The Ellen DeGeneres Show - 2018
Decay’s breath stuck in it’s chest as it thudded to the grassy floor of the expansive forest of the ghostzone, landing face up in a cage of subspace rope. Halfway between their corporeal form and the incomprehensible form of a god. GhostZone was no man's land. No god, God or demon had more power here than the average spirit.
So, not a great one, huh Decay? Why don’t you try to take over the narrative, buddy. Black out some of this page, why don’t you? Fuckin jackass. Get bent loser. Miles of glowing string kept it trapped and subdued, far too much to have come from one demon. It’s mind raced through the stages of grief associated with the suspicion that more than one member of the afterlife hierarchy was conspiring against them before they actually touched the rope. Again, a substanceless cloud.
“Do you like it?” Sett’s- or maybe the possum’s voice rattled around the treetops. That was, of course, impossible. It was illusory, like the rest of the god’s cage. “I don’t have a problem with you thinking that.” Definitely the possum. Her voice called Decay’s gaze to a treetop, her feet swinging idly as she watched.
“I painted it myself. The other one, too.”
“Explain how you’re here.”
“Dunno. Always been somewhere in-between.” She fell from the treetop into a pile of green leaves, popping the pile as though it had been spread out just above an air cannon, and disappearing into it. Decay winced as the disgusting, overpowering stench of the forest began to suffocate it.
“That was your great plan? Expose me to plants? How terrible, I suppose I’ll just keel over and die!” It growled. “You think I give a ████ about a little pain? I INVENTED PAIN.” It stood, swiping furiously at the illusory walls of its cage.
Its neck snapped around as a whistle caught it’s ear. “Over here!” the construct of the possum waved from another treetop. Decay stared for a half-second, processed what she was doing, and spun in the complete opposite direction.
Sett, or a construct of Sett, stared back, carrying two half-barrels of the leaves. They stood, frozen, for only a moment before charging, throwing one barrel to blind the god, and disappearing. In the scuffle of turning away the soft soil below Decay’s feet turned to gravel, and as it wiped the poison from its eyes it found the trees and its cage replaced with beige buildings, equally imposing in their infinity. On the edge of the rooftop - silhouetted by the sunset - sat a very familiar rabbit, gently nodding along to a cassette.
“Oh, hey Ellen.” Eleanor smiled and popped out one earbud, her eyes falling to the god’s feet as they tried to charge. “It’s- this is my city. It’s not going to let you come any closer if you plan on hurting me.” The ghost seemed almost sorry for this, giving a gentle shrug.
Decay, in response to the understanding that it had at least temporarily been put on the back foot, stood upright, gathered itself, and told itself not to kill her.
And the roof released its legs.
And it sat down next to Eleanor.
“There we go.” Eleanor smiled sadly into her former bosses eyes. There was always something sad about ghostzone. “Y’know, it's funny.” She spoke softly for someone with the full blunt force of everything that's ever rotted hibernating a few inches from her ear. “I grew up around a lot of crime. Not-so-safe neighbourhood, y’know?”
Her eyes fell to the street, her head turning along the dashed line in the centre as the sun shifted colour over the bay. “I like this place. People here have such a passion for life. They don't want to leave yet. See, what I realized recently... It wasn't any of these people that made me afraid to go out at night. Well, I mean, a few of them were straight creeps, I'm not gonna lie to you, but the creep ones were just like you. People like you, with so much that they pray on the weak to get their kicks. You’re the kind of person who made it dangerous to go out at night. It all comes back to you.”
She stared out over the broken city, the wistful happiness of missing home passing over the pair like a cold breeze.
“There’s this pizza place just down that way, run by two folks who came here from Afghanistan- Well, okay, not here here. Actually, I don’t know if it's still there either. Anyway, every morning I used to walk past to get to the bus route, and every morning they would bake this like, beautiful smelling sweet bread kinda deal. Was beautiful! I used to treasure that part of my morning every single time.”
She pointed south, and Decay’s eye followed. “And there, just down there. My uncle Alf’s friend let me keep this scrap-heap of a car in his buddy’s tow place for fucking MONTHS while I tried to rebuild it. Right next door, there was a gym where I learned to box. I didn’t even know there was a garage there until I needed it. Isn’t that crazy?”
Then north, and in the blur between the movement of the god’s eyes the beige was replaced with rust red, rows of victorian homes, a needle rising up through glass towers. “I haven’t actually been to the CN Tower yet. I don’t think like- I mean it's not close to the top of my priorities list… what's here, what's here, what’s here… I’m starting to learn what's here. Ratty likes the bulgogi at this little basement spot down that way, near the museum. Sap’s tea shop is like, a few miles west… There used to be this nice pharmacy… what else… OH! There’s this bookstore in Chinatown that’s run by this super hot werewolf chick. I mean they’re hot but they’re also smart, you know what I mean. Tall as hell too. Really cool.”
The god grew bored with the trappings of simple life, staring at blank buildings. It was a museum of someone else’s history, fascinating only as a distant curiosity, not to be explained by someone who had loved it. And so the god asked: “Why are you telling me all this?”
“Oh, I’m mostly stalling actually. Look.” Eleanor pointed straight down into a crowd of 18 pairs of black eyes, and in the blur of refocusing, the city of Toronto gave way to the original Ellen stage. Studio 11, in an even more advanced state of decay, quietly rotting away with the god’s victims huddled below.
Ah. That was what this had all been leading up to. They felt nothing as they took in each individual face, some less focusable than others. The only thing approaching emotion in the god was the indignant need to explain to a lesser why their sacrifice was necessary, and so they asked the second honest question of the night: “You know why I did this, don't you?”
“Maybe.” Eleanor shrugged. “Maybe you were a decent person who had a bad thing happen to them, you sought out power, let it corrupt you.” It was impossible not to catch snippets of its victims' conversation. “I think you were looking for someone who would let it corrupt them in the same way, because maybe, some part of you regretted becoming part of what you hated.”
“What makes you think that?”
“Everyone wants to die, Ellen.” The rabbit’s voice took on a quiet melancholy. “It wasn’t that long ago that you and I had the same reasons.”
“I wanted a worthy successor.”
“Well, I’m flattered. C’mon, let's say hi.” With that, the scaffolding collapsed below them, dropping Decay into the centre of the crowd, surrounded by her 18 dead. Their lives, their sacrifice still as worthless feeling as they were the day they died. It felt dirty to be in their presence again.
“Go on.” Eleanor nudged. “Say hi.”
Panic returned to Decay in waves, as though each locked gaze piled on another layer. It’s heart raced, thrumming through its chest, glowing red in spite of its body’s tendency to suck in light. In a panicked instant, it turned on Eleanor, driving a woven fist into her chest and pumping wave after wave of decay into the ghost's body, dumping its ability to burn into the spectral form like a river of hot slag.
And the form stopped, seemingly frozen as its voice rose from behind Decay:
“Oh, Ellen…” Muffled as it rattled against the laminated paper of a mask, legitimate pity in her tone. “I really didn’t expect you to fall for that twice.” The rabbit stepped out from behind the 18, dropping her mask to the string around her neck and staring at the spot where Ellen connected to the fake Eleanor. It crawled up it’s arm like creeping vines, slowly digested by the rabbit’s will to live, by the lives that would have been if it had not cut them short.
It fell to its knees in the embrace of the illusory Eleanor as the women that it took watched it be taken back. Some turned away, disgusted by the gore, too polite to watch a creature who heartily deserved it finally breathe its last. Others fell into the pile, as though pantomiming the process of reclaiming what was lost would somehow make it so.
Eleanor got bored of watching in time, turned away when she had had her fill, and left the ghostzone for what she thought would be the last time.
It was a long drive from California to Toronto. In spite of her apparent disrepair, Angel insisted on driving, keeping the moon above them for forty straight hours. It came in waves: quiet celebration, followed by boredom, followed by the intimacy that boredom often bred, and again by boredom as the excitement of the day was allowed to ebb back into the group’s normalcy.
Eleanor was the first to sleep, then Ratty, who had not planned on falling asleep across Sett’s lap. In that silence, another Sett flickered in and out of darkened existence in the opposite seat. Sett watched, used now to their inter-dimensional stalker.
Stalker wasn’t the right word.
Watcher, follower maybe.
Hard to say.
The rope burns around their wrists shimmered in the black, barely visible were it not for the pure moonlight filling the cabin.
“Angel,” Sett mused quietly, intent on leaving Ratty undisturbed. “Do you see her?” the goat pointed.
“I don’t see anyone there, no.” Angel replied, not taking her eyes off the road.
“I thought not.”
The pair of goats sat in silent conversation for a few minutes, each studying the other. It was the other Sett that spoke first:
“You have no idea how lucky you are.” They said. Sett blinked as the other goat’s eye seemed to pop out of existence, as the burns around their wrist went from deep gold to shimmering red below their fur. Sett left the air still for as long as they could manage, not wanting to trample the weak voice.
“I am very lucky.” They said, finally. The other goat nodded, and with that seemed to slip through the air before disappearing altogether.