Following on the heels of Robert Brockway's comedic horror novel The Unnoticeables, The Empty Ones reveals the next chapter in the lives of a few misfits attempting to fight back against the mysterious Unnoticeables.
The Empty Ones follows Carey and Randall to London where they go to rescue Gus and fight more of these mysterious angel-like creatures, and stumble on a powerful and unexpected ally. Meanwhile, Kaitlyn, who was very nearly beat when last we saw her, continues her fight into the desert of Mexico and the Southwest US, seeking the mysterious gear cult. Once there, she discovers what the gear cult is really up to: trying to 'pin' the angels to Earth, focus their attention here, and get as much of humanity as possible "solved"which, in their minds, is akin to being savedand in the process discovers something incredible about herself.
With a snarled lip, The Empty Ones incorporates everything that made The Unnoticeables incredible, but like any good punk band, when you don't think they can get any louder, they somehow turn it up a notch. It's terrifying and hilarious, visceral and insane, chaotic and beautiful.
The Vicious Circuit Trilogy
The Empty Ones
Kill All Angels
About the Author
Robert Brockway is a Senior Editor and columnist for Cracked.com. He lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife Meagan and their two dogs, Detectives Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh. He has been known, on occasion, to have a beard. He is the author of Everything is Going to Kill Everybody, The Empty Ones, and The Unnoticeables.
Read an Excerpt
The Empty Ones
By Robert Brockway
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2016 Robert Brockway
All rights reserved.
1984. Lima, Peru. Meryll.
I messed up this poor girl's code, and now she's got teeth where her eyes should be.
I looked inside of her, and I saw hunger. Simple as that. You look inside some folks and you see this dense web of needs, desires, secrets, and regrets. It's all laid out like neurons. Maybe train stations is a better analogy. There's always a Grand Central. You just gotta find it.
You take a strand of somebody's personality — like, the way they always say "naturally" instead of "of course"— and you start feeding it back, through moments, through years, through whole lifetimes even, and you'll eventually find the source. They were watching The Avengers as a little kid, they saw Emma Peel say that, and they thought it was so sophisticated.
"Naturally," she said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world. And she laughed.
This person tried it on for themselves, and they liked it. It stuck. So much hinges on that moment. So many experiences, so many connecting points where if they'd said "yes," instead of "naturally," the ensuing sequence of events would've gone in a totally different direction. Because they start using this silly, meaningless little word, they develop an affection for what they perceive to be sophistication. They listen to classical music, not because they like it, but because they want to be perceived as the type of person who likes it. They go to the ballet when they're seventeen. They stay up all night reading about it first, so they can tell their mother "that's a pas de deux," and she would nudge her husband as if to say "See? See how refined our child is?" All of these little strings, hanging on other strings, wrapped around hubs, providing supports for the whole network. So you find them there, cross-legged on the orange shag in their living room, biscuits all over their face, watching The Avengers with eyes like glass, and you pull that out.
You show them that moment. They see that so much of who they thought they were was arbitrary — it all comes from here. And half their lifetime just goes away. You find another hub, getting felt up by Jaime in the locker room, and another, the spider crawling across their ear as a baby. You pluck out a few more of those, and pretty soon there's not much left to a person at all. They just ... go away. And all that energy they were wasting by existing, it becomes yours. You can do whatever you want with it.
You can use it to knock an asteroid out of orbit. You can use it to blow up a city. You can shove it deep down inside of you and store it, like a battery. It decays some over time, but there's so much, and it's so easy to get.
But we're talking about a different girl: this girl here, in the windblown shack with the corrugated metal roof just outside of Lima.
Some folks need dozens of hubs plucked out of them before they're solved. Most just need three or four. This girl has only one main concern: hunger. She's always been hungry, and she's never had enough to eat. There were other elements to her personality, other things that made her who she was, but in one way or another, all of those strings led back to hunger. You can't pull just a single moment. You wouldn't even get any energy that way — there'd be nothing left to simplify.
So I plucked out all the other, smaller hubs around hunger. Getting beaten by the policeman behind the supermarket. Kissing her little brother on the head before a soccer game in an overgrown lot. And here she is, teeth where her eyes should be. Belly twice the size of her body. Huge hands, fingers curling into canines. Her tongue is six feet long and flailing about like a live wire.
Dang it. Three years, and I'm still making these mistakes.
Ah, well. I'll find a use for her.
Hi, my name is Meryll. And this is the story of how I became God.CHAPTER 2
1977. London, England. Carey.
The band sounded like a domestic violence case in progress. Couple of hoarse guys yelling over guitars so distorted they sounded like somebody rapidly flipping channels on a TV that only got static. The drums rolled out, all crashes and bangs — the catfight in the alley outside knocking over some trash cans. All the scene was missing were some police sirens, and by the look of the crowd, they wouldn't be missing for long.
My head hurt. I'd been wearing the same socks for about two weeks and was just starting to realize it. My beer was warm, stale, and nearly empty — just like the four on the floor at my feet. The blonde next to me elbowed me in the ear, again. She was blitzed. She'd bounced her tits out of her shirt two minutes ago, and hadn't even noticed yet.
It was about as close to a perfect night as you could ask for.
"Hey! Ho!" Joey Ramone yelled, and the crowd screamed in response.
It was New Year's Eve at the Rainbow Theatre. I was doing everything I could not to be happy, and it just wasn't working. I would've spat in your eye if you'd told me this last month, and I'll do worse if you ever tell anybody I said it now, but god damn if the British punks couldn't teach us Americans a thing or two. There's an anger to the scene here that makes it feel fucking vital. It has to do something — succeed, or explode in everybody's faces, or dance a merry jig and poop in the corner. Nobody knows what it's doing, exactly, but "nothing" isn't an option, because the scene is the only damn thing the Brits have. I love New York like the filthy whore she is, but sometimes concerts there feel like fashion shows and the line out front of a venue is a place to be seen. Here in London, it's a place to be stabbed. I watched a man get his front teeth knocked out an hour ago, and his only response was to spit a mouthful of blood on the guy that did it. They both laughed.
It was a magical time.
I'm sure the coke was helping with the festive atmosphere some. Last time I went in the bathroom, people were pissing in the sink so folks had more room to do lines off the backs of the toilets.
Hey, I'm not passing judgment. At least it kept these fuckers dancing. I've been to a few shows where more people were sleeping than listening to the band. The only drug I'm against is heroin, because it keeps you from dancing, fucking, and fighting — and really, what else is there? I'm not crazy about acid either, but that's only because a dog lectured me about dropping out of high school for three straight hours the last time I did it. But if it peels your banana, you do it up. Just don't shoot dope into your arm and fall asleep on my shoulder on the way to the show, that's all I ask.
But energy wasn't a problem at the Rainbow tonight: Hundreds of young punks, all stinking of cheap cigarettes and warm beer and sweat, hopped up and down to the music like hyperactive rabbits. Their heads rose and fell in great waves. A swell of greasy-haired skulls broke against the stage, where three skinny, gawky boys stood — each looking for all the world like dirty mops dressed in leather jackets — and flailed at their instruments like the things had grown mouths and called their mothers a bunch of bitches.
Aw, there I go, waxing all poetic again. Give me a break: I'm four beers and two joints into the night. That's the poet's ratio.
I felt an elbow in my crotch. And not in a friendly way. I grabbed the attached arm and looked down into the raccoon eyes of a short white girl, just a touch on the pudgy side. She had a streak of crimson zigzagging down the back of her shoulder-length hair. It matched the smear of blood on her black-painted lips. There was a look in her eyes that said she hadn't gotten it in fun.
She was wearing thick leather bracelets, black-and-purple leggings — torn at the knees — under a tight black miniskirt, and dusty combat boots. A plain white T-shirt, just a bit too tight, read "Punk's not dead, it's just pining" in Magic Marker.
She sneered, flipped me a "V" with her fingers — I guessed that didn't mean "peace" over here — and wrenched her arm away from me. She swam into the crowd and I let her.
The Ramones were just launching into "Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment," my buzz was teetering on the edge, about to fall facefirst into a sloppy pile of drunk, and I was pretty sure this blonde with her forever-bouncing tits wasn't going to be exactly discerning tonight. I bet American boys pissed off her daddy.
I didn't want to go.
Fuck it. I wasn't going to go.
Then somebody passed by a few inches in front of me, and their face was like a library on a Sunday. Quiet, unassuming, forgetful. Nothing of note. Nothing to pay attention to. Look away. You're not missing anything, that face said to me, go ahead and look at better stuff. I hear there are bouncing titties nearby.
It had the opposite effect on me. It shook half the buzz right out of my head, replaced it with a surge of adrenaline. I stared hard at the person with the unnoticeable face, and felt the start of a focus headache build up behind my eyes. Their features blurred and shifted. Their face squirmed like wet soap under my stare and refused to resolve. There were too many people, too close together. You could never hope to pick out the features of an Unnoticeable in a crowd like this.
I had to go.
I drained the rest of my beer, shaking the can to get at the last few drops. I ran my tongue into the narrow hole, cutting it a little on the sharp metal edges, and tossed the thoroughly empty can sideways into the crowd. It skipped off the skull of a kid with only the front half of a mohawk. He looked around to see who did it, didn't find anybody, and settled for punching the fat guy next to him instead.
I shoved my way toward the exit. I followed the red zigzag as it disappeared and reappeared. Ducking in and out of the crowd. It bounced merrily, like those little dots that highlight the lyrics in sing-alongs.
Behind me, the guitars died, and Joey's goofy, mooky voice rang out clear and alone against the silence:
"I saw her walking down the street He jumped down and knocked her off her feet And then I knew it was the end of her."
The chubby girl ducked under a purple rope and slipped into a darkened alcove. The Unnoticeable followed after. Somebody shouted "1-2-3-4" and the guitars blared back into life like antiaircraft fire. Joey screamed:
"He's gonna kill that girl He's gonna kill that girl He's gonna kill that girl tonight."
A bit on the fucking nose there, Joey.CHAPTER 3
2013. Tucson, Arizona. Kaitlyn.
The entire thing was filmed in such high definition that it looped back around to looking cheap again. A soap opera or a corporate training video. The carpet was a deep beige shag. The walls were beige, with some faded floral design worked into the wallpaper in slightly lighter beige. The fixtures were modern and minimalist: The lamps were a series of connected rods of burnished steel; the blinds were faux-Asian rice paper; the television was wafer-thin and huge, shining black like ice on a pond — and wherever possible, all of it was trimmed in beige. All except for a big, puffy, bright orange couch that sat obscenely in the center of the room.
The couch was absurd. The couch was out of character. The couch was a situation.
The couch seemed guilty and brazen all at once, like the 1970s had shat it out on the carpet while your back was turned, and it was now waiting in the corner, just daring you to comment.
Around a light beige table with ornate wrought iron legs, there were four tall chairs with beige corduroy cushions. On one sat a woman with a fanatic's eyes, bright blue and perpetually wet, as if on the verge of hysterical tears. Her hair was blond, her skin was tan, her blouse was unbuttoned just slightly, and her pencil skirt looked as though it had been officially assigned at the graduating ceremony of Sexy Journalist Academy. Her unwavering smile could have blinded a welder. In another sat a handsome Latino man. His muscles barely fit in his shirt, which was both a testament to his workout routine and his wardrobe consultant, who only bought him shirts that were two sizes too small, in order to better emphasize the man's impeccable workout routine. He, too, seemed physically incapable of not smiling. His immaculate teeth, their edges squared off by a ruler, were as orderly as a military parade. They stretched from one ear to the other and possibly beyond. You got the irrational impression that those teeth would continue right on into the back of his head, wrapping about the skull and out the other side in an unbroken ribbon of enamel. He wore a smile like an ordinary person wears underwear — just a fact of life, something you put on first thing in the morning and only take off at night — but his eyes did not smile with him. They were small, black, and just a touch too close together. They reflected no light. Two bottomless pits dug into his face.
The woman laughed. She stretched out a hand and laid it on the man's knee. You could be forgiven, at this point — given the setting, the cast, and the artless resolution of the camera — for thinking that you were watching the start of a porno. One look into the desperate yearning of the tanned blonde's face, and you might reasonably assume you were only two innuendos away from full penetration. But you are, instead, watching Access Hollywood. You have made better decisions in your life.
Nelly: — and you've got some experience with ... sticky situations, I hear?
Marco: Haha, you mean my little hombrecito? Enrique — Kiki — he's a gem, Nelly, truly he is. I tell this funny story about him. He's gonna hate me for it when I'm older. Sorry little dude! So we were at SeaWorld watching the delfines and ballenas — that's "dolphins" and "whales" in Spanish, Nelly....
Nelly: Fantasti —
Marco: And Kiki, that little goof, he leans over too far, and plop! His ice cream drops right off the cone and into the water! Ai yai yai!
Nelly: Oh no! What flavor was i —
Marco: So I don't know what I'm thinking. I'm not thinking, I guess, and I just reach right in there and go to scoop it out. But, uh oh, here comes the delfin — right for my little hombrecito's ice cream!
Nelly: Who even knew dolphins liked ice —
Marco: So I'm in one of those dad moments, you know. I want to do right by my Kiki, but at the same time, I don't know what this crazy delfin is thinking, man! He could be coming for my hand. I'm leaning in there, trying to reach the ice cream, the delfin is swimming right toward me, faster and faster, and I'm leaning farther and farther and — well, let's just say now we know little Enrique doesn't mind wet ice cream!
Nelly: You're one cool dad!
Marco: Haha, you got that right!
Nelly: Speaking of temperatures, I hear the next season of your show is going to be sizzling. You're headed down south of the borde —
Marco: To Tulancingo! We're headed down Mexico way, my hometown — mi cuidad natal — for my next project.
Nelly: Tell us a little abo —
Marco: Well, you remember the first season I tried to teach some inner-city Latino kids that there's a better way. This time, I'm returning to my roots — you know, small-town boy made good — to give a little something back to mi pueblo. It's going to be great. Really great. Super great!
Nelly: I hear you had a little trouble with the kids on the first season —
Marco: The Rollerblading! That's right. Some of these kids, you know, they get themselves into bad situations. They steal, they do drugs, they get into gangs, so I thought — if you're gonna get them out of something bad, why not get them into something good, like Rollerblading? We had some spills along the way, but they got pretty good by the end. We're gonna have some fun on this next season, too! I'm thinking bungee jumping! Haha, scary!
Nelly: But you ran into a little trouble with at least one teen last year who —
Marco: The only trouble we had was finding a nice smooth spot for Rollerblading! I love LA — amo mi cuidad — but they gotta work on those roads, Nelly!
Nelly: I was referring to the incident with —
Nelly: I ... yes, it does sound like a ... rough situation.
Marco: You got that right!
Nelly: Haha, okay. Thanks for coming down to talk to us today, Marco.
Marco: Thanks for having me. Muchas gracias!
Excerpted from The Empty Ones by Robert Brockway. Copyright © 2016 Robert Brockway. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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