“I’m glad to have company.” Nemo, the limbless ascetic, leaned to look over Leo’s shoulder. “I heard a bird. Will it arrive soon?”
“Probably,” lied Leo. “You guys love birds, huh?”
“Of course. My islands were built by a bird.”
Leo scoffed. “I’ve never been into imaginary-sky-daddy bullshit. What are you doing way up here?”
“Just as I choose,” said Nemo. “I’ve come in pursuit of freedom, to live as I know is right.”
“Oh yeah?” Leo leaned close. “Now you sound like my kinda guy. If society says ‘don’t climb past the clouds,’ that’s the first thing you gotta do. You a monk?”
“No,” said Nemo. “I’m no longer welcome at Virgil Blue’s monastery.”
“Oh ho ho. That’s the stuff. They’ll kick you out if you tell `em harsh truths.”
“Indeed,” said Nemo.
Leo pointed to his own forehead. “You got a, uh, a thing up here.”
Nemo nodded and looked cross-eyed at the swastika carved between his temples. “A reminder of my duties and heritage.”
“Hell yeah. I got one too. Not my heritage, but someone’s heritage, and as long as the world disapproves, I’ll wear it proud.” Leo unbuttoned his Hawaiian shirt. Tattooed across his chest was a blue swastika whose arms bore thirteen stars. “That’s why the world can’t keep up with us. Get me?”
Nemo furrowed his brow at Leo’s tattoo. “What brings you to my little mountain?”
“Glad you asked.” Leo shrugged off his backpack and pulled out a jar of centipedes. “Harvested these all by myself.”
“Hm.” Nemo seemed unimpressed. “Freedom doesn’t come from centipedes.”
“Ha! I figured you had something special up here,” said Leo. “Even monks use centipedes. What’ve you got? What’s your secret to freedom?”
Nemo shook his head. “You wouldn’t understand.”
“C’mon. We’re buddies!” Leo took out his cellphone. “You like birds, right? Check this out. On the second island, there’re monks worshiping a fat-ass penguin. They made me delete the photos I took, but I got the last laugh.” Nemo’s eyes narrowed as Leo showed him a hundred photos of Virgil Green’s matriarch. “They thought I only took two, but my camera was on burst-mode, so I got a bunch.”
“I see.” Nemo inspected Leo with a squint. “You know, photographing birds is forbidden.”
Leo puffed out his chest. “So’s climbing past the clouds and using centipedes, but that ain’t stopping us.”
“Freedom means setting your own limits,” said Nemo.
“Freedom means having no limits,” said Leo.
Nemo blinked. “If the opportunity arose to torture toddlers to death without consequences, would you consider it an okay thing to do?”
“Psh. Morality. It’d be my choice.” Nemo glared, so Leo folded his arms. “What kind of communo-fascist dictatorship are you imagining,” began Leo, almost promisingly, “where I can’t kill anyone, anywhere, in any way, for any reason or no reason at all? You don’t control me. What are you, some kind of Jew?”
Nemo counted centipedes in Leo’s jar. “Are you consuming those yourself?”
“Nope. Back stateside they sell for a thousand bucks a pop. Might smoke a little, though.”
Nemo bit his lip. His teeth were whittled sharp like a shark’s. “Centipedes aren’t meant to be sold.”
“But people buy `em. Gotta feed the invisible hand of the free market, baby.”
“I thought you weren’t into imaginary-sky-daddy bullshit.”
Leo sneered. “The invisible hand of the free market is real.”
“Everyone says that about their God.”
“But the invisible hand of the free market actually influences reality!”
“Everyone says that about their God.”
“But the invisible hand of the free market allots consequences for actions by assigning ultimate value! It’s the only source of objective truth!”
“Everyone says that about their God.”
Leo sputtered and shook his fists. Spit flecked from his lips. “The invisible hand of the free market is directly influenced by everyone who matters!”
“Lots of people claim personal connections to God. You trust an imaginary-sky-daddy to fix the world quickly as you can break it. You’re bad as the monks.”
Leo clocked Nemo in the jaw.
Nemo rolled backward on his mutilated hips, but his low center of gravity rolled him upright like a child’s boxing-toy. Leo socked him again, and again Nemo rolled upright. “You really want my secret to freedom?” asked Nemo.
“Make an offer.”
“Uh.” Leo pat his pockets. He had no money, not even sand-dollars. “I’ll pay bug-sticks and centipedes.”
“I don’t want them. Try again.”
“I’ve got a porcelain egg.”
“Do I look like a nest?”
Leo crossed his arms. “Well, what do you want?”
“Eat your fingers.”
Leo clutched his biceps. “Why would I?”
“If you won’t pay, then freedom will escape you. You’ll forever be slave to your own cowardice.”
Leo grimaced. “Crazy bastard.”
“Call me what you want.” Nemo munched his own shoulder. He licked up every drop of blood. “Man is free exactly when he chooses to be, but if you haven’t the guts, I can’t blame you. You’re no man! You’re a wobbling, whimpering victim-complex. You surrender your freedom to everyone you meet because responsibility burns you like ice. Now I’ve got your freedom, somehow, and I’m telling you to buy it back.”
Leo put his right index-finger in his mouth but couldn’t bite hard enough to sever it.
“Come on, now,” said Nemo. “Be less worthless than your daddy.”
Now Leo flushed red with rage. He opened wide and chomped his finger clean off. Blood spurt onto the rocky cave floor. He groaned and spat his finger into his lap. “Don’t talk smack about my daddy!”
“Pathetic!” Nemo snatched Leo’s finger in his teeth. “Did I tell you to bite your fingers off?”
“Lazy sack of shit! I told you to eat them!” Nemo whipped his neck to fling the finger at Leo’s face. “Or descend and face your father as equal in failure!”
“Don’t talk smack about—” Leo clenched his mutilated fist. “My daddy—my father, I mean, was a wealthy business-owner!”
“What’s his name? What business?”
Leo said nothing.
“Thought so,” said Nemo.
“So what if I don’t know his name!” said Leo. “He fucked my mom and fucked off to make more money! He’s an alpha, just like me!” Nemo just grinned. “My mom said he was rich! Are you callin’ my momma a liar?”
“Some things don’t need to be said.”
Leo chewed his severed finger. Bones cracked in his teeth and he swallowed. He almost vomited, but bit off his right thumb as well. “Aaaugh!” He horked it down. “Goddammit!”
Nemo watched him eat every finger off his right hand. “You’re spilling blood. Sloppy work.”
“Shut up!” Leo gnashed canines to split ligaments in his left pinky. He jerked his head to tear the digit from his palm. Blood, sweat, tears, and spit trickled down his face, neck, chest, and stomach. His tattoo’s color ran, leaving him bare-chested. Leo skipped his ring-finger and ate the rest, panting. When only his left ring-finger remained, he showed it to Nemo. Leo wore a gold ring. “I can’t eat this one,” said Leo. “My wife would kill me.”
Nemo smirked. “You seek utter freedom but worry what your wife would think? Whi-chii.” It was a whip crack.
“Okay, okay! But I’m keeping the ring.” Leo pulled off the ring with his teeth.
Nemo shook his head. “You can’t be free if you can’t sever your attachments—to your body and to others.”
“How could I be attached to her body?” misunderstood Leo. “She won’t even fuck me.”
“Women are the worst,” Leo stalled. “They don’t know a great guy like me when they see one. I didn’t get laid in high-school, and after high-school women are just used-up sluts whose gaping cavities aren’t worth a damn. But I thought I’d lower myself to fucking one—I bought a wife from overseas. Cheap ’cause she came pregnant. But even that worn-out bitch won’t fuck me! How could I possibly be attached to that husk? Maybe I’ll fuck my stepdaughter if she grows up hot. It’s not like we’re related.”
Nemo chuckled. “But you won’t eat the ring?”
Leo put his ring-finger in his mouth. He cracked bones, tore flesh, and swallowed it whole. “There! Urp—” Leo choked back vomit. “Fuckin’ showed you!”
“You sure did,” said Nemo.
“Now gimme freedom! What are you hiding up here?”
“Nothing you can’t see.” Nemo wiggled his stumps. “You’ve already eaten your fingers. Now finish the job.”
Leo retched and hid his bloody palms under his armpits. “Fucking—false advertising!”
“Liberation is attaching to nothing,” said Nemo. “Own nothing. Be nothing. Know nothing. Until then you can only suffer.”
“My property,” said Leo, “is mine! I earned it! I deserve it! I’m damn-right to be pissed off at this commie bullshit!”
“You feel how you choose to feel.” Nemo shrugged what remained of his shoulders. “But a true anarchist would rejoice in any circumstance. Governments don’t exist. Social-structure is illusory. Everyone is capable of their capabilities. That tautology is the only freedom. You claim to desire a world without limits, but you live in it. You’re just too pathetic to participate.”
Leo tried to stand up. “I’m leaving. Fuck you.” He slumped into a puddle of his own blood—he was too pale and weak to exert himself.
“Leaving?” Nemo chuckled as Leo tried retrieving his wedding-ring without fingers. “You can barely move. You’ve chosen to die here.”
“Yeah?” Leo jabbed his bloody palms at Nemo and speckled him with blood. “Well, you too!”
“Indeed I’ve chosen this fate. The bird outlined my duty and I accepted. I’ll escort you to the next world if you’d like.” Nemo laughed. “That’s a joke. You won’t like it and I won’t care.”
Leo kept slipping in blood. His sunglasses fell to the floor. “What’re you on about?”
“I’m eating more than myself,” said Nemo. “I’ve devoured every fool who’s chased vices to my peak. My cave is a moth-trap for those pursuing power at any cost.” Nemo gnawed his own shoulders. “I consume the Blue Virgils to dilute souls like yours. Once I’ve totally eaten myself, I’ll have successfully forfeited my ego.”
“You’re loony,” said Leo. “How could you eat your whole self?”
“My hips were tricky,” admitted Nemo, “but once I pulled out my pelvis it was just a matter of nibbling, and I’ve got nothing but time.”
“Moron! Even if you eat everything else, you’ll never eat your own teeth!”
“Oh?” Nemo opened wide and ejected a shark-tooth from his gums. The tooth fizzled, sputtered, and annihilated itself in a flurry of particles and antiparticles. Leo pouted. “Your type is stringy,” said Nemo, “not like bad meat, but metaphysically. If someone identifies with their house, then to eat their ego I must collapse their house. If someone identifies with their crops, I must wilt their crops. And so on. These are mystical powers I’ve developed through my connection to the Mountain. Luckily your pride confines you. You attach yourself not to your wife or daughter, but your virginity. You attach yourself not to your parents, but your genetic stock. Externally, you attach yourself only to money. I’ll just evaporate your bank-accounts—assuming you aren’t dead-broke.”
Leo had no strength to speak. Nemo crawled along the rocky cave floor like a worm.
“Don’t worry,” said Nemo. “In the next world, you and I will be one with all the souls I’ve snacked on. The Heart of the Mountain, the Biggest Bird, has promised us the receipts to all psyches. We’ll be rich! Greed will be our duty. We’ll grow plump with spiritual power for the sake of all sentient beings.”
Nemo unhinged his jaw and ate Leo’s head.
As he chewed, he mused to himself: “But Anihilato may have more power than the Heart of the Mountain anticipates. Not even every Virgil Blue can dilute the stains on humanity’s spirit. If Anihilato is so great that the Mountain’s Heart cannot collect it, there must arise an opposing force. Someone to look emptiness in the eye, unblinkingly.”
In Jango Skyy’s motel-room, Jay writhed on the rug.