By Bradley Heywood
Sab lay on the sandstone floor, which was rough and bare under his feet. There were seven other people the the small cell with him, each were equally as worn and wasted by a life spent in a box. Some stared at the other, others watched the smooth lines on the faces of the other prisoners, while Sab watched the small hatch fixed into the ceiling. It would remain closed for days at a time, then open and buckets of water and mashed roots and vegetables would be dropped down, and they would have to eat and suck off the floor. Sometimes the hatch would open and a little small glass jar would be dropped down; a sort of perfume bottle that emitted no smell, but a puff of coloured smoke. Then the prisoner who had inhaled the smoke would get up and knock on the door in the corner of the room, and they would leave. nobody knows where they go, or how they ended up here in the first place. For Sab these walls were a kind of home, strong and reliable, but no matter how he tried he knew that it was a prison. Sab watched as the hatch slid across, holding his breath as a small blue, possibly green bottle tumbled down through the air, hitting the ground with a glittery crack.
Thick yolk like gas seeped through the cracks in the bottle, and the room broke out into a movement of scurries and shoves. Sab was the only one who had stayed where he originally was, his spindly arms wrapped around his knees, scraggly hair covering his dirty face.
‘It’s like watching a horde of rats trying to pick a carcass clean,’ said a voice beside him.
Sab turned his head and looked intently at the face that had just uttered the comment. It was smooth, bald, and yellow. The eyes were wide white saucers of milk, and a single tear shaped red stone sat on its forehead.
Sab would have ran, but he had nowhere to go. The large door in the corner of the room would only open when something happened to one of them. He wondered whether that something had happened to him, not just because there was a big yellow man smiling at him with the flat teeth of a goat, but because nobody else had seem to notice. They continued their fumbling fight without as much as a glance over at Sab or the thing next to him.
‘Am I insane?’ asked Sab.
‘No, but you can be if you like,’ it said casually. Sab could see his his fearful face perfectly in those milk glass eyes.
‘Are you a demon?’
‘Not really. I’m the fire without smoke. I’m the slave of Solomon. We have many names but you can call me DJ.’
‘And what do you want me me, strange thing that’s not a demon, with a strange name?’
‘You know why i’m here, talking to you and nobody else. They won’t stop fighting over there till all of this is over. It’s kind of a rewind.’
‘What’s a rewind?’
‘It’s a feature on an outdated piece of technology that will cause a lot of people grief, as their children pull reams of tape everywhere like liquorice confetti.’
‘I don’t know what tongue your speaking in, but why do you need me?’
‘It’s so I can leave the room. Like you I have my responsibilities.’
‘Are you going to kill me?’
‘Think of it like winning the lottery,’ said DJ, but Sab stared blankly. ‘Oh I forgot, you don’t have that yet. Think about it like you’ve just won a very special opportunity.’
‘I’d rather not have the opportunity if you don’t mind.’
‘You’re a funny one. I haven’t met a funny one before. It makes the whole thing easier. Can’t tell you how hard this job can be at times; sometimes I don’t want to get out of my jar.’
‘Will it hurt?”
‘Not at all,’ said DJ. ‘Think about it like vanishing into the horizon, to become one with the cosmos.’
‘But I don’t want to die.’
‘Look around you,’ said DJ. ‘You have spent your life in a prison, without a reason or an excuse. Your sole purpose is to wait until your body is ready for someone like me. You don’t have a life, not yet anyway.’
Sab’s head burrowed further into his knees, arms wound tighter and tighter around himself. He shook, and started to cry.
‘It’s not all bad. There are certain upsides.’
‘Upsides?’ asked Sab, tears rolling down the groves on his shrunken face. ‘What can be an upside to me?’
‘You get three wishes. Any you want, within reason.’
‘Then I want to leave this room, be somewhere safe.’
‘My pleasure,’ said DJ with a click of his fingers which made a sound like dry sticks snapping.
Sab blinked, then as his eyes opened he was stood in the open, feeling the sand between his toes, stinging the sores on his feet. The fresh air was whipping around his face, and the sky was a clear crystal. He was free, and he wanted to cry and weep for the wasted life taken away, and the chance to have what remained of his all for himself. He saw the yellow shape out of the corner of one eye, round and soft, his waist tapering like a flick of hear, or a winding snake rising from the floor. It’s thick arms folded under a pair of nipple-less pecks.
‘N-now?” asked Sab, the dread sinking into his stomach. Now he could run, but where he go, and would DJ be able to follow him?
‘How about another wish?’
‘Can I ask you to leave me alone and never bother me again?’
‘Not if you phrase it like that you can’t,’ said DJ. ‘We both know there’s a deal to be made, so i can’t actually leave you alone and never bother you again, the words are wrong, and that can cause problems.’
‘What do you suggest ?’
‘I’m not good at the ideas part. I’m kind of like you, spent most of my life a slave so I wouldn’t go about thinking of wishes for myself.’
‘Can I ask to be the richest person in the world?’
‘You can, but to be honest I wouldn’t. It upsets the economy you see. All that gold and fortune has to come from somewhere, and people don’t really like to have their treasure vaults emptied; they get mad, and shabby.’
‘I want that wish.’
‘My pleasure,’ sighed DJ, and he clicked his fingers, and thunder broke on the horizon, flashing purple streaks through DJ’s pupil-less plain eyes.
‘And I want to live forever,’ said Sab, then seeing the sideways look on Dj’s face added ‘Or till the end of time.’
‘Will the end of the universe do?’
‘What’s that?’ asked Sab.
‘It’s all the interesting bits.’
‘Ok. I want to live till the end of the universe.’
‘My pleasure,’ said DJ with a grin, and as he clicked his fingers for a third and final time with a odd little pop, Sab felt like he had been tricked.He blinked and DJ was gone, so he picked a direction, and started to walk. It felt good to walk, even if his legs weren’t accustomed to the effort, he’d get use to it, he had the rest of the universe to figure everything out. By the time he had found a small village, Sab had tripped over a chest of gold, and was rescued from cutthroats by a wandering group of warriors. In the town he bought a cart, a knife, and paid the warriors handsomely to be his bodyguards. By the time he had reached the closest city, he had found that the knife contained the long lost spirit of the greatest Sultan, who offered to give his vast fortune to the man who had awoken his spirit. The bodyguards having seen the ghost and it’s resemblance to Sab, offered their services to Sab, as they were the lost order of Skali, bound through blood and spirit to guard the descendant of the Sultan.
Sab found that he was the luckiest man in the world. He would win at every game of chance. Everyone he befriended was linked to either wealth, or would help him acquire more, even if he didn’t mean to. Every step he found find something or someone which would make him rich, but where there is wealth, there are those who would rather keep it for themselves.
Then the trouble started. Some people didn’t like like Sab and his inability to lose any money, so the richest and strongest of leaders came together and overthrow Sab and his friends, and before he knew it he was back in a tiny cell, not too different than the one he had spent most of his life in. Sab still had friends, and he before he knew what was happening the door to his cell was opened and a man in a blue turban, who said he was the chief of the Sadonites, and he was here to free him.
Sab tasted the fresh air once more, but that didn’t last long. The Sadonites were a headstrong and arrogant order of warriors, and were destroyed in a war with the Bushiva, a group of assassins dedicated to lady death herself. The Bushiva enslaved Sab, but as Sab was the man who found profit in everything he did, some of the assassins wanted money and turned on their order.
Sab spent year after year, being rescued from one cell, only to be put in another by a rival group or faction, or just so someone could try and figure out how he couldn’t stop himself getting richer, no matter how much it annoyed particular dangerous people. The worst thing was that while Sab’s mind stayed as sharp as the day he had met the demon in the cell, his body was not. It ached and aged, and while he didn’t die, he wished he would.
The centuries slide slowly past, and he watched from the comfort of a small opening or window of some kind, the only constant comfort the sky above him. He watched the future unfold. The winged Varian rebels, who would vaporise the cell, take his hand, and soar off into the air. The Varians were melted by the amorphous Sklien, who slid and slumped across the worlds, swallowing everything including Sab whole, like green genocidal jelly. He didn’t die, but he did suffer itchy burns all over his body, and no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t figure out the Sklienian word for lotion.
Civilisations rose and fell, around him, each trying in their own way to create an alliance with Sab, or use him as some kind of bargaining chip. He saw wonderful things as he was taken from one prison to another, experiencing what it meant to be a prisoner in every race known to the galaxy. He fought in the Dess pits of Hru, armed with the the ceremonial Hru weapon, which looked remarkably like a over-ripened banana, which was strange but not as much as the result of hitting a fully formed Dess.
Eventually the galaxy shifted from the hectic spring of its life, deep into its relaxing summer, where Sab was allowed to walk free, after being informed that crime was a crude concept of the past, and these were enlightened races.
Then the Autumn appeared, and the suns began to burn out, and the planets crisped and crumbled, and fell out of the sky like great galactic leaves. People were scared, and soon the peace and serenity became anger and fear, and Sab found himself in various sacrifices and offerings to appease the galaxy, but as it was evident he wouldn’t die they just put him away somewhere, much like before.
Winter came to the galaxy, which brought an end to all of the arguments, wars, and people. Sab’s prison eventually eroded into nothing, and he was free to walk the galaxy as he pleased. The planets had come together, pressing up against each other like a planetary Pangea, and Sab walked across each and every one of them, but eventually that grew tiring for him. He walked until the worlds eventually crumbled, and he was forced to leap from the last crust of world into the void.
He floated in the blackness of space, until white cracks appeared in the dark, growing larger and brighter, till it hurt Sab’s eyes.
He swam through the years, centuries, and civilisations to find the white tears in the dusty black card of space, and as he reached the edge of the dark and peaked through into the brand new shiny galaxy, he saw DJ sat there waiting for him.
‘I bet you thought you were pretty smart making that wish, didn’t you.’
‘Is it over now?’ asked Sab.
‘Almost,’ said DJ, taking Sab’s hand in his large one, leant forward and blew into his face till Sab began to float away piece by piece, like a dandelion.
Sab opened his eyes, and he could see the familiar sight of the cell he had sent most of his life, only it wasn’t Sab at all, not really. Sab didn’t know the things he knew now. Sab couldn’t do the horrible things he would have to do. Sab wouldn’t scare the others in the room with his strange new eyes that seemed to know everything.
He walked through the door, and knocked, and he waited.
‘I don’t know what you’ve done to him, or what you plan to do next, but that man was always good to us. He taught us how to share the food. He taught us how to keep our souls within these walls. So when you are finished with him can you bury him somewhere beautiful.’
‘My pleasure,’ said Sab, and then left through the door.