Rule 381

Foinah Jameson

Owen maneuvered his car through the maze of emergency response vehicles abandoned in the road and he finally parked up on a sidewalk covered in blood. It was midday but this section of the city was shrouded in darkness, illuminated in patches by streetlights struggling against the encroaching void. There was blood everywhere, like a flash flood had washed over the neighborhood and left behind glittering streams of viscera. Random clumps of hair and fur dotted the swirling pools.

Owen's trainee, Marcus, stepped up and opened the car door, extending a pair of wading boots as Owen got out. "I have the kit ready, sir," he said.

"Ever diligent, Marcus. Train to live, live to serve. We are the Keepers of Order. Quite a night." He slipped on the boots and walked to the front stoop of a building at the epicenter of chaos. "This can't be good."

"No, sir. It is not good. Everything, every living thing in a three-block radius melted. I guess it stopped right before I arrived.  Lucky me," Marcus said with a shrug. "The team is on its way."

Owen glanced up at the apartment building, taking in the shattered windows on the top floor as he clenched his jaw. He looked back over his shoulder at Marcus and said, "It's bad. I can smell that it's bad."

As if on cue, oily black smoke oozed from those shattered windows and coiled down the side of the building, carrying wafts of sulfur and burned blood; metallic and sour.  A bonus scent of burned hair completed the trifecta of effery this night.

Marcus winced as the smell rolled over him and said, "The blood didn't give it away? Yes. Looks like it's a 381 with a Category Five event."

Owen motioned for the trainee to follow as he headed for the lobby doors. "Of course it is. Idiots. Accidental or ritual?"

"A little of both. It was a writer. He was doing research for a novel and one thing led to another, and here we are. He posted a Tiktok about a weird antique tchotchke he found in some basement curio shop in Akron. I think it's Sumerian." Marcus held up his phone and pressed play on the video.

"Lugal nam tar ush-ak-ne i-menden," the writer said, his voice thin and reedy as he spoke the words etched in cuneiform on a stone carving of a cat painted Day Glo Green.

Owen slapped the phone out of Marcus' hand and shouted, "Are you an idiot?! What part of 381 do you not understand? DON'T READ THE ANCIENT TEXT, ESPECIALLY OUT LOUD!"

Marcus bent over and picked up his phone, checking for cracks, while the video kept looping. "I didn't read it. He did...already."  Marcus wiped sticky blood from the phone case with a wet wipe from his pocket.

"Turn it off, moron!" Owen barked at him. "'s Sumerian. 'We are the Kings of fate and death.' What the hell were you thinking?"

"It's already done, sir. I am wearing the amulet so it's safe. I'm following protocol."

 Owen smirked. "Is the video at least down?"

Marcus nodded. "The team was pulling it, and it should be gone by now. Train to live, live to serve, sir."

"Right. Good. These Category Fives are usually a one-off but sometimes the invocation can start again.  It's always the same, though. Near apocalypse. Let's get up there and get the artifact." Owen took two re-breathers out of the pack, handed one to Marcus, and then gloved up before he pulled open the door. A cascade of blood and still-melting bits flooded out over the steps.

A flap of face, a young hipster by the look of the chin scruff and the mouth caught in an eternal OH of surprise, snagged on Marcus' boot. He brushed it away with his other foot and mumbled, "Sorry, lad," as it floated down the stairs and joined the jumble of other tenants co-mingling in syrupy red puddles in the gutter.

Marcus hesitated. "Should we wait for the team?"

"Absolutely not. This is what I trained you for." Owen started up the steps.  "Marcus, watch your step. It's a bit...soupy."

They started the long climb up to the top of the building, their boots making disgusting slurping noises in counterpoint to their heavy breathing.

"Question," Marcus paused on the sixth floor landing. "How did he manage to read that Sumerian?"

"The internet. There are codex everywhere on the web these days." Owen kept sloshing up the stairs. "Perhaps it was just a case of the stars aligning and he had a tag in his RNA that was triggered once he held the artifact. Maybe he was part of a cult. An archaeologist. However, they know Rule 381 so he could possibly be a failed researcher--"

"I told you that he was a writer," Marcus interrupted.

"Yes, well...writers are the worst. Imagine if he would have put this in a book that actually sold and got popular. What a nightmare. We may be too late to stop whatever is coming through. If you haven't noticed yet, the fabric of reality is tearing a bit."  Owen gestured at the walls, which were peeling away in sections to reveal pulsing veins where there was once steel and wood framing.

"Oh. Yes. Now that you mention it the stairs do feel a bit spongy through this muck."

"Classic Sumerian Demi God move. A living temple."  Owen started up the stairs again.

"Is it just me or do the lumpy bits seem to be moving on their own now?" Marcus nudged a mass of hair and fatty parts with the toe of his boot. In response the lump scuttled backwards.

"Yes. Indeed. We are running out of time." Owen touched the amulet hanging around his neck. "If it weren't for these we'd be adding to the muck."

"No thank you." Marcus took the steps two at a time and passed Owen. He sprinted to a door and pointed. "Apartment 1313. We're here."

The writer was surprisingly intact, mostly. His body was reclined in an office chair at his desk, head lolled back and only slightly melted, the rib cage shattered outwards like something had forced its way through, and the Sumerian Day Glo Cat was clutched in his right hand in a literal death grip.

"We're too late," Owen said as he reached into the kit bag and pulled out a pair of iron tongs and a crude leather bag. "Whatever was summoned already came through."  He carefully pulled the artifact from the dead man's hand and placed it in the bag.

Marcus leaned over the hole in the chest and cocked his head. "Sir, do you hear that?"

"Marcus," Owen's voice was quiet. " need to step back."

"Don't you hear it?" Marcus leaned in closer. "It sounds like purring."

"My god, man! Get back!" Owen grabbed Marcus' arm and yanked, but he wasn't fast enough.

A small, black ball of fur with glowing green eyes burst from the hole and hit Marcus in the chest. The man tumbled backwards and then lay still as the creature uncoiled and proceeded to start cleaning itself. It was a kitten. A kitten covered in blood from chewing its way out of the writer and into this world. 

"S-s-sir..." Marcus whispered.  "It's a demon...get it off me...p-please."

"Don't move, Marcus." Owen held out the tongs ready to grab the kitten, but he stopped when the little beast looked up at him and said, Mewww.

He dropped the tongs. "Oh! Dear are the most adorable little murder floof I've ever seen!" Owen crouched down. "It's a Demi God, Marcus. Just look at how cute it is!"

"Sir, have to kill it."

"It's immortal, Marcus. We can't kill it." Owen reached out and stroked the kitten's back. It leaned into the pet and started purring.

A loud bang from downstairs startled them all. The building shuddered from the blast.

"That's the team, sir. You need to secure the demon, I mean Demi God, and let them secure the area before anyone else melts. You can take it to the facility. Protocol, sir."

The kitten turned and hissed in Marcus' face. It reached out with one tiny paw and touched the chain on Marcus' amulet. It made eye contact with Owen and flicked out one claw.

"No! Bad kitty!" Marcus said as he flinched away. "Don't you do it!"

"Marcus, you'll tell on me. I know it." Owen looked at the kitten. "He might not say anything. Let me be Guardian and I'll make sure you're safe."

"Sir...Train to live, live to serve. I can't let you keep that demon."

The kitten hissed again.

"Naughty!" Owen said as the kitten snapped the chain and the amulet slid onto the floor.

Marcus didn't have time to scream. His face caved in and the rest of his body melted into a shiny red pool of lumps and hair.

"Sorry, lad," Owen said as he picked up Marcus' amulet and put it in his pocket.  He reached out and patted the kitten. "My gods you are adorable. Naughty, but adorable."

The kitten hopped into Owen's arms and again said, Mewwww.

"Right then. Ready to go?' He placed the Demi God in his inside jacket pocket just as the team burst through the door.

Owen held up the bag. "I have the artifact."

"Where's your trainee?" the team leader asked. He looked down and saw he was standing in a pool of gore and shook his foot clean as he stepped to the side.

"Ummm, it's just me and this artifact." Owen started for the door.

"Sir...protocol. Did something come through?"

Owen pointed at the dead writer. "I think it tried, but..."

"We'll sweep the area. Good work, sir."

"Yup." Owen said as he patted his pocket. "Train to live, live to serve."

"We are the Keepers of Order," the man replied.

"Sure. You bet." Owen waved over his shoulder as he headed for the stairs, the kitten contentedly purring in his pocket.

"Live to serve, live to serve..." Owen repeated as he stepped out into the void.


The end.

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