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 No.8535

Panic and horror were being washed away from Simon’s mind by an itching despair and a painful yearning to accept what has happened to him. The desire to make peace with what he was going through was searing his mind. He felt like peace was just one more step away, but hope was pulling him back relentlessly, gently strangling him with its caring hands.

It felt like many years have passed since the day when Simon was an ordinary man living an ordinary life. Once again he tried to remember the last day of that life. He was hanging on to every detail, looking if there was something he missed or forgot, anything that could be a hint to what was about to happen to him. But no, it was an ordinary cup of coffee, those were his colleagues having an ordinary conversation about football, a usual fake smile on the TV screen in the cafeteria, those were the usual buttons he pressed in the elevator… It was a very usual day, and that memory was fading away, losing its colors, turning to ashes as it was smoldering in his mind.
Simon was surrounded by darkness, in most literal and horrifying sense of the word. He felt like his feet weren’t touching anything, neither did he feel anything keeping him suspended above ground. He could move his hands and feet freely, but he couldn’t see them or figure out why he didn’t feel his own touch on his skin. The sensation that his body is made of gas was so unnatural and scary that Simon would spend hours, convincing himself that he exists. His mind was a slowly sinking ship in an endless sea of madness, and he knew, that even if by some miracle his life would return to normal he will never be who he was again.

He tried to pinch himself, bite his tongue, break his finger, poke his eye, anything that would make him feel something, anything that would keep him from going back to pointlessly rummaging in his memories. But his movements were so slow and weak he’d hardly be able to push a crumpled piece of paper in zero gravity. The fact that he was still breathing was one of the most disturbing things he was rediscovering again and again. He was trying to scream, but either he was too weak to make any sound or the ominous void around him was absorbing the sound before it was coming out from his lungs. At some point he realized he can’t even hear his own heartbeat.

Sometimes Simon would just stare into the endless blackness when his mind got too exhausted to shuffle thoughts around, he was falling to a short shallow sleep to recover barely enough energy to continue rolling down the spiral of madness. Maybe he died? And what if he didn’t die properly? What if this is what they call afterlife and there really is a god, as petty and vile, as religious teachings describe him, and now he’s punishing Simon for living his life like any normal modern man would?

There was no way to tell how much time has passed since Simon found himself inside that void. There was no way to tell how much would it take before he’d become one with it. But suddenly something changed. It started when Simon felt his teeth with the tip of his tongue, then the darkness in front of him was torn apart by a blinding light that grew from a slim crack in the seemingly undefeatable and eternal nothingness. As the light was mercilessly banishing the cosmic darkness, purest joy and happiness were washing away all the pain and despair from Simon’s mind. He felt as if he was reborn and was overflowing with a childishly pure love to everything that came to existence from the light that came to his rescue.

When the euphoria started to let go, Simon’s ability to assess his surroundings began to come back. He realized he was naked and wet to the bone. His hands, feet and torso were firmly fixed on some metal cross-like contraption. When his eyes got used to the light he looked around and realized he was inside a big round room with a white floor and ceiling. The device he was shackled to stood on a podium, right on its center. The walls were covered with large flat screen monitors. Simon tried to focus his sight on them and realized they were all showing him, from different angles. Only then he noticed lots of cameras hanging from the ceiling along with other devices of unknown use and that he was wearing an oxygen mask on his face. His excitement started to recede. A sense of worry was crawling up his spine followed by pulsating uneasiness that was harder to ignore with every passing second. He looked down and saw a chaotic web of cables, cords and tubes connected from all sides to the device that was holding him.

Simon wasn’t bothered by the fact of his immobilization at first, not until his motor functions came back to him and he instinctively tried to free his hand and found out that he can’t. First timidly and carefully, then with increasing determination and anger, he was trying to yank out one of his limbs. His attempts to free himself were followed by screams, bellowing, groaning and inarticulate calls for help. Then he felt low vibrations beneath him as the podium started slowly rotating. Simon froze in place and held his breath, trying to be as prepared for anything as he could be in his state.
On the other side of the room was a sight that hardly anyone would be prepared to see. First thing that would catch one’s eye was a sickly-looking raw-boned man planted in a cocoon of tubes, cables and assorted electronics. His completely hairless pale body was fixed in an unnatural leaning forward pose with strange embroiled struts. Various diodes, catheters and tubes were extending from the cocoon to his torso and outstretched arms, then disappearing under his skin. The creature’s eyelids were pierced, tiny silver rings were holding them attached to his cheeks and eye brows, while a device on his temples wasn’t allowing his eyes to dry with two barely noticeable droppers, designed specifically not to obstruct his view. Something in that person resembled a fish that was thrown on a shore. His muscles were twitching slightly without any rhythm, his thin dried purple lips were moving as if he was whispering something. It was hard to read his facial expression as it was subtly changing from pain to curiosity to excitement and something completely inexplicable every second. His chilling unblinking eyes were looking at Simon. With that stare the bizarre creature, that once was a human, was communicating with Simon on a language that no one on Earth, beside it, would understand.

Simon was too shocked by what he saw in front of him, he froze with disbelief and didn’t notice right away when someone showed up from behind the creature. It was a tall, lean as a coat hanger, middle-aged man. He had a completely bald head, sharp facial features, small chin and deep-set of eyes of an unusual amber color. He was wearing a perfectly fitted snow-white tail-coat with silver cufflinks and buttons. He looked at Simon, tilted his head to the left and slowly walked towards him. He stopped for a moment, bit his lip, then he approached Simon and took off the oxygen mask off his face. Taking another moment, with a curious and anticipating expression, he asked:
- I see you like Tic? – He had a hoarse crackly voice. He spoke in a calm, benevolent manner.
Simon’s heart was racing, his body trembling - he knew he just met his captor. He had to take a few deep breaths before he could ask:
- Who… are you?
- I’d be happy to explain... – said his captor, theatrically rolling his amber eyes to the ceiling.
- Where am I?
- But, I’m afraid...
- LET ME OUT! – Simon started to yell hysterically. His vision darkened. He was hearing his voice in the background as his frenzied with adrenalin heart was thundering in his head.
- ...you have no intention to listen.
- WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ME? HELP! SOMEONE PLEASE HEEEELP! WHAT IS THIS PLACE?! LET ME GO, YOU FUCKING PSYCHO! HOW DID I GET HERE?!

For a few minutes the man in the white tail-coat stood and listened to Simon’s hysteria with an expression of irritation and frustration on his face. Then he pursed his lips and walked out of Simon’s sight and came back in a few moments holding a long shaped metal item in his hand. Simon was starting to break his voice. His captor came closer to him and with a disgusted frown spoke loudly, emphasizing each word and putting lengthy pauses between them:
- IF YOU DON’T CALM DOWN, I WILL - he raised the item in his hand and pressed a button on it. It was a compact silver-coated blowtorch. He turned it on and made sure Simon took a good look at it and felt the heat of the menacing blue cone of the thick flame on his skin from a distance. – SHOVE THIS THING IN YOUR EYE!

Simon looked at the flame in horror, feeling its warmth with the skin of his face. He instinctively pulled his head in his shoulders. The palette of his fear changed and instead of telling him to scream, it was telling him to stay still and play dead in hopes that the danger will go away without noticing him. His voice reduced to a muffled whimpering and then went silent completely.

The man in the white tail-coat nodded in satisfaction and turned off the blowtorch. His eerie amber eyes were looking at his prisoner with kindness and understanding. With a gentle smile he said:
- I understand how scared you are. Fear feeds on ignorance, dear Simon. Please, don’t interrupt me and I’ll explain what’s going on, so you’ll be able to put to rest those unproductive and obsolete reactions. Think for a moment: you were screaming and kicking for some time now, did that do you any good? You just disturbed Tic, - he pointed at the man in the mechanical cocoon who looked sad and was staring at the floor, - and almost made me do something irreversible and very painful to you.
Simon felt a lump in his throat and his vision was getting blurry from tears in his eyes. His captor looked at him with expectation. He tried to get himself together, took a deep breath and asked:
- Why? ... What have I done to you?
The man in the white tail-coat raised his brows in amusement and with a subtle smile gave him a lengthy answer:
- Oh! I see you have a strong sense of justice! Your rationality helps you overcome hardships and misery when you know you’ve brought them on yourself... - he turned his head slightly and reflectively put his index finger on his cheek, then he turned around and continued his speech walking back and forth, - once I had a guest who managed to cause me harm. I made him go through so much pain and suffering, that his regret consumed his mind completely. Now he has no memory of who he was, he is not capable to take care of himself, his mangled mind only remembers how he crossed me and all the pain that followed after. His vocabulary now literally consists of only various pleas of forgiveness and begging to kill him. – He stopped and approached Simon. Taking a short pause, he leaned towards him and looked into his prisoner’s eyes – you have done nothing to me. This isn’t personal. It’s my hobby and I am getting paid handsomely for it.
- Wh-what? This is a joke, right?! Rich people having fun torturing others like in some horror movie... I... - Simon’s head was spinning from shock and disbelief.
- Why does this surprise you, my friend? There are many sadists in the world, and some of them can afford to get away with their secret passions. Capitalism allows and encourages a person to grow, dear Simon, and with him are growing his talents, ambitions, desires and quirks. They don’t just grow in size, but in complexity too! Violent tendencies transform into sadism, and in due time, people who are used to take what they want, indulge their desires to hurt other people. However some of them realize that their talent and imagination do not measure up with their appetites. They get bored of pulling out teeth and shoving soldering irons into cavities. Torturing sobbers in their dungeons, as the likes of Swotter taught them, doesn’t scratch their itch anymore. That’s when they find me and pay big chunks of their excessive wealth, so I’ll put my knowledge and imagination to satisfaction of their sadistic appetites. There, - he pointed to the ceiling, - I am a respected and powerful patron of knowledge and progress. And here, - he took a pause and spread his hands, before he introduced himself, - I have no name, only recognition of my deeds. I am Maestro.

Simon was slowly taking in the picture and his place in it, the bitter sense of despair was returning to him even though he thought the light of real world banished it forever. With a trembling voice he asked:
- Why can’t you just let me go...- not believing himself that those words have any chance to change anything.
Maestro quickly stepped forward and grabbed Simon’s head, forcing him to look him in the eye. Madness sparkled in his wide-open amber eyes as he started to explain in an oddly troubled, yet quiet and monotonous voice:
- You see, my dear guest, I cannot let you go. Listen carefully, this is very important! Only you can get your freedom back and I’m here to help you. No, you’re not leaving this place alive. Death is your only way to freedom...
- What?! No!
- That’s right! I can torment you here for years. You will ask me to kill you sooner than you think and you’re in luck, my friend: the terms of you being here imply a lethal outcome for you. Many other guests would envy your luck, - Maestro licked his dried lips briefly and continued, squeezing Simon’s temples with his fingers with even more force. – You have to voluntarily eat yourself piece by piece before there won’t be anything left to eat or no one to eat what’s left of you. The sooner you get to it, the sooner you’ll end your unfair earthly path that brought you in my workshop of torment. – Maestro clutched Simon’s head with all his might, as he anticipated another wave of hysteria. He slammed his prisoner’s head against the metal cross to draw his slipping attention. He spoke the last sentence in a loud demanding voice – THAT IS THE WILL OF THOSE WHO ARE WATCHING YOU RIGHT NOW! – with one hand he pointed to the tens of lifeless mechanical eyes and with the other grabbed Simon’s chin and forced him to look at them.
- No... No-no-no-no! NO! NOOOOO!

Maestro turned around and headed in Tic’s direction, who musingly was examining the cameras. Standing behind him he looked at the monitor that was fixated on Tic’s plate-bones with medical bolts. The screen was off, but it came to life with a command line prompt the second Maestro touched the keyboard tattooed on the man’s back. Tic’s body was squirming and twitching from every key press while his face was deforming in terrible grimaces. One second he was being torn apart with a silent scream, the other he clenched his teeth breathing heavily and in another moment he was spinning his bulged eyes and making snorting sounds while biting his lip. That sight made Simon yell even louder. At that point he wasn’t calling for help or saying something intelligible, he was just screaming his lungs out.

Simon didn’t notice right away how another Maestro’s creation entered the room. It was tall humanoid creature with no gender-identifying features, dressed in an elegant dress made of hundreds of rings, bolts, rivets and needles piercing its skin. Only its head wasn’t covered with any kind of piercings. An impenetrable indifference was frozen on its perfectly smooth marble-white face. That face with its sharp predatory features, high forehead, straight and unnaturally pointy nose and prominent cheekbones looked more like a mask. It gave a feeling that if that mask was removed one would find a hole with nothing than the cold cosmic emptiness in it. The chilling image of Maestro’s right hand was complete with an elaborate hairdressing in a form of a spider web which was holding on a metal frame with long pitch black hair woven into it.

As it entered the room it stood briefly waiting for Maestro’s instructions. Maestro touched his face with his index finger and thumb giving the signal to put the oxygen mask on Simon and prepare him for his next session of sensory deprivation.
- Eh, Simon... You are wasting my time with your primitive emotions and instincts, but like all my subjects, you’ll break in no time. This is so boring... - Maestro was muttering to himself typing commands on Tic’s back. – Come to think of it, my commissions were rather boring for a while now... “I want to see someone dying from a dozens of most horrible diseases simultaneously” – he said in a mocking manner, inputting the last command, - “feed that bitch up to enormous sizes and turn her into a live anthill after” or “make a huge Christmas tree out of all these people, but they have to be alive and sing carols whenever you tell them”... Ugh... and now this... it's just vulgar: making a guy to agree to eat himself. Told them I could make him want to do it for the sake of the process, test some new theories and equipment, “no, that’s too long and expensive, voluntary auto-cannibalism will do just fine”... cheap tasteless cretins.
While Maestro was ranting to himself, his outlandish assistant gave Simon a few injections, put a breathing mask on him, and when the strong sedatives calmed him down, drove a catheter into his arm. When everything was ready, the creature turned to Maestro and gave him a slight nod. He inputted a command on Tic’s back and the same instant a metal capsule rose from the floor and confined Simon inside it. With a few more key presses it began to fill with water. Simon was doomed to spend much longer in it than the first time. The experience was supposed to hint him that self-cannibalization is not the worst thing that can happen to him, it should be at least considered, especially when he has all the time in what feels like eternity to think about it.


* * *


- What do you think, Emma, is it time? I think he should be ready by now. – Maestro was in high spirits that day. He stood by Tic holding a mug of coffee in one hand and stroking his living keyboard’s head with the other.

The piercing-covered creature didn’t make a sound, just turned from the capsule and looked at its superior with a blank stare. It only spoke in cases of absolute necessity. Maestro knew that glance: his assistant didn’t like when he called it by the name it had in its previous life.
- Now-now, don’t be mad at me, Thing. Go get Wolfy ready, will you? I’ll take care of our guest.
Thing lifted its hand in a questioning gesture. The golden claws embedded in its digits cast yellow glint on its pale serene face.
- Yes, I think we’ll need him in twenty minutes or so. – With those words Maestro finished his coffee and gave the mug to Thing. It took the mug and went away. Maestro looked at Tic: he was joyfully rubbing his forehead against his master’s hand, making barely audible purring sounds. Maestro patted his cheek and went behind him to initiate Simon’s release from the sensory deprivation chamber. Tic started to twitch and squirm again.

In five minutes Simon completely recovered his senses, he was looking at Maestro and Tic again. He looked tired and apathetic. Tic looked happy to see him, he was welcoming Simon with lively sparkles in his eyes and clumsy attempts to whistle. Maestro was waiting with a sinister grin with his arms folded on his chest.
From behind Simon two of Maestro’s assistants showed up. Twins – a brother and a sister. They were wearing white tunics, their dark tanned bodies were defaced with huge tunnels inserted in each and every possible part of their flesh that allowed it without a significant damage to their health. Their heads were shaved clean except a few spots that had tidy long tar-black braids of hair placed symmetrically, looking like spider legs. Simon felt disgusted by them, he closed his eyes and waited for them to finish taking off his mask and detaching the tube from his arm. Once they were done they turned to Maestro awaiting further instructions. Their master flipped his hand dismissively, and the twins left the room.

Simon opened his eyes and looked around to make sure the twins are gone. Once he did, he turned to Maestro and Tic, he looked at them in silence breathing heavily, and then he spoke after a minute:
- So, how big is this freak circus of yours?
Maestro raised his brow in surprise. He tucked his lip to the side for a moment and answered:
- It depends on whose you’d compared it to... hm... No, it’s quite modest, I’d say. It’s about quality, not quantity after all. I keep only the best, you see? Low quality pieces either don’t live too long or I sell them. Sadly the good ones don’t live as long as I’d like to either, - with those words he stroked Tic’s bald head with a concerned expression on his face, and then scratched him behind his ear. Tic flinched slightly surprised and made a joyful oinking sound.

Noticing how Simon can’t take his eyes of Tic, he turned to Simon and asked him:
- Isn’t he adorable?
- Yeah, kids would love him... – said Simon with a frustrated sigh.
- Oh, now-now, don’t disgrace yourself with that petty passive aggression, dear Simon, you’re better than that, my dear friend! You are about to perform a great feat, to show what a man can do to take back his freedom...
- Go fuck yours... aghck – Simon interrupted him but couldn’t finish his insult because of a dry throat.
- How rude! Nonetheless such behavior is still more worthy of a brave little man who faces imminent death. How about I’ll tell you about Tic, before Thing brings Wolfy here. You seem so fond of him, not that his charm leaves anyone unmoved, but he likes you too, you know. Want to say something? No? That’s better. I’m not going to tell you who he was before he became Tic, or should I say Tic the Third, before he ended up here, that’s boring and so irrelevant. Yes, there were two more before him. One day I was commissioned to create a human keyboard. They gave me an elderly bearded sobber. I just implanted a bunch of electronics under his skin, made sure everything works as intended and gave him back. I don’t know where did they dig him out from – a dumpster or a loony bin, but he had this funny nervous tic: every time he was scared or in pain he’d start to wink with his right eye, and that’s how he got his name. I liked the idea so much that soon I made another human keyboard for myself. The second one wasn’t just a piece of meat stuffed with electronics: each key on his back was connected to various devices implanted throughout his entire body, which gave him strong, short and mostly very painful sensations unique to each key press, and then another set of implants was interpreting his brain activity into text input.
Simon felt sick but his stomach was empty, he just spat some gastric fluid in front of himself and started to cough and choke. When he recovered enough to talk he expressed his resentment:
- Where did you crawl out from, you fucking maniac?! When people learn about the things you do here...
- Huh? Oh, don’t worry your pretty little head about it, my dear Simon, no one will learn anything unless I intentionally let them, - Maestro interrupted him dismissively shrugging off Simon’s threats and insults, before getting back to his story, - and so... Yeah, Tic the Second lived for about two years, and truth be told, wasn’t very comfortable in use. After he died I took into consideration all my previous mistakes, found a way more fitting candidate and made significant changes in the hardware and its arrangement. This one’s body is constantly receiving a cocktail of narcotic substances and doesn’t develop resistance to them, which alone took me a while to accomplish. As you might have noticed, he’s constantly somewhere between dreams and reality, between pain and pleasure, his life is a constant euphoric nightmare for three years now. I hope he will live for at least two more years... maybe my colleague will finish the device that will let me see what he sees... Hmmm... But even if Tic dies before that, hey, I’ll just make a new one! A better one! I have already come up with a few ideas for the Fourth.

Simon was feeling how the nightmare he couldn’t wake up from was becoming his new reality, slowly and relentlessly making his entire life feel like a dream that was fading away with his awakening. The Simon who lived somewhere there with his ordinary life was becoming a fictional colorless figment of imagination. His rebirth was drawing near, he was about to become a new creature born in some broken man’s body by this room and shaped by the will of the monster in the white tail-coat. The memories of his past life were fading one by one having no connection to the person who was shackled to the metal cross. His will was dissolved in the lifeless void of sensory deprivation and his hope was incinerated by the white room and its master’s inhuman art.
- Simon, tell me, - Maestro asked with a playfully concerned tone, - are you hungry by any chance?
Simon raised his tired empty eyes and, knowing what was that question about, mumbled after a few seconds:
- I am... but... I’m scared of pain...
- Ah, that can be handled, dear friend, that’s not why you are here. Leave the pain and fear to other sobbers. They want a certain result, but I am the one who will decide how we will get to it. – Maestro gave him a reassuring smile, then looked briefly away and added – wait, they’re coming. I want you to meet someone.

Simon heard a fuss behind him: yelps, groining, oinking, giggling, slaps, jingles, bumps. First Simon saw Thing, holding a lash in one hand and a chain in the other, then he saw who it dragged in. On the other end of the chain was a very fat boy crawling on all fours. It was hard to tell how old he was, about twelve or so perhaps. His body was covered with all kinds of scars and bruises, and there were fresh red marks from the lash on his back. The only clothing he was wearing were filthy and ragged checkered shorts. His head was covered with lumps of greasy hair of uneven length. When the kid saw Maestro he crawled to him and mooed:
- Mathestgho! – He had a low wheezy, yet still quite childish voice. The way it had a muffled nasal sound was a sign he couldn’t breathe through his nose.
Maestro, without even trying to hide his disgust, pointed at Simon and said with a stern commanding voice:
- Wolfy, say hello to mister.

The boy turned to Simon and gave a better view of his face. Chewed up deformed lips revealed a set of half-rotten teeth and gums in a ghastly smile between two plump cheeks covered in wrinkles and scars. There was a horrid vortex of scar tissue where his nose should have been. His dreggy watery grey eyes were shining with naïve joy. Wolfy took his time to examine Simon with a childish curiosity and mooed:
- Hedthoooooo, midther!
- Simon, meet Wolfy, - Maestro’s tone was suggesting he is about to tell another of his twisted stories, - one day, many years ago, I decided to get a dog. Of course the usual dogs are so boring and dumb and can’t even talk, so, obviously I turned a human into a dog. A smart, talking, tidy dog that doesn’t leave hair everywhere, soil the floor or smell. Whenever I’d invite guests into my house, all were delighted with my lovely Ronnie. One of my regular clients liked the idea so much, that he asked me to make such a pet for him too. He always had a poor imagination, but his morals were even poorer: in a year he brought me his son that was born specifically for that purpose. I made an excellent dog out of Wolfy. He’d listen to commands, barked at strangers, bit people who posed a threat, fetched toys and slippers, and, of course, didn’t shit where he wasn’t allowed to.

After everything he saw, heard and went through, Simon wasn’t so shocked anymore. For a moment he tried to imagine being turned into a dog, but couldn’t decide, if that would be a better fate than having to eat himself and end all that madness once and for all.
- Am I boring you, Simon? – Maestro asked him with a theatrical concern.
- Miphtheeer...- moaned Wolfy sitting near the podium.
- No, sorry... I just got lost in thought for a second, - Simon answered quietly.
Maestro nodded, cleared his throat and continued:
- In a few years his owner and... heheh... father took liking in experimental synthetic narcotics and left this world soon after as a result. Hmmm... I still wish I could get my hands on that autopsy report... I wonder what killed him, the overdose or the nail gun... Whatever, anyway, where was I? Ah, yes, obviously I had to take Wolfy back before someone would find him. And what do you think, my dear friend, did I find instead of the nice puppy I gave him? A repulsive disgusting swine! He spoiled him, fed him to this state, three years of my hard work undone by that imbecile!

Last shards of Simon’s morals and humanity were barely holding Simon’s sanity from collapsing. Struggling to find words he grumbled through his teeth.
- It’s a... child, you sick son of a bitch!
- O-o-o-ho-ho-ho-ho! A child, - Maestro laughed spitefully, - big deal! Each child grows up. Children are people too, you know – they’re not a separate species. Each rotten scoundrel, each despicable worm, each sadist, rapist, murderer or... monster, if you’d like, was a child once. If someone was to rid the world of them in advance, people would be outraged: “it’s a child!” They won’t think for a second that an “innocent child” born from wrong parents and raised in wrong conditions will likely grow up into someone they will be happy to burn on a stake. How do you think, what are the chances this product of incest, drugs and hell knows what else would turn into a decent human being?
- Why did you bring him here? – Simon groaned.
- No, you answer my question and I’ll answer yours. Do you want to take a closer look at him? Go ahead and pet that poor little puppy, I’ll even release your hands. – Maestro quickly started to tap on Tic’s back and Simon’s hands were released with a metallic clank, - Wolfy, go to mister and stand on your back legs!

Wolfy didn’t obey right away. Thing had to yank his leash a couple of times then smack him mercilessly with the whip. Only after that Wolfy made a creepy laugh and slowly limped towards the metal cross. When he got there he fell a few times before successfully getting up leaning on the cross and grabbing Simon with his scabrous repulsive chubby hands. The gut-wrenching stench from his mouth made Simon turn his face away and cover it with his newly freed hands. The boy leaned with his hand on the metal collar that was fixating Simon’s waist and with his other hand pulled his elbow to make him stop covering his face. After some time Simon gave up and turned his face to the boy. Getting the attention he wanted, the boy leaned closer and his face deformed in an ugly happy smile. He rewarded Simon’s resignation with a deafening howl accompanied by another cloud of his putrid breath and spit:
- I liiiiiiiikhe mizther!
- Yes-yes, Wolfie, just get off me, - Simon gibbered pulling his face away as far as possible and trying not to push the dog-kid away too violently. That only provoked Wolfy even more.
- MINGSTHER GOOOOOOOD! MAPHESTHO! MIPHSTER ITH GOOOOOD! CAN I FUCGH HIM?

Startled by the last part Simon froze and gave Maestro a questioning look, but got only a light-hearted smile for an answer. Frustrated he turned to Thing but no muscle moved on its face. Meanwhile Wolfy was getting more and more excited.
- I FUCKH THEN EAT MIDTHDHER! PLEATSS LET ME MAEZTHO!
Simon pushed away the kid with all his strength. The kid fell on his back with a slapping sound and after catching his breath and coughing for a few seconds started to laugh, grunt and oink happily.

Maestro raised his chin and unhurriedly approached him, and with a mockingly parental manner, as if he was giving an important life lesson to his child, spoke to Wolfy:
- I won’t allow you to eat mister. Mister has to eat himself on his own. But if mister will not behave, I’ll let you fuck him all you want until he learns his lesson.
Simon was cringing in disgust as much as his sustained state was allowing him.
Meanwhile, Wolfy was throwing a tantrum:
- I wanth to eaph tsoo! I am ghundhy! Whgy miphter muy eat andf I candgh?!
Maestro, struggling with the urge to back off from repulsion or doing something to make him shut up, responded loudly, making sure Simon hears each word clearly:
- That is why I brought you here, my ugly piglet, now you’ll teach mister how he should eat himself. And you’re going to do it properly, like humans, with a fork and a knife, or I will be very angry with you.
- Uuuuuhuhnghuhuuuu…yeeees! Mathesto kind, - he started to calm down and with an expression of satisfaction and anticipation started to scratch his neck while Maestro headed back and started to type on Tic’s back. As usual Tic was twitching and making horrible grimaces.

Half a minute later after Maestro finished typing commands the twins entered the room. The brother was holding a huge knife with a decorated ivory handle, while the sister held a fancy fork encrusted with gems. They handed the silverware to the drooling boy on the floor. Simon, even though he was aware what was about to happen, didn’t give enough thought to imagine how it would be, so what followed next caught him by surprise.

With a booming and gurgling laughter Wolfy thrust the knife into his hip. As he was butchering his own leg his laughter was turning into an insufferable shrieking. Anyone would expect he’d pass out sooner or later, or at least slow down, but he took out the knife and began to cut his leg in another place even more passionately.
From the insane bloody spectacle Simon was on the brink of his senses. Noticing that, Thing approached him and, looking him in the eye, gently and soothingly caressed his cheek with its cold metallic fingertips. As it was about to take its hand away, it suddenly scratched Simon’s face, bringing him to his senses. After that it stepped to the side, demanding Simon to watch with an intimidating glance. By then Wolfy was tearing out a piece of his flesh with the fork, panting and squealing.
- LOOOOOOOOKGH MIZTHEGH, I’M TASTHYYYYY! – The boy’s image was even more abhorrent as he was covered in blood and tears and had a mixed expression of pain, joy and a carnal anticipation of a meal. He raised the fork with a lump of his meat and prior to sinking his teeth in it he bellowed, - THGIS IS GHOW YOU DO IT!

Maestro approached Simon, who was shaking and sweating in terror, trying not to crumble into another fit of hysteria.
- Since the day I took Wolfy back, I lost any interest in him. It wouldn’t be the same if I’d undo all the damage. He was of no worth to me anymore. I’ve been training my skills on him, also showing the ropes to my precious Thing. I taught Wolfy to love pain, it became the most desired thing in his life, Simon. Even though you’re much older, I can bring you to that state too. It will take longer, it will be much harder, but it’s what I’m very good at, it’s the reason why they call me “Maestro”.

Simon’s mind was falling apart, he felt how finally and irreversibly, everything he brought into this room, from the far away world of free and careless humans, was dying. It was time for him to mourn his own humanity and he started to cry. He was trying to remember the faces and the names of those who he knew, anyone who was dear to him, but their images were nowhere to be found in the pile of ash and cinders that was his memory. He was hanging helplessly on the metal cross and wept disconsolately. Maestro hugged him for what little comfort he could provide and silently let him mourn himself for a while.

When Simon’s voice went silent, Maestro gently leaned back and placed his hand on Simon’s chin, waiting when he will raise his eyes and look at him. When their eyes met he said with a quiet and understanding voice:
- Simon, my dear friend, I want you to die with dignity. Those people – he nodded up at the cameras, - they want you to fight back, they want you to become a swine in your futile effort to resist me. I can help you, I can anesthetize you when I carefully slice pieces of you. I’ll prepare the most delicious dishes of your fresh healthy flesh. It will be all over soon, I promise. You can do it, Simon! You can beat them at their own game!
- I... agree... but I’m so scared – whispered Simon in response.
- Don’t worry, the fear will pass, the beginning will be the hardest part, but you’ll make it. Now, you only need to show them you’re ready. Bite off your finger and eat it. You’ll feel better once you’ll do it. I will be here to help you.
Simon looked at Maestro with his eyes wide open. He nodded and took his hand. Simon took a deep breath and whispered:
- Here goes nothing...
With those words, he clenched his left hand into a fist and bravely sunk his teeth into his index finger on his right hand. The first wave of pain was sudden, but it was too late to go back. He squeezed his teeth with all the strength his stressed out body was capable of. From somewhere far he sensed the taste of his blood in his mouth, he heard himself screaming through his teeth. Wave after wave the pain was shaking his entire conscience, washing away his strength to be awake and keep clenching his teeth. But something was standing in his way, he couldn't bite through the bone and knew that with each passing moment he'll have even less strength to do it. But suddenly on the verge of his senses, he felt a strong impact: someone’s hand struck his chin from below. The pain subsided, but wasn’t gone, it gave space to another sensation. A horrible crackle of his bone crushing under his teeth swept through his conscience, and an overwhelming squall of searing pain followed shortly after. He couldn’t feel his arm anymore, he tried to command it to pull away, so he could tear the last shreds of meat and skin from his arm, but it was just limply hanging and its weight wasn’t enough. He felt like someone grabbed his elbow and yanked it down, finishing what Simon had no more strength to finish. Pain was drawing muddy yellow patterns on the blackness of his tightly shut eyelids. In those yellow flashes was his joy of accomplishment. He finally did it! There wasn’t much left! He only needed to force his jaw to move again to chew and swallow the content of his mouth, but his senses were reaching him from further and further with each passing heartbeat. Simon passed out.


* * *


Tic ascended once again from the depths of the red cloud. Once again, he was in his beloved garden of mirrors. A swarm of electrical ants were tickling him while they were running up his bark, spreading up on his branches and were melting on his leaves, painting the meadow in colors of all-forgiving love to the world and everything in it. Once again he awakened and brought his friends back from the red cloud of pain. They stood by him as usual and their light was pure and beautiful. He felt sad that his friends had to go down there time and time again. He wished they could stay and he didn’t have to go after them to bring them back each time and absorb their taint on the way back to return them their purest glow and let them praise the beauty of the divine garden of mirrors with their singing. But that wasn’t that important, he was happy now and basking in their light was all that mattered at that moment. They were with him, sharing their warmth and praising the birth of a new creature of light. Merciful God has found another lost soul and worked tirelessly to purify it. His perfectly white garment was stained with its taint, but the two legs and one arm were already cleansed of the unspeakable evil of the realm below and were shining brighter than a thousand stars. Tic waited when he’ll finally hear its song, but there was still red taint in it, that muffled and distorted its voice.
“No need to worry” – Tic thought to himself, - “God is wise and knows no weariness. One day this last shard of divine beauty and perfection will dispel the evil, that devoured the world, and everything will be as it once was… all will be well”.


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