The Flaying of Kenneth Padilla

Santa Fe. January 2023.

The creature circled a glitzy ballroom, repeating the same cruel greeting for each of its two-dozen enablers. It would reach out with a webbed black hand stretched wide from pinkie to thumb. Like a bat. The bat hand would wrap itself around the whole hand of the businessman and give a quick, sharp squeeze. The creature would look into the businessman’s eyes as it hurt him, smile a lizard’s curling smile, and move on to the next besuited enabler.

Harry Martinez rubbed his stinging fingers after his turn and whispered to Doug Coake: “Remember when we pulled the strings?”

“Ssh!” Coake replied.

The creature’s tail swam slowly through the air behind its back as it loped on flattened talons from one man to the next. When it got to Carlos King, King refused to shake. King was standing straight as a steel pole, vibrating like a tuning fork. “I won’t—“ King’s voice cracked to a halt when the creature’s head craned down to his level and sniffed his photo-2face, neck, and chest. The nostrils at the end of its scaly snout stopped and the creature purred with a grave depth King felt along the nerves in his spine.

Go on,” it purred.

“I won’t give you any more money!” He was plowing ahead, screaming his rehearsed speech while he stared straight forward to avoid meeting the spotted yellow eyes of the creature. “My teachers won’t be forced to work for free! No more!” He threw himself down on his knees and put his palms up and tears emptied from the sides of his red hopeless eyes. “Let this be my fate! It must end!”

The creature tilted its head 15 degrees. Then a clawed hand rose and snapped two digits and a pale elfin slave in tattered and soiled robes stepped out from nowhere, coughed, raised a hand into the air, and wheezed “What’s disappointing, but not surprising. . .”

The elf coughed again. It was sick.

“ . . . is that this so-called ‘offer’ . . .”

On “offer” the elf made air quotes with shriveled green fingers.

“ . . . from the status quo defenders does not once mention the most important element of education – our students. . . .”

King cried out and wept harder. The elf continued.

“ . . . It’s unfortunate our students can’t afford the organized political operation from which union leaders benefit.”

The elf bowed its spotted fuzzy head and pulled up a hood to shroud its face in shadow. Then it was gone.

“It is always the same! Oh God!” King heaved with sobs and his body flopped forward. “The same words every time.” He was drooling on the rug.

What the creature said next came like a slow exhalation of smoke: “I know.

It turned its head toward Bitsy Harper, the investor standing nearest King. Bitsy flinched wildly as the creature opened its mouth and, with a reflexive head jut, hacked a glowing fire orb at Bitsy.

“NOOOOO!!!!” Bitsy shrieked as he stumbled drunkenly in small circles, arms flailing, whole body on searing blue fire. He ran to the window and crashed through, exclaiming agony. His death wail dimmed and ended suddenly.

Aaahahahahaha!!!!” The creature’s laugh was resounding and full-bodied and shook the chandeliers. A clawed finger pretended to wipe away a tear and then the creature lost the humor in its yellow eyes and peered down at Carlos King, who had exhausted himself crying and laid on his side merely whimpering, eyes closed, thumb just shy of mouth.

You’re going to continue payment,” the creature hissed at King, “and now you’ll cover Bitsy’s share as well.

 

. .<

 

January 2014 was a fine time to be in business with political elites. The perks stimulated. Parties, awards. Lavish meetings catered of lobster and chocolate fountains. Having money meant you had sway over powerful people, and those powerful people enjoyed decadent meals.

Money swindled is 50 times as sweet. And it gushed. Net profits would double or triple from year to year as fat contracts were inked with winking impunity and tax rates shrank to nothing. What’s my business? Didn’t matter. All it took to feast from the cash geyser were connections, and flattery got you everywhere.

Then the weirdoes showed up—misplaced like men in a gynarchy; their sex simply different. Everything would have been fine if it just stayed about the money, but here’s the problem with getting rich doing practically nothing: Any soulless monkey can choose to join the game. They could play, to be fair. But they were fucking weird.

“Don’t you know the devil is real?” The rookie representative was twitchy, little hair wisps free from gravity. Thin neck. Why didn’t he blink? “We are chosen, and all is lost if we do not keep the devil away.”

Uh. What did that have to do with making money?

There were nine of them, elected the same year. Crazy-eyed. Devil this and devil that. They were obsessed. Amazingly, they seemed uninterested in money. Wherever their funding came from, they did not appear to work for it. They were always together, holding meetings about changing laws, or singing rhymes in unison.

One night a powerful senator was working late, talking with his lady friend, and one thing led to another. They were expecting privacy when they opened the rusty door to the deepest room in the capitol basement. Instead they saw a group of 12 legislators sitting naked on the stone floor in a circle around what looked like a mutilated animal. Each held an elaborately hilted dagger.

It was the new weirdoes and a few of the odder legislature veterans. They’d been chanting something when the lady friend’s scream cut them off. They looked at each other with instantaneous fear, and there was a flash of blue electricity and a roar like a tiger, maybe, and the powerful senator swore he saw a monster with long, spiny arms and a tail, but he was so scared and split too quickly to be sure what he’d seen.

The 12 from the basement were even stranger after that evening, which hadn’t seemed possible. They became more stiff—wooden—in their dealings with law changes. But they kept at it. Eventually the creature they created came out of the basement.

 

. . <

 

Ken Padilla shook his head and snapped back to the ballroom. His tie was steel blue. He had been day dreaming so deeply that he only barely noticed the flaming man leaping through the fourth-floor window.

They’d gotten numb. A nightmare creature from hell was bossing everyone around under threat of torture or death, and they acted like it was normal.

Goosebumps rose across all the doughy flesh beneath Padilla’s black suit. His mind was going places he didn’t want to be. Epiphany hit like a wave.

“Come quick the revolution,” Padilla said. Out loud.

Padilla uttered those words—through the protestation of his self-preserving conscience—at the creature’s back as it stood poised over a quivering lump of Carlos King. Jagged plates rose along the spine, up a long neck that rotated the terrible head 180 degrees. “What did you say?” it asked Padilla. The rest of the black body followed. It got close. Sniffed. Spread its lipless grin and ran a tongue across rows of sharp needle teeth. The sound and smell of the tongue were nauseating.

Padilla didn’t dare reply. He fought to keep composed, but peed himself. The creature was near enough to be all Padilla saw.

Revolution,” it repeated, amused, hot breath blasting Padilla’s face and puffing back his hair. “With you, I think, I’ll have some fun.

What it did next was not fun for Kenneth Padilla.

 

. . <

 

This has been a work of Flip Side fiction. It was entered into the Santa Fe Reporter writing contest, but lost.

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