly quick pirouette as the solid door crashes to the floor in the next room. The extinguisher gushes out white smoky gas which slowly drifts to the ground. The entrance to the room is screened and there is a growing blanket of fog about a foot above the floor.

Two men on either side of the door open fire through the smoke, giving away their positions. The others cough as they inhale the inert yet dangerous looking gas.

Death casually slips the cartridges free and commences to reload his weapons. Hearing the sound of reloading, the three remaining men at the far end of the corridor step out, cocking guns. At the same instant four killers reach the landing at the bottom of the stairs in time to see the mist envelope the stationary Deadman.

All of the gunmen open fire at the same instant. The Joker cackled with insane mirth as the killers shot into the mist about him. "Crossfire..." The Loon commented as the Assassins killed one another. Seven bodies fell to the ground as the unscathed Reaper slid home the last cartridge.

Without pause The Corpse turned and dove backwards into the room, firing up at the two men by the door, arms held out at a V. There is the satisfying wet sound of bullets impacting bodies and two dead bodies fall to the ground.

The remaining men in the room watch in confusion and surprise as The Avatar of Death hurtles into the room, trailing white gas. He disappears beneath the enveloping mist. The gas roils and flows slowly on the floor like liquid. Death rolls quickly away from where he landed, moving further into the room under the cover of the gas.

The three remaining men open fire, aiming at the spot Death had so recently vacated. The bullets ricochet of the floor. They hit nothing.

The Corpse fires at one of the men from a reclining position. Smoke traces the path of multiple bullets as they drill the gunman in the forehead, throat and chest. The white gas points straight back to where Death fired from. The two remaining men bring their guns to bear. Death is already moving.

The Dead Man kicks down with his legs, lower body flying over his hunched torso as he back-flips between the two men. He lands on his feet in a graceful display of physical prowess, wisps of smoke clinging to his body. Death holds a weapon aimed at each mans head, arms straight out. The men stand motionless. They know they are not quick enough to bring their guns up before The Reaper remodels the interior of their skulls.

"I only need one of you alive. Talk. Which door did he go into. Where is Frank Seppo?"

* * *

Guns. Extension of self. Fusion with cold mechanic death. Hardwired into hate. Lack of thought. Intent to kill. And precision. Lose oneself in the mechanical. Shoot a gun. Whether at nothing or a person. It's all the same to the gun.

* * *

"Frank? He's in there," the killer motions to a closed door. The Deadman smiled.

"Thankyou," Death said, lowering his guns.

The two men could hardly believe their luck. They turned their guns upon The Dark Man.

Quicker than either of them, Death raised is weapons again and fired. "You chose your side. There are no prisoners in war," he commented, arms outstretched like a great predatory bird.

* * *

I walked through the door. There is Frank. Kú. Emptiness. The fifth ring. Five golden rings. The song is almost over.

* * *

"So, you've come for me? Who the hell are you? What do you want?" Frank held a gun aimed at Jay.

"Me? I'm nobody. Nobody at all. Just the nameless face of all your victims." The Dark Man said. "I represent your wife, mothers and children, murdered and butchered people from the start of your heinous career."

"What the hell do you know about my wife!" Frank pushed Jay hard into the wall where she crumpled from the impact. The Mafioso turned his weapon on The Reaper and fired.

The bullet hit Death. The Pale man staggered back. The wound didn't heal. It didn't matter. The Joker dropped into a weary crouch. Frank fired again. The Dark Man grunted, blood flowing from the latest wound. It too didn't heal either. "You've stepped on the cracks in the pavement. You're mine now..." Death smiled hungrily. A ravenous grin.

"I don't know what you're smiling about pal. You're going to die!" Frank said. "Then I'll kill this bitch cop!" He gestured to where Jay kneeled by the wall. She was a still little dazed.

"Don't worry Jay. I am nearly done here. Frank's about to make his final curtain calls with me. He is about to have a final dance with Death..." Death exploded into action. With inhuman speed The Reaper sprang across the distance and knocked the gun from Frank's hand. Still moving blindingly fast The Dark Man gripped Frank by the throat and lifted him, throwing him against the wall and holding him there, feet dangling a half a foot from the ground. "Pantaloon you are a well educated man are you not? A scientist of great learning. Your are immovable. Obstinately set in your ways. I am an unstoppable force. Death. Answer me this. What happens when an immovable object meets an unstoppable force?"

"I don't know!" Frank gasped.

"Then you shall find out." The Reaper punched Frank with all his supernatural strength. With a sickening sound, The Dark Man's fist ploughed into the mobsters nose, shattering Frank's face. His fist continued into Frank's skull. Eye balls popped and brains flowed out of empty sockets. Blood gushed from the mobsters ears as the Incarnation of Death's fist exited the other side of his skull and imbedded into the brick wall.

The Avatar of Death pulled free his bloody hand and wiped it on Frank's top. "Funny that. I don't know what happens to the unstoppable force. I guess I'll find out now." The Reaper collapsed limply to the ground. He was almost finished.

Jay moved to his side. Jacob smiled up at her. "I think we have an unfinished conversation..." He coughed.

"Yes, we do," Jay held him up, watched and waited.

"I have an anamnesis. A memory from a past life," Jacob closed his eyes, breathing in laboured breaths.

Jay nodded.

"I've already said that my true love is Death. She embraced me on Christmas Eve and asked me to come to her, to lie in her arms. Instead I decided to woo her with gifts. It ached my heart to be away from my beloved but I must do it this way. Something within me will not rest until I have given her due courtship," Jacob opened his eyes, looking at Jay. Hoping for understanding. She smiled, a forced smile but a smile nonetheless.

"I feel strangely lucid. Maybe my madness has almost run it's course. My beloved eternity awaits," Jacob is relieved at the thought. "How did this madness start? The power shorted. I went down. I found them. They found me. They decided not to kill me. No. Not yet. They were in a festive spirit." His voice is dark.

"They put their guns against my head and laughed and joked. Love that music. Jingle bells will be your death knell. Enjoy your last noel. Say hello to Jesus for us. Its better to give than receive. Peace on Earth," Jacob shook his head slightly in disgust.

"They tied me. Gagged me. Costa shot me in the leg for fun. It was hilarious. Oh how they laughed. They explained how the explosives worked. They put the timer in front of my face. I was helpless to stop it. It was the cruelest joke to play. So close yet... so far away. They left, laughing and clowning. Left me bleeding and crying, terrified and dying. Bleeding my life away."

Jacob coughed. His voice dropped in pitch. His eye's grew distant as he remembered. "Above I hear singing. Young voices. Mothers and children. Too close. I want to scream. I want to yell. All I can do is watch time slip inexorably away, each passing second stealing the mothers and children away from their lives."

He smiles in paradox. A biting cruel smile. There is no pleasure in it, only pain. "The children start the twelve days of Christmas. I always hated the song. It goes on and on and is so banal. As I watch the time slip by, I fervently want to hear the end of the song. I will the timer to stop. I deny reason, reject reality and fight logic. All to no avail."

Jacob pauses then starts singing. "On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me. Five golden rings. Four calling birds. Three French hens. Two turtle doves. And a partridge in a pear tree." He stops. Silence. Jay waits. Blood flows from Jacobs body.

"I hear it. I have no body but I hear the singing. Over and over." Again Jacob pauses. He looks up into Jay's eyes.

"Then she speaks. My love beckons. Stop remembering and come to me. Sleep in my arms, she entices. Forget in my tears of Lethe. I long for the consummation of our love. Though it tears me apart, I cannot obey her. Young voices cut short are too loud in my mind. I climb from the wreckage whole, the soft kisses of my beloved Death phantom memories. I have been torn from her by the anamnesis of singing voices and I am angry."

"Why? Half way houses for beaten wives and abused children are meant to be a safe haven. I hear the voices ask me why? Why? Over and over. Taunting and pleading in childish sing song. I want to know why." He slumps in her arms and grasps her hand.

"I think I know why but it is an answer that does not make any sense. It's an absurdly passe joke. Frank Seppo's wife ran away from him and he wanted her dead. Because he loved her too much and couldn't stand to lose her." He let go of her hand and slowly slipped the four rings from his fingers.

"This is why I laugh all ragged and weary. I can't understand the absurdity of it all. The cold selfishness. The unbending self-centered arrogance. It is beyond senseless. He loved her. He killed her. Her and fifty strangers. Mothers and children. Innocents." He bounced the rings in his hand and closed his fist about them. "Tell me. Is this a dream or a nightmare?"

"Neither," Jay said.

He turns to look at her. "What do you need to know?"

"Phil. My fiancé. You know what happened to him. How he was killed."

Jacob nodded. "Your fiancé was investigating the bombing. Your partner Rob informed Frank." Jacob searched Jay's face. The revelation of betrayal obviously stung her. "Rob did it for money and in spite. In his twisted way, he loved you too. Frank ordered your fiancé killed because he was too close to uncovering the truth. Just tonight Rob informed Frank about you, because you knew too much. Rob had hidden evidence about the bombing. Had been party to the death of your fiancé. Despite his sick love for you, he had to quiet you." Jacob smile grimly. "Don't worry. Rob is dead. Frank killed him because he knew too much. Isn't it neat. All packaged up. How trite." Jacob rolled his eyes.

"I wish to ask you a favour. You have an engagement ring. Can I have it please?"

Jay nodded as Jacob slipped the ring from her finger. He held the ring in his hand with the four others, gripping them tight. "You know something? Rings are empty. They're nothing but shiny baubles. It is the person that wears them that is important. My four rings don't hold any answers. They're empty. But with your ring a miracle happens..."

Jacob opened his hand. The five rings were gone. In their place was a butterfly. "Life is change. I don't know what death is. But that's the fun of it all. Not knowing." The butterfly flew from his grip. "This is the ultimate achievement. The fifth ring. To be so adept that you can act without thought. So practiced. So natural. Artless. Living life as it comes, with an open mind, free with the flow and in rhythm with the timing of change. This is just the tip of Ku. I still barely understand it."

Jacob coughed and he spasmed. "You'll forgive me. I have to go now. My task is complete. I'm off to rest in my beloved's feathery embrace for eternity." His body sagged and five rings tumbled from his sleeve. "Dammit." Jacob smiled slyly. "Well, I nearly tricked you with the butterfly... I'm just a fraud and this was all just deft sleight of hand." Life fled his eyes forever.



An attempt at an explanation.

As I said this is in essence a story of The Crow, except there is no direct reference to The Crow. Yep, I'm a liar. I do really like the Crow. I'm a graphic novel purist.

I substituted a pigeon for the hero to talk to as opposed A Crow or a cat. The pigeon ain't mythical. I don't know what is. I think it symbolises an attempt to hold onto innocence and peace, to find a way home. I do know that you can't quantify the mythical or make rules for it - then the mythical is no longer mythical.

Ahem. Originally I planned this to be a play upon the song Twelve Days Of Christmas. I purposefully avoided reference to The Crow in an effort to make this story what I wanted it to be. Five rings, 4,3,2,1 birds (origami) - I do so love misdirection. The time theme came from the timer on the bomb.

Then I borrowed the book of five rings from a friend. It is linked with the Christmas song by virtue of the number of rings (obviously - more misdirection). The book takes a completely holistic approach to individual success through conflict (not necessarily war, fighting or combat). I grew wary of this book however. Musashi was a killer. I feel as though he had no remorse. This disillusionment with Musashi is gradual. Musashi's teaching exonerates victory and emptiness as the goal. This feels wrong to me. I thought he was a farce. His way guile's you at the beginning and then it entraps you. The way of the warrior is empty - I'm not saying that the book is a farce, merely its application in war and battle (the physical type not business). Somewhere I lost this thread. I don't want to pick it up.

This is where the Commedia dell 'Arte comes into play. Commedia is slapstick farcical, wicked wit, pantomime, low brow humour and drollery. Harlequin (Arlequin) is a lunatic. Madcap, crazy, a lover, a sinner, capable of great depth, obscene shallowness. Flights of fancy, ludicrously macabre jests... These are the three layers of the story. I think that the Commedia element is closest to the heart of "the crow" as I could get (I'm talking the graphic novel here).

Finally, I thought a twist upon the whole thing. An impossible ending for an impossible story. Life and redemption. Jacob finding what life is. Personally it feels trite to end it on this note. But death for deaths sake is stupid as well. Maybe I should end the story as a banal revenge kick.

Also I'm a cheat. I break the rules. But note. This is not really a story of the crow but of the pigeon. And finding home.

I hope my meandering is clear. If not there should be enough puns and action, verbosity and insaneness to amuse the more persistent readers.

If anyone disagrees and want's to argue, I'm here. If you want to agree, I'm here. If you would like to comment in any way (I'd really like any feedback and I do like critical feedback, even non- constructive stuff - hell if you think this whole thing blew dog's balls) I'm here.