Prophet of Bones

A Novel

Ted Kosmatka; Read by Scott Sowers

Macmillan Audio

1
 

The Prophet set his nine-millimeter on the kitchen counter.
He leaned forward, bleeding hard into the sink, the only sound a rhythmic tap of blood on stainless steel. The blood struck in little dime-sized drops, bright red, gathering into a pool on the metallic surface. He hit the knob with the back of his hand and cold water swirled down the drain.
Behind him, feet crunched on spent shell casings as two men entered the room.
“My disciples,” the Prophet said. He did not turn. “I knew you’d find me here.”
But his disciples, for their part, remained silent. They pulled chairs out from the table and sat. They cocked their weapons. First one, then the other, making a point of it.
Somewhere in the house a TV blared daytime talk, or something like it—intermittent applause, and a deep male voice saying, She a damn lie, that baby don’t look nothing like me, and the crowd hooting and hollering its approval.
The Prophet splashed cold water on his face, trying to clear the blood from his eyes. Head wounds bled like a bitch. They always looked worse than they were. Well, not always, he thought. He remembered the guard at the lab and clenched his eyes shut, willing the image away. Sometimes head wounds were exactly as bad as they looked. Sometimes they fucking killed you.
The Prophet peeled loose his tattered white sweatshirt, revealing a torso lean, and dark, and scarred. Tattoos swarmed up both arms to his shoulders—gang symbols across his deltoids, a crucifix in the center of his chest. He wiped his face, and the shirt came away red. The Prophet was not a big man, but wiry muscle bunched and corded beneath his skin when he tossed his stained shirt across the room. He was twenty years old or a thousand, depending on who you asked. Who you believed.
The Prophet turned and regarded his faithful. A smile crept to his lips. “You look like you could use a beer.”
He walked to where the dead woman lay against the refrigerator. He kicked her body out of the way enough to open the door. Glass bottles clinked. “All they have is Miller,” he said, a kind of apology. Blood trailed across the yellow linoleum. Not his blood, he noted. Not this time. He carried three beers back to the table and collapsed into a chair.
His faithful did not smile. They did not reach for their beers. They sat in their dark suits and black sunglasses; they sat perfectly still and watched him. The first was young, blond, baby-faced. A white scar ran diagonally across his upper lip where a cleft lip had been surgically corrected in childhood. If anything, the scar made him more boyish. The one imperfection in an otherwise perfect face. He held his gun casually, arm resting on the table. His white shirt collar was open at the neck, black tie loosened. The second man was older, darker—all jaw, chin, and shoulders. The hired muscle of the pair. But Babyface was still the one to watch. The Prophet knew this at a glance.
“What’s your name?” he asked the blond.
“Does it matter?” the blond answered.
The Prophet shook his head. “I guess not.” Babyface was right after all. In heaven there would be no need for names, for all are known to the eyes of God.
“We’ve been looking for you for a long time, Manuel,” Babyface said.
The Prophet leaned back in his chair and took a long swig of beer. He spread his hands. “My followers,” he said. “You have found me.”
“You’ve cost a lot of money,” the blond continued. “Which is something our employer could forgive.” He took off his sunglasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. He looked up, and his eyes were a bright baby blue. “But you’ve also caused a lot of trouble, which is something he cannot.”
“I never asked forgiveness.”
“Then we’re agreed on the issue. None asked. None given.” The man’s pale eyes bore into him. He leaned across the table, pitching his voice low. “Tell me something, Manuel, just out of curiosity, between you and me, before this thing goes the way it’s gonna go—what the fuck were you thinking?”
The Prophet wiped a runnel of blood from his face. “I was called for this. You wouldn’t understand.”
“Oh, I suspect you got that right.”
The Prophet sipped his beer.
“So then where is it?” Babyface snapped, seeming to lose patience.
The Prophet didn’t answer.
“Come on, Manuel. We came such a long way. Don’t give us the silent treatment now.” He tapped the muzzle of the gun on the table.
“Our most holy is resting.”
“Most holy?” Babyface laughed and shook his head. “You know, I thought that bullshit was a joke when they told me.” He turned to his partner. “You hear this shit?”
But the muscle only stared, jaw clenched tight. Babyface turned back around. “Or maybe this is all just some game you’re playing. Some elaborate con that didn’t work out the way you wanted. I heard you’re one to play games.”
“No game,” the Prophet said.
“So you believe it?”
“I do.”
“Then you’re out of your mind after all.”
The TV droned on, filling the silence, the deep male voice cohering again from out of the background noise—I told you she was lying about it. I told you.
“Where is it?”
The Prophet lowered his eyes. “I laid him upstairs on the bed. It’s peaceful up there.”
Babyface nodded to his partner. The second man stood. “You don’t mind if we check, do you?” Babyface asked. The second man turned and disappeared up the stairs, taking them two at a time. His footfalls crossed heavily above them as he moved from room to room.
Babyface stared from across the table, his blue eyes deep and expressionless. The gun never wavered, held casually in a soft, pale hand.
The footfalls stopped.
The Prophet took another long pull from his beer. “I fed him every three hours, just like I was supposed to.”
“And did it matter?”
The Prophet didn’t respond. In the distance, the TV broke into applause again. Theme music, end of show. The footfalls crossed above them, slower this time, coming down the stairs. A moment later, the second man was back, carrying a dark form wrapped in a blanket. The bundle didn’t move.
The blond man flashed his muscle a questioning look.
“It’s dead,” the big man said. “It’s been dead.”
The blond turned to him. “It’s not your fault, Manuel,” he said. “Most of them die in the first few weeks. Sometimes their mothers eat them.”
The Prophet smiled. “He will rise again.”
“Perhaps he will,” Babyface said. “But I’d like to see that trick.” He raised his gun.
The Prophet took a final, cool swallow, finishing his beer. Blood dripped from his forehead and fell to the stained Formica table. He glanced around the room and shook his head. He saw broken dishes, stained wooden cabinets, dirty yellow linoleum. He looked at the dead woman, resolute in her silence. “Nothing good will come of this,” he prophesied.
“That’s where you’re wrong,” the blond man said. He smiled, and the old surgical scar curled his lip slightly. “This part will make me feel a whole lot better.”
“Though you strike me down, there will be other prophets after me. I won’t be the last.”
The muscle placed the body on the table, and the blanket opened at one end. A small, dark arm swung free of the blanket—a tiny distorted hand. A hand not quite human.
“I’ve got a secret for you,” Babyface said. “God hates His prophets. Always has.”
“God cannot hate.”
“That’s blasphemy,” the blond man said. He lifted the gun to Manuel’s face. “God is capable of all things.”
He pulled the trigger.

 
Copyright © 2013 by Ted Kosmatka