Meanwhile in Baghdad

—Chapter 6—

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Three lives and a bloody nose. Those were the transgressions. That was what Drake had to make up for, and nothing more. He thought about how he would phrase his request.

The wolf and the deer sat on a park bench in a calmer part of Baghdad. Johnny had left to go meet with the other gods. The people in the marketplace had returned, and time had resumed. Nobody was any the wiser that the antagonist had just changed under their noses.

The deer’s mask fit over the top of his head, leaving the muzzle free. The antlers had to go, for the mask to fit. It didn’t seem like that much of a sacrifice. There were open wounds on each side of the deer’s head where the antlers would go, partially covered by whitewood. Soon the wounds would heal over the wood, and the mask would be unremovable, as much as the antlers had been.

“So,” the wolf said. “Liam. It’s a good name.”

The deer shook his head. “It was a good name. But I’m not Liam Jacques anymore. It’s too single. I like the sound of Malak. It means angel, in some languages.”

“So… why not just use Angel?” Drake asked.

“Malak sounds cooler,” the deer said, smiling under his mask. “I might’ve used Drake, ‘cause it’s like a big evil dragon, but you took that already, so screw you buddy.”

Drake sat a little more upright on the bench. He took a breath in. His breath was something to savor now. Now that he was sitting on a park bench with the Reaper. Now that he was asking Death a favor. “Three lives and a bloody nose,” Drake said. “That’s what damage I caused in Foxboro. I’ve been trying to make up for it since then, and I saved your life in the desert, so that’s one. But now I know that every life I save after this won’t matter, because you’ll just take a thousand more while I’m not looking. So I have a favor to ask.”

The deer remained silent. The wolf couldn’t tell, through the mask, what kind of expression the deer wore.

“Spare two,” the wolf said. “At you discretion. Just don’t take them right when you’re supposed to.”

Malak nodded. “I can agree to that. How about the bloody nose?”

“I’ll do one better than a bloody nose,” the wolf said. “I’m going to fix a broken heart. I just have to fix myself first.”

Malak nodded. As though waking up, Drake then found himself in his hotel room in Bellpond. This time though, his conscience was clear: Drake, human, began to meditate.



Rice sat in his very own room in the hospital. On some level, he’d expected to share the room with some stranger. That was always how it went, right? Two strangers get stuck in hospital beds side by side, and over the course of their stay, one of them learns something from the other. Maybe one of them dies, to really sell it.

But Rice wasn’t stuck in a room with a stranger. Much to his surprise, he was stuck with a visitor.

“Wow,” Sharyn said from the doorway. Very first thing.

Rice had bandages wrapped around his thighs and around his head. The ones around his head covered his anarchy tattoo. The doctors had cut Rice’s shirt off in the search for more open wounds, so his chest and back tattoos were shown off in full. Sharyn recognized every band name.

“It’s not as bad as it looks,” Rice said. He pushed the button that sat his hospital bed up. He didn’t like that it was electric. He wanted it to be mechanical like a reclining chair. A more satisfying movement for a warrior like himself. Instead he was stuck with the old-folks-home technology. As the bed rose, he continued, “Really. The doctors were amazed at how easy it was to stop all the bleeding.”

“So what happened?” Sharyn asked, sitting in the room’s chair beside the bed.

Rice, now sitting upright, frowned at Sharyn. “I lost. I tried to kill Johnny for everything he did in ‘85, and I lost, bad.”

“John did this?”

“Yeah,” Rice said, laughing through the word, drawing it out into three syllables: Yeah-heh-heh. “It was fucking brutal. What are you doing here so fast? I didn’t just wake up from a coma, did I?”

“I live here, smartass,” Sharyn said, rolling her eyes. “My phone was exploding over a Punk Legend being carted into the hospital, and I thought it might be worth driving a few blocks to go check it out.”

Rice nodded. “Hey, I gotta know,” he said, sitting cross-legged atop the hospital bed. He wouldn’t realize until after Sharyn had left that his wounds—all of them—were healed under the bandages. “Did Johnny ever tell you his real name?”

“’Fraid not,” Sharyn said. She leaned back in her chair. “Even when we were dating. He was always just John.”

Rice nodded. “Worth a shot. Thanks. One more thing?”


“A couple years ago, Yote offered me a spot in Flashpoint Zero. I didn’t give him an answer, but I finally made up my mind: if you guys ever get back together… I want in. Joey too. Tell Yote I said that.”

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© Ray Underscore Thompson, November 16, 2016