This story is also available for download from major ebook retailers.
Jaskey wasn’t nervous. He had his flashlight. He had a few things to say. The sky felt low to the ground, dark and hazy. People were coming too, and not too many. Jaskey had spent a week putting up handwritten flyers. Skin flaked off the back of his hands like scales. He tried to make the flyers look professional; he kept it short, not like the ravings of so many other latter-day pamphleteers. Time as told by the setting of the sun, every evening until he could perform no more, no admission charge but trade goods greatly appreciated, in the oldest part of the old town. Come and see, come and see. It was twilight and when the last of the indigo was leached from the sky, there was enough of a crowd to begin. Jaskey stepped onto the corpse of a vehicle—maybe it had been a very large SUV or a small Armored Personnel Carrier—and smiled out at the small crowd. His clothes were comfortably loose; dark against darker. The roll of his belly hung over a well-beaten pair of slacks. Jaskey turned on his flashlight; he stood up straight, his left foot ahead. He tilted the light under his own chin. There was a scattering of applause, and of other sounds—flesh against flesh anyway if not exactly palm against palm.
“I am a failure,” he said. “But it is the failure you should all fear. You must know this by now.” He could barely see the audience; they looked like underfed trees, all white branch and bone. “But with every failure, my friends,” Jaskey said, “with every failure my plans come ever closer to fruition. My machinations are nearly complete.” Jaskey’s voice was a growl from the diaphragm. He knew how to project; he’d picked the old parking lot because the ruined buildings surrounding it would help the acoustics, because they towered over the audience.
“There are armed men surrounding you,” he said. “Ready to rain down bullets, fire, bricks, dead cats ripe with buboes, letters by young women from all over this gray and ashen land that will break your very hearts!” He swung the flashlight; audience members flinched and flung up their arms to keep their eyes from the light.
“Do not be afraid,” Jaskey continued, “all is proceeding according to plan. You and I, we are the lucky ones! We have a special mission. The human race, a group to which….most of you belong—” he stopped and waited through the titters, “exists on the edge of oblivion today. I am here today to speak of humanity.