Kiefdust Crusaders
rating: +26+x

“And he's dead?”

The dude was dead as hell, that was for sure. JJ had seen people die in front of him before. It wasn't as hard as he thought it would be to get used to. Or maybe it was the best for him that he got used to things as quickly as possible. Waltzing, traipsing through life. A lucky little ballerina. Shoes as pink as a rose. But the special shoes. Poinsettias. God, he could just see himself now.

He hadn't even had time to use his stand.

JJ bent down, picking up a screwdriver that had fallen from the dead man's coat. He tested it in his hands. A nice heft. Warm, still. The dead man had held it in his hands as he stepped inside. For protection? Why not get a knife? Weird. But it fell out of his hands when he had fallen. And now, JJ decided, it was his. Useful little tool.

But the body. Esther was still in the bathroom. He was pretty sure she was, at least. He hadn't seen her with clothes yet, so she could've been still on her hands and knees trying to find her contact right under his nose. Probably not, though. It probably felt weird to be naked in the same hotel room as a guy who just died. He wrinkled his nose. That was stupid. Like something Jude would say. Too much time with him. Some of the things he said were contagious. The ways he had of putting things. They got into his head.

But the body.

“Yeah, dude. He hit his head bad. He's dead as hell. Did you get me the Diet Coke?” said JJ.

Jude handed him the bottle. JJ had seen it, of course, but he liked to ask him. Jude had a way of forgetting about something even when it was in his hands. Probably because he was a dumbass. Probably because he had just bought weed behind their hotel room and pretended like he was getting a snack.

He had no reason to lie. But he did. That was just the way people were. And the longer JJ lived among people, the better JJ got at recognizing that the little details that pop out always mean something. Like noticing Jude hadn't brought back anything for himself. Or the smell of weed in the room. Or the weed and the new pipe that bulged in his pocket. Either that, or he was seriously packing and had managed to keep a grip on himself around JJ (as if).

But the body.

“He's dead,” said Jude. Like JJ didn't know. Like the massive head wound and the not breathing wasn't the fucking big enough hint. Doobie Hauser M.D., here to set shit straight. He smiled, beside himself. Jude had bent down, pressing the inside of his palm against the dead man's neck. Was it a move he had seen in a movie?

“Knew him? Definitely seemed like one of the stand users. He was, uh, sayin' a lot of shit before he tripped. And died. Lots of talking.”

“Yeah. The Performer.”

“Shitty name.”

“Terrifying stand, though. Achy Breaky Heart. Good thing you guys got him down before he could get you under his spell. You'd've all died. He's got, like, a final boss level stand, if you ask me.” Jude stood up, cracking his back and his neck back into place. Like an old man.

“What does it do then?”

“Being around him makes all your bodily functions voluntary instead of involuntary. Gets smaller and smaller. Even if you can figure out how to get your heart beating, it's real hard to figure out how to do cellular respiration.” He rifled through the dead man's pockets. Jude pulled out the wallet and sat on JJ's bed. He pulled out a few bills and stuck them in his jean pocket. Then stuck his hand into his shirt. Jude pulled out a folded piece of paper, which he unfolded, stared at, then refolded. JJ cursed himself for forgetting to rob the corpse first.

“That's not a final boss level stand,” Esther said, opening the door and dazzlingly fully-clothed. All obfuscation gone, it was good to see her talking again. “There's no gravitas. Even I know this, idiot.” She had her glasses on, which was good since the bitch turned into Velma Dinkley with her ass up in the air when she couldn't see. Jinkies! What was Yiddish for Jinkies? She'd say that.

“Yeah, it's like. A really good monster of the week stand, I guess. But not big bad. You find your contacts?” JJ shrugged hopping onto the bed next to Jude. He reeked of weed. If he hadn't seen the bulge, the proximity would've given him away. JJ's hands crept up from Jude's knee and then grasped the bag and the pipe in his fist. “Planning on sharing, Papa Smoke?”

Jude blushed. He always blushed. Tongue-tied little Catholic schoolboy. “Stop calling me that. And, uh, yeah. I guess. Can we do it in the car?”

“No,” she said. No hesitation. She was in pajamas. Comfortable. Her hair was wet. Had a shower gone on while he waited for Jude with this dead body for company? “Do it in the bathroom or go outside. Behind the hotel. I'm sure you'll be fine. Actually, please go outside. The fan won't cover up you two giggling all night.”

The poster she had drawn dominated their vision. Right in line of sight from the doorway. A real cancer of cognition. Which was hell for the Performer, of course. Poor guy didn't even get to see what he fell over before his skull cracked and his brain throttled against the cage enough to kill.

“That's cool, but uh,” and Jude coughed. “Am I gonna be able to see naked people again?”

“Naked women. And no. I mean, yes. But not now. Tomorrow. I'll make a little cure for you turds tomorrow. Now let me get to sleep.”

JJ stuffed his hand into Jude's pocket. Suggestive wink, practiced flip, and the bag with the pipe was in his hand. A chillum. One-hitter, almost. Glass. But longer. It was nice. Clear and greenish. It would probably look blue when it was caked with resin. Which, given Jude, it probably would be. Super soon. Ultra soon.

Jude stared ahead. After doing nothing like some weird mannequin, he leaned forward, pressed his palm on the dead man's back. His fingers splayed out like tracing the hand to draw a turkey. He took a breath, and something flowed. And the body gave way to dust and then nothing, clothes and all. After it was done, there wasn't even enough to vacuum.

“That's awesome, Jude. How did you figure out how to do that?”

“Yeah,” he said.

Esther had already gotten under the covers and faced the other direction. She didn't hear when JJ took the keys, all the while keeping up those suggestive winks. It felt right. The car was always the safest place. A parked car. In the dark. Who would see them? And the smoke that filled the small, dark place. Anticipation ran through his body like a weird orgasm tremor.

Was this providence, or did the weed really smell that good?

It didn't matter. He clutched the keys to his chest. Jude would be nervous, sure. He didn't like to fuck with Esther or her wishes. But, if the boy liked anything, it was to be in a small, dark place filled with marijuana smoke.


The note was simple. Jude could recite it from memory, which wasn't too impressive since he had only first read it moments before. Clumsy fingers yanked it from his jeans pocket. Folded the same way the Performer had kept it in his shirt. Jude showed it to JJ in the dark car. Only lit by a purple lighter.

Hey Jude. Don't make it bad.

Take this sad song and make it better!!!

:)

Come and see my electric eye.

And then an address. Some directions, even, all written in blue ballpoint pen. The handwriting was legible, but it was clear the writer was more used to writing in cursive. JJ assumed it had been written by the Performer.

Jude wasn't sure. The note was perfumed. He had pointed it out between sucking on the bowl, taking greedy gulping hits, multiple, before even passing it, that the Performer didn't like to wear scented anything. But the Critic did.

Jude said the smell made him think of bad things, so JJ said that they should cover up the smell with good weed. And they did.


The afternoon after their binge, and the car still reeked of high-quality marijuana. Jude, despite having taken a shower nearly an hour ago, still had a kind of off, sweaty smell about him. A very male scent. He smelled older than he was. Like he was working. Esther was fresh, as always. Clean, scrubbed pink. Sure, she was pissed beyond belief that they had smoked pot in the car, but Jude's discovery got her anger down to baseline levels.

“He thought he was gonna kill you, you know,” said Jude. “Like the two of you. Both.”

Esther frowned. She almost turned from the wheel. Her favorite thing to do was to just stare at Jude until he shriveled. Instead, she looked through the rear-view mirror, all the terror of a Midwestern mother driving cross-country to grandma's for Christmas or something wholesome like that. “What do you mean?”

“He knew I was gone.”

“Electric Eye is watching you. There's nothing you can do about it,” JJ said. He rubbed his hand against the seatbelt, up and down. The texture, each individual thread hard and stiff to hold, made that feeling run down his spine.

“Then, something about an explosion. I know the song. But what I'm saying is, how much does this thing know? How do you think it's watching us?”

“Big television screen,” Esther said. “A bug. There were crazy cockroaches in the last two places we stayed. It's a bug power. Bug type.”

Jude frowned, splayed in the back. “I think he wants me to see something.”

His long, weird body stretched out and almost over, taking up more of the backseat than he thought possible. It'd suck if they had to get nasty back there, he thought. Jude was too big. Not even, like, dirt-ways. There was something ungainly about him. A young sasquatch. A beardless Santa Claus, but. Young. Gallumphing.

“Who?” said Esther

“The Critic.”

Esther slid her hand to the console and put on her sunglasses. She pulled down the sun visor. Sunlight poured in through the windshield. Another frown. JJ snickered. Too goth for all this.

“I'm coming. In case you wanted to know,” said Esther, staring ahead. Hard to read without the sunglasses. “You can't tell me I can't know. Weirdo tried to kill me with some pervert Billy Ray Cyrus shit. I did some drawing before you woke up. Great work. Got a migraine, you know. But great work.”

“But you didn't reverse the nudity spell?” JJ flipped down his sun visor, sliding the plastic and staring into his reflection. He slid his hand on his forehead, pushing his hair up. No blemishes. No acne. Good, good. The sweat never did good things to his complexion. And he liked to keep pretty. Luckily, he only ever rarely sweat. But even good luck couldn't fix Esther's broken AC. Or move the sun.

“I had better ideas. And who knows when your fucking providence bullshit makes you knock my contacts out of my hands and all over the floor.”

“You were invisible. Not my fault.”

“Only because you have a weird look whenever you see people naked.”

“It's not my fault.”

“It kind of is. You look too hard. You're a fucked up dude, JJ.” Esther smiled. “G-d, you think this sun is going to fucking move or is this a stand?”

JJ waited. But Jude didn't correct her. It was a stand already. The Sun. The boy was too quiet. He was high, sure, but not that high.

“You don't always have to be naked. Nobody else has to be naked to put on and take off their make-up and shit. It's a weird move. I think you're the weird one.” JJ ran his fingers up and down the seatbelt hard enough to make a noise that zigzagged down through the core of his being.

Esther smirked, turned up the radio. Loud. Bad sound quality, but at least it drowned out most of the horrible sounds the car had started to make. A CD. She had been playing a lot of The Cure. He wondered if she was trying to think of a stand name for herself. JJ toed at the CD holder, one of those zipper up multi-holders.

JJ fidgeted, rearranged the screwdriver in his pocket, and leaned against the window. It was still The Cure. JJ liked them, sure, but not as much as Esther. It wasn't providence so much as a desire for something different. He would've even taken Siouxsie and the Banshees, maybe. He drummed his fingers on his thigh.

“Can I pick the next album?” JJ said. He flipped the sun visor to look at Jude.

Jude was staring into the air. Not reading. Not looking at his phone. Just breathing. His expression didn't change. His eyebrows were raised upward, lips pressed tightly together into a line. His gaze was unfocused. Not out the window, looking at the door handle. Nibbling on the inside of his lips.

“We're almost there.” She didn't look over. “And this one isn't over yet.”

The road went on before them. JJ never paid much attention when Esther drove. He only rarely paid attention to the direction he was going. North and south didn't mean shit on the dancefloor, right? There were trees. They had gotten denser. The directions started to pipe in from the GPS a bit more regularly, so she turned down the sound.

The car turned down a gravel road. Left, right, right, left. Too many turns, and then, the car stopped in front of a rusted gate. Claustrophobic, lecherous branches reached down and scraped the roof. The engine settled noisily. The wood was quiet.

The place was big, for one. An old place. Crumbling. A palatial mansion. Like something out of Faulker. The columns crumbled, but the windows were intact. They were dark. Opaque. JJ wondered if they painted over the glass. But it looked like plastic. Kind of like plastic. Hard.

“Freddy Kreuger lives here.”

Three stories. It probably was beautiful when it was kept up. Weather-beaten, colorless wood untouched by graffiti. The windows weren't knocked out. Not a single one. Point one for them being covered in steel or something. Going into a weird fortress made out of a shitty, ugly old house should've been the last thing the motion of the rotation of all that was should take him.

But wasn't it? The tremor, again, and it felt so good to look at it. JJ knew he had to get out of the car. He knew he had to go inside. He wanted to.

“He lives in dreams, idiot,” said Esther. “Shut up.” And she stopped the car in front of the gate.

They were quiet for a moment. Jude was the first to sit up, open the door, and step out of the car. Esther and JJ followed.

JJ lagged behind as they walked to the large porch and the front door. The house loomed above, and providence sang within him. Sometimes, it listened. Even if it didn't, he would have gone. He watched Jude twist the knob. Muscles tensed. Jude was sweating, more than usual.

Inside was surprisingly cool. It smelled clean. No dust. Jude stepped in, then Esther.

JJ stepped through the threshold, and there was a crunch beneath his feet. He lifted up his shoe. Dead bug. Filled with what looked like pus. It probably wasn't pus. Maybe it had been green? But damn, it was huge. JJ dragged his foot across the carpet, staring down at the streak. Shell. Lots of shell. But mostly that white liquid.

The chandelier hung low above them. Cobwebs formed a living mesh over the great, elegant light fixture. Like a mummy. Two stairways at the end of the room curved to meet each other at the second floor. There were too many doors. Paintings that were stained beyond recognition hung upon the walls. A moldy tapestry here and there. A broken vase. But it felt warm. The air hummed around him.

Esther screamed. Sharp, shrill.

JJ tilted his head.

The entrance slammed shut behind them.

There were hundreds of them, maybe thousands. They slid along the walls, out from every crevice, out from behind paintings, from unseen corners. From the broken vase. All the size of a half-dollar. Green beetles. Leaf green. Weed green. And they chittered, chirruped. Spherical like robotic. But they weren't, were they? Robots didn't bleed pus. He couldn't see their legs, could barely make out their heads. Twitching, long antennae.

But JJ only smiled.

“Oh shit,” said Jude. “Shit, shit. Jitterbug Stay calm.”

Esther put her hands over her mouth. The flashcards covered in scribbles wouldn't work on bugs probably, JJ thought.

“Don't touch them,” said Jude.

Then, from speakers all around their heads, the Breeder spoke.


The Breeder hated having to listen to it. Electric Eye spoke constantly. Its voice was raspy, low. It never stopped. Didn't help much to keep it lubricated, either. The thing sucked up anything like it was cacti. He sucked the tip of his right index finger. Then his middle finger. Then the other two on the other hand. The tips of his digits were wrinkled. They no longer tasted salty.

The thing still gave good news, though. He leaned back in his chair. A bug scuttled across his torso and slid around his face, stopping on his glasses. Left lens. Its antennae waved in the air, a conductor of a complex symphony. Or maybe it was more like sempahore?

“Mary, Mother of God, forgive all us sinners, or, I mean, tell God for me that I'm really sorry and I'm sorry in their name, too. Not in an offensive way. I guess. They don't need my help. They're good and they're so good to me and stay chill, stay chill.” Electric Eye croaked each word as though it were unfamiliar with the tongue. “Don't wanna see and can't help but see, and going blind in the face of it. Turned toward god and the pillar of salt, but turned toward the mansion. Don't trip. Too high. Moony. Head in the sky.”

It was always moving, but he tried his best to ignore that. They were there. Of course, he had known that, since that thing never shut up, but it was great to see the little ones getting so nervous. It scuttled along his body, and the Breeder let it. He sucked on his right pinky, then his left.

“Too many, to be or not. Like a walnut. Thanks for the boots. I bought them. Sales clerk, sales clerk with brown hair and bright blue eyes. Cute. JJ. Not the bugs. Crunch. Still. Quiet. Where?”

Its mad dashes slowed, as it sensed no worry from its father. The bug slid down the Breeder's ankle and down through a vent in the floor.

The Breeder pressed the button and pressed his lips against the microphone. The sensation, up and down, of his lips against the rigid plastic made him want to moan. But he reined himself in, and he spoke to the Murderer and his Sex Fiends.

“Hey, Jude. Fucked up you didn't die.” His nose was crushed against the microphone, which probably didn't do much for his sound quality. But it felt too good. “I know you're feelin' a little nervous down there. Do the babies bother ya? You can keep dancing, but I think the fire burns hot.”

A pause, his finger depressed the button, and he turned to Electric Eye.

“A pervert. Like a muffled stupid son of a bitch, and they creepy creeping creepily creep. JJ. Esther. Okay. Two. Okay. Sounds like a siren, screech a cheap. Reepicheep. Fell down a waterfall? Into God?”

“Shut up for a second. Initiate Dance Commander.”

The thing snapped back then forward. It said, “What is your command?”

“Stand by.” And the Breeder swiveled in his chair once, twice. His finger pressed down on the button, and he said, “You're an idiot for coming. This isn't an anime. Sometimes, you get two stands. And Electric Eye, Jude, has the Dance Commander.” Button depressed. “Dance Commander, cancel all movement.”

“Movement canceled.”

“Sweet.” Button pressed. “Jude, Jude, Jude. You're gettin' real nervy, aren't you? When you fall down that waterfall and see God, I want you to know that he's gonna send you to Hell. And he's gonna make you watch him send those two to Hell, too.” A cackle, shrill, and then he said, without bothering to depress the button, “Dance Commander, fucking fire at will.”

“Engaged.”


Jude wasn't himself. Not even close.

His jaw was shut. But those eyes danced in fear. Right, left. Esther, then JJ. Esther, then JJ. And after that cackle, the muffled voice said, “Dance Commander, fucking fire at will.” Then, Jude lifted his hand.

Electricity crackled between his fingers in a fragile webbing. It rose up on the back of his hand, then down his wrist, up his arm until it rose and over took his chest, spreading to the next arm in a reverse fashion. He held his hand out toward JJ, and a column of blue-white electricity flowed, like water, from Jude's right hand.

Dust flew in the air. The carpet around Jude crackled with static fuzz, following the lazy back and forth movement of his left hand. It rose, and the blue light curled like a snake then lashed out like a whip toward Esther.

JJ smiled. The dancer clung to him. Pale. He imagined it was pale. Long limbs, intertwined with his. A passionate tango. An ever-waltz. A forever, ever mambo. And the providence whispered, but mostly, it was quiet and smiled and breathed. The oldest thing, the oldest thing there ever was, but it loved him, didn't it?

It felt like dancing when he dipped down and then fell forward, bringing Esther screaming onto a pile of bugs that burst against her back and his side like little pimples.

The bugs that had lived began to crawl over Esther and JJ. Esther screamed, covered her mouth, but then she screamed again, before biting down on her hand.

The bugs crawled along her skin, stopping occasionally to press down and burn her in a perfect circle, like a nickel. And they continued to do so. Rapidly. She shook her hand and stood up, before JJ reached up and pulled her down, as electricity whizzed above their heads.

“You should probably strip,” JJ said.

Esther who had been doing breathing exercises reached out to JJ but then stopped short. She sighed and flipped her top over her head. She immediately fell from his view. But most importantly, both of Jude's hands focused on JJ.

Two bolts, once, twice, and then JJ frolicked, jumping on the banister and climbing upwards and sliding through the doorway. The banister fell behind him, crumbled and burnt and scorched by electrical discharge. The rhythm pulsed and beat within him like a second heart. The providence pressed its mouth against its ear, and it felt almost like a kiss.

There were bugs everywhere. They crawled and scampered, but they didn't seem anxious. They ignored JJ. Cooler heads always prevailed. And they fed on fear. They fed on discomfort. They turned the heat up when things got nervous, but JJ had never been nervous in his entire life. Not for his own life, at least. Never for his own.

The thing that loved him brought him to the left. Then the right. Long hallways. Little accouterments. It wasn't exactly homey. But it smelled lived in. Every so often JJ noted a fast food burger wrapper. Always a different place.

And then, he stopped in front of a door. Identical to all the others. But it pulled him toward the wood until the heat and tension threatened to burst out like a kind of lust or a kind of fire that wanted to take it all in and take it all out.


The Breeder said, “Progress report.”

“In-progress. One has disappeared, and one has escaped.”

“What?”

“Disappeared.”

The Breeder gritted his teeth and stood up. He reached out to Electric Eye, and his long fingers encircled her throat. He throttled its head to the front, and to the back. The blindfold momentarily slid down its face, but he pushed it back up. The thing freaked out when it could see.

Its face reddened, and it fought against the confines of the straitjacket.

The Breeder depressed his grip, and he said, “Find them and kill them. If you weren't his daughter, I'd take the life out of you. You piece of shit GPS bitch.”

As he spoke, the door opened. The bugs skittered, and the Breeder's head swung to the noise. In the doorway, stood one of them. One of the Sex Fiends. He grinned, spread across his bearded face. The area around his mouth, wet with drool. The Breeder looked down at the little Sex Fiend. He breathed in, then out, shallow, broken with laughter.

“Mr. Lucky, right?” said the Breeder. A bead of sweat fell down his forehead. “That's gettin' me pretty fuckin' scared, dude. Real fuckin' terrified.” Giggling, and the bugs converged upon their father as one living thing. They encircled him, pressing their bodies against his skin. Like a weird armor. They left room for his face as he spoke. “And don't worry about your buds. When Electric Eye stops babbling all of Jude's stupid bullshit, it's pretty great at controlling them. Idiot never even questioned why the Critic wanted a lock of his hair. Poor, poor stupid Jude and that soon-to-be dead fat girl. But that leaves me. And luckily for me, I'm the Bomb. Sub-ability.”

The Breeder winked. The air went wavy. As JJ crossed the room, the microphone near the Breeder burst into flame.


JJ wondered what was with this guy and Electric Six. The heat cranked up, and he reached into his pocket. As he drew closer, his skin blistered. The dancer held on, pulling him toward the door, but JJ persisted. Strained against it.

No longer a dancer but a jealous lover. He calmed it, as best he could. He sent it the idea in his head, and it grumbled.

It no longer mattered, however. As the heat turned up, JJ slashed out with the screwdriver into the Breeder's neck. Immediately, the bugs fell to the ground, some on their back, and they scurried into corners, confused like little dogs.

The Breeder fell to his knees, blood gurgling from his lips. He looked at JJ, eyes flashing confused and angry.

“Shh, shh. Your first mistake was thinking I'd ever be afraid.” JJ's sunburnt lips crackled into a smile. It hurt. The first bursts of pain he had felt in his memory. JJ bent down to the man, pressing his forehead against his.

The Breeder was sweaty, and life was falling from his eyes as his heart betrayed his body and pumped every bit of blood out of his neck and into JJ's shirt.

“Your second mistake was thinking I'd hesitate in killing you.” JJ kissed the Breeder's forehead, hands on the dying man's temples. It didn't matter if he heard it, but what mattered was saying it. Out loud. “He's an idiot, but I think I love him. Like a brother. Like providence loves me. I don't want anyone to hurt him, dead dude. God, look at all that blood. You can't hear me at all, can you?”

The Breeder's eyelids fluttered, and in JJ's uncaring arms, he died.

“He's good. He tries. He hurt a lot of people, but so have I. He's sorry. And I wish I could be that sorry. I wish people could be that sorry.”

That was when Esther blinked back into JJ's cognition and said, “Dance Commander, disengage. Oh G-d, you poor girl. What did they do to you?” She bent down to the girl, whose chair had broken. She was splayed on the floor, quiet, unmoving, seemingly unfeeling. Esther wrapped the girl in her arms and looked up at JJ.

JJ looked down at her.

“You didn't hear any of that.”

“Sure,” said Esther. “What do we do with the girl?”

“I don't know right now,” said JJ, standing up. His clothes were soaked. The bugs trundled mindlessly in circles with their father dead. Downstairs, JJ assumed, Jude has passed out.

“He's going to find something here. And he's gonna keep going and find this dude. You're super aware of that, right?”

“Yeah,” said JJ.

“And you're still gonna go with him?”

“Until the end of the world.”

Du farkirtst mir di yorn. Then I am too.” Esther sighed, and she stood up with the small girl. Light. She must have been so light.

Her hair was blonde, and her eyes blue. She couldn't have been more than fourteen. But she was small for her age. Withered. Hungry. And she didn't speak. Her jaw was slack.

“It's the Critic's daughter,” said JJ.

“I heard.” Esther bit her lower lip, and then said, “Let's go see if Jude's okay. Then I guess we gotta get this girl to a hospital. Or something.”

“Maybe then you can reverse the nudity thing?” JJ grinned. As much as he could while covered in a dead man's blood.

“Don't rush me,” she said, looking down at the small, blonde girl. She brushed her hair across her forehead. “G-d, poor thing.”

JJ watched Esther rock the girl until she fell into what seemed like an uneasy sleep. As she walked down the wrecked stairs to find Jude, JJ stood up and began to look through the room. Information, clues, anything. Anything to forget the way his heart beat, just a tad out of sync, when he had seen Jude first pause.

He looked at his arm. A perfect circular burn, inner left wrist.

Sometimes, even the blessed feel nervous, JJ figured.

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