Ji-Ji.Guerrera

Posts Tagged ‘fiction

Monika stared at me with a taut grin stretched from ear to ear, her lips looking as if they were carved into her face. She was sprawled on a queen size bed, her body curled snake-like around the silky blood-colored sheets. She had on short jeans and a tube top, but they were hidden beneath the exorbitant cover. So she looked naked, practically, with only her pale skin revealed, her bare legs peaking out the side of the bed, the silk tucked underneath her white arms. White on red. Like a painting of a Grecian tragedy. Aphrodite on a bed of roses. The queen of thorns, the thorned queen.

“Come lay beside me,” she beamed.

I could hear the ripples gently tap the base of the yacht, the cool breeze and the silence that often accompanied dusk coming through. No one was manning the thing, it stood dead on the water, undulating with the current.

“Shouldn’t we get back now?” I queried.

I didn’t like that we were so far from shore. What if we got attacked by sharks or worse, a storm hit and we drowned. That was the thing I hated most about water. No matter how powerful of a swimmer you were, there was always a threat of drowning. I swallowed. My throat felt parched and leathery.

“Sit and relax,” she ordered. “Have a drink. Talk to me. You saw Mari at the harbor?”

I laughed and scooted onto the bed beside her, instantly forgetting my fears.

“She kept talking. I didn’t know how to shut her up.”

“What theorist was she on about—wait wait, let me guess—Bahktin.”

Monika said Bahktin with an exaggerated accent—emphasizing the “h” in this really guttural way, as if she were hoarking out the sound—all the while flipping her long red hair behind her shoulders with her chest perked out.

Maybe it was her accurate imitation of the pretentious arts student or that she seemed so comfortable and confident at that moment, all traces of any worry in her life eliminated from her features, her grin so effortless and smooth. Whatever it was, her blasé attitude, her calm, collected milieu made me feel at ease, careless, relaxed. I forgot my name then, forgot my shame at what I looked like and who I was. That was her effect: she made you feel important, singled out from the hoards of Torontonians. When she looked at me, I felt normal, human, de-shelled, unravelled, understood. I bent to her side and took her glass, downing her fruity wine, feeling a warmth spread through my nerves.

“Actually, uh, ‘The—Angel of—Progress’?”

She snapped her fingers. “Walter Benjamin. I should have known, she’s obsessed with that guy.”

“She wouldn’t stop talking ‘bout it.”

“Probably cause she had nothing to say really. Oh, she thinks she’s so smart, always going on about this theory that theory. Joke’s on her though, everyone thinks she’s hiding behind big words and textbook men. Dead white men. She knows nothing.”

“It’s her thing,” I said, feeling as if I had to defend Mari. “Can’t fault her for it. She’s worked hard on that scholar identity. And anyway, everyone’s got their niche. Their trademark of some sort. The thing they’d like people to see them as. Their very own identity”

“Everyone needs something, eh.”

She placed her empty glass on the table beside her and sunk further into the plush mattress. At that moment, something about her changed. Or maybe, that something was revealed to me. It felt as if the room got larger and she shrunk. How little she appeared, how much she change from just moments ago. Her head impressed itself onto the pillow. She bit her lower lip, her forehead wrinkling. She seemed forlorn, withdrawn into herself, her eyes deep in thought, gazing into the ether.

I wanted to hold her, searching her for any indication of what was wrong.

“What?” I finally demanded. “Talk to me.”

She looked at me, folded her arms across her chest and grinned a derisive grin. “I’m just thinking how nice it’d be to not feel so used for once. Wouldn’t it be nice? To be able to carve your own future. To say I wanna be a scholar and do just that.”

It took me a while to figure out that she was talking about herself.

“I don’t know. No one ever has that control though, to choose what they want in life. I think—well, I feel like for a lot of people it’s about convenience.”

“Mari isn’t a puppet,” she snapped, her brows scrunching to the center of her forehead,  her lips pouting. “She doesn’t have her brother controlling her. Sometimes I wish he died with, with my parents. He’s not my real brother y’know. I overheard my parents talking this one time. Mom cheated on dad with this Jewish guy. That’s why Miles has that Jew fro. He’s part Jew.”

She looked around the room, first at the flat sixty inch screen mounted on the wall before us, then at the gold lined picture frame above the glass window, perpendicular to where we sat, a translucent veil from the cool evening scenery. Once again, I was reminded of how far from shore and security we were, planted on pure water, rooted into Danger’s mouth.

“What really bugs me though is how fake I am. About everything. How stupid and fake I am. Why don’t I just—leave?” she spat, speaking more to herself.

“Aren’t you running now?”

“Yes. And look how far I’ve gone—in my brother’s yacht.”

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The phone call came around eight o’clock am. It woke Mr. Death with a terrifying start, notifying him that he was needed at work for the day. It was a two-hour shift, but he would get paid for three hours, and the dispatcher promised it would be of relatively light duty.

“You’re heading to fifty-one Jubilant Avenue for three o’clock.” The dispatcher’s voice was cold and detached. He was solemn, short, and direct.

“Jubilant? Seriously? Is it the only place available?”

“Seriously, it is the only place available. Can you take it? You have little choice.”

A pervasive silence followed the dispatcher’s statement, lingering back and forth through the telephone line. It breached the walls of Mr. Death’s mind and threatened to mute the whispers of his thoughts. He could be heard swallowing a dry lump within his throat.

Upon regarding his limited say in the matter, he was reminded by the dispatcher that the day was a mandatory on-call duty day. Of course there was no arguing against Sunday mandatory on-call duties, he thought, I could never win.

He suddenly became aware of the monotonous drumming in his mind, an ache that whispered to him of the previous night’s endeavors. He licked his lips at the thought; although the memory was exciting—he had gambled the little he saved away on curvaceous dark skinned strippers and dozens of tequila shots—piled up bills on the kitchen’s counter top were a constant reminder for why he needed to attend every possible shift. So he prepared diligently, pairing a pressed white shirt and a black blazer with the newest tie he purchased from Tail-Mart, and looking as sharp as he did every morning.

By the time Mr. Death stepped out of his one-bedroom town-home on East Side Happenstance Lane, he noted that the sun was smiling broadly above the skies and birds were soaring freely through the clouds. It was a serene summer. He paused to watch the Little Kids jump over sprinklers in nothing more than their undergarments with the Bigger Kids happily hopping around them, playing games of catch the water-balloons.

His thin lips danced into a smile, highlighting his pale cheeks to a rosy pink. As he reminisced over his past childhood he wished he had the freedom to skip the work day for an indefinite vacation.

Mr. Death noted, however, that that wasn’t possible. At age thirty-two he needed to plan of days ahead: of car rides muffled by the sounds of children screaming over missing toys and of a beautiful wife who would sing the melody of summer in order to coax his exhaustion from work. He fanaticized of his future foundational home, aware that although he would ache and drown in his river of sweat during hard laborious work hours, he would happily build it nonetheless.

The town looked beautiful from where he stood. Summer scents swam through the air, enlightening his senses and tickling his nostrils. Today, he would break the usual routine of sitting stiff behind his wheel. I would rather walk to work, he thought,  and be showered in  the sun’s rays.

“Mr. D where are you off to? We’re barbecuing a large steak lunch in the back yard. Why don’t you join us?” Mrs. Richard Edders was the friendliest woman in East Side Happenstance Lane. She was short and stocky, waddled with every step she took. For her, there were always baked goods or large meals to be offered around to neighbors, and her backyard and kitchen were never free from cooking.

“Oh Mrs. Edders I really wish I could! On-call duty today!”

“Oh you poor thing… you’ll over work yourself one of these days. Well if you’re done early, do come join us. I’m sure we’ll have tons left over.”

As Mr. Death strolled past the smaller houses in the neighborhood and into the richer West Side Happenstance Lane he paused every two minutes to admire the beauty of some of the gardens.

Butterflies flew past him in colorful groups, graciously pausing on flowers of all sizes. Towering maple trees smiled gloriously as they shaded Victorian style homes away from the summer heat. Blankets of dark green grasses adorned the front of the houses and Chrysanthemums, Cosmos, and Casablanca lilies stretched their petals out like open palms reaching for the stars. Young and old couples alike strolled down the streets, children ran after one another, and Mr. Death paused to smile at the beauty of the neighborhood.

Miss Jane, a young nurse who inherited her grandfather’s property when he died, stepped out of her two story suburban house. “Oh, Mr. D, are you going to church this afternoon?” She called. Her lips curved into a smile and her skin, a perfect bronze, seemed to glow with every step she took. A short and tight silk dress hugged her small breasts and round hips. A single diamond pendant hung from a gold chain atop the nape of her neck.

“No Miss Jane, just on-call, heading to work!”

“Huh? On a Sunday?”

“You know how it is.”

She shook her head in dismay, shielding her eyes away from the sun as she stepped into her beige and white Camaro, then said: “do come by to see me some time and don’t let those people overwork you” as she drove off.

Mr. Death watched her long golden hair as it flew back with the wind, and listened to the sound of her light laugh trailing behind. He imagined her voice alone could embrace him in pure angelic warmth. If I worked harder I may be able to impress her into returning the love I’ve felt for years, he told himself. She would make a perfect wife.

He decided to quicken his pace; after work he would call dispatch for more hours. That way, his savings would grow and in no time he could acquire the things he longed for most in life, Miss Jane being one of them.

As Mr. Death walked, he mused over the list of things he promised himself to have accomplished in a few-years time. Occasionally, he would stop to observe nature’s infinite wonders and say hello to joggers—though as he pressed on, the roads became quieter.

Finally, he arrived at Jubilant Avenue, the location of the day’s job. The apartments on this side of town clustered together as if afraid of being singled out. The streets were barren and depressions dented paved roads, like empty mouths waiting to taste accidents, like hungry mouths waiting to be fed. The streets grew tighter and scents of decomposition fed the air, filling the atmosphere with dread.

A sense of horror washed over Mr. Death as he searched for apartment fifty-one. He hated being sent to Jubilant or areas surrounding the neighborhood. The cheerful feeling that lingered about east and west of Happenstance Lane could never be found in Jubilant. Yellow grasses replaced the luscious greenery found in the happier neighborhood, and even the sun hid from sight, leaving shadows to stretch out black tendrils, perpetually darkening the roads. People were never home in this part of town and if by some mistake they happened to be home, they were sitting gorged and fattened, idly engaging in banal conversations.

Not to mention, they hated him because he was always coming by on a job. He hated them too because they epitomized laziness. They had nothing to enjoy in life and therefore no reason to live. You would think these people would at least attempt to clean after themselves, Mr. Death thought as he came upon an army of flies feasting on dung. And they wonder why I’m always called to the area…insufferable people!

As he stepped onto the porch of apartment fifty-one, Mr. Death twisted his nose at the foul scent that seeped through the wall. He felt as if a slight step in the wrong direction would cause the whole structure to collapse in on itself. The wood beneath his feet was slowly decaying, and it creaked with every step he took. Rusted nails held on the door’s hinges, and a lose doorknob threatened to fall away any second. The house seemed to sway with the wind, as if it danced to the theme songs of a Freddy or Jason horror flick. I hate this place, he thought. Why? Why? Why Jubilant? Of all damn places!

He briskly walked into the apartment, intending to be out within a few minutes. Even though the dispatcher mentioned it was a two hour job he assumed it couldn’t take that long. The place already smelt of rotted corpses.

A woman in a bath robe walked into the kitchen. On her head were mattered strings of dull brown hair, her eyes were blood red and underneath them, bags of deep purple. She noticed Mr. Death and began to scream. ”NO Please go! Why ye here? I dun owe de law nutting! Please jes go! I beg yeeee, have mercy.”

Mr. Death felt his insides contort–as if worms swam freely, eating away at his intestines–and sighed heavily. At that instant he resented his job. It isn’t because I pity this woman or feel any sort of remorse for what I am about to do, he said to himself, but because with her around, I just know the job would take two hours, if not more.

“Please naw, ye jes go on! I dun owe nobody nutting! I dun owe de law nutting!” Her bathrobe slipped off her shoulders to reveal a fresh scar running from the base to the nape of her neck.

Mr. Death twisted his lips, tasting bile in his throat. He couldn’t grieve for the people of Jubilant or nearby areas, he wouldn’t allow himself. Why should I? They never took proper care of themselves and always cried for pity.

The woman began to grab at his new tie, screaming and kicking at him as he edged closer into the bedroom. His headache grew into a piercing scream of its own and caused him to grit his teeth in pain. He had to bite his lower lip to keep himself from yelling in irritation.

“Donnnnnn’t,” she screamed.

“Woman! Please, contain yourself. I need to leave quicker than I got in here, so let’s calm down and work together alright.” Putting on his best business-like voice he unraveled her claw fingers from his tie and made his way into the room. He found the area strangely familiar, as if he had conducted a job in the exact same place.

A little girl of about five years old with sunken cheeks lay on the bed, her teeth chattering violently. Her pale body was encrusted with flakes of dead skin and anemia discolored her lips to an ugly yellow. Her hair had thinned out completely, leaving patches of her scalp exposed. Mr. Death contorted his nose in an attempt to shield his nostrils away from the combination of scents that glided towards him.

The woman screamed louder in the background, pleading for Mr. Death to leave her child alone. He watched the little girl’s chest rise and fall in pain, too stunned to move. He had a weak spot for children and hated when the job called him to work on one. A putrid scent  clung onto the atmosphere, further irritating him. This was why he hated people of the Jubilant community. They were too lazy to take care of their children or seek medical care for their own.

“Why haven’t you taken her to the hospital?” The force by which he spun around caused the woman to fall backwards.

“Ah did,” she timidly responded. “Heart trensplent iss whuts needed! I cain’t afford it, dough I been workin’ harder fur more muney! I…dun all I cain’! Tax collectors com firss, n’ ihnsurence com nex, n’ ye still com! Douh ye took ma son last year, ye still com! I cain’ do it no more. Let her live douh, jes take me instead.” She began to cry out loud as she pulled on her hair in frustration.Oh, that’s right, I remember why this place is so familiar now.  ”Now Miss Jensen please, calm down!”

She grabbed at his tie again and screamed louder, as if her previous cries had fallen on deaf ears. Mr. Death clenched his fist, restraining himself from slamming his palms against the wall. He felt irritated, angry, and surprisingly a little sad. God! I don’t feel sorry for her, he repeated to himself. She had no reasonable job or stable income. He reasoned that she could, however, get a job if she really wanted to. This was her fault.

“I’ll go easy on her.” He attempted to smile but managed a curt nod, feeling exhausted from the day’s events.

“Pleaseeee,” Miss Jensen begged but Mr. Death lifted her out of the room and locked the door. He needed to get his work done without anymore disruptions and Miss Jensen’s presence would not allow for that. He inhaled deeply through his mouth replaying the scenes that passed. It was not as if he could have done anything to help Miss Jensen–this was his job, his life. To leave the work undone meant he consented to being terminated, and that was out of the question. Why, if he were to be terminated no employer would hire him with the little education and experience he had. With his current work of line he was guaranteed job security, and most importantly, benefits. Although he felt a little pity from time to time for women such as Miss Jensen he had to remember work was work and therefore disengage himself from what he did.

Mr. Death closed in on the little girl while Miss Jensen screamed in the background. They always made it difficult for him to complete his job and he couldn’t help but feel it was a little unfair. When the tax collectors came by nobody hassled them, so why him?

Work time! As he wrapped his sweaty palms around the girl’s neck, she flickered open her eyes which grew to sizes too large for her sockets to hold. Her translucent skin darkened to a bleeding red and tears slid freely, soaking her pillow.She raised taut fingers in an attempt to free her neck and spittle foamed at the corners of her mouth. “Please,” she croaked.

Mr. Death turned away to gaze at his watch. He felt his arms nervously twitching. Already two hours and five minutes, he thought, and wondered if that meant he would be paid over the three hours he was promised.

The hour struck five PM as multitudes of hungry men and women filed to collect their daily ration of dead-leaf soup. Religious priests stood yelling at the corners of Young street’s busy intersections. “Another 24 hours of misery,” one said, “but our time will soon come!”

A second priest pointed at the sun and raised his arms towards the burgundy sky. “Heaven despises our sins! It is no wonder! We have let heretics take over the earth and these men still try to play God! Look now! Look what has come of it! We must repent!”

Inside the Ministry of Saints, Florence and her younger brother Angus awaited Mr. Daystone, who, upon their eldest brother’s death, took them into his care. At the alter, a young priest kissed a man’s forehead, then loudly whispered “God has already forgiven your sins son.”

Indeed, this god is too quick to forgive, Florence thought.

The church had been accepting thousands of new converts daily, increasing the size of the institution by the minute.

They play on our vulnerability, growing their church while administering murder!  

“Are you waiting for someone children?” A stocky priest in a red coat and a red cap approached them wearily. “Can I help you with something?”

“We’re waiting for Mr. Daystone,” Florence responded shortly, fully exposing her disgust for the church and its priest.

“Have a seat. I’ll let him know.”

As the priest took his leave Florence and her brother hid themselves from sight, sitting in the darkest corner of the building. She noted the entrance of the church as large men in black walked in.

“Collectors!” Her anger was thick on each syllable.

“What are they doing here?” Angus asked.

“What does it look like? To cleanse themselves from sin! It was a bad idea to come here. Let’s get out!”

As Florence stood to leave, Mr. Daystone, a black man with eyes too far apart and shoulders slouched forward, appeared holding a bowl of soup and an apple soft enough to bleed like a tomato if held too tightly.

“Ah! Glad to have found you two! This is for you!” He handed the soft apple and taste-less dead-leaf soup to Florence as he reached for Angus. “Are you okay to walk?”

Angus nodded, and the siblings began their journey into the deserted crypts of a once forgotten church.

Mr. Daystone’s office was a dark cellar; though small, it was hollow and cold. It reflected the emptiness of a world that once vibrated with joy and laughter but was now built on fear and death. The corners seemed to whisper the loud agonies of an ancient nation, a people Florence once danced happily among. As she observed the inner workings of the room, the intricate details of jagged carvings on the walls, she thought the room reflected the faces of the millions already dead on earth. The world had once been a vibrant place but science, human hubris, conquered and imprisoned the planet in a black hole. Every once in a while Florence thought she saw the burgundy sky turn blue, yet no sooner did the red swallow her back into despair and the reality that time itself was frozen drowned her momentary happiness.

Angus laid on a damp mattress squeezed between the edge of Mr. Daystone’s work desk and the shallow wall. He felt suffocated as he attempted to stretch into comfort.

“You can stay here for as long as you’d like,” Mr. Daystone explained to Florence, “but your brother needs food or he’ll–” When he noticed her distress at Angus’s sickness and discomfort, he let his words linger unfinished.

“Why are you helping us?” Florence asked as irritation for the priest snaked its way into her voice, her jaws tightened and fist clenched in response.

“This is a home for everyone. We help–”

“No! When you accept those cannibal Collectors you sanction the death of hundreds everyday!” She cut the old priest off and grew angrier as he fidgeted about nervously. He couldn’t be as ignorant as he was putting off. The food shortage consistently threw human corpses into the black market. Death meant life for starved men and women, and since no one could stand the idea of collecting the dead, the Collectors were born. The job description was simple: be the middle man between mankind and savagery. “They say they’re forcing women to abort their fetuses now, selling infant corpses in the black market. Do you really condone that?!”

“These are hard times child.”

“Forced abortions!”

“So lives can be saved.”

“You really believe eating babies is alright? Funny, I thought I was in a church!”

Grieved as he was, the Priest sighed and further slouched his shoulders. “No. I don’t think eating other human beings is alright.  Neither do I agree with abortions, much less forced ones! We’ve all sinned against God. But I do not judge anyone. I sit here, like you and your brother will, and wait for my time. We’re all victims! Science has thrown us into the depths of sin, and God is angry–”

“Don’t talk to me about your god!”

Mr. Daystone resigned in defeat and unlatched the doors to exit, “feel free to stay here for as long as you please. I’ll be upstairs praying.”

Florence watched the priest go. She didn’t trust the church, didn’t trust mankind, and knew loneliness that minute more than she’d ever known it before. Angus was dying from hunger and dead-leaf soup couldn’t sustain him any further. The knots in her stomach tightened reminding her of the peril she also faced. She looked at Angus’s still frame. He would have seemed serene, even dead, if not for his furrowed brow and twisted lips which indicated the pain he was in. She felt lost, helpless.

“You shouldn’t worry so much about me.” Her brother was almost inaudible, and his weak voice sounded thin, almost lifeless.

“I need to get you food.”

“I don’t need anything else. I’m fine right here with you.”

“And I can’t lose you too Angus! I’ll find you something good to eat.”

“Please!” He stared at her with a hunger in his eyes that pleaded not for a meal but for her company. They both feared isolation. The thought of losing each other was unbearable.

“Try to eat this apple, I’ll be right back.” With that Florence rushed out of the room; her footsteps echoed within the quiet hall, and the sound of loneliness shattered the monotonous rhythm of her heart beat.

The walk to the market was brief and regretful. Florence hated the stench that seemed to cling to its atmosphere. The smell of boiled meat was followed by the fowl scent of rotted corpses. Hungry people lined up to claim their ration of body parts.

Florence gazed up at the sky’s usual red which never grew darker or brighter. The sun stayed illuminated behind the burgundy shield; it gave the false hope that someday mankind would be able to reach further to escape the darkness of the black hole. She looked across the market to the wall which separated the rich from the poor, and wondered how they were fairing on the other side. The thought of it replaced the loneliness she felt with a renewed wave of anger. In the middle of the market sat the Democratic Council of Elders who deliberated on what age group to target next. Their aristocracy was hidden behind the veil of poverty and democracy. Despots, Florence thought, each one of them.

 She began to regret her decision to come into the market as savages pushed their way to the front of the line. What other choice did she have when her only family was in danger but to come here. She had already lost her younger sister Shae and her older brother Brindon. The thought of Angus dying was unbearable for her.

“What do you want?” The woman behind the counter slouched forward and stared down.

“Sorry?”

“Thigh? Arm? Breast?”

Florence felt nauseous as she bit her lower lip contemplating. She began to fidget, nervously stepping onto one foot then the other.

“Thigh? Arm? Breast?” The woman raised her voice in irritation though she kept her eyes locked to the ground.

Something in the woman’s tone and gesture caused Florence to look up. As she stared closer at everyone in the market she was once again hit with an intense wave of nausea. People who had lined up to collect a body part and those selling body parts had their heads bowed in sorrow. She noticed a large man dressed in all black as he fidgeted back and forth with his head buried beneath his shoulders. She wasn’t alone. No one wanted to be there, not even a Collector. The thought filled her with a renewed strength she didn’t know existed within her. As she stared at the sky its burgundy seemed to lighten to a pink and the sun glowed even brighter, as if the world were being sucked out of the black hole.

“Thigh? Arm? Breast?” The woman’s voice raised in anger yet she kept her head still buried.

“No! None! Never!” With that, Florence ran out of the market. She needed to be with her brother now more than ever. Forcing a body part down his throat was not going to solve their problem. One arm would eventually equal one leg and finally one raw human being. She didn’t want that. They would make it through these perilous times together because they weren’t alone.

As she neared the Ministry of Saints she could here the priests yell about the end of times. The line to collect daily rations of dead-leaf soup was as long as ever, nothing had changed. She could see the infinite wall that demarcated the earth, and her new found strength filled her with courage. Before she could stop herself she climbed above the platform to the people serving the soup. This is what needs to be done, she thought.

Florence pushed a server off the platform and stared down at the surprised faces. Each person looked as dead and lonely as the people in the market did, yet no one was truly alone. As she gazed beyond the scorched earth, she noticed that the market people had followed her. She became stronger looking at each individual in the crowd, and felt sure that her hope and optimism would inspire them all.

“People,” she began, “please listen to me! We are not yet dead! We have each other and we’re all going through the same problems! We can’t be reduced to hate and feel loneliness while surrounded by comrades, families, friends! We are all alike!”

Some people in the crowd stirred uncomfortably as if afraid to be confronted by the truth.

“We are not our enemies! They are our enemies!” Not letting the crowd’s discomfort deter her, she continued, pointing at the wall behind. “Not only have they imprisoned us within this black hole, but they’re living comfortably on the other side of that wall while we suffer! They are the savages! Cruel human beings!”

“How do you even know they’re comfortable?” An old man asked.

“They have all scientific resources–”

“Science is what got us here in the first place! Are you suggesting we knock down that wall to submit ourselves to sin again?” A priest followed by other clergymen stepped out of the ministry. The crowd nodded in approval to his question.

“I say we take over our lives!”

“We’ve heard that before!” People began to shift around irritated. Some talked among themselves while others yelled at Florence in response. “Get off the platform!”

“How long has it been? We have no concept of time! We have a right to know what is happening on the other side of the wall! We have a right to–” A rock hit Florence square in the face, right on her forehead.

Behind the large crowd, the priest in the red coat and red cap got ready to throw a second one. “Shut up you stupid girl!”

Blood rushed into Florence’s eyes, blinding her. The crowd seemed to surge above her as she toppled to the ground. Her hearing was muffled by the sounds of feet scuttling across hard dirt. As Florence began to pick up distinct noises, she heard someone scream.

“Florence! Get up! Get up!” Angus yelled at her from the entrance of the church.

She opened her eyes as people made way for the priest in the red. I won’t give up! I can’t give up, she thought.

“The wall! The other side of the wall! They are our enemies!” As Florence stood up, the priest in the red hit her across the temple with a rock. She toppled back down to the ground as she bled from all sides of her head. In the background she could hear her brother screaming her name. She opened her eyes expecting to see Collectors above her almost dead body. When she was confronted with the bleeding sky she found the strength to twist herself upright, leaning on one arm. As she looked around she saw the crowd disseminate and the Collectors loom above Angus.

No, she thought. Although they couldn’t afford to kill her, it was alright to kill the children because they could never grow or contribute to society. There were no more dead bodies and no more pregnant women, so the society needed to target a different group. She mustered all the strength she could and screamed.

“Angus! Run! Run!” But the red consumed Florence as her head toppled to the ground and her body laid still.

Regret has always governed my existence. In a little over a day I went from sanity to raging madness, was acquainted with Death, and finally, rang The Devil’s doorbells. His windows, black as coals, whispered to the fear in my heart. It welcomed me in a language alien to my mind, yet I seemed to adequately grasp what it expressed.

The Devil’s heavy grotesque bars unhinged, yellow-stripped-black rattle snakes slithered about the frames. On his doorstep, centered in between  two black gargoyles were a bouquet of rotting black roses. The darkness was overbearing, yet the elaborateness of the design that surrounded me, including its ugliness, was astounding. Double metal black doors pulled apart slowly and the hollow sound it made reverberated the world I stood in. He came out.

It wasn’t what I expected, to say the least. Clad in blinding white silk was the most beautiful man that ever lived. His blue eyes mirrored the tides of the pacific ocean and his blonde hair shone brighter than the sun. Where were his fangs, tails, and wings? His skin was more beautiful than porcelain, and it glistened with every step he took. The darkness seemed to shrink in fear as the jewels that adorned him, gold and diamond rings and necklaces of different shapes and sizes, twinkled brighter than stars in a black sky. Then he spoke.

“Why are you here?”

I didn’t understand it. His voice came out as soft as the flow of water down a stream, or a chorus of nightingales on a summer evening. His mouth seemed to round on the “you” as if he were whispering I love you instead of asking me to confess my sins. All the fear I had previously felt evaporated because he comforted me.

Lavender scent emanated from him as he reached his hand around my hips. Indeed, The Devil is a god. As he towered above me like a single candle burning in the midst of darkness, he was the sublime. Smiling he said, “walk with me. Let me show you things you have never seen.” With eyes shimmering exotic hues of blues and bright yellows, he continues, “in return, you must explain why you are here.”

Like his world his house was not empty, however, you could sense vast riches beyond the veil of darkness. We stepped into a concave hallway, shaped like a serpent’s bowel. It was an enormous hallway and until he explained that we were on our way to one of his many parlors, I believed we had walked into a separate world. Golden gargoyles adorned marble ceilings and walls. As we walked further into his lair, I saw a few of what may have been human skulls, one struck out in particular. It was black like everything else in this world, but its eyes were not hollow and empty but filled with liquid gold, making it look as if it were crying tears of gold. Quite hideous, I thought, yet profound and beautiful.

The Devil held me like a master might hold a bitch on a leash. Following obediently, I let his light guide me, and began to imagine our life together. What couldn’t The Devil provide for me?  

We had walked in silence as I admired the beauty of his home, he spoke.

“Do you like my skulls?” Soft voice flowing like the melody of an ancient rhythm, untouched by human vices.

“People’s?” I responded.

“hmm. Wise girl. I have something to show you.” He said, faint smile forming on his lips.

Enamored by the mysteries behind them, I silently wondered what the skulls represented. Who would have thought my death would lead me into a story book world? Enchanted golden doors stood before me.

We stepped into a room the size of a football field. In the center stood a mirror lighted by flames on two large pillars which towered on each of its side. The ceiling was so far above me, I felt like an mouse in a cheese maze intoxicated by the desire to indulge in its beauty.

The Devil excused himself and reappeared almost instantly with his left arm holding up a red silk gown and his right arm dowsed in gold bangles, earrings, and necklaces. He stripped me of my clothes, then dressed and adorned me in jewelries of all kinds. While I felt very naive in his arms, almost childlike at times, his presence still provided comfort and happiness that I simply couldn’t deny.  I became lost in lustful fantasies watching him observe my figure through the mirror. He whispered ever so sensually with his lips grazing the tip of my ear, “tonight, you’re my special guest. My queen.” Listening to him speak and address me as his queen, I felt a desire swell inside me which heightened my senses.

“Let’s head on. I’d like to show you my parlor and it’s quite a walk.  And more importantly I’d really like to know how such a beautiful woman like you found your way into this world, especially without my assistance. ”

“This world is beautiful! You are beautiful! You make it sound like a negative thing that I’m here.”

“Well you know the stories,” he sarcastically replied, a slight hint of a smirk played on his lips.

“Yes and for one you don’t have fangs.”

“I’ve been misunderstood, and I know you too understand what that feels like.” His demeanor changed as his back hunched over and his eyes fell into an anguished glare at a world beyond his feet.

Not knowing how to respond or reciprocate the comfort he’s given me, I say, “I understand.”

Still I found his request a little odd. How could he not know how I got to be at his doorstep? “You are The Devil, aren’t you?” I asked.

This caught his attention and seemed to lighten his mood. Thin stripped golden lashes fluttered as he winked and playfully responded, “the One and Only! Why do you ask? Interested in me?” His teeth shone as he smiled from ear to ear like an enlightened school boy.

What a sweetheart. “You’re cute.” I playfully poked him.”You already know my story. There isn’t much else to add.”

He seemed confused by my response. “Everyone has a story, a reason why they’ve done something wrong or maybe good or bad… but everyone’s story is unique. I don’t presume to know everything and I’d like to know you–” he paused, then brought his palm to my chest and whispered, “I’d like to know what’s in there.”

The way he explained this made me desire him more. I was ready then to give him all of me, including my soul; I decided he deserved my full honesty and for his tenderness towards me, I was obliged to entertain him with my story, which seemed important for him to know.

“Vanity,” I began, “was Marcia-June’s greatest flaw. Though her parents loved and cared for her, clothed and sheltered her as if she were the Divine Madonna incarnate, she wanted more, was never satisfied. Her best friends –Jon, Riley, Rita, and myself–were like her puppets; she’d feast her ego on our fears and wants–because she did have it all and it’s only natural we’d want what she had– for what she had.

“Jon, Rita, and MJ had known each other since grade school and Rita often introduced MJ as her best friend. She really trusted her, but Riley and I knew better.”

“Pause a second please!” The Devil exclaimed, cutting my story short and turning his attention towards something unclear to me beyond the darkness. We had left the bedroom to walk further through the infinite hallway. As we pressed forward and I followed his gaze, the image that strongly caught his attention was revealed. Mellowed out voices turned into piercing screams and a city of pain was born before me. Men and women garbed from head to toe in yellow and black overalls cried out in agony as they were whipped by what The Devil called Slavers, who were the guards in this world. They were hairless muscular men, coated from head to toe in white paint, all approximately seven feet tall giants. I stood still, aghast.

“Ignore them and walk,” The Devil commanded, though warmth still trailed his words.

“What did they do wrong?” I asked.

“Tried to run…” was his brief response, “continue your story,” he smiled.

As we pressed on into the darkness with only The Devil’s light to guide us, the prisoners’ screams subsided to muffled moans repeatedly drumming in the back of my mind. Though I was a bit shaken up by the gruesome scene I ignored it, and continued the story.

“Jon and Rita had a thing going on which had started in middle school, around when Riley and I were acquainted with them all. MJ silently disapproved of their relationship because her love for Jon was as she’d explained it, stronger than anything Rita could provide. And silent she was about her emotions; for years onward she kept quiet about her feelings for Jon, at least until the eleventh grade, when her obsession flourished into something else entirely, unable to further be tamed. She began to continuously talk about him to Riley and I, fretting of all her sleepless nights and how she needed to seduce Jon somehow. He had become the one material she’d eyed for so long because she couldn’t, and possibly wouldn’t, ever own it –”

A sudden scream disrupted the story. They were louder than the Runners had been under the Slavers’ whips. Even The Devil seemed shaken up and confused by the loud and sudden noises arising from behind the double doors on our left. A woman  in agony shrieked: “God will punish you all!”

This angered The Devil. His face contorted, fire ablaze within the divine golden blue of his eyes to a wrathful red, a red deeper than the blood color of my dress. He slammed mighty fist against the double doors to reveal a naked woman tied to a pole and surrounded by flames. Outside the ring of fire stood naked men and women starring, satisfied lustful grimace plastered on their faces. An insidious three headed worm stirred into sight. It’s monstrous frame was covered in black bile as it crawled nearer to the woman. Unable to control my reaction to the scene before me, I screamed–unheard.

“I am your God now!” The Devil angrily vociferated. “The only God you will ever know! The God of your heaven and your hell, and everything that has ever been and will come to existence! Oh… or do you think there is another? More important? Here?” Smiling, he spun around lifting his arms high above his head. “Where is your God now? You call upon him though he’s deserted you, left you to rot in my rings of fire!” He laughed out hideously then cocked his head to one side and held a most frightening grimace on his face. “I wanted you,” he slowly began, enunciating each syllable with great patience and care, “and you willingly came to me! You stupid whore!” With a look of contempt that stripped the naked defenseless woman of the last bit of dignity she clutched, he commanded, “rape her!”

As the naked bodies of lustful mindless drones gathered inside the ring, the woman bellowed a scream so loud and fearful it pierced through the walls of my mind, causing me to faint.

I woke up on an enormous velvet bed to The Devil staring at me. The bedroom was dimly lit by a fireplace to the left. It was large like every other room in this house. The bedposts were made of marbles coated in gold. As I gazed at The Devil’s golden blue eyes I was transported to the warmth I felt as a child in my mom’s arms. She would rock me to sleep when nightmares awoke me, that is until I turned twelve, when she was killed by a drunk driver in a Mercedes Benz. That’s all that was remembered of her murderer–a brutal hit and run.

“Are you alright?” The Devil’s musical voice shook me out of my reverie.

“What happened to the girl?” Being pushed back into the reality of what I had witnessed, I added in a faint whisper, “why did you tell them to rape her?”

“She deserved it!” He spat, calmly adding “She sold her daughter into prostitution for drugs. Those other men and women cannot help themselves. They’ve been condemned to repeatedly perform these acts upon those tied to that pole you saw. Anyways, they’re all drug addicts, prostitutes, underbellies, people who infest the world with over consumption and greed. People the world can do without.” He lingered on the last two sentences to emphasize that justice was being served without outright stating so.

His explanation was not convincing yet neither did I question it. He noticed this, so he went on to further explain.

“These people lie, cheat, steal, run from the truth, and deceive themselves and all those around them. See how they’ve deceived you already?” He reached out and held my palms, staring straight into my eyes. “I could never ask for anything more than your full trust in me. I have never enjoyed this,” he said as he waved his arm about to indicate his surroundings. “This thing… what I do… this place… just making people suffer! All of it! But I am also condemned by that one you all so fervently call your God to carry out his justice.” He averted his eyes in pain, held his head down and swallowed hard. “I can never judge anyone before hearing out their story, are you so quick to judge me with your eyes?”

He seemed distraught, hurt, and in pain. Did the anger he showed against that woman reveal his true self, I thought, Or has he simply been wrongly condemned to a job and a life he hates by an unjust God, like I was wrongly condemned to hell! Is he a victim like myself? Caught in between Marcia-June’s lust.

Something in his plea to be understood reached out to a place in my heart.

I too have been judged inaccurately. 

It intensified the drumming beneath my chest.

I too have been judged inaccurately. 

Sitting up, I hugged his head to my bosom. “I’m sorry,” I whispered, “I guess I was just afraid. How will I be judged when you judge me?”

“Not like your God has judged you!” He spat distastefully.

“Yes! He is unjust! Unjust to send me to hell!” I cried out without realizing it might offend The Devil, then immediately added, “but did me a favor to send me to you!”

“I am not so bad am I!” He smiled.

We allowed a moment of silence to linger. Our hungry passion rode like lovers in ecstasy through the space between us; it was sweet and dense. A smile danced around my face as I imagined what could happen next. He noticed my delight and took it as an opportunity to grab and kiss me hard.

When we pulled apart from each other’s embrace he stared at me with that deep and profound look of understanding I was quickly becoming accustomed to, then explained, “I will be honest with you. You have been sent to a place where people are meant to be punished for sins they’ve committed. In the end, I am burdened with inflicting judgement on them. I won’t lie to you, I am quickly becoming enamored with you. But I can’t stand deceit, I am not allowed to. Because I’m honest! If you’re honest and accept your wrongs, you will never be punished! Only those who continuously lie suffer. I hate that I have to deal with people’s punishments and sufferings! It’s a prison I’ve unjustly been thrown into. A world I never wanted! Remember that! I too am a part of his brutish plan… God’s plan!” He spat out the last sentence with every bit of venom I believed his honest being could muster, exasperating the word “God” as if the very mention of the name would bring life to some treacherous being. “You have been honest with me, haven’t you? Apart from being sent here by the oh-so-mighty one, how did you come to be here?”

Without any hesitation I said, “I killed myself.”

“Why?” Pity in his eyes told me that he already knew parts, if not all of the story.

Yet I proceeded to tell him. “I felt guilty for what happened to my friends.”

He led me off the bed, then dressed me in a revealing golden gown. Smiling, he said, “finish the story while we walk to my parlor? I still have the pleasant surprise to reveal to you.”

As we strolled out of the bedroom and into the hallway, The Devil guiding and comforting me with his light, I continued the long tale of how it came that I arrived at his doorstep earlier today.

“MJ became obsessed with Jon. She had asked Riley and I to also keep quiet about her insane crush. Riley did because–known or unknown to MJ he loved her. I did because I was not one to gossip, though I now see I should have said something. As time grew on she became maniacal about her fantasies. ‘We belong together,’ she’d say, ‘I have to get rid of Rita.’

“I did try to persuade her from actively pursuing her delusions. No one could rightfully say that I didn’t! One night she called Riley and I to a private get-together in Gladstone, an expensive restaurant. She had looked especially beautiful that night; wore a form fitting purple lace dress that was hemmed at the knee. We each ordered an expensive dish; she paid for our meals and bought the most expensive wine bottle the restaurant had to offer.

“Chardonnay?” The Devil cut in smirking.

“No. Champaigne.”

“My favorite,” he moaned.

“She had been excited and happy to see us. ‘I have a brilliant plan!’ she intoned in her best imitation of an English accent. ‘Just a little prank.’

“I asked her what the prank was and she explained that she’d just been prescribed sleeping pills–if we could slip some in Rita’s drink, then lead Jon to the window looking onto the bed Riley and Rita would lay naked on, Jon would surely turn to her for comfort.

“I tried to convince MJ this was a bad idea, insisted she forget all about Jon, but she wouldn’t have it.”

I paused from my story to catch my breath, and swallowed a nervous lump in my throat. I had never told this story, yet of course, time was never awarded to me to admit this to anyone.

Noticing my discomfort The Devil asked, “are you ashamed?”

“No!” I quickly responded, “Nothing to be ashamed of. Just sad things turned out the way they did.”

“Then continue.”

“Riley did not need much convincing in order to agree with the plan. I on the other hand never agreed to it. Though I consistently attempted to convince her to drop it all, forget about it.

“On the night they executed their plan MJ gave Riley and I gifts. He received a kiss and a container of Eiswein to quench his alcoholic thirst, and I received a gold necklace, embroidered on it were the letters b-e-s-t. Twenty-four karats. She held the last half to the necklace, f-r-i-e-n-d. Initially I hadn’t accepted her gift, but she pressed on, explaining that it was a simple token of our friendship and that I’ve always been there for her. It did not stop me, however, from trying to persuade them against their foolish plans.

“Riley met with Rita while MJ and I met with Jon. My love for MJ wouldn’t permit me to reveal the truth to Jon so I kept quiet. Plan went accordingly even though I  begged her to rescind the idea.”

Cutting me off, The Devil asked, “did you silently beg this time… that is considering your love for MJ wouldn’t permit you to say anything around Jon.” It sounded more like a statement than a question.

I felt flustered but unabashedly exclaimed: “I had no choice!”

“Of course you didn’t,” he intoned. A slight glint of a smirk danced around his lips and it was on the tip of my tongue to ask what was funny but he requested I press on with the story.

While intently observing his reaction to catch a hint of disbelief, I continued.

“When we arrived at the scene however, we found a naked Rita, foam all over her mouth, eyes wide open and dead still. Horror was plastered like a coat of white paint on Riley’s face as he attempted to resuscitate her. She had an allergic reaction to the sleeping pill, which became visibly obvious half an hour after she ingested it through Riley’s delicious Eiswein.

“Little did MJ or Riley calculate Jon would be holding his father’s gun to protect him against his unfortunate family’s enemies. In the blink of an eye Riley lay still, a pool of blood forming around his head, his fingers twitching, a reaction to sudden death. It had only taken one shot from Jon’s trembling and angered fingers.

“I remember their screams, their moans, Jon’s pain. I remember the look in his eyes, his accusing eyes, before he took his life…blood…all the blood.”

The Devil took me in his arms then with soft lips brushed my tears away. “I’m sorry you were caught in the middle of it all,” he whispered, “so unfair! So unjust!” He sounded sincere and I never wanted him to let go.

“Thank you!” I said, then continued.

“MJ turned towards me, screamed ‘it’s all your fault’, then fell onto Jon’s bloodied body. She had kept screaming at me as if I had anything to do with the plan. I didn’t!”

I looked up into The Devil’s eyes and waited on some consoling words; but where there had been love and sincerity stood an expression that I didn’t understand.

“Oh,” he smiles, “is it done?”

“Um ya…”

“Finally! Where’s the lie? Everyone has a lie in their story somewhere.” The Devil intoned, slightly exasperated.

I didn’t understand his question. Still whimpering like a child from the memory of an event I never wanted to remember, I starred, shocked that The Devil would even insinuate it had all been a lie.

He stared back at me with eyes devoid of any warmth previously held, then began to laugh uncontrollably, as if I were playing some stupid joke.

“HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA!” He roared!

Still holding him, I stepped back slightly. “What’s funny?” I asked, mildly irritated I’m being made a joke of. “Stop laughing!”

He stared at me while he untangled my fragile arms which were locked around his waste for support. His eyes burned into my soul, like he was eating it, or eating away at some knowledge I didn’t know existed.

“Let me guess,” he began mockingly, “you went home then cut yourself in a bathtub! Poor child! The center of a cruel game! Poor poor child!”

Is he mocking me? I thought, rapidly yelling out, “It’s not a lie! You don’t understand! I felt so bad! I was distraught! What’s wrong with you? Why aren’t you listening?”

“Right!” His brows furrowed into a scowl.

“What do you mean right? What have I done wrong?” I nervously asked.

Why is he upset? What had I done? It wasn’t my fault. 

“Tell me! What have I done wrong? I did all I could!” I yelled once more.

“All you could?” he spat, “Tell me, was MJ your best friend before or after she gave you the necklace? How sweet! Love story!”

The transformation in his tone and newly born frigid eyes felt like a blast of cold air in a winter storm with sharp with icicles cutting through dilated pupils. It felt as if God were once again condemning me to a world I feared, and I began to shiver.

“I must have forgotten,” he quipped, “I did in fact know your story. Same old fucking bullshit! And I warned you to be honest! Or didn’t I?” He flailed his arms about his head in an exaggerated motion and grinned hideously. “Never mind honesty. In here, no one gets a second chance. But you must forgive me, we’re here!”

I hadn’t noticed the double golden doors before us. The gold that once appealed my senses seemed cold and bright, too bright,  as if it laughed with derision. Likewise, The Devil’s white light became too blinding, too bright. I suddenly felt the urge to run, but before I could execute such plan into motion The Devil locked my wrist in a cold palm.

“Why?” I asked under muffled breaths as fear boiled my heart. “Where am I?”

“Hell!” He roared with laughter.

“Leave me alone! PLEASE! STOP! STOP! STOP!” I screamed–unheard.

The double doors pulled apart to reveal an almost empty white room. In the middle of it stood an upright gold coffin carved in the shape of a female.

“NO!” I screamed, panic setting in full force. “Let me go! Please.” I began pleading to The Devil, crying out unrecognizable words, in a language I myself couldn’t understand. I screamed louder, scratched harder, begged, but he dragged me effortlessly towards the coffin.

“Why? please, why? Why? Why? I thought you loved me! Understood me? Why?” I cried, as he lifted me into the coffin, latching a link around my hips, thighs, and breast.

“I don’t know why. It’s just my sport girl.” he calmly explained. “Maybe because you take pleasure in watching people suffer? And you like the ride. You enjoy it! You’re a monster and you don’t realize it! You watched your friends walk to their death, silently!” His voice came out raspy, painful to my ears, almost high pitched, like nails on a chalkboard.

“There was nothing I could do! I tried everything! I told MJ to STOP!”

“When it benefited you that is!”

“Please stop!” I begged, “You’re hurting me! There was nothing I could do! Too tight! The chain is too tight! PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE!”

“All for a bottle of champagne and a gold necklace, tsk tsk you dirty girl!” Ignoring my pleas, he calmly continued, “you… Cruel as you are, watched a woman get raped, watched people beaten, but instantly forgot about it when adorned with your gold! Do you really think you’re so innocent?”

“What was I supposed to do? I was afraid to question you! What was I supposed to do? PLEASE! I’m sorry! I’m so so sorry! Please STOP!”

“You admired death! Bet you wished the skulls belonged to you! ‘PROFOUND!’ Wasn’t that the word you used for it? Because its tears were golden! Not to worry, you too will soon shed gold tears.”

I stopped struggling, knowing deep down inside that I had just lost a battle. “What will you do to me?”

“Oh nothing you don’t already want. I will give you all the gold in the world. Like your coffin? It’s gold! Made especially for you! Isn’t it beautiful?” He grinned sadistically.

“I don’t understand it,” I whispered.

“It seems like you never have. Always playing the ignorant victim! You should thank me you know, you will finally have the gold in excess you’ve always desired, you’ll be buried in gold, and you’ll live in my home! Isn’t that what you wanted?”

“Pleasssseeee!” I cried.

He stared at me dumbfounded as if he were waiting for me to say something. Then licked his lips and formed a smirk. “You’ve already died once so not to worry, you can’t die again. Even if you tried! Fortunately for me you’ll be another living gold furniture for another selfish brat to wondrously gaze at. Oh right, remember that skull you saw earlier, it was alive, just like you’ll be in your coffin. Alive and imprisoned. He was a stupid man. Twenty years older than you, sent here and tried to steal from me. Tried to steal from me!” He admired the fear pasted on my face and added, “really to be so controlled and blinded by material wealth, truly, the human heart is quite profound. You’re all monsters that don’t realize it!”

The coffin closed and left me in perpetual darkness. I screamed, cried, and screamed some more. Hot liquid formed at my feet and rose to meet my knees, slowly rising. Somehow, I knew without seeing what it was. Gold.

I screamed out but it was in vain.

The hot gold rose higher, filled my mouth, seeped into my nose, blocked my ears, then blinded my eye sight.

I tried to scream but everything was sealed and death seemed a rather pleasant idea.

For the first time ever, and only coming upon the realization standing there stalk still, did I see what I truly was. The Devil’s voice replayed over and over in my memory as the raped woman’s screams had continuously pierced the walls of my mind like a warning that I ignored. As I stared dumb, mute, and blind, I silently observed the creature that I was: a creature born in avarice, die in avarice, and perpetually lie in the fruits of vanity she sewed.


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