Only Here for the Food
It did not really matter what he was eating, only that he did. Mammon was always eating. No, that’s not right. Mammon was always hungry. No amount of eating ever seem to fill him up. He was always engaged in some sort of feasting. And when he was not eating, he was drinking to excess. It didn’t matter what he drank, it did not satisfy him. No matter how much money he had, it did not stop him from wanting more.
The greasy spoon, Max and Momma’s, was poorly lit with widely spaced bulbs hanging from wires on the ceiling. Each was shrouded with a greasy hood that directed light down onto a hardwood counter top that stretched nearly the length of the restaurant. The table spoke volumes with its well-worn rings where glasses sat, year after year, consolidating moisture on their sides and depositing it on the wood, to sink in, leeching color but adding character.
The floor, barely visible, was a linoleum tiled affair, whose placement was less than perfect, allowing sand and dirt from the men and occasionally women who walked through those doors to accumulate between them, slowly abrading them, smoothing them, establishing permanent tracks through them near the tables bolted to the floor; no amount of mopping ever made them look clean. It was as if the tiles prided themselves on being as dirty as the patrons who frequented this place.
Speaking of the hard men and women who worked at the docks and shipyards nearby, they filled this place wearing their denim jumpsuits or their rubberized suits with their rough hands and rougher manners. They stank of fish, or cargo boxes, or the sweat needed to move that cargo, clean those ships, or weld those seams. This was their place, their watering hole, and had been so for seventy years; it had weathered two depressions, three recessions, five wars, twelve presidents, and had the pictures on the wall to prove it. There were pictures on the wall of Momma and Max through the years, showing up with some of the more colorful visitors, mobsters, mayors, and occasionally, during a voting season, a senator or two. Max and Momma’s was an institution, a place venerated by time, outside of time, hence Mammon’s visit.
He wore a suit. A simple, but expensive cut, it hung poorly on his lanky frame. His Rolex glimmered sickly in the poor light, as if its quality were diminished by the company he was keeping. That company felt the same way. Most of the dockworkers and the mobsters eating in the back did not appreciate his intrusion into their humble world with his suit-and-tie effete nature. Nowadays, Mammon barely weighed eighty kilos, no matter what he ate. He had to have his clothes tailored for his spare frame, but his recent success in the stock market had provided for all of his needs. This last decade had been very, very good to Mammon.
The owner, Max, was of another mindset completely. He was always happy to see Mammon, who always ate a large meal with a bunch of sides, tipped well, and always came back. Max remembered him when he Mammon was a lot larger, too, needed his own table, and nothing he wore fit very well. In the last ten years after his last heart attack, he had lost weight consistently and was now all skin and bones. Momma thought he had cancer or something. But it certainly did not affect his appetite or his eatin’ manners. Lord, that man was a slob while he ate.
Mammon consumed his burger with gusto, its drippings pouring out from between his fingers and staining the sleeves of his very white shirt and expensive jacket. He favored this place over the fast food places in the city proper because so much more flavor oozed from each bite. Lawrence Simmons, the current spiritual residence of Mammon, consumed everything in excess.
Lawrence had always been a glutton, and when Mammon found him, he was the picture of unhealthy living. Greasy food was his preference, and his two heart attacks and triple-bypasses ten years ago showed his dedication to his poor diet. His weight was a massive 250 kilos, just small enough to keep making it out to his favorite fast food restaurants using a heavy cane and a steady gait. Mammon ate at a lot of fast food restaurants in the city proper, and he was well known at all of these places. He noted between bites that almost all of these places had a staff with eating problems. The more he visited those places, the fatter their staff became. It was a slow, but steady process.
In his favorite place only a few blocks from his home, the owner had a massive coronary and had to close the place down. Unfortunate. Hence his trip to Max and Momma’s. Mammon tried not to eat here too often because he was, in his own detached way, fond of Momma and Max.
When she came in the door, his mouth was full of food, but the silence that fell over the place was complete. Women stared at her, wondering what she did to keep her figure; men stared, trying to imagine themselves next to that figure. She was wearing a close-fitting motorcycle suit that resembled body armor, and was carrying her helmet under her arm. The armor plates on the suit were painted a dark red and the fabric of the suit was a dark gray. As tightly as her suit clung to her, her hair, night black, glistening, hiding secrets, waved freely about her head and shoulders, smelling of night jasmine and honeysuckle. She strode across the room, her pace unhurried, and several men, who thought they had a chance to woo her, immediately rose and tried to approach. Mammon did not notice her.
The first, a rakishly handsome fellow, slid from his seat with some grace, but as he took his first step, his foot was caught on the edge of one of legs of a chair, and he fell flat on his face. His friends, properly sympathetic and sufficiently lubricated, exploded in gales of laughter, and the rake stood up and redirected himself toward the restroom, with the same aplomb as a cat falling off the sofa asleep and immediately pulling itself together as if nothing happened. He was less than successful.
The second gentleman, seeing the catastrophe of the first, decided he would wait until she was close enough to him that he could simply stand up and make his presence known. Unbeknown to him, there was a life preserver ring on the ceiling as part of the nautical motif of the place. That ring, which had been mounted forty years ago as a part of a boat that was lost during a storm and was the only thing recovered, slipped from its very secure housing and fell onto his plate, splattering him with its contents. She never noticed him.
She continued toward her goal as the tenor of the place returned to normal. Max rushed out to help clean off the poor fellow now covered in his dinner. “Hello, husband.” Her voice was a strong yet sultry contralto, the purr of motorcycle with the throttle barely let out.
“Hello, Ty. That’s ex-husband. Didn’t you get the paperwork?” was Mammon’s choked out reply from around his second monster-sized, avocado-bacon burger with grilled onions, cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, with a fiery, custom horseradish spread; this was one of Momma’s finest works, worth every penny. “You getting the checks okay?”
“Yes. Can I sit down?” She did not need his money, but she never sent it back. She knew he said it just to be a bastard.
“Oh, sure. Take a load off. To what do I owe this pleasure?” Mammon noticed she held back what she was really feeling.
“Spare me, you barely know I am here; there is a burger in your hand. Your universe is just that small at the moment.”
Ouch. “You know me too well. That’s why I married you.” Mammon’s smile was evident as he remembered the good times they did have all those years ago.
“Funny. I was thinking that was why I divorced you,” her tone seemingly playful, suddenly changed and became very low and serious. “I hate to interrupt your recent fascination with food, but I need your help.”
Mammon looked at her incredulously while he finished the last of the gastrointestinal delight that was the Belly Buster. He wiped his hands on his napkin, which looked at this point like the victim of a slasher flick, and asked “What kind of trouble could you be in that a convenient accident could not get you out of?”
Mammon remembered how he met her all those years ago in a casino in Vegas, partying, smoking, gambling and winning. She was beautiful then, terribly beautiful, and she used it like a weapon. Men were nothing to her but playthings. Her only real interest was their money. She never gambled with her own money back then.
She was lucky, most of the time. She was also careful with her winning, never too much, never too fast, never too often at the same casino, just enough to stay under the radar, but he was fascinated by her string of “luck” and followed her to three different casinos, before he made his move. Their relationship evolved just like both of their lifestyles, extremely fast, too much partying, too much drinking, and the sex–the sex was outstanding. He wore the skin of a wealthy young aristocrat with time, strength, and virility on his side.
They were married at the El Rancho Vegas in Las Vegas in 1960. The owner of the hotel, suspected of being a mobster and a killer, took a liking to her. He cornered her somewhere and told her it was in her best interest, since he owned El Rancho Vegas, to consider dumping that zero and getting with a hero. She never took threats well. Two hours after they were married, the place accidentally burned to the ground. He was never found. The cause of the fire was never discovered.
It took Mammon another ten years to learn that accidents like that happened to anyone Tyche didn’t take a liking to.
At a séance in the seventies Mammon discovered that they were both descended from mythic beings and were lesser powers themselves, hence their attraction to each other, the synergy in their lifestyles, and the effectiveness of their occupational abilities. His psychic abilities were great and he warned them of a coming conflict. They did not take him seriously. He was killed mysteriously before they could learn of their true identities. They forgot about his warning.
The seventies were even more wild than the sixties. Swinging and cocaine were big then, and what they did not spend on sex and coke, they spent on crazy fashion, big hair and bigger sunglasses, crazy bell-bottoms, and the eventual fall of Nehru jackets.
Then the eighties came, and there was so much money to be made, Mammon worked all the time, and as Mammon progressed, so did society and its need for greed. He learned that his power affected humanity at a global level, and the more he wanted, the more they wanted. He simply did not have time for Tyche, and she drowned her sorrows in other men and new designer drugs. They fell out, moved out, cried on the phone, made up, had great sex, got back together, then rinse and repeat. This went on all through the eighties until The War.
They were drafted. Their side lost and Mammon was killed. Until then, they lived their lives in relative unawareness of their true powers and abilities. With his resurrection, his powers and memory returned fully and so did hers. Whatever had bound him, had bound her to him and only a happenstance of fate kept them together all those years.
He could only assume he had been rescued and resurrected by another Power. He was never clear who saved him without absorbing his aspects. While he did not fear death, dissolution, the loss of self was another thing entirely.
He had hoped to lay low after his rebirth but Tyche’s renewed taste for the finest things in life brought her to the attention of Gluttony, a lesser Aspect who wanted to claim Mammon’s powers. He was forced to battle Gluttony, who was hoping to expand his dominion into the realm of money. Gluttony lost the conflict, and Mammon was forced to consume him and take his power instead.
Growing more powerful, but was now in dominion over another realm, he became a Glutton as well. He was drawn toward food in ways he had never been before. As Mammon, he was in dominion over Man’s obsession with money, now he was in dominion over personal greed and gluttony. It changed him. In his nature, Mammon ate well, the finest foods, no matter their cost; now the Glutton in him would eat anything, anywhere, even out of a garbage can. During the early years of this new power, he simply could not stop eating everything in sight. He burned through body after body, until he got the power under some level of control.
Tyche also left him. Obsessed with the new understanding of her powers, she became a hedonist and a sensationalist, always seeking the next thrill. They fell apart during his eating-from-garbage-cans phase, and when he resurfaced in this body, some ten years ago, she was sickened by him, fat, smelly, and completely disgusting. Tyche had also changed during those years. She learned that while she had amazing abilities and no human could match her in any physical, mental, or emotional contest, she was simply at the lowest level of power among her kind. She chose to return to her life on Earth. In her mind, it was better to slum as a power than to live among gods as a weakling.
“It is the Selig Court,” was her whispered reply.
“I can’t help you; you know that. Nobody can.” The Selig Court was a power in its own right. They were not related to the Aspects, who were their family, or the modern gods, who were offshoots of other godlike beings or demigods. Instead they seemed to descend from the terrible Old Gods, once beings of immense power, until they were thrown down by the angelic White Host in the twelfth century.
The Old Gods were savage and brutal. No one missed them except the Selig Court, a group of humans or near human hybrids blessed with the power of their gods, the magic of their gods, and the tempers of their gods. They were romanticized in much of modern literature as tricksters and incompetents, but they were far more dangerous than that. Any writer who claimed otherwise probably had not met one in the flesh. If he had, he would have learned that the best thing they could do for you was to kill you. Everything else was far worse.
It was probably no accident the White Host nearly destroyed them during the Great Pogrom. Their fall from grace seemed to reduce their power significantly, and they retreated from the world into nearby Shard Realms, harassing humans in the following centuries, bringing plague and the like until the early nineteenth century. They were rarely heard from these days, and in the case of most modern gods, thought to be a myth to frighten children with. Mammon was old enough to remember them and what they were like. He wanted nothing to do with them.
A blind man came through the door with a large service animal and made his way into the restaurant. His service animal, a dog breed of an unknown pedigree, but a bit larger than normal, led him through the restaurant to the back to a table near Mammon and Tyche. He was conservatively dressed, nothing flashy, but nothing that you would remember, either. His look was one to make you forget you ever saw him. Damn.
“They’re here,” he whispered to Tyche and looked toward the blind man.
The blind man ordered his meal and Mammon noticed his smooth and fluid movements, not too conservative, but with no overt flourish. He seemed to use just enough of all types of movement to relay information and expectation, without being too forward or too reticent. His waitress flushed while she took his order, and rushed away without knowing why. Her breath was ragged and she was excited to be serving him. When his food returned, his plate was perfect, and she took great pleasure in describing his food’s location on the plate.
Mammon looked at the service dog and noticed how it eyed the waitress hungrily, as if she were an appetizer he could not wait to consume. A slow lavish lick of his tongue across his snout indicated his anticipation. While the dog was licking his lips, his master had slid his hand behind the waitress and was skillfully and discreetly massaging her buttocks. She blushed more, but did not ask him to stop. Tyche looked a bit annoyed. Mammon knew why.
“A one-time friend, perhaps? Jealous much?” he whispered to Tyche.
“Go fuck yourself, Mammon,” was her angry reply. But the heavy sighing that followed revealed what she would not say.
After the waitress left, smiling and blushing, the man turned to his meal. Mammon noted that he had not removed his shades, but they did not detract from his appearance. Even in the wan light, he could tell the man was incredibly handsome, with a strong chin, a sharp nose, and slightly pointed ears. His hair was fair, a whitish blond that hung past his neckline in a jagged cut. It did not make him appear foppish; instead, it gave a savage look to his appearance. When you looked at him and his dog, you noticed the similarities to both their hairstyles. Mammon remembered a People magazine article saying that people tended to look like their dogs.
He was widely shouldered, but his clothing belied his bulk, making him appear smaller and less well defined. It was hard to know if it was the clothing or a glamour that aided in that illusion. “Sir, could you be so kind to pass the horseradish? I love a bit of spice on my burger. I can tell that you do, as well. It is easy to recognize a connoisseur like yourself.”
Mammon grabbed the cup of horseradish and moved toward the next table. “Here you go, fella. You see pretty well for a blind man.”
“Sight obscures, the heart reveals. Take a seat, Great One; eat with me.”
“Are you invoking hospitality?”
“For this meal, yes, you and your wife-sister are safe from me and mine,” the blind man’s voice was like a choir, melodious with choral overtones. He sounded as if he spoke with more than one voice.
No matter what he thought of it, Mammon knew what had to be done; etiquette demanded that he be as polite as his host. “Brother to the Fey, how may I be of service unto thee and thine? My wife and I are at your service,” the words fell like ashes from his mouth, dry and bitter. “Whom do I have the pleasure of addressing? What appellation is used to designate your august person?”
“You may call me the Fire Hound of House Caleban,” was the quiet reply.
“A noble house, to be sure.” House Caleban! What has she done? That is the Royal House Caleban, the current leader of the Selig Court, led by the insane king Fagan, also known as the Firelord, and his equally insane queen Edana.
“Great One, I am loath to bring such an unseemly matter to your attention.”
No, you are not.
Be quiet, Dog.
Do I look like a dog to you?
As a matter of fact, yes. Now silence.
Yes, my dark master. I hunger.
Soon, my pet; you will eat soon.
“There is a debt owed to my house by your wife, the Lady Tyche.” The seemingly blind man reached down to his hamburger, slathered it with horseradish, and put it under the table. His hand came back empty in a matter of seconds. Mammon never saw the animal move.
Oh, Tyche, what did you do? Did you break this man’s heart? Did you steal from him? What would you have done to owe the Selig anything? What can I do? Mammon began to sweat, not from eating, but from the fear of a conflict with the Selig. “Can I ask what offense she has given?” Propriety indicated that he should not ask, that he should offer restitution, but he wanted to know what happened, and he could not ask her now.
The man leaned forward and turned his face toward Mammon. “She wagered in a Selig Court and tried to cheat a member of the royal family.” The venom was unmistakable. “The Old Ones demand recompense in blood and souls.” For the first time since he arrived, he appeared menacing, a creature of the Fey, hunters of Men.
“What price would you ask?” Mammon knew this was a risk. Allowing them to name the recompense meant they could ask for anything they deemed reasonable. “I know the games of the Selig Court, and they are often filled with mischief and chicanery.”
“Well said, Great One.”
Indeed, I think he is calling your bluff, oh master.
Silence, Dog. He will meet my price.
How do you know?
He values little in the world, but we know that this woman still means something to him. He will pay.
Why him, master?
Of all the Great Ones, he has the most to lose and the least retinue protecting him. He is practically human. Using him, we will kill them all!
“When she came to the Court, she claimed to understand our relationship. She became my Consort, and she said that she would abide by our rules. She used her power in my house and would alter our games of chance. I lost valued retainers, their lives forfeit by her manipulations. I invoke blood and souls.” His calm façade had begun to crack. His mellifluous voice trembled with intensity.
Inwardly Mammon laughed. Tyche had that effect on Men, no matter who or where they were. “As you know, Brother to the Fey, I have no kingdom to speak of, nor retainers to give unto to thee for service. You have no use of filthy lucre, for which I am known best, so I would ask how you would expect payment?”
“In souls, of course.” His voice was low and threatening, and it pissed Mammon off. “And we expect them now.”
Tyche was aghast. “What are you expecting him to do, make souls for you?”
“His method of payment matters not, only that he pay now. We will accept Essence as an alternative if payment in souls cannot be done.”
Mammon was enraged. Their game was clear now. This was flat out extortion. Much of the magic made by the Fey in our world was illusion. Illusion normally cannot hurt you, but if you are unable to see through that illusion, it could be fatal. With the addition of Essence, they were able to make permanent and real magic, events that affect the real world, no matter where they were, no matter what the laws of physics say. Tyche would not know this; it was before her time and beyond her power. She could not give Essence, only use it. Essence was the true currency of the Aspects and the Gods. With enough of it, you could bend the world to your whim.
He knows the laws, he will pay. There is still the incentive…
As Mammon seethed, the rest of the room grew more focused on their food. Conversation stopped, concentration increased, each mouthful a tiny bit of worship. They consumed their food with a gusto reserved for the starving, and they ordered more. Mammon did not speak, and the Fey did not rush him. Food was being prepared faster and faster, and the patrons ate more and more. The kitchen ran out of food thirty minutes later. They did not stop when the food ran out. They licked their plates and clamored for more. They ordered coffee and desserts, since they were already prepared on the counter as a variety of cakes and pies. Pies wedges flew around the room like tiny shuttlecraft, docking with any mouth in sight. Mammon closed his eyes, his rage increasing.
Tyche looked away from both of them, ashamed. I will find a way to make you pay for this; I don’t care who you are the son of, or what land you are the prince of. No one owns me and no one saves me. This is the last debt of mine my husband will ever have to pay.
When the cakes and pies were done and the coffee and tea were gone, the patrons started in on each other. There were no screams. Each consumed his neighbor with the same gusto he had the pie a moment before. There was ripping and tearing of flesh. Blood flowed. Each customer seemed rapt within an ecstasy of consumption. Madness glittered in every eye, but no one stopped. Entrails were rent from bellies. They filled themselves until they were completely gorged. In fifteen minutes, there was no movement in the restaurant.
The dog watched and whimpered.
“I do not know you, Brother, and I do not like you. I do not care that you come from the mightiest family amongst your kind. Your payment is complete. Never darken my doorway again.” Mammon held out a coin, apparently made of a dark metal. “Take it and go.” He slammed the coin on the table, and when he did, the bodies in the room writhed one last time, released a gasp, a sound so fell, so saddening, that for a moment, even the Fey was moved; his hound turned over on its side as if it had been struck by a club. Then the bodies fell onto the floor and died. A soundless echo swept through the room and centered on the silver coin. It burned with a black light.
‘Ware milord, that is bloodmetal!
“Great One, you realize that coin is iron.” The prince raised an eyebrow but remained otherwise motionless.
“How you get it home is your business. You have been paid. Our conversation is at an end.” Mammon stood up and looked around. His power pulsed within him. He was looking at the wall of photographs of different patrons through the years. Striding to the far wall, he pulled the picture of Lawrence Simmons, Max, and Momma from the wall. He stared down at the picture, lost in that moment of time. The smell of gas began to permeate the restaurant.
Tyche touched his hand, and when she did, she felt the Hunger, the unrelenting hunger that crashed through his being every moment of the day, a hunger so powerful you would eat out of a garbage can, you would eat filth off the street, you would chew off your own arm to make it stop. She gasped, but held on. “We have to go, Mammon. Now.”
A fire started in the kitchen as the blind man, now wearing black gloves, picked up his walking stick, grabbed the coin, and kicked his dog.
What was that for?
Because I can. It burns me. I will make him pay.
“Great One, before you leave, my mother the Queen said that you would take this from her, that she owed you a favor she was prepared to repay. But to do so, you would have to travel to Avalon. Take this favor, so that you will know no obstacles on your road to Caer Caleban.”
“Tell your queen to go fuck herself.”
“She said you might say that. She said to tell you that the High Queen of Babylon, Tiamat is awake. She said that would make you come to her.”
“Tell your Highness that the Queen of Babylon is long banished and long dead; she died when Babylon died. I know. I was there. And good riddance to her.”
The Prince of Caleban threw the favor at Mammon who had turned his back and begun walking toward the door as the fire spread. At the last second, it was Tyche who snatched the favor from the air, inches from Mammon’s head. They were standing in the doorway. When he touched it, the magic was released.
The restaurant exploded. Mammon awoke in the street with Tyche unconscious near him. The restaurant was in flames and completely unrecognizable. The prince was also gone.
He had not felt the touch of that magic in five thousand years. Such a tiny drop, too, smaller than the head of a pin, but its destructive power was unforgettable. The daughter of the Aspect of Destruction, creator of earthquakes, the summoner of volcanoes, the master of fires and the destroyer of cities, mother to monsters, and killer of gods. The signature was fading but unmistakable and impossible: Tiamat lived.
Mammon got up, picked up his photo, knocked the broken glass out of the frame, picked up a half eaten donut from the curb, threw Tyche over his shoulder, and began to contemplate a visit to the Queen while he pondered the unthinkable.
Only Here for the Food (Mammon) © Thaddeus Howze 2012, All Rights Reserved
Traverse the Nexus to The Aspect War (5)