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The Long Man
A prequel novella from Chester Burton 'Cheeseburger' Brown
CHAPTERS 1|2|3|4|5|6
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The Long Man, a novella by Cheeseburger Brown, illustration by Matthew Hemming

CHAPTER 3

It can be a nuissance being long. Every now and again people get weird ideas in their heads and decide it's time to lynch you for being possessed of unholy powers. To avoid this one has to keep a low profile.

This is, of course, much harder than it used to be.

In the good old days when physicians did as much guesswork as priests having myself treated for minor ailments was a simple affair -- balms, tinctures, knocking dislocated shoulders back into place, that sort of thing. I remember clearly being treated by the great Galen himself one winter in Athens after an overzealous farmer put a sword through my thigh for stealing carrots. "You're a remarkable healer," Galen told me a week later, checking the bandages.

"I'm a big believer in fruits and vegetables," I claimed.

These days everybody wants to image my insides with CAT scans or whip my blood around in a centrifuge. I have to be awfully sly to slip past a triage nurse without her sounding alarm bells about my unusual physiology. I have on more than one occasion faked leukemia in order to explain my elevated white blood cell count, and I'm a fair expert at muffing X-ray photographs by fidgeting.

When that fails I am a master of rapid exits. "Your bones show a very serious density of healed fractures. I'd like to do a little more imaging and get more details about your history."

"Do you mind if I just slip off to the washroom first?"

Presto -- no more Lallo!

Probably the worst time I ever had came about nineteen or twenty centuries after Christ. There I was, minding my own business, sauntering through New Mexico when I ran into a bunch of soldiers in jeeps doing drills. They panicked when I was slow to respond to their orders and somebody shot me.

I woke up in a secure army facility and was poked, prodded, probed and perused by a murder of scientists with grim faces and oiled hair. "He has the skull of a Cro Magnon!" they told each other excitedly. "He must be some kind of an evolutionary throwback."

I'm a pretty easy going man but the truth is that once my temper's engaged it's hard to quell, and eventually the military scientists pushed me too far by trying to extract tissue samples without anaesthesia. I totally freaked out. By the time the red haze faded from my vision I was running, already miles from the base, my hands covered in blood.

Chalk that up as a third reason I tend to stay scarce from the New World. Fucking Roswell.

There does exist a sanctuary for us, though it isn't as peaceful a sanctuary as the forests of the world used to be before there were people everywhere. When I'm feeling harassed I know I can always go to Rome to put my feet up, have a drink, and shoot the breeze with Moses.

Moses lives in the Constantinian Basilica, and before that he lived in the House Templar at Ager Vaticanus with Peter. Nowadays all of that stuff is walled up in Vatican City, but for a long time getting into the basilica was as easy as walking up the steps and introducing your business to the guards. "What affair have you in this church, brute?"

"Just tell the big man it's Lallo knocking."

Moses is a great guy. I think I have a special soft spot in my heart for him because he's nearly as long as I: he's been sallying around for about ten thousand years, which is only a few dozen thousand less than my stint. He's probably been chased out of about as many places as I have, too, so he understands the lonesome mood. He still misses Peter.

"Lallo, my great friend -- welcome!"

"How's by you, Mo? You're looking splendid."

"Thank you, thank you."

The bascilica is usually decorated in a very fancy way. On the occasion I'm thinking about it was all done up with fresh frescoes of the life of Jesus Christ and I was handed my wine in a golden goblet. "So..." I said, after savouring my first sip, "Jesus, huh?"

"Jesus, yes," agreed Moses.

I gave him a little wink. "Was that you? Seriously, you can tell me."

"No, it wasn't me. Jesus died."

"Well, maybe," I admitted. "I still think maybe it was just Aum trying to yank our chains."

"Aum never leaves India."

I shrugged. "Maybe it was somebody else, then. Maybe Peter?"

"Why are you so sure it was one of the long?"

"I became suspicious when I heard how he walked away from his own tomb. I mean, who does that? Me, you, Judith -- our kind."

"Could you not fathom that his body was subliminated directly to Heaven by the Divine Host?"

"Fathom? Sure. Believe it? Not really. It was probably just somebody we don't know about yet."

Moses smiled indulgently. A gentle rap came at the study door and he called out to enter. A little boy in white robes walked in with a tray of bread and olives. "Lallo, I'd like you to meet John. John, this is Lallo."

"It is an honour to make your acquaintance, my liege," said young John.

"Nice to meet you too, John," I said, shaking his small hand.

Moses popped an olive into his mouth, chewing around the pit artfully. "John is long, Lallo."

"Is he now?"

"His parents thought he was a miracle, so they brought him before the officers of the church. They, in turn, brought him to me. I am raising him, molding him from the ground up to act for the long peace."

I patted John on the head. "Good luck to you, young man! It is so very important to keep busy."

"I do the work of God, sir," said John primly.

"That's super."

Moses stroked his white beard pensively and flashed me a little smile. "I had a visit from a young longwoman who calls herself Ella," he said, gaze cast off into the hearth. "She said you two had a bit of an encounter in Patagonia a while back."

I rubbed my head ruefully. "Did you know she raised the Scythian armies?"

"She mentioned it, yes. Um, she's rather upset with you, you understand. She explained to me that you raped her."

"Oh," I scoffed dismissively, "we were just playing around."

"She feels differently."

"Women are weird."

"It's a fairly serious business, Lallo. I know your temper and appetites routinely get you into trouble with the short, but this is about someone long. It's different."

"Different how?"

"Consequences," said Moses heavily. "The consequences are different."

"Is she going to hunt me down and kill me?"

"No. She is determined to hide herself and the child from you forever."

That gave me pause. In fact, I spent a moment choking on my wine. Moses clapped me on the back helpfully. John stared at me with wide eyes, lips trembling. I wiped away my tears and forced my raw throat to form my next words, hoarsely, desperately. "Is the child long?"

Moses nodded. "As you well know, Lallo, the question of reproduction has always weighed on us. Our kind is perpetuated directly by the grace of God, and nothing we have ever managed to do has resulted in the creation of a long child. Judith is infertile, of course, but Lilith consented to several experiments with Peter before she was killed. None of these experiments bore fruit, however."

I swallowed. "She was very old. Ella's just a kid. Barely over two thousand."

Moses nodded again, stroking his beard. "Because of our lack of success in this regard we have never had to seriously contemplate racial displacement, but now I'm afraid it is a subject that deserves our strict attention."

I frowned. "What do you mean? What's racial displacement?"

"Racial displacement is the inevitable consequence of long breeding, where over time the long population comes to outnumber the short population, eventually bringing us into a direct competition for resources. In any such contest the inescapable conclusion is a loss for the short and supremacy for the long."

I shrugged theatrically. "Whatever will be, will be."

Moses shook his head. "Lallo my friend, it behooves us to consider that if God had intended us to inherit the Earth He would have made it easier for us to be fruitful. We must wonder whether we subvert His plan by reproducing."

"I'll leave the philosophizing to you, Mo. I'm just a man."

He slammed his fist down upon the silver food tray, bread and olives flying in every direction. "No, Lallo, you are not just a man. You are a long man, and you cannot ignore the burden of responsibility you carry."

"Why not?"

His eyes widened. "I have been patient with your godlessness as long as we have known one another, but I have to draw the line here. Yours is not to spend all time giving in to your craven appetites."

"Your God gave me the appetites. Who are you to subvert that work?"

"My God?" he echoed, incredulous.

I sneered and stood up from my chair. "Let's not start this again, Mo. Do we have to go over it afresh every millennium? For the last time: leave me out of your phoney-baloney superstitious hookum. I'm just not interested. Maybe if you'd started messing with my head fifteen thousand years ago I'd have been naive enough to swallow it, but not now. I've seen too many sunsets. I'm not a kid anymore, and no god is my parent."

The child, John, was weeping. I reached out to pet his head but mistook my own strength and knocked him to the floor. "Whoops."

"Govern yourself!" shouted Moses. "For Christ's sake, you must learn to govern yourself."

He knelt beside the white-robed child and hugged him tenderly. I shuffled around awkwardly. "Or what?" I asked quietly.

Moses looked up. "Or else for the sake of Christendom now and in the future we will declare you our enemy, and end you. It pains me to say this, my friend, but you leave no alternative."

"I am from the land. I answer only to the mud I am made of. If you and your cohort interfere with my freedoms I warn you to be prepared for my ruthless defense."

We stared at each other for a long moment. Moses blinked first. He was blinking away tears. "I love you, my brother. Can you not open your mind to heed my counsel?"

I thought about it a bit. "No," I concluded. "I will grant none dominion over me. My life is between myself and the world. I do not recognize the authority your club of sheep awards itself, and I never will."

"Then we will do what we must."

That was the last time I stood in the Constantinian Basilica, and the last time for a long while I even dared visit sweet Rome. Within a few centuries I would be pursued out of Christendom by the armies of Moses, chased ever eastward until I took my stand in Jerusalem and, surrounded by my own legions of Islamic troops, let loose a rage of unspeakable dimensions. Hundreds died in a day.

Like I said, once my temper's lost it's a shitstorm for everybody.

But I'm no strategist. I lost Jerusalem and fled further east, only to run into John, a child no more, the king of a mighty country whose fierce knights captured and bound me for delivery to Avignon and the puppet of Moses, Pope Paschal II. I did manage to escape, but not without razing John's capital city -- which I apologized for and, to his credit, John accepted this graciously. "Every setback makes us stronger," he told me, turning the other cheek as he stood on a mound of rubble. "Send me to God if you must."

"Aw," I groaned, frowning. "You know I hate striking down the defenseless."

"Indeed," agreed Prester John. "It is because we know of the good in your soul that we cannot give up our quest to save you."

I pulled an arrow out of my thigh with a grunt. "Is that what you're doing? Saving me?"

"With your last breath, if need be."

"Moses told you to end me."

Prester John smiled serenely. "I take my commands from a higher authority."

So that's how it's been for this whole last millennium -- lynched by the short whenever I get too comfortable, pursued by the long whenever I become too visible. The thing is, that kind of crap becomes little more than a nuissance -- a trifling distraction -- when you're dedicated to a larger mission.

I admit that it has been refreshing to have a purpose this last while, to have something to strive for.

And I shall never give up until I find my child.

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