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Hex Publishers is an independent publishing house proudly specializing in genre fiction: horror, science fiction, crime, dark fantasy, comics, and any other form that explores the imagination. Founded by writers, Hex values both the author and the reader, with an emphasis on quality, diversity, and voices often overlooked by the mainstream.

Behold: Skowt!

By Jason Heller

My eyes are dinosaur eggs. My tongue cracks like lightning. I been there, done that, drunk it, fucked it. I am the hole in the roof where the brains leak in. I eat jerks like you for sunfeast. Behold: me! Behold: Skowt!

I slink through the street with my meat in my fist and fireworks up my ass. It's Friday night on the Protein Delta, and the coldcuts are queuing up for inspection. Can't sleep on this shit, son. When you're an old slab of nineteen like Skowt, you gotta work it.

And work it I do.

The sun comes up, chrome on blue, pushing away the dead moon and its huge blinking billboard hawking vaxxes and organbots. Could use some of them myself. My gums taste like rust. I had this one jerk around four past sun. Into blood, all of twenty. Give me a tired old jerk any day. I'll pop him like a balloon and send him on his way, twenty creds and a teaspoon lighter.

My head screams for naptime, but I know I can't. Naps cost paysa: paysa for a room, paysa you'll get rolled for, paysa you're not out making.

Plus, I got a mission to complete. It started the day I was born. It ends the day I die.

I have to tell the world about Skowt.

My old name is Oso, but you'd better call me Skowt now, bitches. If you need a reminder, I'll burn it on your ass. Or you can just check for my tag. You won't have to look hard. My paint's everywhere. I'm nationwide, coast to coast.

Or at least I'm working on it.

I take last night's paysa and head east of the Delta, across the crap swamp and blacktop frizzy with waist-high weeds. I make it to Wowoyo Market before noon. I stop by the Datra and make arrangements for later. Then it's time to stock up on the regular supplies: krosi, plague shots, a fresh one-shot, and chemdrops to purify my piss for drinking water.

Oh, yeah, and paints. Gotta have my paints.

You'll never know what it's like to shake them cans of paint and feel the ball bearings clang around like planets. I rip my tag across brick walls and bed sheets drying on the line. "Behold: Skowt!" Then again. And again. Andagainandagain. "BEHOLD: SKOWT!" My tag is bright like a peacock, crazy like a spider web. Honed by centuries of sharpening it against the skulls of dumbfucks. No cop ever caught me. I suck and spray, suck and spray, and they don't get the time of day.

"Fo waka, Skowt!" It's Erl.

"Fo waka, Erl."

Erl is all right.

"You tagging today?"

"The fuck you think?"

"I dunno, man, I thought you might be down for a dunk in the canal."

I laugh my ass off in Erl's fat face. "The canal? Are you real? You'll catch more crud in that canal than you will in some old jerk's olo."

Erl sniffs. I forgot to take it easy on him. He's pretty big for thirteen, but still, he's just a baby.

"Hey, Erl! It's good, it's good. We'll hit up that canal. But let's go tag some first, huh? You with me?"

Erl's face lights up. He sleeves off his snot. "I'm with you, Skowt."


I'll be straight: It was no accident I ran into Erl. I knew where he was gonna be, when he was gonna be there. Erl's predictable. Not like me. You never know which way my paints are gonna be coming at you. Ha!

Mostly I tag alone. That's kind of the whole point. It's just me, my paints, and an empty space crying out to get filled. Sometimes the vids in Wowoyo show old stories, ones about fucking for love. Fucking for love! I don't get it. But I bet it feels like tagging.

Today, though, I need Erl. I need a sidekick. A pack mule. A lookout.

Some big shit, you understand, is about to go down.


You'd think hustling on the Delta, busting ass, dodging cops and pimps would be plenty of ambition for a young businessman like myself. But I got something no one else around here does: the tonton of a cheetah. I came into this world with no one. None of that mama and papa crap, as far as I can scope. I had a little brada once, Imi, but he didn't last on the Delta long.

That's when I knew I had to make it. Not just make it: fucking triumph. Large. Where all can see.

Babies like Erl, like Imi, they're good kids. Strong kids. But they don't have vision. That's where Skowt comes in.


It squats there like a castle in the dark. See, I'm smart. I can read. I seen books, lifted handhelds. Castles used to look just like this: big and blank and beautiful.

Oh, the fucking tagging I'd give this place. I can see it now: "Behold: Skowt!" Each letter as tough and sharp and tall as me. But I got bigger dicks to fry.

This particular castle has razor wire instead of a moat and some skinny old fuck in a blue suit instead of a knight. Me and Erl sit scoping it out in the bushes, eating crispy roach and using the red-specs I got when I went back to the Datra earlier. That lady can rig anything, fix anything, for the right price. Even if that price is pain.

I blew a whole day's worth at the Datra today. She finally finished building my virus. It took her months and cost me plenty, lots of overtime on both our parts.

Her disc I put in my pocket along with a couple other vital pieces of hardware. The rest of the shit I loaded up into Erl's rucksack like he was a burro. Poor Erl. Then we headed out from the Market for the castle, where we now crouch like hyenas with nothing to laugh about.

Leaping from the leaves, we time everything just right. We use the old stopwatch and the metal-cutter we got from the Datra's junkpile. It's not like it's that hard to break in anyway. No one has the paysa to do shit right anymore. Not even the kings of the cocksucking castle.

We're through the moat, past the knight. Then another one of the Datra's toys–a scrambler–gets us in the door. Dressed in black and humping shadows, I want to roar at the sky.

I'm a fucking dragon. I feel like a fucking dragon.

"Skowt. Skowt, I'm scared." Erl's been quiet so far. I should've figured he'd get spooked. "They won't even bother giving us to a judge if they catch us. A couple of Delta rats. They'll just torch us."

"Erl. Too late. We're in. We're in!" I have a hard time keeping my voice down. "The moment is at hand. We're dicking the moon in the earhole, Erl. We're skullfucking that shit!"

Erl starts to whimper. I drag him into the maze of dark hallways, scrambler in one hand, the Datra's map burned into my brain.

Deeper we go.

Finally, the door.

I stand there for a second, and for that second I feel little Oso inside me. I hear him. I hear him whining in the alleys, licking garbage, slurping out of puddles. Puking. Snot all over. A jerk takes him, hard, and soon he figures out he can trade one end of himself for the other.

It's not easy. What is? But none of that matters anymore. Oso is Skowt now, and Skowt is an ice-hard prick of the street. Skowt is the street. Stone. A Protein dragon. Long, black, scrawny. Scales made out of footprints and burnt rubber. I spit fire, and my fire fucks all.

With a final blast of juice from the scrambler, I blow the door open.

I'm dazzled.

It's a room of crystal. Cables dangle from the ceiling like cave rock. Vids blink like lizards' eyes. Smoke and greasy steam pours out of everywhere. Erl runs back down the hall like a fat tapir, but I don't care. I made it. And I have a mission.

My eyes get used to the sparkles, and I head for the first terminal. I pull out my handheld, a gift from some old jerk who fell asleep on top of me and never woke up. I've run through the Datra's instructions a hundred times, but it's different when it's real. Trickier. I slip the disc, Datra's virus, into the handheld and link it up to the terminal. That fucker starts sucking it down.

I move from terminal to terminal, plugging and tapping, plugging and tapping. The keys are little sparklies, cut-glass barnacles. It's a mess of light and color. The Datra used to know someone who programmed here, and she told me all about it: The system's a total scavenge job, held together with shit and paperclips. Spitting pistons spin the disc drives. Oil sizzles. It's hard to breathe. And it's fucking hot, hot as the blacktop in summertime.

Even worse, I parse, I've only got a couple minutes. I was stupid to bring Erl. I just now figured out where he's running.

An echo rings down the hallway outside. That fat little shit is faster that I thought.

"Down here! You'll tell them, right, mister? You'll tell them that I told you?"

I keep tapping away like crazy at the last terminal. Erl sticks his head in the doorway. The skinny old guard in the blue suit is right behind him.


It's funny the shit the Delta will make you do. Sometimes you hurt yourself so other people can't. Sometimes you just hurt them first.

I don't blame Erl. I know he's just a kid, a baby. He shouldn't be out there queuing up every night, nothing to anyone but a slab of coldcut. Some kids ain't made for that. Erl ain't. Imi wasn't.

I am.

I take the old guard's slug just as a last rush of juice gushes from my handheld and into the terminal. Steam jets out of it, scalding me. I slump to the floor.

The guard's head turns into a puff of red mist as I pull my one-shot out of my back pocket and fire it at his eyes.

I yell at Erl. Stuff comes up in my puke. My lungs make a sucking noise. Erl is crying, a dry cry, and he starts to pull me out of the hissing machinery.

"No!" I yell. "Leave me here!" Erl won't listen, which is good, ‘cause I don't know what I'm saying. I catch one last look at the control room's vids, but it's all steam.

When I wake up I'm outside in the bushes, flat on my back. Alarms are going off. Erl is blubbering and saying sorry. The cool night air is pouring in through my ribs.

I look up.

The moon is orange, swirly, like a chemdrop in a glass of piss. Huge. A hole punched into the night.

In the middle of that hole is the billboard. But there ain't no commercials for vaxxes projected on it tonight. No ads for organbots in letters a hundred miles high and visible from the deepest alleys of the Delta, from all the other alleys of all the other Deltas, from sea to shitty sea.

Instead it's a tag. Bright like a peacock, crazy like a spider web.

I grip Erl. "It's okay," I say. "Take me to the Datra," I say.


Like I told you already: I'm a thunderbolt in heat, a fucking rocket manned by an astronaut panther. Ancient. My mission began the day I was born, and it ends the day I die. But Skowt ain't nowhere close to being dead yet. All the world knows is my name, my tag, hanging there in the night sky like a black eye all purple and yellow on the ugly pale face of the moon.

That's a lot. But it's just a start. Skowt's still got plenty to learn you fucks. Plenty.

Behold, motherfuckers. Behold.

Jason Heller is a journalist, editor, and author of the alt-history novel Taft 2012 (Quirk); the Goosebumps tie-in Slappy’s Revenge (Scholastic); and a chapter of Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s The Time Traveler’s Almanac (Tor). He’s the former nonfiction editor of Clarkesworld and won a Hugo Award as part of that editing team. His short stories have appeared in Apex Magazine, Farrago’s Wainscot, Sybil’s Garage, Paper Darts, Nightmares Unhinged, Swords v. Cthulhu, and many other magazines and anthologies. He writes about books and music for NPR, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, and The Onion A.V. Club (where he’s a Senior Writer). His nonfiction has also appeared in Weird Tales, Entertainment Weekly, Alternative Press, and He’s a 2009 graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and a member of the Wyrd Words workshop group. Jason lives in Denver with his wife, Angie.

Behold: Skowt! ©2008 by Jason Heller. First Publication: Apex Magazine November 2008, ed. Jason Sizemore (Apex Publications).

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