Incubus

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Photo Credit: N G

Chapter 1
Evensong

First, we nail boards to the windows. Every slam of the hammer shook our little trailer; on a better day, from the vigorous trembling, you’d think I was getting laid. But, no, this was not a good day, nor did I figure we would have one for a long time.

As I offered him the planks, Jared smashed and stuck them against the windows. In all, the trailer had only four windows, each nearly too small for even a toddler to squeeze through, but we could not take any chances. Sweat glistened on the nape of his neck, diamond droplets trickling down his spine. The muscles in his back swelled and tensed as he helped me fortify our home, and suddenly I was thankful for the long nights he spent pumping away at Hartloch’s community gym.

He drove the final nail in, the head of it slightly bent from the force. “What next, Aubs?”

Jared knew what was next; I knew it too, but that didn’t make it any easier. “The sinks, with the carpet.” My eyes dropped to the stringy shag carpeting daddy installed for me the first week after he was diagnosed with cancer. It was the final project he ever completed, and it killed me what had to be done with it. Sunlight beamed between the furniture pressed against the front door, revealing all the swirling dust in our quaint trailer house. “Then after that…” My voice quivered.

“Don’t even,” Jared barked, falling to his knees. “How much d’we need?”

“Just start cutting, and I’ll let you know when.” An image of the creatures crawling up the pipes made my stomach churn.

But before he could drive the knife into the carpet, Jared stopped. “Look at us, Aubrey.”

“What?”

“What the fuck we doin’?” His voice was raspy with authentic country roots. “Say we get the placed locked up, how long we gonna survive after that? We ain’t got food to last us maybe a week, not to mention the Reverend and his tricks.” His eyes flashed like frenzied lightning under the flickering ceiling fan bulb. Despair bleached Jared’s typical enthusiastic tone. “We can’t do this alone.”

I snapped. “Who the hell can we call, Jared?” Pacing the living room, hands clenched in my hair, I repeated: “Who the hell can we call?” My mind pulled images of everyone I ever loved from my mental scrapbook. “There’s no one left but us.”

We sat in silence for a moment, me glaring daggers into Jared’s forehead. He knew it as well as I did: we were screwed. “Now get to stripping that carpet; we’ve got to fill these motherfucking sinks if we’re going to last until morning.”

#####

With our home finally fortified — every possible entry plugged up tight — Jared and I sat in the naked living room. The place where the entertainment center was that once held the television and Jared’s huge collection of games had become the place where we kept the shit bucket. Picture frames against the walls only existed as faint dust outlines against dirty wood panelling. Everything we used to have was either distorted and used to keep us safe, or rotting in a fire pit back at the refuge. I imagine that was also where the passionate, electric love Jared and I had for one another was buried.

The ceiling fan was the only one humming with excitement as Jared and I sat cross-legged on the cold, bare floor. Bright summer heat and light dimmed to a pale twilight as night was cast upon the land. Aside from a pack of dogs in the distance and the blaring emergency sirens, everything was quiet.

Something had also turned the volume down on my heart. I felt empty. I was empty. “Jared,” his name felt unfamiliar on my tongue, “I’m sorry for flipping out on you earlier.” Silence. “Babe, please don’t be this –”

Shh,” he huffed, pointing to the door. “Do you hear that?”

It started as a drip-drip-drip, like water from a faucet, but it quickly got faster and louder. The single light we had on in the trailer let out a final, bright burst of light before turning to lifeless gray. Illuminated by only the dusklight peeping through the cracks in the wood, my heart bounced to my throat. “They’re here,” I whispered.

The weight of the air I breathed splintered my lungs, the sheer pressure of it squeezing my brain. Tears streamed Jared’s face as the realization that we had been chosen had struck him. “I love you,” I mouthed, my fingers pressed to my burning temple.

Dust filled my body as I continued gasping for the very thing that was torturing me. Checkered shadows danced on the walls. Blood dripped from our ears. Our tears turned to crimson. In the back of my mind, I heard a haunting melody, drawing me to the door. But I knew I had to stay put.

I looked at Jared, who was still bent over in agony. We wanted so badly to scream, to say literally anything, but sound no longer existed, the very waves dissolved in the potent air.

Suddenly my body twitched, and I rose from the floor. All of my hair was standing on edge in the electrified atmosphere that had consumed the trailer. Time slowed to a trickle as every particle sluggishly ascended. My face was stricken, my mouth gaping, trying to breathe any ounce of oxygen.

Just as I was on the brink of death, everything stopped. The air returned, the pain subsided. Everything was in its perfect place — the entertainment center was back in the corner of living room, the television broadcasting an old cartoon, and Jared’s game collection was placed neatly on the side shelves. The picture frames of momma, my brother, and me were immaculately hung on the walls. Daddy’s shag carpeting tickled my toes. Soft moonlight shone through bare, crystal windows.

But one thing was not in its place; Jared was gone. In his place: a bloodstained stone tulip. My passion for Jared returned the moment he had gone. Before I could start to cry, there was a faint knock at the door. Two small taps shattered my soul.

The Reverend was outside, myself in my own twisted nightmare. But it wasn’t until the stone tulip crumbled to ash that the terror truly began.

 

Disturb the Peacekeeper

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Photo credit: Flickr

Three maidens cast piercing glares my way. Tramps, the folk called them. Others knew them simply as the dark sisters. They tugged at the binds, squirming like a bunch of stretched worms against soaked tree trunks.

“Repent!” Father Pritchet gave them another lash across the face. The whip butchered their powdered skin like a bull carcass in a lion pit. “Admit your sins in front of your brothers and sisters! Shout it so the good Lord can hear your pathetic confession!” The sisters kept quiet, unflinching. This only further enraged the preacher.

Pritchet’s face burned as he turned to face us. His eyes were glassy and his fingers twitched and tightened against the whip. There was no question that he was back on the spirits again. “Dare you stand at your post, denying the good people of Neckam an admission of guilt in the possession of young Bette Ferstip?” The preacher pointed his scaly finger at me. “What about your little sister, Gloria? Will you not give her closure? Anything to ease her suffering? You three killed your mother, after all.” The silence was broken by a sneeze from the back. It was the baker, ol’ Maryann Callister – everybody told her flour would be the death of her. She swore it was the work of Satan and his three wenches.

“Speak!” The father whipped them another four times. Still nothing. Pritchet wiped the sweat from his brow. “Very well. You can die with your demons, harlots! Would dear Maryann please face the accused?” Mrs. Callister cut through the crowd and joined the preacher at the front. “Now tell us all what these sinister whores did to your health, Maryann.”

Despite being the source of Neckam’s sweet treats, Maryann evidently did not indulge in her product; she was gaunt, her apron barely clinging to her thin waist. She had been part of the community since migrating from the homeland sixty years ago. “They tarnished it, Father!” The audience hissed obscenities, curses of their own, as the woman coughed in a dark handkerchief. Dust danced in the dry wind. “They asked for a blackberry tart, but I explained that I ain’t got no blackberries, as the harvest was spread too thin. Most of this season’s batch was shipped to the capital, you see. And they left appalled! Shortly after was when I developed this painful cough!”

The crowd erupted. “Burn the witches!” they chanted. “Cast the flame, Father!”

And he did exactly as the spectators demanded. In seconds, the three women were ablaze. Their screams would haunt the square for centuries. Father Pritchet stood tall and proud, confident that he just ridded the land of some more of Satan’s slaves.

The death of my older sisters does not affect me. The stench of the burning hair and their screams were enough to send the rest of the villagers back to their cottages, but I watched every moment.

When the three girls walked in on me with the stones one afternoon, they threatened to tell the preacher. Everyone figured the village was rife with witches, thanks to hysteria in neighboring towns, and how great would they be regarded if they turned in the most powerful one of them all? So I casted a simple hex sealing their cancerous mouths and went to work.

“It’s such a shame it had to come to this,” I mentioned to Father Pritchet, who was scribbling something in a journal, still at his post near my burning relatives.

“We live in dark times, Gloria. The Devil’s shadow stretches far.”

“Indeed.” I walked back to my secret cottage in the woods, enjoying the smell of my sisters’ burning hair on the way. At the cusp of war, I entered my home with no bounds for the first time in a century.

Heaven

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“Would you just hold still?” Laurie says, running her palm slick with spit up my forehead.

“I’ve been doing this every week for thirty-seven years; you’d think I would know how to prep myself before the sermon.”

She scoffs. “You’d think that, wouldn’t you?” Her cold beryl eyes, like daggers, stare into my welcoming green. It’s when her perfectly-plucked eyebrows pull together and her strawberry lips purse that I back off; I mustn’t start a fight with the domineering she-demon.

“Thank you, honey.” Those words taste foul, toxic even, but nevertheless I bite back my sharp rebuttals.

She claps my back, cackling, and hands me the car keys. “Don’t kid yourself, Charles. You know damn well I don’t fall for that bullshit.”

***

When we arrive at the church, I put her hand in mine and we meander the parking lot, stopping to greet our loyal audience, a crowd of Bible thumping hypocrites who strictly come to the house of worship for the gossip.

A woman in her thirties wearing a bright purple Georgette skirt stops us before we enter the church. “Good morning, Charles. Oh, and Laurie, I just want you to know that I took your advice on my little problem.” She winks. “It’s working just fine now.”

My wife and I display our false smile, the one that portrays a loving pastor and his wife. “It’s so nice to see you, Margaret.” I turn to Laurie. “I’ll let you two catch up, though. I’m afraid I am running late as it is.” Laurie nods and throws me her “you lucky sonofabitch” grin, allowing me to retreat into the brick building.

It only takes me a few minutes to set up the podium and clear the stage. And at 10 o’clock finally I am able to begin, just like all the other times.

I fumble my hands through Edgar Allen Poe’s short story compilation on the podium – a Bible cover is pasted flatly on the book’s face – and I pretend to turn to just the right page. Before I begin, I quietly clear my throat. “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. Today, we’re going to move on from the previous sermon about the birth of Christ and delve into a relatively short discussion of Heaven.

“So, when I ask you the question, ‘What is Heaven?’ I think we can all at least come up with some similar, albeit unique, versions of the spectacular place. We also spend a lot of time learning what we must do to reach eternal bliss as well as what it would be like. Will we know each other? What will we do? We simply don’t know. But what’s certain is that we will spend an eternity worshiping and seeing Jesus face to face, helping God run the universe.” I hear various amen and praise the good Lord from front aisle.

Laurie stands behind the last row, her face slightly distorted, and she nods toward me before exiting into the foyer. Catching the cue, I close my eyes and mutter, “Amen, indeed,” before raising my clenched fists into the air – my figure mocking the large crucifix hanging above me. As I open my eyes, the room begins to shake and plaques strung on the wall featuring the Stations of the Cross violently tremble and fall to the terracotta-colored carpet. I bring my fists together, casting my body in an emerald aura. The True King’s power flows out of me like smoke through a sieve.

The others sit perfectly still; their eyes stare forward and they do not blink; their arms rest at an angle in their laps. Cell phones, Bibles, purses, anything they were holding before the trance fall with a thud to the floor.

“Stand up and face the Lord; so too as you exit this life on your feet shall you enter the next prepared to stride to the Holy gate,” I call, and almost instantly the entire congregation obeys; the overly-religious elderly folks that always populate the front rows, the usually bouncy and disruptive children, the husbands who only come at the request of their wife – everyone stands straight, awaiting my next order. But there won’t be another order. Before I meet my wife, who was probably right outside the church’s front doors, I mutter a prayer of my own: “Please forgive me.”

“Your part is done, I assume?” My wife says outside, thumbing a green BIC cigarette lighter. She doesn’t stop focusing on dancing flame atop the lighter, a scarlet ballerina. I feel my body twitch as I watch her observing the fire.

“It’s not like I had a choice. You do the gasoline?”

“You couldn’t have missed the puddle in the foyer. And with these bricks, that place’ll be a furnace before you know it.”

With a final flick of the lighter, Laurie bends down to ignite the gasoline trail at our feet. I watch through the window as the floor in the foyer ignites into a massive carpet of fire. Pretty soon there isn’t anything that’s not blazing in the small church. Smoke froths through the cracks of the doors leading into the nave, where hundreds of paralyzed worshipers wait their turn in the line to Heaven.

“How many more times are we going to do this, before it’s enough?”

“Don’t play the angel, Charles. You’ll just end up in there with them. You made a deal with me, and you will keep it. Let’s not forget that you gave up your old family for a taste of His power.” She tosses the keys into my chest. “Now we leave, unless you wish to welcome the policemen and firemen when they roll in.”