"Alex. Hello. You're alone." Her.

He turned on the swivelling chair, swivelling his neck again, crack pop crack; so satisfying. "Not anymore, clearly."

the magician, the rightful Duke Prospero of Milan

Charlotte, Glenn and Umberto were there, having just stepped in from the corridor, at the other end of the row of humming supercomputers. Half in shadow. Like a film noir.

exiled by his enemies

Alex went on, standing up: "You've found me at a – at an optimal moment, in fact. I'm in a very good mood. Because – I believe – I believe our holiday is at an end. The congress is over. The world's safe. I've just realized how we can cure the Sickness. I've realized what it is and how we can cure it."

For some reason, fireworks exploded against the night sky, above the centre of the city.

This is strong magic

"Oh. That's wonderful," said Charlotte joylessly.

"I knew this might happen," said Glenn.

Alex gave a laugh. "Is that – is that your reaction? Please, don't overwhelm me with praise and, and excitement for this."

Charlotte, Glenn and Umberto were silent. They had become like



(visual ref.: the painting Dawn, by Odd Nerdrum.)

"Well," said Alex with a nervous laugh. "I'm going to load this onto the Net right now. We need to get this out there right now. Start saving some lives." He moved down the aisle to one of the supercomputers, touching the mouse to dispel the fractal screensaver, which reminded him for a second of the time he'd tried LSD. "Where's Alison, by the way?"

"Gone," said Glenn. "Charlotte, the gun."

"What?" Alex looked up as he attached the electrodes to his temples. He felt a familiar shiver pass through his body as he connected to the Net, preparing to unload his knowledge in the Forum of the Congress, sending it as a high importance bulletin to all participants. But

something was

all wrong



There was a sharp intake of breath from Charlotte

and a bang


Glenn had shot him.

Shit. Really?

Character type #9011.382

The Surprise Villain

Appears in: Thrillers, horror, mystery, whodunnits

The Surprise Villain is a villain revealed towards the end of the story, one whom the reader and/or the protagonist did not suspect to be a malevolent character. There may be multiple Surprise Villains in a story.

This couldn't be right. This was a joke. Glenn was holding a gun. Pointing it at him, emotionlessly. And now Alex's stomach hurt. Because there was a bullet in it. He looked down and saw red, red, rosso, profondo rosso, blossoming outward from his navel, in his white shirt under the white lab coat. Ow. OW. It felt like it was sucking; the wound was sucking everything inward, except that wasn't true because it was pumping stuff out, pumping blood out, gastric acid out. This couldn't be real; it had to be an illusion, a trick of the

a trump the oil

un trompe l'oeil

Alex looked back up with a confused, hurt, then offended expression. "Christ," was all he could say, and, thinking, deliriously, I knew you were an asshole Glenn but not that big of an asshole; I mean christ, probably fucking my wife; okay; fine, but murder, that's really a faux pas, especially when it's the man who's just found a way to save the world

An unfair affair; honestly, really unfair, so unfair -

And now he understood.


The Sickness was man-made and waterborne and it had been created by Glenn and Umberto and Charlotte was in on it too

It will cure – everything

Let it run its course

The Sickness is the cure

You never understood – anything

and he was dying.

But the electrodes were on his temples, and the Net was there, and he was connected to it, unloading all that he'd realized in the last five minutes, unloading his fucking masterstroke, his E = mc2.

"Fuck, he's transmitting," said Glenn, as all three assholes moved as one, closing in on Alex, who was dying with a mad grin on his face –

"STOP HIM -" (said none of them but this was their instinct)

"He'll put his mind in the Net," Charlotte breathed with certitude, knowing her husband, her sneaky husband dying but not dying, his mind not dying, his mind escaping from them –

- and Alex collapsed onto the desk, his head on the keyboard, typing a long line of gggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggg gggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggg

in an empty e-mail to no one. There was a trickle of urine down his trouser leg. A final relaxation of all muscles.

Glenn grabbed the back of his neck and tore the electrodes off with an angry grunt. Still with his left hand on the corpse's neck, he checked the pulse, which was not there to be checked. "He's dead."

"He unloaded himself," said Umberto.

Charlotte nodded. "He's in the Net. He always wanted to be a ghost. He's got a hideout built somewhere. He told me about it once. It's his idea of the Great Library of Alexandria."


"He didn't put anything on the Congress Forum. Look. There's nothing."

"As long as he's in the Net – he can still do it. We'll have to watch him. It'll be like fucking whack-a-mole."

Glenn yanked the fat 40-year-old corpse off the chair, and it slammed onto the cold linoleum floor, one lens of the glasses breaking, blood pooling gently. "FUCK!" Glenn kicked the dead man, again and again and again, as if trying to move him all the way across the room. Charlotte and Umberto watched emotionlessly. Glenn stopped. No point in aggression. Think clearly. Think in terms of benefits. As when he'd created the Sickness.

"Hook him up again," muttered Glenn. "Umberto, help me."

They hoisted the corpse back onto the chair. They reconnected the electrodes.

"Okay, he wants to run," said Glenn. "Let him run. And we'll follow."

Glenn attached electrodes to his temples and connected them to the second port on the computer. A window popped up. Multiple users are connected to. Do you wish to. Yes. Are you sure. Yes.

He falls –

So many stories begin with a fall

"What's he doing – Glenn, what is he doing?" said Charlotte.

"Will you just shut up for one second?"

and hits the surface of the Mediterranean, running, running across the sea after Alex, who is running towards his Alexandria –

So many stories begin with a fall

"Fucking STOP him," Umberto hissed.

they can both see the Lighthouse up ahead, its beacon extinguished as it is currently day, brilliant day, the low waves sparkling as their feet dash across them and up –

Alice in Wonderla

"He's connecting to – I can't –" Glenn's breath caught, his eyes clenched shut, hands against the sides of his head.

he Bible, The Satanic Vers

I'd had too much coffee that night; I couldn't sleep

- Alex the bastard is escaping up onto the broad, glimmering stone steps of the harbour, up to the great city, past obelisks, past tall olive trees; his stomach pumping out almost black blood on the linoleum floor of the facilities in Milan in reality in the night –

I couldn't sleep that night; I'd had too much coffee

"There's too many mirrors," said Glenn.

Umberto: "Just fucking shut it all down; don't give him any –"

I couldn't sleep that night; I'd had two cups of coffee

"Just fucking shut it all down."

and there is the Library, the Great Library, with its stone and marble façade of imposing Egyptian pillars, unfurling into the shapes of palm leaves, its entrance a dark rectangle, impervious to the sun's glare, between statues of Thoth –

I couldn't sleep that night; I'd had a cup of coffee, around 9 or 10

"Fucking shut it all down! Glenn!"

I couldn't sleep that night but the coffee had been decaf; I was thinking of

Alex escapes into the Library; fuck; Glenn can't follow him in there; there's a barrier; this is Alex's zone; nothing comes in; nothing comes out –


the Sickness

I was thinking of

So many stories begin with a fall

'shut it'

the Sickness

'all down'

thinking of

'shut it'

Go on

you, my darling

This is strong magic

'ALEX -'

I couldn't sleep that night; I'd had too much coffee.

Live a little

"AH! GOD!" Glenn tore the electrodes off his contorted, pale head. "FUCK!"

"He's in there," Charlotte said tonelessly, staring at the screen. "His ghost. We have to kill it."

"You." Glenn handed her the electrodes. "You go in. We need someone who hits him hard. Someone he's got a lot of memories of."

She nodded. "I know." Slowly, gently, she put a hand on her dead husband's shoulder. He still lay with his head on the keyboard, pressing down a randomness of letters and numbers. "I'll do it. He has to die."

"You can carry us inside you. Umberto and I. We'll use you as a shortcut. We can all attack him once you're in the Library."

She contains your enemies inside her, like a pregnant spider, like a ship in a Tempest

Love is

Charlotte was always

a Trojan horse

a liability


In the Parco Sempione, in the night, on the deserted trail, under the sycamore trees, Alison lay prone, dead, prone (to (dying), no, not dead, dying, left there by Charlotte, incompetent Charlotte who should have checked her pulse, Charlotte who was by now emotionless enough but not smart enough to kill people properly, the bitch.

She ached. She bled. From her stomach into the gravel. She could barely move her arm enough to produce her phone from her jacket pocket. She raised it to her face. The display glowed. She had a connection to the Net. Thank fuck.

No ambulance for her. That was too late. She was dying.

She found Alex in her contact list.

He was currently in the Net. In a private zone, a hideout. She requested a connection to him. To it.

Please accept.

Please accept me Alex.

I've seen the way you've been looking at me. Maybe you just want to fuck me. Maybe you think that's why I'm connecting to you. That's fine. Just accept.

I love you. I love life. I just want life to continue. I just want to save it. Save them all.

the cult must be wary of

I can't save myself. Or you. But we can save it. Life. All of it. I need to tell you what I know.

will always have at least one – a-co-lyte – present in this world

Please let me in.

The acolyte is always a young girl

Please accept.

one who, without knowing it, bears within herself – the strongest magic of all


and is destined to fight the cult


and to prevent the dark celestial rite

Fuck. Yes.

from being brought to

He had. Accepted her.


She closed her eyes and drifted off. Feeling warm.

'Que linda, la princesa …'

Maids of honour applying rouge to her jowls, brushing combing, petting touching whispering, making her pretty for the painting, her sweet meninas. Ladies, ladies in


The man from Seville was here, the famous man, just to paint her and, distantly, there, in the mirror behind her, standing behind him, in front of her, where the viewer would stand, mother and father. So strange, so unusual; to do it like that; even she knew. But they said he was a genius.

always waiting, waiting

for Alex

for the throne

for life to open up in all its sweetness, la dulzura

'No te muevas, mi niña …'

'Si mama …'

There was perfume in the air, ripe fruit on the tables, fruit flies buzzing. The afternooon light filtered in through laced frilly curtains. Beautiful July, golden the way it only ever is in Madrid. The dog raised its head sleepily. Her dress rustled, the fabric thick and smooth, making her sweat. Her hair fell, frilly frilly like curtains, golden Hapsburg sunshine hair, hair of incest, hair of nobility.

'No te muevas …'

But she remembered; she was not Margarita; she was not a princess; she was Alison.

Why is this my entry point?"

"I don't know. Perhaps Alex has … imbued you with some sense of …" Kaspar hesitated, searching. He'd pronounced imbued 'imbood.' Cute. "Some sense of innocence." He was the dog; the dog's face was his, turning to look up at his young mistress' face. Smiling. "Welcome, in any case. To Alexandria. You're here to help, aren't you?"

A fair affair


She moves out of her ordained position in the painting. The meninas gasp. "Princesa!"

The oil has been trumped


Her dress rustles. A thick oval, protruding from her hips, outrageously, like a circus tent. Can't get through any doorways in this.


She starts running.


Past Velásquez, who keeps painting; he is busy capturing the dogKaspar.

Charlotte and Glenn, cheated

Past her parents, the king and queen, who gasp, and for a moment their faces are Glenn's and Charlotte's, their hands reaching out for her long and sharp,( in the mirror, (from the spectator's point of view (from Alex's)). "Hija! Que haces?"

She escapes. Down the corridors of the palace. Away away. Her dress rustling.

Where is Alex?

Her body is growing; she is becoming herself; the dress growing with her. A song is stuck in her head

your cigarette still burns

your messed up life still thrills me

and she turns for a moment as if lost, at a corner, to see that yes, Charlotte and Glenn, the king and queen, are on her trail, hands stretched out stretching like dough. Alison, heart pounding, goes into a nightclub that is suddenly right in front of her, CLUB INFERNO; how original; 10 Euros to get in. Red and blue strobe lights hit her; the place is pumping even now at 11; people in Milan go out early (go home early). She pushes through the crowds; lots of young loud guys checking her out; obnoxious but she doesn't mind; in her story, horny fictional Alison is happy to have opportunities here. She orders a shot of vodka at the bar, looking over her shoulder. Glenn, Umberto and Charlotte are pushing through, growing incrementally closer in the strobe lights, angry. Fuck.

wait why am I here again

She grabs her lighter, sets fire to the vodka (because yes why not) and splashes it at her pursuers; the liquid flames fan out horizontally, from wall to wall, engulfing the crowd, which screams; Charlotte and Glenn duck. Someone grabs her hand; it's the young guy who wanted to fuck her; he says come with me in her ear in a heavy northern Italian accent. She follows him to the men's room; there is a window; fucking perfect; an open window; and the Italian gives her a leg up; she climbs out

into the alley in the reddish orange afternoon; more Italian guys here, laughing as she emerges; è pazza; they're sharing a joint; fuck it; she points and asks if she can have some, and yes she can; she puffs on it, says grazie and leaves, walking then running down the alley to a

Where is Alex?

And why is the sky red?

door in an oak panel behind a grandfather clock that has swung aside


into the centre of the Library, where the Index hovers, and Alex and Kaspar stand staring at Charlotte outside the barrier, knocking on the barrier, drip drip, knocking on the billowing vertical surface of thick air, thick strong magic keeping her out, the Trojan horse, the virus.

"Alex!" Alison cries out.

"Alison! What the fuck?!"

Kaspar smiles, knowingly, with his friendly Austrian (Spanish (dog)) eyes. "Welcome," he says again.

She runs up to them, hugging Alex, hugging Kaspar, as if she's always known them and they've always known her; no need for introductions, no need for names. "Hi – hi – oh my God – hi. Shit. I made it." She smiles, eyes wide, wet, flickering between the two men.

"You made it," Kaspar says with a smile. "Now we are three. Three against three."

She stands there in her Velásquez dress. They stand there in their togas. Charlotte stands outside in her hotel bathrobe. It's a strange costume party. Alex's body is young and slender and smooth, lightly muscular, his hair curly and dark. His incarnation is unlike the Alex she knew in Milan, unlike the pudgy, pale, 40-year-old Englishman she fell in love with.

"You're young, here," she says.

"Yes," he says. "Do you like it? I figured, why not."

"Uh, yes, I like it. I have to get used to it, but … I really like it." She smiles. This Alex is her age, perhaps younger. Admittedly, the sex would be better than between her and fat middle-aged Alex.

"Of course you like it," says Alex sadly and – teasingly? Suddenly, she wants to have sex with him here, right now.

"But why are you –" Alex raises his empty hands, uncomprehending. "You were – just – Glenn's assistant."

"I was spying on him."


Still, Charlotte knocking on the doorway, drip drip drip, dripping (through).

"I was spying on him, Alex," she says with a proud happy mad smile. "I know everything. And you probably know, too. That he created the Sickness. And that Umberto and Charlotte are in on it."

"I know, yes," says Alex, still confused. "I found a cure."

"You did?" Her smile widens almost impossibly. It strikes Alex not for the first time how beautiful she is, young and beautiful and intelligent. "Oh – you're – Alex, you're fucking brilliant! I always wanted to tell you that, but – you know – we never say what we need to say."

"No, we don't." He looks down at the stone floor, frowning. Still, Charlotte is knocking, dripping.

"You're brilliant. We just need to get it out on the Net."

"Yes, but … we can't," says Alex.

"We're under siege," says Kaspar sadly. "We can't go outside the Library. Look. They're out there."

Charlotte, knocking, dripping, expressionless, movement in her spider stomach, Glenn and Umberto curled up, grotesque fetuses, anticipating.

"We'll kill them," says Alison without a trace of fear or doubt. "It'll be fine. We can do this. Three against three."

"Alison, you don't know, do you?" says Alex sadly. "That … I'm dead. They killed my body."

"That's fine," says Alison, still smiling. "Your bitch wife killed me, too."


Charlotte, knocking.

"I'm so sorry," says Alex.

"It's fine. I don't care. Or … well, I do, but I can't care right now. There's too much to do."

"Yes." Alex takes a few steps towards the gateway and Charlotte. He runs a hand through his dark, smooth locks. For a second he flickers; seems to become his middle-aged self; short grey hair and a furrowed brow.

Then: "Let's do it. Let's let her in."

"What?" says Kaspar.

"Are you sure?" says Alison. "Right now?"

"Yes. Fuck it. I'll let her in. I'll let them in. And we'll fight them."

"No," says Kaspar, reaching out; "no, Alex, wait; I can't fight them; I'm not - there's something about me you don't -"

"I will let her in."

"- understand."

The ripples in the air disappear, and Charlotte falls in through the gateway with an angry scream, landing like a poised insect on the stone floor. She looks up, wet hair falling across her white face. Then, her body whips upward, arched, hands at her churning stomach, and she screams out the agony of birth –

- as –

mmmmmmmmmgggghlllrrrmmmh yes



ttttthank you Charlotttttte

Umberto emerge from her. They spill onto the floor, wet, as if fresh out of the Mediterranean, fresh out of the Net, into his hideout, into his net like fish (a fisherman of souls), onto his island, his island of wonders and sweet airs that hurt not; the exiled Duke of Milan; the magician. Alex smiles for a moment, even though he is terrified. There is no safety now. There is no barrier. It must all end now. The stories must end. Reality is here.

Charlotte runs toward him and Kaspar and Alison, hands outstretched, screaming, her nails lenghtening impossibly; Glenn and Umberto scrambling like apes behind her, apes with



And Alex commands: "Index! Take us to: The Woman in the Snow. Page 949."

Loading ….


.. Blizzard 30%

Night sky


Oil lamps ….. 5% …. 30% …



Monastery … 64% … 100

Woman 100%

Please choose a point of identification.

Abbot Mendelvok Brother Sapranovich Brother Lidianov

Brother Gregodon Brother Eisenstein Brother Trogonovskij

Brother Tolvonech Brother Zacvílec Brother Tarovskij

Brother Tulkin Brother Golgonov Brother Figuravskij

The woman

You have selected: The woman

"Shit, I don't know who to be," Umberto says, in the slipstream

ust anyone," (Glenn) "We can't waste time