tagSci-Fi & FantasyDrummer Boy - Back Into Hell Ch. 01

Drummer Boy - Back Into Hell Ch. 01


Note: This is part of a continuing story. The previous parts are, in order: Drummer Boy - The Call, Drummer Boy - Jason Goes to Hell, Drummer Boy - Down to Earth and Drummer Boy - Secret Origins.

Welcome back! How's the family? Seen any good movies lately? Now that we've gotten the small talk out of the way, let's jump back into story mode. I hope you'll enjoy the interdimensional sex and violence fest that I like to call Drummer Boy: Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell!


"Siddown," Leanne said.

Jason sat, planting his butt in one of the very fancy chairs that occupied the fitting room inside Petticoat Faire. Leanne stood in front of him, her arms crossed and resting on top of her quite grand bosom.

Leanne was so short that, even seated, Jason still had a couple of inches on her. Somehow, she still managed to stare down at him over the tops of her glasses. Jason tried his best to meet her gaze with anything but a guilty look, and failed.

"Alright, cupcake," Leanne said. "Spill."

"There's a lot to cover, ma'am," Jason said. "I'm not really sure I understand it all myself, let alone know how to explain it."

"Don't you 'ma'am' me," Leanne said. "And I'm well aware of the failings of human perception. I'm also hip to the limitations of human languages. The only half-sensible language we've got on this planet is Mandarin." She cocked her head in thought. "Maybe Quechuan, but I guess that ship has sailed, huh?" She shook her head. "Anyway, you're gonna have to lay it on me in plain English."

"Can't you just read my mind?" Jason said. "Granny and Pearl do it all the time."

"And that's a problem," Leanne said. "Look, kid, you've had your head messed around in so much, you don't even know what you're doing anymore."

"What are you talking about?" Jason said. "My head's fine. Really."

"Yeah?" Leanne said. "Then why'd you just answer me in Demonic?"

"I didn't-" Jason began, then abruptly stopped. The sounds coming out of his mouth were harsh and growly, containing way too many glottal stops and jagged consonants for any Earthly language.

"Shit!" Jason said. "Shit," he said again, this time drawing the word out very deliberately, just to make sure what he actually said was in English.

"Yeah, 'shit' is right," Leanne said. "I prompted you in Wing-speak, and you answered in kind. There's damage in ya, sweetmeat, even if you can't see it. And just like the girls, you're gonna need some time to heal. Capisce?"

"Yes, ma-," Jason began, but after a stern look from Leanne, concluded with, "Okay. I get you."

"Alright. So let's start with this," Leanne said. "The Three, a trio of ancient godlike demons who famously hate each other, suddenly decided to get together and tear apart the walls of reality, just to get you."

"That's about the size of it," Jason said. He shook his head. "I can't believe it either."

"Yet there it is," Leanne said. "So tell me: what in blazes did you idiots do to piss them off?"

"Well, for starters," Jason said, "we went there to kill Palladia."

Leanne's eyes widened, a combination of surprise and anger that made him sit up straight and back himself into his chair.

"You WHAT?!" Leanne said.

"It was Pearl's idea!" Jason said. "Or Pearl's and Kristin's. It all got real confusing. But then Granny showed up and was all like 'they're gonna get creamed if we don't give 'em a hand'. So that's what we did."

"Oh you did, did you?" Leanne said. "'Cause from where I'm standing, this story doesn't end with 'and they all lived happily ever after'."

Jason sighed. "Everything just went sideways," he said. "I mean, I had a feeling from the start that this was gonna be bad, y'know? But then things got real bad."

"Yeah, I think that's been established," Leanne said. She sighed. "Look, I gotta know what we're up against. No one's ever gone up against a Regent before and lived. You morons managed to take on all Three. And you got away with it, even if it was by the bare skin of your ass. But if I know my Regents, they're not gonna let this go."

"Really?" Jason said. "You mean they're not just gonna unfriend us on Facebook?"

Jason realized, a second too late, that this was not the right response. Leanne grimaced, her eyes narrowed, and when she spoke, she enunciated her words very clearly.

"I need to understand this mess," she said, "and since, out of the four of you, you are the only one that is in any condition to talk, I need you to help me do that. Without equivocation, without omission, and without even the tiniest thimbleful of your dismissive sarcasm. I've got exactly zero time in my schedule for bullshit, and I promise you, I will smack a bitch if I catch even a whiff. So, how about you tell me your story. Can you do that for me, please, or do I need to get my pimp hand ready?"

"Yeah, geez, sorry, sorry," Jason said. "I get you. Whole truth and nothing but."

"Great!" Leanne said, clapping her hands together and smiling. "So sing, little birdie. I want the whole song, high notes to low, plus every detail in between, no matter how weird or inconsequential or embarrassing it is for you. From the top."

Jason nodded. "Okay," he said, "but if you really wanna know how it all started, then I'm gonna have to tell you about the Thing in the Way."

Leanne raised an eyebrow. "What thing?" she said. "In the way of what?"

Jason took a deep breath. "So Granny opened up a portal to Tarterus, right?" he said. "I walked into it..."

* * *

Jason's body was engulfed by the blue flames. They didn't feel particularly cold or hot, but they did tickle a bit.

It only took one step. One second he was alone in his quiet apartment, and the next he was standing in...

Torchy's Tacos.

More specifically, Jason was standing about thirty feet from a Torchy's Tacos food truck, the one that occupied a position of prominence among the outdoor assemblage of food trucks comprising The Picnic, Austin's premier outdoor casual dining experience.

The Picnic was situated just south of Ladybird Lake, formerly known as Lake Austin. Ten or so brightly-decorated food trucks formed three-quarters of the rectangular perimeter, inside of which was a dirt-bottomed eating area. Wooden park benches of random styles and ages and were arranged in a mostly regular pattern, with a few garbage cans thrown in at regular intervals.

Riverside Drive formed the southern border of The Picnic. It was a pretty busy road, with cars whipping by constantly. Some of these occasionally slowed down and pulled into The Picnic's parking area, while others sat patiently at the exit, blinkers on, waiting for an opportunity to join those on the road.

It was mid-afternoon, and springtime apparently, since the temperature was a mild 85 degrees or so. The music emanating from the food trucks, the cultural representation of their respective offerings, created an air of amicable competition. There was a bit of a breeze, just enough to swirl the smells of the food trucks around, along with just a hint of the freshwater scent from the nearby lake.

There were lots of people around. Ordinary, everyday people, doing ordinary, everyday people things: talking, yelling, eating. Kids running around, parents running after them. Old, young, up and down the class structure, racial flavors from all over the spectrum. That was about par for food truck courts in Austin: you'd be hard-pressed to find a better example of the Great American Melting Pot than a busy afternoon here at the Picnic. You could run into just about anyone.

Including, Jason realized with a start, a completely naked white guy.

Jason stood there for a few seconds, confused, wishing he had ignored Granny's admonishment and taken a few seconds to, at the very least, put on a pair of goddamn pants.

Catching sight of a portly security guard roaming the outskirts of the food court, Jason almost bolted for the bushes behind the gyro truck, until he realized that no one seemed to be reacting at all to the highly visible naked man among them.

"Oh," Jason said, "I get it." He sighed, and took a seat on a nearby park bench. This one still had a fair amount its most recent coat of dark green paint on it. Hopefully that would mean less splinters poking into his bare ass.

A waitress came up to his table. She was white, maybe fifty, on the stringy side of the stringy-but-scrappy body type. Her heavily-sprayed mountain of dirty blonde curls was bigger than the rest of her head. She wore a checkered apron over her pink uniform. A blue-and-white nametag identified her as "Flo".

Giving the gum in her mouth a healthy pop, she flipped open a small notebook, poised her pencil above it and said, in a voice dripping with Texas attitude, "What'll ya have, hon?"

Saying nothing, Jason waved a dismissive hand at her. Flo stared at him for a second, popped her gum once more, and drifted away.

Jason sighed again, put his head in his hands, and waited.

A minute later, Jason heard a voice from the other side of the bench. A kid's voice.

"What's the matter, mister?" the kid said.

Jason looked up. The kid was about ten. Hispanic, probably Mexican. Straight black hair long enough to cover his ears. Big brown questioning eyes and a chunky build. His red t-shirt proudly proclaimed "ALL DAY ERR DAY" in white block letters.

"Don't ya want somethin'?" the kid said.

Jason rolled his eyes, and then stared into the kid's eyes.

"Look," Jason said, "whatever you're gonna do, just get on with it, okay?"

The kid stared at him in confusion for a second, and then laughed. "You're so weird!" he said.

"Beto!" a woman's voice shouted. Jason didn't bother to look, but soon the woman, Beto's mother judging by their similar looks, hustled up to the table. She put her hands on Beto's shoulders.

"Why are you bothering this man?" Beto's mom said. "Go play with your friends!" She shooed him away, and Beto went running off.

"I'm so sorry," Beto's mom said, "He knows not to talk to strangers, but he can be so impulsive!"

"Just tell me what you want," Jason said. "I'm really not in the mood to fuck around."

Beto's mom got a very offended look on her face, and put her hands on her hips. "Excuse me!?" she said.

"It was morning when I left," Jason said, "not afternoon. And this place doesn't have waitresses; you just go up to the trucks and order. Also, pro tip, I'm bare-ass naked and no one here seems to give a single, solitary fuck."

Beto's mom continued to stare at Jason. Then the look on her face changed to something that wasn't quite anger or confusion. "Huh," she said.

"Yeah," Jason said. "I'm coming from Earth, and I'm supposed to be on Tarterus. This place ain't neither. So stop trying to trick me, drop the act, and just get on with it. I got important shit to do."

Beto's mom sucked her teeth with a significant "tch". Then she wandered off towards where Beto was playing with his friends, leaving Jason alone again.

Until a few seconds later, when a meaty hand clapped him on the shoulder. It was a firm clap, the kind that he'd seen football players give each other during games in lieu of actually saying "good play".

The clapper moved around him to the other side of the park bench and sat down. He was a white guy in his thirties, a buzz cut that only accentuated a hairline that was in hard retreat. His build, round about the middle but still holding on to a fair amount of muscle, certainly seemed like that of someone who'd spent their Friday nights in high school armored up and bent over the fifty-yard line. The man plunked a plastic basket full of greasy fried things in front of himself.

"Oh boy," Jason muttered to himself, "right again."

"Sorry bro," the man said to Jason, "but you gotta vacate. Me and the boys need the table."

Presently several more men, all similarly tubby and clad in collared shirts and ties, arrived and sat down around Jason with their own bowls of grub. They started eating and talking shop. Car sales, apparently.

Jason shook his head. "Fine," he said to the first guy. "Just tell me where to go."

Without looking at Jason, the man gestured off to his right with a ketchup-laden chicken finger, and then stuffed the whole thing right into his maw.

Jason stood up and then walked in the direction the man had pointed to. Nothing obvious presented itself. Just more people sitting on park benches enjoying their lunches.

Then he noticed a man waving to him. Heavyset black dude, wearing a sweat-soaked gray tank top and black shorts. Red-and white headband, similarly dampened. He sat with his two teenage sons and kindergarten-age daughter, and they were all eating gyros.

Jason walked over to their table. The man gestured to an empty spot next to one of his sons, and said, "Have a seat."

Jason did. "Are you gonna give me some answers?" he said.

The man put his gyro down, looked at Jason, and chuckled.

"This nigga here!" he said to his kids. "Rollin' up like 'I need answers!' Nigga trippin'."

The sons laughed along with him, but the daughter said, "That's a bad word, daddy!" Which only made the males at the table laugh even harder.

Jason blushed. And then, despite himself, laughed a little bit too.

"That's better," the man said. "I ain't about to be fuckin' with no grumpasaurus rex."

"Daddy!" the little girl said. "I'mma tell mom!"

"She right over there, little miss," the man said with a smile. "Go on tell her. Or..."

The man picked up a wallet sitting next to him on the table, unfolded it and pulled out a five dollar bill.

"You go and get you one o'them fancy cupcakes instead," the man said. "What you wanna do?"

The girl snatched the fiver out of his hand and took off. "Make sure she don't get lost," the man said to his sons. The boys took their gyro bowls and followed after their sister.

The man picked his gyro up again, took a measured bite, and masticated thoughtfully.

"This is pretty close," Jason said. "It's just that, y'know, a few things are off."

"It ain't perfect," the man said. "Even with the best of intentions, things don't always go according to plan. But time's tight, and sometimes you just gotta serve it up to the customer, hope nobody notice they ain't no paprika on top."

Jason just shook his head. "So what is this?" he said. "An illusion? Virtual reality simulation? Or just good old-fashioned schizophrenia?"

"You got kinda stuck," the man said, talking with his mouth full, "between here and there."

"Stuck? Oh... dammit, Granny!" Jason said. "I shoulda known. She's fucked this up before."

"Not so much as you'd think," the man said. "Normally, I'd just let you get on through, but I thought we could talk a bit."

The man wiped his forehead with the back of his hand, where more sweat had broken out. "Whoo, these tacos, man!" he said. "They good with the hot sauce. You want some?"

"Those are gyros, dude," Jason said, "and no thanks. So, we're like, what, in between worlds right now?"

"Yessir," the man said. "The Way Between the Worlds. Kind of a 'no-place' place in the multiverse."

"That's not very comforting," Jason said. "Wait ... how come I've never been here before? I've made this trip a couple of times already."

"Oh, I seen it," the man said, finishing his first gyro. "You and your gals jumpin' back and forth like you on interdimensional trampolines. Y'all bein' silly."

"And you're what?" Jason said, "Like, the boss of this place?"

"Something like that," the man said. He wiped his greasy hands on his tank top. "More like I'm the one runnin' things here."

"So, are you gonna kill me?" Jason said. "Drain my soul or use my head as a lantern or something?"

"Nah. Unless..." the man stared significantly at Jason, "you into that?"

"What? No!" Jason said. "Nope, nope, nope and nope. So you know who I am, right?"

"Yep," the man said. "Jason Sturmer. Call yourself a drummer."

"And what about you?" Jason said. "What do you call yourself?"

"I'm the Thing in the Way," the man said.

Jason furrowed his brow. "That's your name?" he said.

"Yessir," the man said. He picked up a bottle of Cholula from the table and began shaking it vigorously onto his second gyro. "At least that's what folks like you call me."

"Folks like me?" Jason said.

"Yep," the man said. Satisfied with the deluge of hot sauce he'd slopped onto his gyro, he picked up the greasy, sopping mass and inserted one end into his mouth. Around his mouthful of lamb and pita, the man said, "Humans."

"Humans, huh?" Jason said. "What do not-humans call you?"

By way of response, the man cocked his head in the direction of Jason's right. Jason looked.

The man's little daughter was standing there, smiling.

She opened her mouth. She opened it very wide.

The sound that came out of that mouth was not a sound that humans should make. It was the sound of starving, frenzied hyenas. It was the death cry of mortally wounded elephants with human throats. It was the sound of Chewbacca stubbing his big toe. It made Jason's bowels quake.

Surprised, Jason backed away from her, and fell right off the bench, landing on his back.

The next few seconds were a parade of unsettling sensations in rapid succession. It went something like this:

[a lightning bolt crackling, inexorably, inevitably, towards him]

[the first stretch of the morning]

[multiple stab wounds, covering most of his body]

[red/blue flicker]

[the realization that the winning lottery ticket is in your hands]

[a life's work crumbling to nothing within seconds]

[the deepest hole in the universe]

[yellow, feline eyes, staring intently at him, in absolute silence, from the shadows of the jungle]

This last lingered for a while. Then the eyes faded, the world brightened, and everything returned to as it had been, save that Jason was now on his back on the ground. The whole thing had been so startling, he'd literally fallen off his seat.

When Jason's hearing returned, it was to the sound of the black man laughing. He finished his gyro, and got up from the table.

Jason sat up shakily, desperately hoping that the eyes in the shadows, or any of that other stuff, weren't coming back.

"Son of a-" Jason said. "What... the hell... was that?!" But he said it to the man's back, because he was already moseying away, hugging his daughter to him.

"Translation's not exact," said another voice behind him.

Jason whipped his head around. The speaker stood there, with a carefree smile on his lips. He appeared to be a perfectly ordinary stoner dude. Dingy t-shirt, thrift store cargo pants, Andean sweater tied around his waist, late model Doc Martens on his feet. A proud mess of whiteboy dreadlocks on his head. Under one arm he carried a decal-festooned skateboard. The other hand held a poorly-made spliff, unlit.

"But 'close enough'," the stoner continued, "is about all you're liable to understand."

"For fuck's sake!" Jason said. "Okay, stop. Stop switching bodies. I'm having trouble keeping up."

"Cool, man, cool," the new Thing in the Way said. "You wanna pop a squat?" He gestured back at the bench.

"Sure. Fine," Jason said. He got his butt back on the bench. This new version of the Thing in the Way set his board upside-down on the bench, and sat down across from Jason.

"You got questions," the Thing in the Way said. "Shoot."

"Alright, first off, Thing..." Jason said. "I'm just gonna call you Thing, okay?"

"Totally cool, man," said the Thing. "You'd have trouble pronouncing the other ones anyway."

"Right," Jason said. "Thing, what am I doing here?"

"Well, you ain't eatin' tacos, that's fer damn sure!" the Thing said. "What do you think you're doin' here?"

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