[Void Galaxia] Chapter 49: Not Wicked Enough To Eat


Puppet Master 2.


The Running Man.


Something in Spanish with a green-lit cult priestess and two red X’s on her robes.

Hang on…

Wasn’t that…

I left the coffee machine to wring out the last drops by itself and maneuvered round the side of the counter. Santa Sangre. Sangre equaled blood…Santa…no idea, but probably not the Christmas guy…and the name at the top of the poster…ah, Jodorowsky, chief lunatic of bizarro cinema. The director who made filmns I liked conceptually but could never press play on when they were framed right there in front of me, on GENTE+, surrounded by shit like Saving Hannukah and Full Moon Cop and Not My Cousin IV and a dozen other Something IV movies.

The coffee machine whirred down, calling me back to the cup.

Two down, one to go.

Though whether Juana was cognizant enough to drink hers was a different matter. She’d managed a couple sips of water earlier, then went straight into nap mode again. But not napping exactly, more like a trance…eyes opening now and then, arms shooting up, swatting invisible flies…random Spanish and Yaqui outbursts that Nick the sudden linguist said translated into seventeen years and now this.

Seventeen years of her life?

Of no starvation trances?

The video caffé?

I pulled out the cup with foam spilling over and replaced it with an empty one. Then pressed the button for green tea.

Seemed like a safer bet.

Healthier too.

The machine slipped back into routine, the blue lights on the side making me think briefly that there was a tiny human inside.

Same with the Recharge station lights on the drive into Fresno.

And the pseudo race circuit around Lake Arrowhead.

‘Must be made by the same company,’ I’d said to Lexi in the car and got that frozen eldritch face in return. Then her weirdness about the buildings being several inches out of phase. Structures pasted on top of other structures. Fresno not acting like the proper Fresno. Shivering as if we were camped on the summit of K2, squeezing her nails into the back of my hand.

Probably Juana related, the idea of getting her a meal.

The grimness of it.

I glanced over at the VR plaza opposite, stirring one of the coffees with the corner of a milk powder capsule.

Nick had been there at least half an hour now, plenty of time to patch in and single out a suitably wretched guy. Hopefully a Nazi or white supremacist. Then bring him back over here, fully mesmerized with the purple mist, and sit him down in the projector room next to Juana.

Or would they go down to the basement to do it?

That was the routine before, what she tried to do with me: sit the guy down, get the spiral clock spinning, fix claws on his skull and start digging, with Lexi watching golem-like nearby. Only this time it would be three of us, Nick, Lexi and me, her previous victim…attempted victim…standing there as golem substitutes, uploading a live fucking cannibalism show visceral-abject into our heads and…Nick didn’t matter, he was an alien, but Lexi and me, having that Cronenberg shit in our heads, then going to bed and running our hands over flesh that could be eaten on a whim by Juana, if she happened to be having a bad day and…would we ever touch each other again? Maybe the occasional squeezing of hands, stroking of arm skin, but nothing sexual. It would be done, eviscerated…replaced by this…the most realistic ever Troma flick.

Vague shape outside the window, staring in.

My eyes refocused and the blur morphed into a folded-up elderly man, faux-military jacket, military badges, face fixed on something to my left. I turned and saw the coffee machine. The Mansion of Madness poster behind it.

Yeah, okay…poster was the more likely choice, though the coffee machine did have the blue lights.

Could be immersion haze?


I turned back and realized it was neither the poster nor the coffee machine as he was now staring at the video shelves.

Then he was hobbling off.

Then he was gone.

Behind me, the coffee machine finished its cycle.

Still no sign of Nick coming out of the VR plaza. Maybe Lexi was right and he couldn’t find anyone awful enough? And even if he did, what about tomorrow? Or next week? Set up camp outside the Neo-Nazi wing of the local prison? Head to LA?

We couldn’t keep Juana going this way forever. At some point, she’d have to face up to things and…kill herself? Starve to death? Go cold turkey?

The physiology was still nebulous, unknown.

No, unexplained.

Was it life and death or not? Drug analogy or water?

And why were we her guardians anyway? I barely knew her, Nick didn’t know her at all, wasn’t even human, and Lexi…she’d been zombified for months, forced to assist…and now we were all here, trying to pull her out of…something that was apparently natural to her kind.

Was that rational?

Had Lake Arrowhead attached us all in some weird, deterministic way?

Would that be soft or hard determinism?

Was hard the god version?

Leech Woman on the Puppet Master 2 poster told me to stop with all the questions and focus on getting the fuck out of there. Leave them all, run to Portland, knock on the door of Sadia and say, hey, that burning housse poem you did, fucking incredible, can I come in and stay with you?

It was a rogue thought, I knew that, but looking around the video caffé with all the lights off…picturing with a pineal eye the bathtub, the Reagan shack, the sex posters…

Just take her the fucking coffee.

Watch the filmn.

Wait for Nick to come back.

I gave myself a few gentle slaps on the cheek and picked up the two cups of coffee, and hooked the tea onto my little finger. It shouldn’t have balanced but somehow did, sloping only a tiny bit when I pushed open the STAFF ONLY door, and again as I put it down on the MACA box we’d dragged in from the corridor earlier to act as a sickbed table.

In the background, a guy shrieked into the camera as a thing in attic shadow floated over and devoured him.

‘No Nick?’ asked Lexi, sitting closer than I would’ve to Juana, hand covering the Mexican demon’s forehead.

‘Not yet.’

‘Probably still trying to figure out the menu pad.’

‘I had the same thought.’

‘Or arguing with the staff about payment.’

‘Also a possibility.’

Lexi took a sip of her coffee and flinched at the heat. Or the taste. Hopefully the latter, as then it wouldn’t be my fault.

‘Felt a bit weird out there, with the lights off,’ I continued, picking up one of my previous trains of thought. ‘And the blue lights on the coffee machine. Half expected the window to break.’


‘The Yoga Centre last night, those two dancing guys…’

She took more coffee, looking at the screen. Pinhead was introducing himself and the cenobites to an 80’s girl, calling himself an explorer from another dimension.

‘I was trying to forget about that,’ Lexi replied, finally, putting her cup on the box.

‘Lake Arrowhead…’


An arm swept out, spasm effect, almost knocking over Lexi’s coffee. She reeled the cup back in towards the sci-fi queen on her hoodie [actually, my hoodie, still not given back] and whispered to Juana that it was okay, Nick would be back soon, hopefully with a Neo-Nazi or a rapist…or something even worse.

‘Don’t want it…’ Juana howled, one eye open full Tenebrae and fixed on the projection screen.

‘You have to.’

‘… … … … … … …’


‘She’s saying the seventeen years thing again,’ came Nick’s voice from the doorway.

I turned, surprised that I hadn’t spilt any coffee, and saw him standing rigid, nodding his head at the Hellraiser scene playing on the screen, his right arm around the shoulders of a kid who couldn’t have been anything over nineteen.

‘Hello…’ I said, quite weakly.

‘Don’t bother, he can’t hear you,’ replied Nick, guiding the young man in and sitting him down on the couch next to Lexi. ‘Can’t feel a thing either, which is obviously for the best.’

‘Who is he?’ asked Lexi, keeping a tight grip on Juana’s arm as it spasmed again, along with another moan that she didn’t want it.

‘Nasty piece of shit, as ordered. Found him groping some blue woman’s tits in that Nightmare Dungeon game of yours.’

‘Nightmare Castle.’

‘Lavinia the Goddess of Death…’

Nick muttered Lavinia back to himself, then made a clicking noise with his tongue. ‘That’s the one. Said he was gonna burn her clit off with a poker. If he could find one. And cum on her stupid, dumb hat. Of course, he didn’t know I was lurking by the steps, evaluating.’

‘That’s it?’ asked Lexi, putting her cup down on the floor.

‘That’s what?’

‘You caught him feeling an NPC’s tits and saying a few sleazy lines and that’s your basis for this…bringing him back here?’

Nick picked up Juana’s tea, sniffing it. ‘My alien morality may be a bit off, but…’

‘To get his brain eaten?’

‘…none of that stuff is acceptable to humans, right? Keni?’

Pre-sensing it was gonna switch to me, I looked right at the screen for guidance, and got nothing but the attic man with a feral hand inside his lover, draining the life force right out of her.

‘Don’t know…’ I said, turning downwards to the ripples on my coffee.

‘He’s wearing a Naruto t-shirt for fuck’s sake,’ continued Lexi, pushing the young man’s hand off as it landed on her thigh. ‘We can’t do this. Use the weird purple trick, your hands…’

‘I told you already, that is not possible.’

‘Then go south a few blocks, get a drunk or something, a gang member, someone scary-looking.’

Nick placed the tea back on the MACA box then bent down and rested his hand on Juana’s arm. ‘You told me to go to the VR plaza and find someone reprehensible. I did that. And now it’s feeding time. Unless you’d like to offer your brain instead?’

‘VR plaza was a last resort, that’s what I said. Not the first port of call. And not some kid who…just said some stuff.’

‘Must’ve whispered that last resort part.’ He put a hand on the patient’s hair, tugging it slightly. ‘Juana, you sentient?’

‘Don’t want,’ slurred Juana, lifting up her head, seeing the Naruto guy tilting unconsciously towards Lexi. ‘… … … … … … Por favor. Get him away.’

‘It’s okay,’ Nick said, switching back to her arm, patting it. ‘He’d burn your clit off if there were a poker nearby.’

‘Not hungry…’

‘And grope your tits.’

‘… … … …’

‘The auto-repair shopp in West Side.’ Lexi pushed the Naruto kid to the other arm of the couch, putting her hand up to stop the head rolling back again. ‘It’s a Neo-Nazi hangout, not that far from here…’

‘Would it be open now?’

‘No, but…one of them might be there. Working late or…standing on the street outside.’

‘Might be…’

‘More than one, maybe a whole group of them. It’s worth a try. Right?’

Nick lifted up the Naruto guy by his armpits and led him round to Juana’s side of the couch. ‘Sorry, Lexi. Time and pragmatism and…all that.’

On the screen, the attic man wailed in existential terror as the chains were strapped on and his body ripped to pieces.

I watched, pretending to be rapt but really just hoping that Juana would suddenly sit up properly and say, it’s fine now, the hunger pangs have gone, how about we watch a lighter filmn?

Obviously, that didn’t happen.

Instead, Nick pushed the Naruto guy onto his knees and tried to fix the swaying head into a stable position on the arm of the couch. Satisfied, he lifted one of Juana’s hands and clamped it on the poor kid’s skull. She let out a strangled don’t again, but the proximity to live brain must’ve caused some instinctive reflex as her fingers sharpened into claws and those claws began the process of excavating the skull.

‘That’s it…easy…’ said Nick, as if he were helping her drink cough syrup.

Lexi watched long enough to see the first trickle of blood then stood up, accidentally kicked over her coffee cup, called the stain a vapid fuck and hurried out.

It was the same thing I should’ve done, I knew that…watching a guy get slowly murdered on a worn-in couch…murdered the way I almost had, at the claws of the same junkie demon…yet nothing moved…leg, arm, brain, neuron…nothing.

I just stood, a background guard, and watched the climax of Hellraiser.

The 80’s girl taking back the puzzle box.

Reversing the motions.

Deranged as the cenobites-

‘Don’t want…please…’

Juana’s voice broke the spell, pulling me back from the housse collapsing on screen.

Nick was attempting to push her head down towards the blood leak on the guy’s skull, but she was resisting, pushing her face into the lining of the couch.

‘Keni, get over here,’ shouted Nick, giving up on Juana and instead trying to push the head wound up to her mouth.

Then the memory hit.

Scattered, real.

The basement decor, Lexi golem, spiral clock, tied to a chair, blood dribbling down onto my eye…

I put the coffee on a non-existent table and shuddered as it smashed against the floor, then bumped off the couch arm on my way out to the corridor.

‘White piece of shit,’ yelled Nick after me, ‘a future serial killer,’ but the words merged with the Hellraiser end credits theme and then the STAFF ONLY door appeared and the next conscious thing I knew, felt, saw was my feet running across the road towards Lexi,  a disembodied voice asking her to wait up cos it was too much, I was coming too


Wind whistles from a simulated crack in the wall.

High-pitched yet distant shout of ‘Prospero!’

Faintest possible VR buzz from the stone floor.

Those were the sole recurring sounds as I lay on the rack, Lexi stretched out beside me, both of us staring up at the impressive ruin lines on the dungeon ceiling.

Home had been Lexi’s first choice.

Her bedroom.

Under the covers.

But Nightmare Castle had been just a few metres across the road and there weren’t many other people patched in at this time of night, on a weekday, so…

‘You want to read the Munich Manual?’ I asked, after another shout of Prospero from upstairs.


‘Call Lavinia?’



‘Not in the mood.’


We could tell her the guy who groped her is getting his brain eaten.

He was just in here half an hour ago.

I wonder if his whole brain’s gone.

Where exactly does she dump the bodies?

Those were the next thoughts up and every single one made me conceptually nauseous, yet…trauma-wise…nothing. Maybe it was delayed shock. Or the Kip incident from the other night. Or my two brain hybrid fuck up thing.

Or maybe I was a sociopathic piece of shit?

I looked down at Lexi’s hand, then her arm, then the pattern on her t-shirt. It should’ve been game-specific costuming, but we’d clearly been so frazzled that we’d forgotten to activate it. Which meant she was still wearing the same t-shirt as outside. The one Nick had given her in Lake Arrowhead. Xxun the Neutrino Alchemist, four year old alien with a plasma-spear and melon tits.

‘I should go back,’ she said, looking sideways.


‘But I can’t.’

‘Too far?’

‘I’m scared.’

‘Huh? Why?’

She held up her hand and sketched out an air circle with her fingers, framing something on the ceiling. ‘Irrational reasons.’


‘Beyond irrational.’

I put an arm across her stomach, vetoing the schismatic urge from my Id to slip it downwards, and stroked Xxun’s plasma spear instead. ‘Maybe we should go somewhere, just the two of us?’

Her arm swayed a bit, then came down onto my hand.

Rested there.

‘Where?’ she asked, finally, shifting her hand onto the cold stone of the slab.

‘Don’t know.’

‘Not LA.’

‘No, no…no way. Somewhere new. For both of us.’

The door at the top of the dungeon opened, followed by the inevitable sound of other player footsteps. We both sat up, running our hands along the rack, squinting at the ancient Sumerian text on the edges, then stopped immediately when the footsteps phased into the form of Nick, dressed in the same Bored Real Hard jacket as outside, telling us things were okay now, the procedure was done.

‘Done…’ muttered Lexi.

‘How did you know we were here?’ I asked, checking the steps behind him for a rejuvenated Juana.

‘Alien mysticism…magic…one of the two.’

‘Where’s Juana?’

‘It’s okay, you can both lie back down.’ He circled round the rack, stopping at the Iron Maiden, pressing his fingers on the tips of the interior spikes. ‘People really used to go inside this?’

‘Is she okay?’ prodded Lexi, moving herself in little pushes to the far end of the rack.

‘Well, that’s the question. She seems okay, but…it’s hard to know what effect my brain will have on her.’

It took a few seconds, but I eventually forced out a feeble, ‘what?’

‘I knew that would catch you. Yes, my brain. Nick Stahl the alien. Absolute fucking martyr of the hour.’

‘She ate it?’

‘Of course, it’s mostly your fault. Both of you. Lexi for pulling a hissy fit and you, Keni, for not helping me with that idiot kid. If you’d done that, and you’d both stayed, she probably would’ve felt okay about eating him. But as soon as you were gone, and it was just me…’

‘She didn’t eat him?’ asked Lexi, moving forward alongside the rack.

‘Nope. Not a crumb. Never seen someone bite so hard into a couch. Dude, it was fucking  crazy. Had to fix the kid purple-style and put him in the back alley. No Neo-Nazi’s walking by so…despite my misgivings…’

‘I thought your brain was too…’

‘Alien. Yes. It might still be. But she appears to be okay at the moment.’

‘I don’t get it,’ said Lexi, looking at Nick’s forehead.

‘Why I’m still talking without a brain? Well, that’s the funny thing. It turns out, actually, that she doesn’t need to eat the brain. Just suck in some of the vapour or nibble on specks.’


‘Tiny bits.’

‘But…if that’s right…why was she eating whole brains before? Why did she say she was gonna eat mine?’

‘I don’t know, Keni. Why does Malachi patch in to Arrowhead X every night and fuck Malina Weissman?’


The old perv from the playground?

I looked at Lexi, who didn’t get it either, though her face was a little brighter than before. She sat down on the rack and I joined her…then realized what Nick meant. I leaned into her ear, saying, ‘Juana’s like a drug addict, probably taking more than she physically needs. A lot more.’

‘Actually, she’s depressed,’ replied Nick, moving over to the crimson altar and picking up the Munich Manual. ‘The brain addiction is a consequence of that.’

‘Depressed about what?’

‘The caffé?’

‘Dude, I’m not the high priest of explanations. Or a human psychologist. But all that brain eating, feasting, risk-taking, whatever you wanna call it…was a suicide run, basically.’



Nick coughed, flicking through a few pages of the Manual. ‘Yeah, the root of it, no idea. Or some idea…that I can’t be bothered explaining. But I do know she’ll feel a lot better when we get her to Portland.’


‘Portland, dude. The four of us. Team Juana.’

I gauged Lexi’s hand reaction first, then her face. Maybe it was the comfort of the dungeon, but she seemed quiet serene. Jejune even. If that word meant what I thought it did.

‘No more one word questions, good. We’ll leave tomorrow. Soon as Juana’s capable.’ He placed the Munich Manual back on the altar and headed along my side of the rack back to the steps. ‘I’m putting Lifeforce on the big screen, if you wanna come back over?’

‘Actually, we were gonna head to Lexi’s place, try to get some-…’

‘Give us thirty more minutes,’ said Lexi, cutting me off.

‘You’ve got thirty-five.’

She offered back a monotone okay and watched him go up the steps, waiting for the sound of the door closing before turning round to the rack.

‘I like that filmn,’ she said, squeezing my fingers.

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