Josh stood in the room dazed, long black hair in mats over his torn Metallica t-shirt. His fingers trembled against the fragile chain of a paper medallion in his pocket. It felt as if he had been standing there for eternity.
“It’s been 40 years, Josh.” Rebecka ran a hand through her greasy mocha curls. “Forty fucking years.
“We have to keep going.”
“Have to –”
Rebecka squeezed Josh’s head between sweaty palms. Blood dripped down her nose and neck, following the curvature of her chest until disappearing in a spirit-soaked cherry blossom blouse. “Forty years,” she breathed. The blue in her eyes retreated behind a hysterical scarlet.
As Rebecka’s pulsing grasp tightened around Josh, the night gripped him further. With every breath, he felt himself fall deeper. “Please, stop,” he pleaded. His mouth was parched, fists trembling, stuck in cemented pockets. “Beck.” The echoes silenced him, forcing his eyes closed, unintelligible gargle lost among Rebecka’s maniacal chants.
Suddenly, Rebecka fell to the floor, consumed with laughter. Her fists clung to her throbbing gut. “Forty years. Forty years,” she exclaimed amid waves of frothing saliva and crimson bile. Josh lost the dilated pupils of Rebecka’s eyes in the gaping holes in the checkerboard wall, eyeing the sparkling faces that sneered beyond the bright room.
“This isn’t real!” Josh wept, brushing away slick, black tears. “Please stop.” He felt grimy fingers cover his body, razor tongues tracing the arch of his back. It would not let up.
Phantoms rose from the pyretic nightscape, empty faces stapled to crystalline medallions around the ghouls’ necks. They laced their orchid strings around Josh’s arms and legs, pulling him into the checkerboard abyss. As the boy screamed and desperately scratched the floor, gripping anything that he believed could help end his torment, the demons dragged harder, more violently, until at last he was plunged into the night — falling deeper inside Rebecka’s blighted pupils.
Blurry images flew past him and shot above into nothingness, pieces of happy memories reduced to emotionless pixels. Seconds of descent turned to a month, another year, another decade. Fragments of beautiful, winged dancers twirled around him, seeming to giggle before fading with every bit of Josh’s love, his life, his humanity.
Finally, Josh melted in the shadow, opening his eyes to face another pair of soulless pupils once again. His hands grazed a warm paper string in his front pocket.
“Thirty years,” Rebecka grumbled. “It’s been 30 fucking years, Josh.”
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 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’rehere,” 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.
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.
As everyone was occupied with relating “chipping” humans with the so called “Antichrist,” they were too blind to notice that I had already arrived, decades ago. Furthermore, my first act of vengeance upon the human race was not one of direct aggression; no, I am too smart to stoop to such a glaringly obvious form of appropriation.
Since the word of God became an ordinary discussion in communities, all of those hypocritical snots debated when and where I was going to make my grand entrance in the land of the living. Their inquiries served as perfect excuses for them to avoid new age politics and technology. Oh, yes. Out of all the terrible creatures on Earth, I would choose the path of a deceitful world leader. Honey, let me break it to you. I don’t need a pitchfork-wielding following to see you all turn against your omnipotent “Savior” and scratch yourselves to death in a bloody paranoia. You guys are doing a great job of getting to that state without my assistance.
Admittedly though, when I take all the credit for dismantling humanity, it would be nice if there was something I could claim as my own doing. Now, all thanks to the gluttony that plagues you simpletons, I am able to do just that.
So, like the sneaky bitch that I am, first I seized your health.
You remember McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, and the other countless fast food joints, don’t you? Yeah, that was ALL me, and I’m fucking proud of it. Call me an egomaniac, but I legitimately do not believe another evil being could accomplish a greater feat as the expansion of the fast food industry.
I remember passing an old gal – I could smell the mini Bible in her bubblegum pink snakeskin purse – and as she was discussing the callousing of youth today relating to their Christian faith, she was also washing down a mouthful of Chipotle with a 32-ounce Diet Pepsi. Who knew the taste of victory had so many calories?
The ball is in your court now, humans. Well, it would be if any of you were interested in physical activity. And if you like the heat from that jalapeno cheddar melt, just you wait.
For years I prayed to God to give my life meaning. I was a devout Christian who spent every second of spare time I had volunteering at the shelter. I even regularly attended church, no matter how cluttered and full my schedule was. I was the epitome of a good human. But were my prayers answered even in the very least? No.
So, expanding my faith, I took it one step further by contacting the devil. Out of all the great deities that roam this realm, I figured he’d be the most willing to graciously grant my wish. I wasn’t wrong.
After chanting the sacrament into the smoke of a candled pentagram, I closed my eyes, imagining what a meaningful life could be like. No longer would I be left in the rain, with so much love in my heart, but still an outcast; I would have the power to help people as well as myself – nothing would be out of reach. Money, booze, women, fame – I may have been a good Bible-thumping Christian boy, but even I can’t say I am without the urge to sin.
“Give my life meaning, and I pledge my soul to you,” I murmured.
Suddenly the flames dancing atop the five black candles hissed away, extinguished by an ethereal wind. And then there was nothing: there was no booming voice only I could hear, no gnarly, blistered face to run away in terror to. Just silence.
The next day, however, I awoke renewed. The heart on my sleeve had been finally placed back in its spot, and my mind was clear of the fog that obscured my goal-seeking eye for so long. This was it, I thought. Thank you, Satan, for granting my wish – I’ll be sure to uphold my end of the bargain.
Then there was that cracked, deafening voice: “Posh!” It exclaimed. “All of that is your own doing; I simply made you into what I make all my disciples.” After a roar of laughter, it continued: “You asked to walk a different road full of new experiences, and you didn’t care who you pissed off in the process. Isn’t that right?”
Well, yes, although those weren’t my exact words.
“The words you speak have no meaning to me mortal. Rather, your intentions and inner thoughts are what I pay attention to, and I found you very deserving of this new life I’ve given you.”
I’m forever your humble servant, my Lord, but what – may I ask – did you grant me?
“A job. Your new path involves you selling shitty insurance policies and undesirable items to the masses over the phone. It’s the perfect career; I’d do it myself if I wasn’t focused on drowning the world in filth, you know.”
“You made me a telemarketer?”
“Just be at Venatago Center, room 684, at nine tomorrow morning so you can start your training.”