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It is common belief that Hector Lemans fell on the night Manuel Calavera came back to El Marrow after spending four years in exile. However this is a common misconception.

Hector was finished before Don Copal’s sprouting body hit his office floor-

Some believe even sooner.

Perhaps the day one Agent Limones looked up from his desk and realized something was wrong with the system he served.

Perhaps the day he decided to leave the company he worked for because he believed it was corrupt

Perhaps the day he made the ultimate decision to give his after-life to the soul purpose of undoing the conspiracy that was destroying the lives of so many innocent souls.

Whatever the exposition; Hector Lemans was finished that day, the hour, that minute, that second and that moment.

The final nail in the coffin, so to speak, was the night Manuel Calavera decided to shoot three sproutella darts into a greenhouse sprinkler system.

That was the night when the public believed it was over- the corruption, to put it, was dead.

Yet, and as I know, they’d have been wrong



*


Night broke.

And the first light of day hatched upon the city of Nuevo Marrow.

An empty highway stretched out of the concrete jungle lit with its foliage of neon lights, the buildings and streets shadows creeping back to sleep until night came again.

But the night yet to come would be different.

A single car came along the middle of the highway into the city; strange as only one car would leave in the dead of night and come back in the hours of dawn; and it would be assured that if two men went in that car only one would return.

Of course it was different to the usual car that was seen on other nights on the highway.

The sun rose to shine off the roof of the car; and showed inside the person driving; one person as always.

But not the same person as always.

And so it was confirmed; judgment had come to Mr. Hector Lemans.

The city was silent for once; the neon lights seemed to fade and die as the sun rose into the sky; its face now looking at Nuevo Marrow rather than turning its cheek to look elsewhere. There was no disgrace left in its face now. The buildings once that littered the sky as they stretched to the heavens so that they could pierce the stars from view were now belittled and shrinking as swallowed by their own shadows. Nuevo Marrow was fading; the little car far below driving along the center of the highway. No-one stopped it, yet there were people now in the streets along the side of the highway as there hadn’t been in years. Morning had woken them from the perpetual slumber of casinos, of gambling, of crime.

The night of Nuevo Marrow had passed.

It was morning in El Marrow.

And the light of day shone for all to see those who were innocent and those of whom to blame; men in black suits and sunglasses who once hid in the realms of nights and in the darkness of their heart’s greed were thrown into the light. The stained city basked in the glory of a new day; the Day of the Dead was over and yet here the celebrations had begun. People screamed from their alleys, others opened windows; the city that had once glared monstrously in the deep midnight now shone radiant as the colors of brick and concrete and glass were seen on every skyscraper. Cries all different and yet all the same and combined into a single chorus; a chorus of acclamation stating the end of it all:

The end of crime

The end of corruption

The end of conspiracy

All of these many things that had once began as small kindling flickering beneath papers and sticks that had began to set light and in the end engulfed the city in the chaos of smoke and flame and ember of evil deeds and evil men were now gone and extinguished in three little words; words that came from the fleshless mouths of the citizens of El Marrow:

Hector is sprouted!

And as this words were shouted, whispered, cried, hissed and sighed with; Carman Cashino listened from his room balcony and within his mind he knew the truth of it all…

It wasn’t meant to be this way

And that car disappeared in front of the crowd that now covered the empty highway and with their city rejoiced the day that would last forever.


*


Hector is sprouted!

Carman knew as the world of the citizens began their celebrations of relief and joy over the death-in-death of the city’s ruthless crime lord; his underworld was in collapse and decay- all those involved in Hector’s scheming and plotting of whom had hid behind his bulking shadow had nowhere to hide and no way to control Nuevo Marrow.

One reason was that Nuevo Marrow was no more.

Hector Lemans had taken the city of El Marrow into his great skeletal hands and manipulated it into a dying carcass of darkness and the desire of all those who wish to fritter away their afterlife in crime and dirt. However only Hector had the master key, the master way of doing such corruption; his ascent showed how good he was- also the toll of those who opposed him was considerably ascending to; Hector alone had control of El Marrow and all its resources and citizens. In fact Hector was El Marrow; or more Nuevo Marrow of which he recalled it after it was thrown under his spell.

Take Hector away…the city would collapse into what now Carman saw.

All for a whim-

All for Agent Manuel Calavera.

Hector had hounded Calavera from the moment he had escaped his gun in the Department of Death; no-one escaped Hector it was a mocking insult as well as a death sentence. To those of who worked closely with Hector they believed he was obsessed with the destruction of one simple soul; he sent agents to hunt down this Calavera including his ‘top-man’ Domino Hurley.

Hurley’s decapitation and Calavera’s lucky second-escape from his hit-men in Puerto Zapato had only intensified Hector’s desperate longing to spout Calavera.

Yet in the end, who should walk out of the Meadow alone? Manuel Calavera; dressed in the robes of the dead and wielding a weapon Hector had so long used to dispose of those he wished.

Ironic, that’s what Carman thought.

More to the concern of Carman Cashino right now was not Manuel Calavera; the man would rather have settled his grievances with Hector than clear the rest of the villainous scum from the streets of El Marrow. It was said Calavera had an obsession of his own; Mercedes Colomar. Another story that rose from the streets of the city of a love within death that finally brought the greatest conspirator in the Eight Underworld to the floor of his own mausoleum in a flurry of petals and leaves.

In any case Carman now looked upon the elusive Lost Souls’ Alliance with a little more concern than he did in the past. In the past they had been a nuisance, a thorn in the side of the city. Yet they were a lost cause; outnumbered before Salvador Limones had even approached the secretary of the DOD about joining a resistance group. Of course Carman was assigned in bringing in the LSA members and executing them for safe measures; Hector was paranoid and many were sprouted uselessly under suspicion of being members of this ‘secret organization’.

However on the night of Manuel Calavera’s return; their entire operation was put into motion and brought down some of Hector’s greatest associates and wealthiest gangsters of the city. Some would say they succeeded in their task; Hector died again that night. Yet they had losses; in the end the traitor would aid Hector in not only sprouting several agents but also the Head of their organization. Betrayal was not just the way of spies and agents but also women.

Without Hector’s pivotal leash on the local police forces and the LSA rising finally to the streets of El Marrow; those with Hector were in a bit of a situation.

Carman Cashino included.

The city was alight once more with the fires of calling for justice and security; throwing out those who had destroyed the name of El Marrow. The once layered underworld of crime was now being hauled into the sunlight for all to see; and the LSA and the police forces swooped down on them like predators ripping at the already dead flesh. The hollow and shrouded mind of Hector Lemans made reality into his twisted city was gone now; split and now it was a city dangerous to even hold a gun.

How tables turned overnight.

However Carman knew that it would take those who held the torch of justice to really rub clean the stains upon the city, though Hector’s empire would collapse, those of his associates could sneak into the lowest and filthiest corners of the city undetected and continue to influence from afar what petty crime they could.

But in El Marrow there was no serious employment left for Carman Cashino.

With Hector gone the hit-men would fade out and attempt to either escape the new hand of the law or to change their ways of which would end at the mercy of the LSA; little justification can be given for senseless murder of the dead. The questions asked were that of idiocy in Carman’s mind: Why do these people work to kill for a single man, why join him? And yet this was hypocrisy-

-If Hector called upon your service, whatever you did, you did it.

Or join the fields.

Even the citizens who now frowned at the papers and condemned the criminals could not be so easily forgiven; in the nights of Nuevo Marrow you lived an afterlife with fear.

Only one man lived in Nuevo Marrow without that fear coursing through his long-dead marrow; the one that made it.

Carman stood now from the balcony and sighed into the dead air of the new city; he’d never really known El Marrow; it must have been like this once. For so long the city had decayed like an old tree and yet now it had blossomed again in the morning sun as it had always.

And beneath the tree, the ants scurried and fled to either a new tree or into their darkest tunnels.

Except Carman; it seemed after all- life was to short.

Even death.

*


She’d never looked so beautiful.

All in white; her dress, her veil, her very bones shone in the radiance of the sun through the open doors of the chapel.

In life she must have been beautiful too, yet both bride and groom never spoke of former life when skin had covered their bare bones. And yet somehow she looked so beautiful in death as well. And this day when the two had come to engrave their love in a ceremony she radiated her beauty like the stars above.

Guests turned to face her as she came and all seem to applaud in their skulls and watch in bated silence. Music was the only emotion here as it poured from the Chapel organ and announced the coming of a complete heart.

Annette, though she had a father who stood beside her, looked so alone in her beauty, as she took the steps in little white shoes towards her love.

Towards Louis Hoeven.

Yet already this ceremony was shrouded in lies, marriage was meant to be a final joining of truths and lies were meant to be buried along with other devotion towards others in love. But here it was another lie-

She thought she was walking to her love, her man Louis Hoeven.

Yet walking towards Carman Cashino was Annette Landsby.

However despite changing his life, Carman still thought she looked beautiful.

Who said love was for the living?

Finally after an eternity in the sun, on that red-carpeted aisle she finally took her place by his side and they held hands; it seemed the same.

But to them it was like they’d never met; he’d never seen her in white.

Her father dropped back beside his own wife, there was no bridesmaids or such that would follow the bride on her journey down the aisle. Her steps weighing the toll of freedom and her love for this man; a man of which she didn’t know his true name.

But Carman was used to being Louis Hoeven by now, in fact he liked it.

And so no-one followed down that empty aisle now from the bride’s side-

-but someone from the groom’s side did.

A shadow came across that aisle changing its color from a radiant red to a dark scarlet and light from the open doors scattered across the chapel.

Bride and groom turned, and here again they were not complete.

Her empty sockets looked with curiosity at this uninvited guest,

His with fear of the past, and how it reared its ugly head again.

The shadowed stranger was a man, dressed for a funeral that was meant to be a wedding. The light shone on the back of his skull so his emotionless face was darkened; there was little much else to describe, except something in his hand.

It was folded up and as moved in his hand it gave out a curved sliver of light.

A scythe.

The music stopped, there was nothing now, not even the song of the dead birds that shrouded round the chapel- they must have gone elsewhere.

Like Carman wished he could, and for once not for his own sake.

The aisle carpet grew even darker as four more shadows stretched across it, and in came four new people all dressed in black and ready for the slow and somber tune of a funeral. Again, there was only one detail to note;

All held guns.

The chapel doors closed, the light was shut out. Well not all the light; some came from bursts of fire that ejected a bullet from its barrel. And there was sound now too, the screams of men and women chorused by the unchanging pitches of the gun-fire.

And so; it seemed only those five people were dressed appropriately for the occasion.

*


Carman breathed; he didn’t need to but force of habit from living days.

He also smelt in the fabric of that aisle carpet; it was new still had the intoxicating feel of being made straight from the machine.

All he could see out of empty sockets was the ceiling ahead; wooden beams exposed for a nice touch to main hall, strange symbols that would have meant something to a religious man only spelt one thing for Carman;

Doom.

And silence, silence in the leaves, no weeping, no screams, no pleads anymore; flowers did not speak. He couldn’t get up, his bones felt broken beyond belief and the scent real plants gave him was disturbing.

Footsteps, the silence was broken, coming nearer to him. A fine shoe on the aisle, the vibrations as it molded in its imprints for a second on the carpet and then came to a halt near him.

He couldn’t focus on the face, just the white of a skull.

The voice however fixed that certainty who it really was:

“You know…I wished it hadn’t come to this” said the voice,” You see, we all have dreams like this sometimes; dreams of women in white and rings of gold and of course the classic happy-ever-after” A soft chuckle; not mocking more a sigh.

“However, before we can reach that happy-ever-after as you well know- we all have a job to do” the voice continued,” And whatever that job maybe, whether it be the job of a lawyer, a politician even the man who serves food we all have to finish that job, we all have to complete the task otherwise we have not completed our purpose before death” again a chuckle,” And you may say my old friend, that yes I’ve surpassed death, but yet still we learn we have a task yet to complete; we complete our task in life, and yet we must go on to complete that in death- you had a job, and in many ways a doomed job”

Carman tried to move, had they removed the bones of his legs? The voice went on, never ceasing and always as it did; in the same friendly philosophical approach-

“The job of a killer is one of which fascinates us all- that job can never be over; especially if you’re good at that job. Forever the ones we kill, per say, always have others in the background who will grieve and through bloody fist to get back at that killer. We live by the law of going on till eventually we either are killed, or we kill the one who kills; ourselves. Yet I have to say my friend; you broke that law”

The philosophy was over; the point had emerged; a final point.

“Do not think to badly of yourself though, because in a way you will get to answer my favorite question. One that had always haunted me ever since I came to this place; and in the past we have shared this speculation you and I. Perhaps the answer to why we die even though we are dead; but at last at least one of our minds will be at ease…”

A pause, a slight movement as a jacket was flapped aside and something was pulled out from the darkness within; a click above Carman of something he was so familiar to.

“So, old friend; answer this question” the voice asked,” what lies beyond a veil of flowers?”

A shot fired.

And Carman could no longer answer, pain swept through his bones like he had never known; he felt like something dark was growing within him, could feel the deep vines of his own greed and vileness; the sins of his life sprouted and he could feel the slow, oh so slow growth of his own death-within-death.

He went blind, though he didn’t think the petals of his mind had burst through yet.

And so darkness took him, consumed here on what had begun as the happiest day of his life, now became a day where the sins of his past finally broke through his soul’s bones and shattered him.

Love had abandoned him.

But the past had not.

To be continued…

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