After the events of the first two books of the Vicious Circuit series, Carey and Randall reached LA during the early '80s punk scene, which was heavily mixed up with Chinatown. A young Chinese girl with silver hair is the Empty One that seems to run things there, and her ex-lover, an Empty One named Zang, has apparently turned against them and may or may not be on Carey's side.
In modern times, Kaitlyn and company have also returned to LA because her powers have been growing and she has been having visions that may be telling her how to kill all of the angels. The downside being that they have to find a new one, firstand LA is the only place they know where to do that.
Steeped in the LA punk scene in the '80s, Chinatown, sunken suburbs, the ocean and gargantuan things that swim in it, Kill All Angels is everything that fans of Robert Brockway's irreverent humor have been looking for to end the series with a bang.
The Vicious Circuit Trilogy
The Empty Ones
Kill All Angels
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}}}Carey. 1984. Los Angeles, California. Chinatown.}}}}}}}}}
Ever heard the noise fingernails make when they're digging into steel? No? Oh, well, when you're on the other side of it — the screeching muffled but somehow also amplified by all that metal between you — it's almost pretty. Sounds like whales singing.
"We ain't got much time before those things get through that door," I said, wrapping my belt around the interior hinge and cinching it tight. It wasn't a great barricade, but it would hold for a few minutes. "And you've seen what they'll do to us when that happens, so listen close, I'm only going to explain this once. No questions. None of that 'oh no, that's crazy, I don't believe it' garbage. After the shit you've seen in the last ten minutes, you lost the right to be skeptical."
The kid's eyes were the size of hubcaps. Couldn't do much more than nod.
"Let me start from the top. There are angels — you haven't seen those yet — but they look like little stars, just burning in the air right in front of you. They make a sound like the ocean in a storm, if a thousand people were drowning in it. They do something to people. They treat us like a math problem. They pick out all our little quirks and problems, every redundant or unnecessary bit, and they solve us. Usually when that happens, there's a boom and a shudder and the person is just gone. No idea what happens to them."
The door shook with a sound like a garbage truck hitting a telephone pole. The kid shivered. I went on.
"But sometimes a solve doesn't go quite right, and the person doesn't disappear. There's something left over, like a remainder to that math problem. When that happens, the person pukes up a bunch of black shit that takes on a life of its own — that's what those tar men that burned your friends to a crisp are. And the shell of the human being left over becomes this unkillable pyscho — that's what the Chinese girl with the silver hair is, and that's why she ate part of your girlfriend back at Madame Wong's."
The kid clearly wanted to cry, but was trying not to for my benefit.
"Oh, also the Empty Ones — that's what we call those shells — do something to people, too. They take away bits of their humanity, until all that's left are those faceless punks out there calling for your blood. There's your rundown. You cool?"
"Y-yeah," the kid said. "Super cool."
There has never, in history, been a person less cool.
He was a little guy. 120 pounds and 5'4" on a good day. None of that muscle. He had the build of a man who survives solely on government cheese and instant noodles. There was a streak of light blue through his spiked blond hair, and he had some wispy facial fuzz that would require a second puberty to qualify as a mustache. He was wearing skintight blue jeans, fashionably torn, of course, and a faded T-shirt for a band called Red Wedding. Never heard of them. Made a mental note to check them out afterward, in his honor.
"All right," I said, and clapped the kid on the shoulder reassuringly. "So here's the plan: when I say go, you're gonna take this broom and run out the door swinging."
"What? Like hell!" The kid tried to cringe back from me, but there wasn't much room in the walk-in freezer. He just kind of cowered around the frozen peas.
"Listen, kid, remember earlier? When I said 'you know what they're gonna do to us?' I didn't mean you. They're not gonna do a damn thing to you. They don't care about you. You're an object. You're not even an obstacle. The only thing they want is me. The only reason your friends died — and I am so sorry to say this — is because they were in the way. They were in between those things, and me. I'm what they want, and what I'm really doing here is asking you for a favor. I need you. I need you to save my life."
"Save you? How?"
"You go out that door swinging, and maybe it throws them off their game for just a few seconds. A few seconds for me to run. They'll all chase after me, but they won't spare you a second glance. Those few seconds are all you can buy me, but it's better than nothing. I'm hurt, and I was never all that fast to start with, so I probably won't make it far, but I've gotta try. Please, kid. Just a few seconds of broom swinging and maybe some yelling, if you're feeling up to it. That's all I'm asking from you, and then you turn around and you run like hell and forget about all this. Except for the part where you're a hero. My hero."
"They'll kill me, they'll —"
"They wouldn't piss on you if you were on fire. You're a gnat. You're not even something worth swatting away. As long as you don't actually hit one of them, they'll forget about you the second they see me."
"I don't hit 'em?"
"No, kid. It wouldn't do a damn thing if you hit one anyway. Just swing that broom around, make a big show."
The kid swallowed hard. Had an Adam's apple like a kneecap. He bit his lip and nodded.
I gave him the broom. He wielded it like Excalibur.
I opened the door, and he charged out screaming, swinging it in broad strokes like a battleaxe.
The Chinese girl with the silver hair — that's Jie, more on her later — punched straight through his chest. Sent his heart splattering into the wall. It almost hit me, as I ran for the window.
I tucked into a ball just as I hit the glass, and didn't even try to break my fall.
My name is Carey, and I wasn't always an asshole.
Well, I wasn't always this much of an asshole.
Let me tell you about how I got here, and maybe you'll understand.
}}}Kaitlyn. 2013. Just off the I-10, outside Quartzsite, Arizona.}}}}}}}}}
A few years ago I had an ex-boyfriend who was into the Asian spirituality stuff. It didn't seem to matter what kind of Asian: Buddhist, Shinto, some Hindu and yoga thrown in there — he was like spiritual fusion cuisine. Very Californian.
He wore his hair up in a frizzy little man bun, and had an eyebrow ring. Jackie gave me so much shit for dating him, but Jesus Christ, you should've seen his abs. Like a cobblestone street. And he could bend himself into a human pretzel, which was occasionally interesting. Plus he was always nice to me. A total dipshit, of course, but a nice one.
He tried to get me to meditate a few times. He said it was all about feeling your skin, really concentrating on the boundary between you and the world. Then feeling that skin get thinner and thinner until there was nothing separating you from everything else. I could never get it. I just wound up getting stupid thoughts stuck in my head: the lyrics to a silly pop song or something. He'd spend twenty minutes contemplating nirvana; I'd spend twenty minutes endlessly repeating the chorus to "Night Moves." It wasn't spiritually helpful.
Still, I didn't have any better ideas on how to start. I sat cross-legged in the sand, trying to ignore the highway sounds coming over the bluff, the sun burning my skin, the particles of grit slowly grinding their way into my underwear.
I am not Kaitlyn. I am just this body. I am not this body. I am nothing.
An ant or something was crawling over my right ankle. Somewhere behind and above me, a tiny bird chirped. A dozen little itches sprang up all over my body. I could feel my hairs waving in the breeze. If the whole idea of meditation was to lose your sense of self-awareness, it wasn't working. I was becoming, if anything, hyper-aware.
Way to totally fuck up Zen, Kaitlyn.
Maybe I need to go about this the completely opposite way. Get lost in my thoughts until I forget myself. Okay, so, what to think about?
Counting sheep? That's for when you can't fall asleep. Baseball? No, that's sex. And that's for guys. Plus I know jack about baseball. Uh ...
Name all the Pokémon?
I wonder if I could still do that. It's been years since I last played that game.
Nobody achieved nirvana by naming Pokémon, Kaitlyn. Jesus Christ!
I'd better figure out a way to get Zen, fast.
That's probably the least Zen thought you can have.
I could sense Carey's and Jackie's eyes on me, already losing patience. We'd been burning road between Mexico and L.A., when I made them pull the car over like I had to throw up, then just got out and sat in the dirt. They probably wouldn't give me much quiet time. To be honest, I'm surprised they let me have any. After all, I was the one with "the big idea" — and now here we are, parked on the side of a highway in the Arizona desert, the two of them drinking warm Tecate in the Camry while I sit in a pile of hot sand and totally fail to commune with the divine.
Trust me, I basically told them, I totally have this angel thing on lock. I'll kill 'em all and have us done in time for happy hour.
In truth, I didn't have a plan; I had a feeling. I felt that if I could just find and take one more angel, I could stop all of this. I did not have any more helpful feelings, like how to find one, or what to do afterward.
When Carey heard "find one more angel," he said, "Let's go to L.A." That's about as much as he'd share, but I wasn't exactly an open book myself these days. I bit my tongue when he and Jackie asked what, exactly, happened back in Mexico. I looked the other way when they inquired about my "plan." I pointed behind them and shouted "what in god's name is that?!" when they had the gall to ask about the last time I slept.
Days, weeks, more? Exhausted but never tired. That's not normal, that's inhuman —
And let's just put a stop to that thought-stream, shall we?
Meditating. That's what we're doing.
I couldn't empty out my head. I just kept going back to that moment in Mexico, when I stepped sideways and blinked out of existence. Replaying it in my head. Trying to figure out exactly what I did. I know I felt something like a draft, coming from nowhere. Only it wasn't warm, or cold, or even wind — just a faint influx of otherness. Something not here, or of here. I focused in on the draft, let it wash over me, and then I was gone. To a place that wasn't anything. I couldn't actually see it, in the conventional sense. But it was like standing in a foggy hall of mirrors, where each mirror reflected a reality that was slightly different than my own. I followed the mental image. Pictured the hall, imagined the mirrors.
What do you see?
Well, this one makes me look fat. That one makes my face looks long. Hey, this one makes me look short, and the other one kind of wobbles from side to side like —
This isn't going to work.
}}}Jackie. 2013. Just off the I-10, outside Quartzsite, Arizona.}}}}}}}}}
"What about you?" Carey said, and gestured with his beer can toward Kaitlyn, sitting crisscross applesauce in a dry riverbed. "You go in for all this Hindu voodoo Jazzercise bullshit?"
"None of that was even slightly right," I said.
I drained the last of my Tecate, which was now room temperature, provided that room was a hot trunk in the Arizona sunshine. I tossed the can on the floor in the backseat. Carey crumpled his and tossed it in the ditch running beside the shoulder. It landed next to a wadded up ball of aluminum foil with two bites of burrito inside, a few crumpled-up napkins, and six other half-crushed Tecate cans.
"Can you not litter?" I said to him.
Carey burped as loud as he could.
"What, am I ruining this pristine vista?" He swept his arm grandly over the sand, sand, more sand, handful of stunted bushes, and white girl quickly turning red.
"You're such a dick," I said. I cracked open another beer. Tasted like somebody had made tea out of cigarette butts.
"How long is she going to be out there?" he asked.
"No idea," I said. "How long does it take to master bizarre teleportation powers stolen from an evil ball of light?"
"Like twenty minutes, tops." Carey laughed. "Hey Jackie, you know what we could do to pass the time?"
"Fuck by the side of an active highway, in the backseat of this stolen 1996 Toyota Camry, on top of all the Red Bull cans and fast food wrappers, in like, 103-degree heat?"
Carey tapped his nose.
"I'll pass. I'd rather juggle the balls of a rabid grizzly."
"Well, our other option is watching Sitting Bull here contemplate her — whoa, what the hell?"
I followed his gaze to Kaitlyn. But there was no Kaitlyn. She was gone. I looked around: nothing but flat, featureless desert as far as the eye could see. What? There was nowhere to — she couldn't even duck without us seeing her out there.
"Holy shit! Did you see where she went?" I grabbed Carey's forearm, all loose flesh over wiry muscle.
He looked down at my hand.
"No, but I know what we can do to pass the time while we wait for her to —"
}}}Kaitlyn. 2013. Just off the I-10, outside Quartzsite, Arizona.}}}}}}}}}
Mew ... two?
It was getting cold. Or at least not so sweltering hot anymore. How long had I been out here doing this? I opened my eyes and saw nothing but black.
What? No way it got this dark this quickly.
I rubbed my eyes. No help. I put my hand on the ground to push myself up, but there was no ground there. There was no up. There was no self to push. I could feel my body, was aware of its position in space, but I clearly wasn't in the desert anymore. I wasn't in anything. Just floating in a kind of dark, temperature- less amniotic fluid. I stared hard, trying to make out what was around me. In the distance, dim pinpricks of light struggled to resolve, then faded again. At first I thought they were faint, but as time went on it seemed more like they were just distant. I thought about moving closer to them. Pictured myself kicking my feet, swimming through — what? water? space? — toward the lights. I couldn't tell if it was working.
Great. I meditated myself into the cosmic kiddie pool and now I have to just wait for an adult to come fish me out.
I felt the draft again. A foreign presence gently tickling my skin and raising the fine hairs on my forearms.
I'm going about this wrong. I'm still thinking physically. Trying to kick my feet. Picturing myself struggling through space, like that's what this place was. Adjust your thinking, Kaitlyn.
I am not here. This is not a "here." If I am not in this place — if this isn't a place at all — then I am not pinned to a single location. I do not need to move. I simply need to exist elsewhere.
The blackness flashed, and instantly came alive with burning white stars. I couldn't tell their exact distance or scale, relative to me. But I got the feeling they were small — around my own size. Which meant they were close, all bunched together in the space immediately surrounding me. I reached out to touch one —
No, that's physicality again.
I made myself more aware of the orb nearest me. Inside of the light, something moved. Patterns like circuit boards. They expanded, contracted, changed shape. There was something wrong about the way the lines joined together. They met in impossible places, formed junctures that I couldn't comprehend. It made me feel cold inside, and nauseous — the first feelings since I wound up here. I became dimly aware of a sound. Loud static and high-pitched squeals. Like a busy highway, if every other car was screeching to a halt. These weren't stars.
They were angels.
Thousands of them. I looked further into the dark, and saw that they marched on into infinity. Forever, until their light was too faint to see. Not thousands — millions, billions.
I am not here. I am not actually surrounded by countless balls of fatal light that want nothing more than to simplify my code and nullify my internal existence. This is not happening. I'm just going to slooowly picture myself existing back where I was. Or you know what? Even farther away than that, so far I can't even see the lights.
And just like that, they were gone. Everything was gone, even the blackness. Surrounding me was pure absence. A non-place. Colorless. Toneless.
And then, before me, something like a cube appeared. It was comprised of multiple thin, square layers, stacked one atop another. I got the sense I was supposed to do something with it. I tried to reach out to touch it, but I had no physical body.
Huh. Okay, let's try another tack.
I thought about it spinning, and it spun.
I thought about it getting closer, and it did. I focused in on the bottom layer, and it burst out of the cube, expanding until the non-place around me filled with stars, nebula, and planets. A thick cloud of brown dust swooped toward me. I tried to shield myself by reflex, but there was no point. I wasn't here. My viewpoint swirled about in its depths, turning listlessly, and then it was gone. The cloud vanished into the distance. As it pulled away, I could see that the dust wasn't entirely brown — when far enough removed, it took on colors and made patterns. Sweeping orange melted into dull crimson faded into dark purple. Stars engulfed me, burning the air beside me one second, then shrinking away until they were just pinpricks of light.
Excerpted from "Kill All Angels"
Copyright © 2017 Robert Brockway.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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