It’s no secret that I absolutely love the time-traveling, multiversal twists-and-turns of the webcomic CURA TE IPSUM, written by Neal Bailey and drawn by Dexter Wee. When the guys released the first print volume of CTI, I interviewed Neal. When they released the second print volume, I interviewed Neal and Dexter together. Book Three is about to be released, as well as a YEAR ONE compendium with a ton of extras, and so I thought this time instead of interviewing the guys, I’d give them the opportunity to just take over the blog for a day and speak in their own words.
For those who don’t know: CTI is the story of Charlie Everett – or, rather, a multiverse of Charlie Everetts. Charlie Prime, as we’ve come to call him, is prevented from committing suicide by a visit from another version of himself. Charlie Prime discovers that he’s got a bit more natural ability for time\space travel than his other selves, and together with Leo (who saved him), The Nerd, Billy, Charlene and Squirt (all divergent versions of Charlie), they seek to stop The Dark Everett and his partners from killing every Charlie in existence.
Neal, of course, one-upped my thought. I’m proud to be able to post here a small sneak peek at INRICTI, the prose short story that is one of the special features of the YEAR ONE Compendium. I’ll let Neal introduce the story segment, and then I’ll be back with the links you can click on to order the books!
* * * * *
Hello, folks! First off, thank you, Anthony, for the place to debut a preview for Cura’s first short story.
INRICTI (a play on words for INRI and CTI, for Cura Te Ipsum) tells the story of what might happen if a bad man, namely the Dark Everett, decided to show a preacher what REALLY happened on Golgotha. It’s a long story, and it’ll be featured in YEAR ONE, the collected edition of our first year of stories, which you can find at http://www.curateipsum.com/, along with our third volume. Both are available for pre-order now.
It’s a dark story, and a fairly bleak one, but I had really good time writing it and I hope you all enjoy it.
Here’s the preview!
For Michael Moorcock
The preacher takes a long pause to examine the faces of his congregation.
“It has power over us, with good reason. There is such terror in the concept of a person we know and love, a person, become a body that rots in the ground. Your grandmother. Your father. A son or daughter.”
Pacing, always pacing when he speaks.
“I often imagine the fear an atheist must have examining death. Consider, even with knowledge of an afterlife, the concept of yourself no longer existing.”
Awkward silence. It drags.
“There’s no sense of continuity without God when flesh goes to dust.” He grabs his arm and pinches through the cloth. “For a non-believer, all we have is a life that can be hard, unfair, and very cruel in the face of the infinite. For us, for me, anyway, I take great solace from the thought of a loving creator. There’s nothing quite like it to quell the horrors of our short lives.”
The pacing stops.
“There is a plan for our lives. Things may spin around and fall apart, but somewhere out there, out between our potential dimensions, the spirit and the flesh come back together. There’s a pattern that flows through all real and imagined worlds born of our minds. Succumbing to the hunger for things you might otherwise have ignored but for cold, hard, logic, that, my friends, is faith.”
The preacher smiles. It is a sincere smile. The congregation smiles with him.
“Let us pray.”
* * *
Now the preacher sits in the front pew looking up at the statue of Jesus to consider. The congregation has been gone for some time. He does this a lot now, like he did on the bed with the pistol. This leaves him more comforted.
Footsteps echo in the empty church. A man sits down next to him. The preacher keeps his head bowed. He doesn’t turn. He keeps his eyes closed. He does smile.
“I presume you wish to speak about something.”
“What gave you that impression, padre?”
“You came across the entire empty church and sat down right next to me. Unless you’re looking for a date, that’s often followed by questions, or solicitations of advice.”
“I may have a few things to confess.”
“We don’t do confessions. You’re thinking of the Catholics.”
“I’ve got more sins than you could listen to in a lifetime.” Something in the man’s voice. Odd. A nasal plastic echo.
The preacher looks. The preacher clears his throat, looking for words. “Are – are we by chance related?”
Sitting next to him is a mirror image. A man very much like himself, so close in manner and proportion they could be twins, but for a few key differences. The other man is ropey with muscles. Older, certainly. Harder. The nose. There’s something strange and artificial about his nose.
“In a sense we’re related, but not really. Do I call you preacher? Or Reverend? Or Father? What?”
Gooseflesh breaks out across the preacher’s arms. “I realize something.”
“The front door isn’t open. It’s locked.”
“Let’s just say that I snuck into the bathroom and waited for you to lock the front door. That makes more sense than the supernatural, that I just opened a portal and dropped in here from nowhere, right? I mean, that would require you to believe in something certifiably crazy without any evidence to do so, right?” A derisive snort.
“I checked the bathrooms. Bums like to sleep in there.”
“Perhaps Jesus let me in.” The voice is sarcastic. Mocking. Slow. Deliberate. A nursery rhyme cadence.
“I don’t find that funny.”
“I liked your sermon. You have a way with words.”
“I am the wrong person to thank. I appreciate beauty, but in this equation, you’re the cross—” Click. “—and I’m the switchblade.” The blade is dull by the candle light. Well-used. Chipped from too many impacts with bone. Blade side up in a fist that shakes with anger.
“You’d kill a man of God?”
“I’d never kill a man of God.”
“What’s the blade for?”
“I’m a man of God.”
“No!” The fist slams into the top of the pew in front of them hard enough to rock them both. The other hand reaches for his face, gripping the nose. The nose comes off. A scarred cavity. A skull face. The face of death. “There is no God, and I’m your proof.”
The gooseflesh returns, up and down the preacher’s arms. “Are you a demon?”
“Always looking for the supernatural where there is none.” The man stabs the knife down into the pew and begins carving a long C next to his right leg. “I’m not a fucking demon. I’m you. Another you.”
“I cut it off to prove a point. Seemed like a good idea at the time. It’s not all fun and games, but it’s great for appearances. As you well know, people like a little smoke and mirrors.”
“They call me the Dark Everett, though my Christian name is Charles, like yours. That’s what they do to people who tell the truth. They call them demons, give them sinister sounding nicknames. I’m guessing, given that you’re above ground, you’ve already met with another version of yourself. That’s almost always how it happens. That’s how it’s been happening for quite a long time.”
“I have, at times, been visited by an angel.”
A waved hand. “Oh, go on. Keep trying to explain reality with a superstition. Makes me think of, what’s the expression? That one about suitably advanced technology and magic?” The Dark Everett carves a circle in the middle of his C. “Tell me more about this angel of yours.”
“He is me. Us. Only with a beard. Long flowing hair. He dresses in robes. He comes to my apartment once a week and makes sure I stay alive. For the longest time, I thought it was Jesus.”
“That’s a new one.”
“I thought – it occurred to me that perhaps when we see Jesus, we see an embodiment of whoever we are.”
“Arrogant. Did he tell you that he was Jesus?”
“He doesn’t say much.”
“I’ve heard of about this evangelist before. He’s visited many of us. He’s a slippery little missionary, the fuck.”
“He claimed knowledge of the future.”
“Did he give any specific examples?”
“A few. A baseball score. He told me that God wanted me to be a preacher, and that if I didn’t kill myself, all would be well.”
The Dark Everett scowls. “The Evangelist likes to prey on people in weak states of mind. That’s how he gets his kicks. I get mine solving that kind of problem.” The Dark Everett flips the knife in the air and catches it. Flip. Catch. Flip. Catch. There’s now a rough approximation of the world in the seat next to him, inside the C.
“You sit in judgment of others while you threaten another man with a knife?”
“I’m no prize myself.” That dry rasp in the nose again. It’s chilling. “But I am honest in what I do. If anything, sir, I am honest.”
“Most devils claim they are.”
“In fiction. There are no devils. Or angels. I’m a man, Chuck. Flesh and blood. I always have been. If you cut me, I’ll bleed. There’s nothing special about me beyond a commitment to be better than I am. Even if I were a demon, there’s nothing special enough about your pathetic life that would inspire one to visit you. You got tricked by religion. That’s how it works. It plays off our self-importance. If there were a God, and trust me, there’s not, he wants us both dead.” The Dark Everett makes a pistol with his finger and blows his fake brains out.
“Because every time a Charlie survives, bad things happen.”
The knife stabs into the makeshift Earth. “There isn’t a one of us across the entire multiverse that’s at peace. Not a one. When we gain the ability to jump between worlds, we end up fucking them up, fucking ourselves up, stealing, fighting, corrupting. It’s in our blood.”
“Don’t get cute, Preach.”
“What’s my crime? I help the poor. I give my services for free. I like to think I live an honest life.”
“I just watched you bear false witness. And anyway, you’d change if you got a stone. We all do.”
“And you, casting the first stone?”
“I’m not immune. I deserve to die more than almost any other Charlie, and I will. There’s just some work to do before I go.”
The preacher looks up at the cross. “Did you ever consider that the relentless pursuit of perfection is a defect of humanity, not of our selves? I mean, provided you really are another me. We all make a mess of our lives. That doesn’t mean they need to end. If we learn to forgive ourselves, there can be peace. Does anyone live a life that isn’t, in some way, flawed?”
“Don’t pollute the issue. This isn’t a debate. You’re already dead. I like nuance, and that’s why I’m engaging you, but we’re not talking about spitting out kids we can’t take care of, all whoopsie-daisy. That’s a debatable character flaw. We’re talking about changing the entire course of otherwise normal societies. Genocide and annihilation. I came here today from a place where there’s a man handing out night vision to the highest bidding country in nineteen sixty.”
“Cheap gas is nice and all, but this long hair doesn’t go over very well.”
“I don’t imagine it would.”
“To the point, the man handing out the night vision is me. You. Speak to me of the lightness of our flaws when it doesn’t start wars to the tune of millions of lives.” The Dark Everett wiggles the knife free and draws an X over the world. “That planet is going to spiral into chaos in less than ten years because of one greedy, cheating capitalist who will end the conflict in Vietnam with drones. He’s done it one one world already, and he doesn’t care. And here’s the real trick – he’s one of the good ones. A Charlie Everett is a higher devil. A pox on the surface of infinite earths. Every time he kills a Hitler for a lark, he condemns millions of people to suffering over time, times that he will never have to live through because he can just step away. And we do. I have.”
The preacher stares down at the Dark Everett’s blade. “You can kill me in malice, and I won’t be able to stop you, but you won’t do it without knowing that I believe I’ve made this world a better place. I’m an exception to your rule.”
“You take the stupid and make them believe in magical men who prognosticate and punish. I can’t think of a much greater crime for a man’s soul beyond reality television.” A long, slow sigh.
A fist. An unmade fist. A hand to his mouth. “Can I possibly be so cynical? Can any of me be in you?”
The Dark Everett puts a finger up to where his nose would otherwise be. Flip. Catch. Flip. Catch. “I caught a little anger there, preacher. We can’t skip right to acceptance, can we?”
“I’m past acceptance. You forget.”
“Ah, good. Shall we get on with it, then?” Catch. Brandish.
The preacher looks toward the door. “May I choose where I die?”
“Bargaining. See? You’re on step three. Acceptance is a long way off. No. I don’t allow people to choose the methodology of death. There’s too much room for malarkey and escape. Appreciate the leeway I’m granting engaging in this conversation. It’s more than most get.”
“What made you talk to me, then?”
“I’m trying to decide if your silver tongue is worth a god damn, pun intended, or if you’re just wet meat to add to the pile. Needs must when the devil drives. So far it isn’t looking good for you. You’re not very convincing. You don’t fight with much salt.”
“That’s because I’m trying to listen to you and understand, not fight. It’s my job.”
“Now I’m just bored.” The knife into the pew again. A pistol from the back waistband, held casually in his palm. “But I’ll be kind. Bullet in the head, or slit throat?”
The preacher pales. “I know that weapon.”
“I fucking well know you know that weapon. You were supposed to use it.” Up comes the hand with the pistol, and then the hand with the knife. Pistol. Knife. Pistol. Knife. “Time to choose. Make it quick.” Toying.
“And if I have a better idea?”
“There is no better idea.” The Dark Everett lifts the pistol to the preacher’s temple. The steel is cold. “But look at the bright side. At least you’ll know for sure if you’re full of sh—”
The pistol lowers. Laughter. “Say that again.”
“Why don’t you crucify me?”
More laughter. “Shit. You know, I like that. You mean it?”
The pistol retreats to the small of the back. “You might not be a total loss after all, depending on one crucial piece of information.”
“How often does this son of a bitch with the beard and the long flowing hair visit you?”
“I won’t give him up.”
“I know where you live. I’m going to go there and wait for him anyway. The man is already dead, like you. Tell me when your appointment is, I’ll give you your crucifixion, and maybe something more. If not, you make a mess here that some poor janitor is gonna have to pick up. He’ll tell the congregation what your brains look like, because he believes he’s forgiven for it in advance.”
“There’s no way I can persuade you not to kill my visitor?”
“None at all. Philosophically speaking, you’ve already killed him.”
A long silence. “He is supposed to visit this afternoon. What’s the something more?”
“Total, real resolution for your faith. Such as it is.”
* * *
And there you have it, folks. Intrigued? I hope so.
You can follow CURA TE IPSUM as it regularly updates right HERE.
VOLUME THREE collects the first half of the second year of the comic, and makes a nice companion to VOLUMES ONE and TWO if you already have them. The YEAR ONE book collects material previously available in VOLUMES ONE and TWO, with bonus stuff like the complete text of the story you just sneak-peeked. There are a good number of difference combo packages you can purchase as well, including the chance to get original sketches done by Mr. Wee himself. So click on this link, check it out. Tell them Anthony sent you!