Art by Free-Photos from Pixabay .
From the author: Raw, lightly edited chapters 1—3 of Suite and Sour, the sequel to Bitter Suites, a 2018 Bram Stoker Awards® finalist.
Chapter One: Pop Rocks
“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection.’” The reverend emphasizes resurrection by slamming his fist on the pulpit. I see why he got excommunicated. The guy has Baptist passion. That kind of fervor makes the religious bureaucrats get all nervous. I give a whoop along with everyone else.
“He didn’t say resurrection with an expiration date. He didn't say resurrection with contingencies and regulations!” Pastor Thomas smacked the pulpit hard and I wondered if it hurt. Someone told me crazy people can’t feel pain. He did look crazy.
His eyes were all glittery and wild. When he really got going he shot little spit sprays out into the congregation. That’s why I’m here. Crazy people are good for business. I give another whoop with the crowd and throw in some amens. I’m not buying what he’s selling, but I am all about being his supplier.
“Jesus says—and listen close Flock—in John 3:3 He says ‘Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” Pastor Thom pauses for effect, letting tension build in the room. "And we can only be born again by dying. The flesh must die to live again."
The guy has got them hooked. Honestly, I hope Killian and Yoshiko never hear a sermon because they’d probably replace me. The amens start building up in the room. Everyone starts waving their hands in the air and rocking back and forth in their chairs. As they crescendo, he continues in a soft voice. Everyone hushes to hear.
“Jesus didn’t say ‘resurrection' for awhile, while convenient and on a schedule. It's written down for all to read in John 11:25. He gives a promise, guaranteed by the Holiest of Holies that if we die we will be resurrected and never die. But... we must let the flesh die.”
The room is dead silent except for some praise whispers and sniffing. There were people actually crying over this stuff. Thom is awesome. He turns around and takes a wine bottle and a fancy glass from a little box and sets in on the pulpit in front of him. A wave of electricity shudders through the room and even the sniffles stop.
“Who is ready to crucify these bodies of sin so that we would no longer be slaves to it? Romans 6:6.” He unscrews the bottle and pours into the glass. Gorgeous red flows with some kind of extra, technicolor vibrancy I can’t explain. It could be ‘cause I know what’s in it—what it does—but it doesn’t take the magic away.
Everyone else feels the same way. We all lean forward, eyes fixed on that glass, licking our lips. I’m doing it too and I know I’m not even having any. As much as I like to indulge, I already died once today and I’m here on business.
Preacher Thom picks up the glass with a fancy little hand towel and stands in front of the pulpit. He doesn’t need to say a word. Everyone knows what to do. All the raucous amens have died out and the only sounds are the shuffles of people moving and someone trying to cry in silence—and failing.
I watch the sheep line up and I can’t help feeling a little jealous. I’m not all about the church-y stuff but I totally get why they are here… why they cry and yell. This is the most holy thing I’ve ever done. All my life I’ve just been that nameless guy no one remembers. No purpose, no future. That all changed the day I set foot through these doors. Not this exact room, of course. I mean the lobby doors upstairs. I get what it means to die so that I can live.
The first woman is drinking from the cup. She’s trying to look all polite while being greedy. He has to kind of pull it away from her while she tries to follow with her lips. She kind of does a fish face kiss for a second that cracks me up. He nods at her to move on, and she does. She knows she had enough. She sits down to wait.
It doesn’t take long for the line to be done. The congregation isn’t huge. There’s still so much controversy about sustainable death it keeps people away. Mostly people are afraid, and that makes them stupid. Stupid people do stupid things. Scared, stupid people try to ruin it for the rest of us. Kudos to these guys for not being stupid.
After everyone has a sip, they scatter around the room, praying and crying. Some pull out blankets and lay down against the wall. This wasn’t their first time and they were prepared. The pastor looked at me, sitting alone, and comes over.
“I saw you here last month and you didn’t take the sacrament then either,” he said. “Do you fear being born again?” I couldn’t help snorting a little.
“Oh, absolutely not," I tell him. "I’ve resurrected more times than anyone in here. I’m kind of an aficionado.” The guy has that look on his face that means he doesn’t believe me. I notice Pastor Thom’s name tag has a piece of black tape over where the church name should be. Doesn’t matter to me. I’m here on business.
“I’ve got something you want.” I’ve been holding a tiny vial of black glass with a silicone plug all through the service. I open my hand and let him see it. He doesn’t say a word, but I know he knows what that is. Everyone on the planet knows what that is. He asks anyway.
I just nod, close my hand on it and sit back. The ball’s in my court now. Across the room, I see the first woman in line is starting to go. She’s laying on her side holding her sides and panting. Her eyes are getting that lovely, glazed look which means her mind is starting the dark slide to everywhen. I love that feeling. It’s better than sex… like I think it must be.
“Why do you have it? Are you… donating it?” He glances behind him to see how his flock is doing. The woman I was watching has just started to convulse. Pink and red foam is squeezing from between her clenched teeth and it reminds me of sunset. I should be a poet. I get some weird ideas. He turns back around and I shake my head no.
“As much as I’d like to donate to your noble cause, I can’t. It’s not mine.” I pause for effect. He’s not the only one that can keep the tension going. No one plays a junkie like a junkie.
“But I can get you as much as you need whenever you need it.”
He exhales, rubs his top lip and turns back to look at the congregation again while he thinks. The room is in quiet chaos. Some of the members are curled into tight balls of pain, crying jaggedly into their pillows. A few are all out puking. They were prepared with bags, so it’s not as gross as it sounds. A man two aisles back is hyperventilating under the pew. His breathing amps up to a panicked storm and then just stops. He made it through.
“Look, the resuscitators are going to be in here soon to get your people back up, and I’ll need to go.” I start making moves like I’m gathering myself to leave. He puts his hand on my arm.
“Look, you say as much as I need whenever I want it. Does this mean even… without restrictions?” I grin. Hooked.
“Rev, you can have your holy sacrament every damn Sunday if you want. If your congregation can pay, I can deliver.”
The reverend's eyes are shining like he sees his savior walking across water—I guess that’d be me, but on carpet. The room has fallen mostly silent with just some muffled retching here and there. I hold the little vial out in my open palm. We both just look at it. I don’t get into the religion thing, but here’s something we can both give a hallelujah for. I hear doors and I know the resuscitators are coming. I press the vial into his hand and give it a squeeze.
“It’s a gift. Try it out, see what you think.” I pull a cheap burn phone out of my pocket and put it in his other hand. “Let me know if you want to amp up your worship schedule. My number is in there.”
He’s just grinning like a cat, all teeth and sly looks. I kind of get the creeps from him… but now the resuscitators are in the room and I gotta go. I stand up and start slinking out.
“Hey, you know you aren’t supposed to be here!” Killian walks across the room, grabs me by the scruff of my jacket and starts steering me out. “How many times do I have to eject you, you little shit?” He spins me around to face him. We both know that’s my cue to give him a status report.
“You won’t see me again, don’t worry. I’ve got everything I need.” A blush of warmth hangs at the edge of Killian’s lips before his look gets all icy again. We’ll all be partying later.
“Good, I’m tired of seeing you.” Killian steers me the rest of the way through the lobby and tosses me into the street. I waved at Azrael as I passed and she was pissed. Good, bitch.
“Next time I catch you in here I’ll break you so bad no amount of nanos will fix you!” He yells that for Azrael’s benefit, I know. I flip him off and scuff away like my feelings are hurt.
I can play the underdog. I’d been one all my life and that part suits me. No one watches the underdog. Meanwhile the mutt is sneaking meat off the table and pissing in the corner. That’s me now. I have everything I want for the first time in my life and I am pissing on everything else.
No one plays a junkie like a junkie, and the Bitter Suites had made an army of us. We crave a better life through death. Only now… I supply the junk. Game over, Azrael. In my pocket, my phone buzzes. I don’t have to look at it to know who it is.
“So, when you say there’s no limit, you mean we can actually bypass the 30 day cool down with your product?” Hooked and set.
“Dude, I die every day. Our stuff has no cool down and I’m doing fine. I do it almost every day.” There was a pause on the other end. I thought maybe he was weighing my words but then I heard him rattle paper.
“Okay, we would like to purchase your product. We have 12 parishioners that can pay. The church has some money set back we can use for those who can’t—and is there a discount for bulk?”
“I’m on it,” I said. “I’ll get you some prices and then we’ll figure out delivery. Welcome to being born again on your time table, reverend.” Hallelujahs and praise Jesus came through the phone like holy static.
Hooked, set and netted.
Chapter Two: Absinthe Minded
Killian opened the office door to a shower of glass and liquor. He ducked back into the hallway.
“Now the Resurrectionists!” Azrael’s voice was shrill and edged with rage.
Killian opened the door again, and peeked through. The potent smell of licorice hit him first. A smashed Pontarlier lay spread across the carpet in a glittering puzzle. Cautiously, he peeked his head around the door.
Azrael sat behind her desk, seething. An overturned bowl of sugar lumps scattered across the leather surface, melting into the splatters of wet. Azrael was usually neat to the point of being mental. This was bad. He stepped in, avoiding the broken glass, and closed the door behind him.
“Is something wrong?” It was the understatement of the decade, but he was treading on potentially dangerous ground. He couldn’t think of anything that could shake the impeccable Azrael to this much emotion… except maybe discovering her right hand man was stealing her tech. He glanced at the window and wondered if he’d break anything if he had to make a jump out. He wasn’t afraid of her physically, but it never hurt to have an escape plan always.
“Yes, Killian. Something is wrong.” She slapped both hands on her desk and stood up. Without meaning to, Killian took a step back to press against the door. He could feel the knob pressing into his hip, and he tensed himself to make use of it.
“The fucking Resurrectionists...canceled!” She emphasized the word canceled by smacking the overturned bowl off the desk. It scattered across the smoke and cream colored carpet, tossing out fragments of sugar like rice at a wedding. She pointed her finger in the air, stabbing at him.
“And you didn’t stop the little freak from getting in!” She gave a growling shriek and slammed both fists into the sticky mess that was her workspace. “This is the fifth one. How does he get past you goons?”
“The Resurrectionists…? The church group?” Killian’s brain was leaping in two directions at once. One line of thought was to avoid Azrael’s wrath and abandon ship as fast as possible. She had found him out and it was time to be happy with what he had and get out before the authorities turned him into bio-fuel.
The second line of thought was realizing she was angry at the Resurrectionists and he was out of the direct line of fire. His secret little set up was safe for the moment. His synapses were all going off at once, making connections.
Their death junkie dealer meet up with the church group last Sunday to assess their interest in his product. From what he understood, a sale had been made and Yoshiko had been hard at work all week replicating nano-meds and fulfilling orders. It all clicked and he regained control of the situation.
“The Resurrectionists.... canceled? Why would they? This is the only place they can carry out their doctrine. Their whole damn belief system was built on your nano-tech!” His usual helpful self, he bent over to retrieve some of the larger shards of glass, uprighted the waste can and dumped them in.
“It’s that little freak that keeps getting in. Five times we’ve caught him sneaking in to contact our top clients. Five top clients have suddenly canceled!” That seemed to be her hot button word, because she smacked the open bottle on her desk off and onto the carpet. Killian could hear the liquor inside gurgling out. He glanced over to see a nasty green stain spreading and then back at Azrael. Her angelic face was twisted into a snarl.
“He fucking stole from me. That’s what happened. He came in here playing up like an idiot and I took pity on him. I should have just left him there, permanently dead. How could I be so blind.”
All her anger eked out with the last of her words, deflating her tantrum. She sat back down, slumping into her chair. “This was my father’s dream… to a point. It became my dream when I saw how much good it could do.” She looked up at Killian, her long lashes damp from tears. “Now it may be out there, wrecking everything.”
“What do you mean, wrecking everything?” Killian resumed his clean up by picking up the near empty bottle. Everything had a glaze of stickiness on it. The carpet was probably going to have to be replaced, but he didn’t think this would be the best time to mention it. “That was five clients, relax. People aren’t going to stop lining up. Bitter Suites will still have plenty of business.”
“It’s not the money. It’s the nano-meds… I know you don’t know how they work, but there’s a reason I limit the sessions to once a month. I’m not just being a bitch. Renewing too fast can create… problems.”
Killian set the bottle down on the desk. “What kind of problems?” He kept his face blank, but this sounded like info he may need to pass on to Yoshiko. She was really good at working with bio-tech. If there was a problem, she could fix it.
“It’s complicated… and I don’t even know if it’s a real danger. Just something my father worried about. It’s the reason he tried to suppress all this. It’s not worth talking about.” She looked up at him with intensity, took a deep breath and morphed before his eyes into her usual, composed self. It was like watching a machine.
“He hated this idea.” She waved her hand around in the air. “Tried to forbid it. He was a genius with no vision—the worst kind.”
“What happened to him?” Killian hoped to lead the conversation back to the nano-med problem, but Azrael’s moment of weakness had passed, and with it, his opportunity.
“He died, conveniently.” Azrael stood up again, looking at Killian with narrowed eyes. “I trust you, Killian. Of everyone that works for me, you understand better than most how important it is to… progress. Sometimes shortsighted… moralities… have to be ignored in the name of progress.” Killian nodded, wondering where she was going.
“Sacrifices have to be made for the greater good.” She stared at Killian until he nodded. “Good, we have an understanding then. We need to make sure that thief never steals from me again. We need to find him and assess the damage he may have already caused, and then shut him down. He acts like a fool, but apparently there’s a lot more there than meets the eye. I underestimated him.” Killian picked up the spilled sugar bowl and started sweeping broken lumps off the desk into it. Azrael leaned over and placed her hand over his, stopping him.
“Killian, next time that freak comes in here, I want you to bring him to me—discreetly of course.” Killian nodded again, uncomfortable with the venom he detected in her voice. Perhaps they had underestimated her as well. “First he’s going to tell me how he did it, and then we will make sure he never does it again.”
She gripped his hand, digging her nails into his skin. For a few seconds, the uncharacteristic rage he’d just witnessed revisited, twisting her pretty face into something demonic. Just as suddenly, she regained her composure. Placid calm dropped over her features like a porcelain mask.
“You shouldn’t see me like this. Go on with what you were doing, but the next time he doesn’t leave this building… ever.”
Killian nodded again, and exited without another word. He walked down the hall, keeping his expression placid, but his mind was speeding through all the potential scenarios that could result from this. He rubbed his hands across his pants but it did little good. He’d have to wash his hands of this mess.
He had gotten them all in a sticky situation for sure… one that had nothing to do with spilled absinthe.
Chapter Three: Poptarts
Killian wanted to meet, so there I was, standing outside a bunch of Scroo-Boos, waiting. I know I sound like a prude, but sex booths gross me out. I get that there's nothing wrong with using them, efficiency and all that, but I still felt a little awkward hanging out there. Someone was going to think I was pervy. A guy walked up to the booth I was leaning on. He already had his PaID ready to go in one hand. He looked at me, eyebrows raised.
“You using it?” he asked. I shook my head.
“Nope. Just waiting for a friend.” As soon as I said it, I realized I did sound pervy. I shrugged. “Go ahead.”
He twisted up his lip, like I grossed him out, and walked into a booth halfway down the line instead. Fine by me, I really didn't want to listen to some guy relieving his pressure valve while I waited anyways. Seriously, don’t think I’m a prude. No judgement, just personal preference.
Of course I've used one. I'm not a kid. They just didn't really do it for me. Sex is okay but it’s so… momentary. A build up and then—poof! Game over. Like this guy: get off and get back to work. Nothing was changed..
For me, dying was a much better way to relieve tension. Nothing like going there and back again to align my life. Of course I’ve thought about what if I don’t come back one day, sure. But I always do. The risk is worth the reward. I’m no clocking punching plebe—I absolutely live.
I checked my phone. Killian was late and no message. The clouds hung low overhead, sticky and damp. They reminded me of a story my mom told me when I was a kid about three brothers that killed a giant to make the world.
It was a pretty gruesome story, as I thought about it now. The brothers used all of him. His teeth became mountains, his bones stuck into the earth to be a forest of giant trees. They pulverized his flesh and spread it across the empty world for dirt. His veins ran through it as silver and gold to be dug up later. His heart was the best part—they buried it in the center of the land and it was the most fertile soil of all. “That's why they call this the Heartland,” my mom had said. “We live in the Heart, where the love is.”
My mom fancied herself some kind of hippie wise woman, but she hadn’t been wise enough to realize there’s no room in the world for that kind of stuff. All her love and joy talk got buried, like her mythical Heartland, under the never ending urban sprawl. Like my mystery dad… like anything good except death.
The brothers set up the giant’s skull to be the dome of the sky. His thoughts still raced in his head as clouds. I looked skyward again at the smoggy haze that spit watered down acid on us. He must be in a shitty mood. Damp, grey thoughts raced above and below, and I shook my own skull to clear mine.
Despite what everyone thinks of me, I’m a go-getter. Killian and Yoshiko know it. They trust me to move their product and I do—almost more than Yoshiko can make. I should get a tattoo of the Grim Reaper because I deal in death. I took out the notebook I always carry and jotted it down.
Killion walked up at the other end of the booths. He looked at me significantly before stepping inside. Hesitant, I moved toward him, looking casual. I strolled down the line as if reading the advertisements. I paused in front of the booth Killian had vanished into as if suddenly really into reading the sanitation policy. Above it was a photo of two girls that looked alike, kissing. Play with the Sweet Tart Twins it said in hot pink letters. That’s really disgusting. If they’re twins, they’re sisters. Just gross.
Embarrassed, I slipped inside when I felt like no one was looking. Killian filled up the tiny space. He was wearing the bulky plastic masterviewer googles. The adjustable vagina in the wall was undulating like a hungry parasite. This just gets creepier, I thought.
“What are we doing in here?” I asked. The whole situation was off-putting. Killian was too close, he occupied too much space. I could smell his sweat. The vagina seem to fill up the rest of the booth. I was trying to not look at the bubblegum pink thing as it pulsated, but it kept winking at me. I was out of my element.
Killian took off the goggles and handed them out to me. “Want to check it out? Twins…”
“Um… no. That’s disgusting. If they’re twins that’s incest. Incest is gross.” Killian let the goggles drop to the floor. Tiny female voices moaned, which just added to the weirdness of all of this. “Why are we meeting in a Scroo-Boo? Why not just on the street?” I asked.
“We’re meeting here because I don't want anyone to see us. Give me your burn phone for a sec.” He held out his hand and I gave him my disposable phone. It's the phone Yoshiko gave me when they first took me in.
“What do you need it for?” I asked.
He dropped it on the ground next to the goggles and stepped on it with his heel. The cheap thing shattered under the pressure. “I’m going to burn it,” he said.
“No! I was waiting for client calls! I don’t remember their contacts.” I tried to bend over to pick up the big pieces but I couldn’t without snuggling up against Killian—that wasn’t happening on any day, let alone one where a hunk of sex silicon was making nasty kiss noises. Killian did bend over. I flattened myself against the booth wall and tensed. He picked up the smashed phone with his finger tips. It dangled, a web of plastic shards and wire.
“The twins will like this,” he said. He shoved the broken phone into the vagina and the vacuum suction, as advertised outside the door, did the rest. My client contacts were slurped up by a robot vagina. On the floor, the tiny twin voices started moaning louder. I was never visiting one of these things again. What else was shoved up in there?
“Why did you do that? I was waiting on calls,” I said.
“Not anymore,” said Killian. “You’re fired.”
The tiny screen above the vagina lit up, offering to go on for a fee. Killian hit continue. The twins were there, licking their lips and flashing me peeks under their skirt. I couldn't understand Killian’s words.
“I'm on fire? Cuz I just sold a church and a horror club on monthly deliveries. The club wants it to be a social event at one of their conferences. So you mean on fire…” I laughed, a nervous twitter considering that I was crowded into a one-man sex booth with the guy that made me feel emasculated on a good day.
“No, sorry. Not on fire, but actually fired.” Killian leaned back, giving up a bit of space between us. “You’re doing great, you really are. You helped us move a whole lot of product for sure. But we have to cut you loose.”
“What? Why? What the hell?” I sputtered and tripped over my tongue. “I don't ask for much. I'm happy with free samples.” A thought popped into my head—an explanation.
“I haven't been skimming, if that’s what you think. I can account for every trip I’ve sold. Look!” I groped in my pocket and pulled out my wrinkled little notebook. “I have notes! I kept track of accounts. You can't fire me—it's a mistake.”
Killian looked really sad. I kind of got the feeling that maybe he did like me despite the tough guy act.
“Look guy, you’ve been made. Azrael knows her tech has gotten out and she blames you. Too many aggressive sales. Your face is on too many cameras. We can't be associates.”
“You can't just cut me off,” I sputtered. “I can stay away from the Suites. I'll get new territory. She'll never see me again.”
“She better not,” said Killian. “If she does, I'm supposed to kill you. Azrael’s words.” Only Killian could say something so cold so casually.
“Azrael said that? To kill me? I referred her so much business. I left good reviews. No one ever takes time to leave a review. Ungrateful bitch!”
“Look, I like you. I really do, but this gig is over. Go find a new scam. We can't keep you.” Killian scared me, but being cut off from the only thing that made life worth living scared me more. I shoved Killian in the chest with both hands.
“No! No freaking way. You can't just drop me—” My sentence was cut short when the asshole just up and punched me in the mouth. My head snapped back, bouncing off the Scroo-Boo wall. My eyes rolled around in their sockets for a few seconds before they flooded over.
“Argh... why?” I asked through the hand cupping my mouth. Killian leaned forward, closed the tiny gap between us and spoke low in my ear.
“We can do this the easy way or the hard way. You choose. I like you but this is business. Do we agree?”
“No!” I sobbed. I was still holding my mouth. It was flooded with tangy blood. “I got nothing else, dude—please!” My world was disintegrating and every good thing in it was crushed underneath his heel and fed to a fake vagina.
“I was really hoping it wouldn't come to this,” Killian said. He leaned closer, further violating my personal space. I felt a prick at my throat and saw a glint of steel from the corner of my eye. It took me a second to realize what he was doing, but even when it clicked I didn’t believe it.
The blade slipped in the hollow under my Adam's apple, quiet and quick. I barely felt it. I tried to say something, but all that came out was a gurgle. Blood and drool ran down my chin. I heard a whistle and wheeze and realized that was me. I groped at my throat to feel the blade embedded there. My hand closed over Killian’s.
“No resuscitators this time,” Killian said. “Sorry.” He leaned forward as if to kiss me on the side of my head and pushed the blade in deeper. I felt a crunch in the back of my head. Small flecks of black swarmed my vision at the edge like a tunnel. I was confused, disoriented… it was surreal. I looked into Killian's eyes. They were a weird blue, like a cartoon.
We just stared at each other for a few seconds like that and then he looked away. He leaned in slightly, giving the blade a last push. Something popped in my head and my legs collapsed. I lay with my face on the floor and from down there I could really hear the twins. They were telling me how good I was and to give it to them hard. This was the worst death ever.
The familiar sensation of time slowing took over, my blood cooling to molasses, and the familiar knot of anticipation twisted up in my belly. Death was only good with a return trip. I had only recently been self administering my own nanos, and it still made me nervous. I was always scared I’d pass out too quick to hit myself up. My fingers were growing numb but still functional as I groped in my pocket for a syringe.
Killian squatted down and put his hand over mine, gently. He plucked the syringe from my grip and stood back up. I started shivering. This couldn’t be a one-way trip. Killian wouldn’t let me die. The world was greying out. Above me, Killian was messing with the booth controls. He disconnected the headphones so it was on booth audio.
“Here you go,” he said. The twins were in stereo, telling me what a big man I was. “This’ll give you something to listen to while you go.” The booth door slid open and Killian stepped out and closed it behind him.
There were the twins, full blast. “I’m sweet,” said one. “I’m a tart,” said the other. “Why don’t you come show us what you’ve got?” and they moaned in unison. I couldn’t imagine a worse death. Fortunately, about then I started shutting down with no one to get me back up. This was for good.
Above me, I could hear that damn vagina start back up, internals squeaking and wet pops as the thing made air pockets. I went out crying.
Book a stay at the Bitter Suites, a hotel that specializes in recreational suicide experiences. Whether you schedule your demise as therapy, to bond with a loved one or for pure recreation, your death is sure to give you a new lease on life. Renewable death is always beneficial… at least to someone.
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