Friday, April 16, 2004

If you've made this far, I love you. :)

Enjoy the ending(s).

Excerpts from a War in Progress by Elad Haber (Part 4 of 4)

J-man had said come alone, but didn’t say anything about coming armed. Don’t worry, I didn’t have a gun, but I wasn’t unprepared. The sun was out and brilliant; it was around two o’clock in the afternoon.
I smoked a cigarette across the street from the strip-club used as a ‘front’ for the organization. The neon sign was off and the whole block was half-empty, a hobo pushing a cart full of tin cans making the only noise. I walked to the club. My stomach jumped on itself a few times. I was scared for what might be, and nervous about how I’ll perform.
Remember what I said about Luck? And how I didn’t believe it wanted to help people like me. I hope I was wrong. I needed some luck today.
I knocked at the door. It opened quickly.
“Wha?” said a big gangsta-type, squinting in the daylight. He recognized me and let me through without another word.
Dim artificial twilight, inside. At night, the main lights are off, a prevailing darkness fills the place, with only neon lights, spotlights on the girls, and lamps around the bar, so you could see what you’re drinking. In the daytime, the club looked depressed, as if it missed its people and music. Two cleaning guys swept the floor with the sound of scraping straw on wood.
I walked down lanes of barstools and tables that I’d sat at many times (free drinks and lap-dances to members of the crew) and remembered some times I’d spent here with friends, fellow members. There were good friends of mine working for the Bosses, had been for years and years. This thing isn’t like the Italian mob, where you grow up in a neighborhood, join the crew in that neighborhood (or make your own and take down the bigger one), and your partners in crime are your life-long buddies. Things get complicated like that. Here, they switched you around a lot. Me, I did a little of everything. I had many friends in the organization, but I worked with only a few of them. As for the bosses, they had been good to me.
It’s the War that was getting to me. The destructive tug-of-war between dealers and cops, dealers and other dealers, and the internal struggles of any business. But this was a business where everyone was armed. A disagreement could turn into a gunbattle at any moment, meanwhile, the cops are just around the corner, filming you, waiting to snatch you up. I was sick of all of it.
I walked into G-Man’s office after only a slight knock. He wasn’t alone. Half a dozen black faces stared at me, insulted, not-trusting. I saw it in their eyes. They were very unhappy with me for some reason.
“Yo, kid,” said J-man, standing near a large desk. “Sit or stand if you want.” He indicated a chair behind me. I didn’t turn my back.
I looked at the large desk and G-Man sitting behind it. The Boss-Man wore small reading glasses, not very gangster-like, more intellectual. He had a goatee, jet black hair against cream skin, and he looked like he used some greasy jell. Oddly, he was wearing a suit. I decided to stand.
“Special occasion?” I asked him.
G-Man nodded. “Court.”
“Anything serious?”
A little laugh from the peanut gallery. G-Man shook his head. “Never.” He stood up, patted his jacket down. “But don’t worry, it has nothing to do with you, MC.” He began to walk around his people and the large desk towards me. “We are concerned about you, though, little-man. First, you get picked up by Five-Oh. A random drug thing, yeah, and no big shit, but, it shows a certain lack of ill-responsibility, you-get-what-I’m-saying-here?”
I nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, I do.” He was right beside me now and was speaking in a lower voice. He was a foot and a head taller than me.
“And then, there’s this incident in police custody. Three random niggas jumped you, a few feet away from the cops? This I don’t believe.”
J-man, still leaning behind the desk, said, “What if it was set up? An assault on us, beginning with you.”
“But the cops …”
G-Man interjected, “The cops can be bought for pennies, kiddo. We found that out long-ago.”
I shook my head at them. I was sweating a little. “I don’t know, man. These fools seemed wacked. Talking about the Devil and fuckin’ Darkness coming for my soul. I don’t think they were working for anybody we know.”
Laughter again, from the background characters.
“You don’t THINK?” said G-Man, mock-insulted. “We don’t pay your ass to think, MC.” He went down to a whisper, “You’ve been one of my best recruiters for the last five years. Now you tell J you want out. What the fuck, man?”
I had that uncomfortable feeling you get sometimes when talking to the father of a girl you’re sleeping with. I said quietly, “It’s getting to be too much, G. Too much hiding and being careful and being scared. There’s someone trying to fuck with me every time I walk down a corner. I can’t take it.”
He put his arm around my shoulder and led me to the far side of the room, where we conversed at a whisper.
“I know, man,” he said. “I know. I remember when I was alone out there, in the trenches. It’s hard to keep focused on your future when the present is out to fuck with you.”
“That’s it, G! I don’t want to be a solider, part of a war. I just want to have a job like normal people. I want to come home at night, eat dinner, smoke a joint, fuck my girlfriend, and then watch Letterman before going to sleep. Without looking over my shoulder or sleeping with a gun nearby.”
“You want a normal life?”
I sighed. “Yes.”
G-Man paused. He shook his head, squeezed my neck a little more. “It don’t work that way. This life takes balls. You had them up until I couple days ago. Did some Aryan rape you in lock-up? Or is it just that bitch, with her fingernails in your balls?”
“G-Man, what are you talkin’ about?”
“Your buddy Nate sold you out, said you sounded like you were all ‘in love’-n’shit. That’s where your fuckin’ heart is, down that bitch’s pants.” He turned to the rest of the room and spoke in such a loud volume, people in the club could have heard. “Yo!” he half-shouted. “MC here has found a proper woman good enough to marry and he wants no more of our roughneck company. What do we say that, boys?”
All the ganstas in the room gave me a look that they were waiting for the word to take me out. Then they shouted, “FUCKIN’ PUSSY.” G-Man laughed, satisfied. He took a few steps into the center of the room and then turned to me.
“Look, here, MC. I understand wanting to reexamine your life, after jail, and meeting some (hopefully) damn fine piece of ass. But this is a Man’s job and if you want to act like a Bitch, we will have to terminate you.” A little laughter from one of the gangsta’s. “I don’t want to have to force you out of the crew. I hope you believe that. There’s enough shit going on out there that I don’t need to lose someone like you, so, think about it. Before you make any rash decisions that you will regret. Believe me. I speak only the truth to you, MC, because I respect you.”
I nodded like a chastised child, “I understand.”
G-Man nodded, feeling victorious. “Good. Now go home, smoke a blunt or something, and think about how long you want the rest of your life to be. We’ll call you tomorrow. Walk away now.”
I did as told, feeling my heart pumping, maybe suddenly afraid they were gonna stab me in the back, literally.
They didn’t. I closed the door to G’s office behind me and walked slowly down some dark stairs. G-Man had pulled the show off almost perfectly, till the end. He wanted me to come back to them with an answer, but whatever it would be, my days were numbered. I showed weakness and they had to eliminate me.
I remember my early days in the organization well. They put me in the basement of the kitchen here at the club, cleaning dishes in front of the high-powered dishwasher, two nights a week. Every other night and day, I was out with the crew, dealing. Everyone starts out like that. I knew that it wasn’t really for me, then, but I was always with well-experienced others who took care of me. I learned a lot. They use to tell me, “Just remember the rules. There’s no escape once you're in. You want to stay alive, see twenty-one, then twenty-five, then twenty-eight, if you’re lucky, just remember the rules.
“Rule Number One: Killed or be killed. Most important of all. On the street, there ain’t no second chances. You hear someone’s got their eye on you, you cap that motherfucker quick, before he has a chance to hit you from behind. You remember that shit, aiight, little MC?”
They named me that, the veterans on the corner. They had the rookies entertain them in the slow periods and I use to do a killer MC Hammer impersonation. It stuck.
Over the years, I had to defend myself more than a few times and I did a few preemptive attacks, never killing, but wounding severely a few motherfuckers. I wasn’t proud of that. I wasn’t proud of anything I’d done as a member of the crew. But I did respect them, and I believed the things they told me.
I walked down to the kitchen of the strip club. Some of the best spicy buffalo wings in the world were created right here, in this kitchen. At the moment, it was empty. I walked silently through it, to a side door, down some steps to the freezers and dishwashing/pot-and-pan cleaning area. There were two bulky machines here, bought in the mid-90’s. They ran on gas. I started them up and waited until the water was audibly bubbling. Beneath them, large pipes ran up from the generator. Using my feet I kicked them out of their alignment. Small leaks of gas peaked out, I smelled it. I walked back upstairs.
Besides the gas stoves were a line of meat steamers, large open flames underneath hotboxs. With my lighter (the one weapon I managed to smuggle behind enemy lines) I lit the steamers quickly. I put them on one of the lower settings and got the fuck out of there, through the kitchen entrance.
I walked away from the club, through the cold afternoon, at a quick pace. When I was a few blocks away, my heart stopped pounding so fast, for just a moment. Then a loud explosion rocked five city blocks. The rumbling felt like a subway train was approaching. I hesitated to look behind me.
Kill or be killed, that’s what they taught me.
I looked back, at the flaming facade of the stripclub. The squeal of cop cars and firetrucks converging on the building. I escaped. That’s what they taught me.

When my superiors laid out this mission for me, they talked vaguely of the ultimate goal. Finally, I asked, “And when I meet the Devil Himself, what shall I do?” They looked at each other as if the answer was obvious. One said, “Well, kill him, of course.”

The prayer session was, in a word, disturbing. Their religion was a mocking jumble of Judeo-Chritisan pomp and ceremony. Whole lines of prayer were copied out of the Holy Bible but then capped off with a Hebrew-accented AMEN. And there appeared to be a large influence from the Rastafari religion. The colors were all green and yellow and black and there was singing in slow-paced rhythms. When it was all over, the Priest unveiled a large joint, lit it, and began passing it around to the whole congregation, starting with The Man. When it came time to come to me, the teenage girl sitting next to me handed it over like a tasty lollipop she was sharing with her friends. I refused at first, but she didn’t understand and forced the little flaming thing into my hand. I didn’t know what to do with it. I was about to throw it on the floor when the whole room gasped in horror.
There were a few of them around me in seconds, two gargoyle creatures casting cold shadows and two strong-looking men, personal guards to The Man. He appeared before me then, calm, as if thinking of him summoned him. He said, “You must not destroy it. It is the body of Christ.”
I looked at him in shock. “This?” I said. “This is… sin.”
“It’s a symbol,” he said, “a metaphor. We use Holy ashes mixed with marijuana to symbolize the ashes of Christ. We smoke in his honor.”
Still burning, I raised it to give to him. “I cannot.”
After a long moment, he nodded. “I understand,” he said, but did not reach for it. “Tell me, how is this different than the drinking of wine to toast his Lord?”
I stammered. “There is a morality limit. Government and laws that we must follow…”
“Lies,” he said. “All lies. The very essence of faith is questioning rules and laws made on this world. I don’t know about you, but I answer to a higher authority.” He grinned demon-like. Someone retrieved the joint from me while most of the congregation began to file out of the room. “I want to show you something,” he said and led me to the front of the Temple, the altar.
He opened the ornate case, inside, a television set. He smiled at my look of digust. “Everyone prays to it, why can’t we?” He turned the TV set on.
Dark, fuzzy, violent images filled the screen. Hand-held camera shots and far-away images of burning cars and running bodies.
The Man spoke over my shoulder. “Have you heard of the rashes of pre-Halloween violence throughout The City? Maybe fear, maybe scare tactics. And now this, an epidemic of violence.” He breath was now heavy against my ear. “The people are already feeling the effects. Can you feel it too, Hayden?”
“Effects of what?”
He laughed. “What else? The End of the World, baby! You religious types have been predicting it for ages, well, here’s some inside info, it’s coming. Maybe even tonight. Maybe next year. Either way, it’s coming. Nothing can stop it now. The mess you’ve made has opened the door.”
I looked at him, trying to break his poker-face, trying to see through to the lie beneath his fast talking. All I felt was fear, and it was all coming from me. But I spoke, not with fear, but with conviction. Damned if I’m going to look cowardly in front of the Devil.
“We still have Hope,” I said.
“Hope?” he spat back, pointing at the TV. “Let’s see where your hope is after this. And then the next wave, and then the next.”
When he felt like he had enough privacy (guards and gargoyles still wandered the room), the Man mocked me. He said, “The Pope.” His face creased to show a disgusted grin. “The Pope says this, the Pope says that. The fuckin’ Pope pisses holy water. Ya-know-what? Fuck the Pope! Him and his whole Catholic corporation are going to hell. Trust me. I’ve seen Hell! Its walls are lined with Priests, Bishops and Popes.” He spat that last word. Anger-lines pumped in his forehead and neck. He seethed like a demon and took some steps closer to me. I smelled sweat.
“Does that disturb you, Hayden? Me dissin’ the Pope; does that piss you off?”
“Yes!” I admitted.
He grinned. He had caught me. “I thought you said you weren’t Catholic. How much else did you lie about?” Stone/flesh arms gripped my shoulders and legs. I was frozen in my pew. “Who sent you!” He shouted, coming very close to me, threatening. “What’s your mission! What did you come here to do!”
Salvia flew into my face and hair. I felt like I was getting physically abused under the verbal assault. I said nothing, just breathed loudly right back into his face.
He calmed, just a little. “I can just as easily torture you and get my answers like that. But I don’t want to do that. I see potential in you. Hope, for a better world. We share that Hope in common, you and me.” He laid a comforting hand on mine. “We accept all converts here.”
I could come up with only one answer to him, even though I knew what it would mean. My lips were moving before I even finished deciding to say it.
“I’ll be Heaven,” I said, “and you’ll be rotting in Hell for all eternity.”
He sighed, straightened up. He shook his head at me. “Wrong answer,” he said.
A second later, the gargoyles pulled me roughly to my feet. They didn’t let me stand on my own, but cradled my legs and chest, carrying me like a cripple.
“The problem with you, Hayden,” said the Man very loudly, “is you don’t listen. You never learn anything. You gotta look around everyonce in a while. Because that book you’ve devoted your life too is exactly the same as it was two-thousand years ago, while the whole world has changed around it… and around you. Why can’t people like you see that?”
I just stared at him. He shrugged, suddenly lost interest in me and began to walk out of the Church. “Crucify him,” he said to his minions.
The gargoyles let out a little laugh of delight and easily started pulling me towards the large wooden cross. Human guards ran up, also excited, with spikes and a ladder. I screamed.
The Man shouted at me, “Oh, shush, now. I know that this how all Catholics secretly wish to die. What an honor. The ultimate homage to Your Savior, The Original Man.” I cursed him and his family. “You’re welcome,” he said and disappeared through the massive door back into the foyer. He had one last statement for me, though.
He peeked half his body back into the church and yelled out to me, “Hey, Hayden. If you get to Heaven and meet God, ask him what wrong with the World? And then get back to me on that.”
They strung me up onto the cross with ropes and tied my arms to the posts with more ropes. The nail and chisel came, just like I knew it would, immediately after. The process was known to me since I was very young. I always felt it was gratuitous to explain and show so much to a child, but now I thanked my long-lost teachers. They had prepared me for this.
Both my wrists were punctured at about the same time, an explosion of pain and a incredible loss of blood. My body sagged, held by the nails. My breathing came in heavy, choked spurts. My vision became blurry, my head dizzy. I saw clouds everywhere, and moving behind and in front of the clouds, translucent faces from my past. They all stared at me.
My last words were, “I have failed. I am very sorry.”

Incredible brilliance of colors. Lights like the Borealis, but larger, and brighter. And the rest… oh… unexplainable…
I don’t regret anything.

There’s a kind of spirituality in the act of making love. There’s minds and bodies linking together. Sometimes, there’s music. Last night, there was a symphony.

After lunch, Maria led me to her apartment in a very quiet, sober demeanor. In the elevator, we stayed completely silent and stared at the floor. Old people in the elevators stared at our clothes. The walls breathed. I wanted to scream and shout and sinnnnnnggggg…
Inside her apartment in a flash. There was ringing somewhere. My phone? Maria held my arm and led me forward. She kept saying, “Close your eyes, close your eyes.” I did and felt an uneasy sense of disembodied movement, like being blind. I felt myself swaying and being led like a child to a bed. She told me to lie down and I did. A comfortable blanket and a comfortable mattress; (I peeked), she had red sheets. I smiled and asked Maria to come lie down with me.
And then I fell asleep.
I know, because when I woke up, the sun was gone, and dark moonlight shone through her white curtains. I still heard the music from the café and some part of me was stuck earlier in the day. I closed my eyes and asked it to come back. Whatever it is. I could use it.
“Good morning!” someone said loudly. A little steel-fingered pinch on my forehead.
“Ouch,” I said, but then attempted a smile for Maria.
She looked beautiful, bathed in the moonlight, her hair gleaming like a snow-covered mountain at night. She hid her face within shadows, but her wily-like nose peeked out. She made my headache go away. Especially when I saw she had coffee. A full jug, with a little cream. She made me drink it very dark and so was harsh going down. It perked me up, reality returning back to the present, slowly, like a high-speed train pulling into station-stop.
“Thank you, angel,” I said.
She did a mock-offended look and pointed at herself. “Maria. Ma-RE-A. Did you forget already?”
I laughed. “How much did I have to drink?”
She laughed a little, but forced. “For that, actually, I must apologize. True, the couple glasses of wine and other drinks we had at lunch contributed to you getting pretty wasted, but it was the mindspeaking we did that drained your mental chi.” I gave her a questioning glance. “The mind-reading, I did, I guess you could say. It’s like a muscle, this ‘sense’, or whatever you want to call it, you have to work it to make it strong. Otherwise it’s weak and drains your body for energy, and time.”
“It makes you sleep. For hours and hours.” She massaged the top of one of my hands with her fingers. “I am sorry, though, H. I shouldn’t have spent so long inside your mind. I didn’t think about what it might do to you. I was just… fascinated, you know? We have a lot in common,” she said, but didn’t continue. She could sometimes be very vague, when she chose too. Finally, she said, “It won’t happen again.”
“It’s okay,” I said, almost automatically. It was, it really was. I petted her cheek and she pressed against my hand like a loving pet. I looked into her oval-shaped hazel-tinted eyes. “I don’t know what it is about you,” I said.
She purred, a little. “It’s the mindspeech,” she whispered in a lover’s tone, close to my ear. “It’s brought us together at an intimate level.” She approached me. “It’s meant to be.”
“Is this ethical?” I asked her
She shook her head and grabbed my cheeks in her warm hands. “Who gives a damn,” she said and kissed me. She threw our cups of coffee onto the floor, where they spilled or shattered, and ravaged me on the bed.
I’d been with more than my share of partners in the past, male and female. None had the veracity of Maria. I tried to match her, and there was much competition and one-up-(woman)ship over the night. By three or four o’clock in the morning, we lay beside each other, our legs crossed, the bed stripped of blankets or pillows, and shared a cigarette, then a joint, then another cigarette.
We talked in whispers and she spoke words of praise and love in my mind. I felt utterly satisfied.
The nighttime hours waned. Sleep was not an option and both of us were a little sore for another round (yet), so we talked. She told me more about witches and spells. It turned it she was raised by gypsies, Turkish mystic ones, with more spells and ceremony than the Native Americans. She confirmed things I had always wanted to believe: That there was more to this life than these fragile bodies. There are souls, there is magic, there is a God.
“But that also means there is a Devil,” she said, “And there is eternal damnation. And penalties for magics done wrong. It’s not all pretty, H.”
“I can imagine.” I spent a while trying to convince her to share something with me. To let me participate in some “ritual.” At first we debated whether to spell up some kind of sexual drug, for fun. We decided maybe another time. Then I said, “What about talking to somebody who’s dead? Can you do that?”
She didn’t look too happy when I said that. “Well… it’s possible, yes, but frowned upon. The dead are kind of like sleeping children, they do not like to be woken up.”
“But you can actually do that?”
She narrowed her eyes at me. “You don’t want to, like, contact your dead mother or something and ask her why she abandoned you? Cause that might be a little too depressing right now.”
“No, no,” I said. “Nothing like that.” I thought about it for a moment. Something about my childhood creeped up. All those hours in the rehab cell. I did have questions. Finally, I said, “I wanna talk to Jesus.”
Maria sat up. “Hmm,” he murmured. “That could be fun.” She smiled at me. “I’m sure he gets a lot of calls, he probably won’t mind another one.”
“Are you serious, or are you fuckin’ with me?”
“Hey, if you don’t want to do it…” She started to get out of bed. I pulled her back down.
“No, no, no. I wanna do it!”
“All right, then,” she nodded. “I do need to get some supplies though.”
“Oh,” I said and let go of her arm. She smiled at me and went into one of her walk-in closets and didn’t come out for two whole minutes. When she stepped back onto the bed, I noticed she had a little rogue on her cheek and liner on her eyelid.
“You’re crazy,” I mocked her.
She grinned.. “What?”
Onto the bed, she laid out a chessboard and then flipped it. A circle pained in white surrounded a pentagram painted in red.
I asked Maria, “Is this… black magic?”
She hesitated, then said, “Kind-of, but not really. We’ll be pulling on some dark energy, but not much. Don’t worry, I can handle it.” She looked at my expression and feigned unhappiness. “It’s not like you asked to conjure up the Easter bunny or something. Talking to the dead falls slightly in the realm of Fucked-Up and therefore requires some bite. I thought you knew that.”
“I do know that. I didn’t say stop what you’re doing.”
She sprinkled some green powder on the white line and then grabbed my arm and held it over the pentagram. She pulled some kind of mini-dagger out of her shirt and pricked a vein at the base of my hand. “The blood of an Honest woman,” she said.
Maria hung her head over the board. Her eyes went downtrodden and her lip sagged like in depression. A single tear crawled itself out of her eye, sobbing itself and quietly skied down her face, slowly. “The tears of a sad daughter, mourning her lost father.”
She whispered at me, “We’ll skip the virgin’s semen tonight.” We both laughed.
She extended her two arms, hands first, palms up, and beckoned for me to do the same. I laid my hands down on her palms, my fingers gripping her lower arm. She squeezed, I squeezed. We grinned at each other.
She spoke to the spirit world: “Keepers of the Gates, we beg of you. Grant us passage. We seek … conversation only.”
There was a flash of dark clouds in my mind. I felt like I was being scanned. Memories flashed, like a film montage in fast forward: a jumbled, hazy, scream past my childhood; my wild teenage years, a colorful tripped-out MTV video (parties and dark rooms and drugs and sex); my “hahahaha” college years (more of the same); “adult” life, depressed me, sitting at home, broke, smoking; more recent years, stripping, modeling, clubbing, a smile every once in awhile on my face, beautiful people, money, powerful men, attractive women, Maria, the cappuccinos, the drinks, the dumb waitress, the comfortable bed and beautiful red sheets, the way Maria’s hair smelled, the smoothness of her skin, her playfully rough touch, the music two bodies make, her body exhausted above mine. Satisfaction. Love.
The gates opened. Maria and I found ourselves in a dark place with a weak cone of vision around us. Occasionally, we would feel the presence of other beings but saw nothing. She grabbed my arm and we stepped out of the cone of light. In the darkness, echoes were loud, and distant-forming. A scream, a shout, a call for mercy. At first, I saw nothing, but then my eyes adjusted and I saw many shadow forms, lounging around.
I couldn’t describe it any other way. Some leaned on the walls and stared at the ceiling, some walked in random patterns, a few in the shadows even appeared to be playing pool.
I said to Maria, “How do we find Him in all this?”
She shrugged, looking lost. “Maybe we just call out his name.”
“What if some Mexican dude comes out?”
We stared at each other for a few seconds and then, as one, yelled out, “JESUS.”
All the shadow forms stopped, looked at us aghast. I swear one of them did the “No talking” gesture with his finger to his lips. It didn’t matter anyway. A second later, we were suddenly transported again, to a place of very limited reality.
Clouds of varying grays and stalks of lightning were all around. Emptiness and nothingness surrounded us.
“Where are we?” I shouted at Maria over the sound of thunder. My shout echoed.
“Some kind of sub-dimension.” She suddenly looked to her side. “We’re not alone here.”
“Is it... Him?”
She shook her head. “I don’t think so. I’m getting a lot of negative energy.” She shot a look at me with a bang. “Do you feel that?”
“I feel… Warm.” Then I felt hot, and then suddenly I was sweating. My breath shortened. “What is..”
“Something bad,” Maria replied, signs of real worry on her beautiful face. “Something real bad.” She started to make choking sounds. “Oh, I’m so sorry. It’s not my day with this stuff.”
My body felt draped in humidity, like a Florida summer heat wave. “It’s okay,” I said, between heaving breathes “You gave me an adventure. Thank you.”
She laughed. “You’re strange, H, that’s why I-“
A loud growl. The heat intensified. A shape emerged from the clouds. I wanted to scream, but didn’t have the energy. The thing was large and buff, with red hued skin, huge bulky arms, and claws for hands and feet. It looked down at us with inquisitive eyes, like a dinosaur eyeing its dinner. But this beast didn’t like what he saw.
He made a spitting sound and waved a dismissing claw. Just as suddenly as it came, the shadow world of clouds and lightning disappeared. We were back in bed, in the simple apartment, in simple New York City.
Maria was curled into a ball, frightened. “Baby,” I said, “wake up. It’s okay. The monster’s gone now.”
She was shivering, her teeth chattering. I hugged her and tried to give her my body heat. She latched onto me like a spooked child, and she didn’t let go. We slept side by side, her holding onto me for comfort. She had nightmares most of the night, but at least she slept.

Magic’s not for me. I’m just an ordinary girl. Maria asked if she could be an ordinary girl too, then laughed, sadly.

Soldiers die. That’s what they do best. One soldier isn’t much help in a battle, one hundred can really throw the odds in your favor. One thousand usually means victory.
I had a few hundred, bordering on a thousand, but about three hundred pairs of fangs too small. When I said this was a War I was fighting, I was being truthful: The war is against everybody else. Heaven, humans, even the Lords of Hell don’t tell me what to do. I answer to one voice, one power. Until he tells me otherwise, everyone dies.
The clock struck midnight and bell towers around the city began to lay down a 6/6 rhythm. Bang, bang, bang, and so forth. The clangs echoed in the empty streets. If anybody was sleeping in this city, it’s time to wake the fuck up.
While only a few of my soldiers manned the bells, the other hundreds began to emerge, from underground, from attics and cellars of buildings. Manhattan became a scene from Michael Jackson’s Thriller video.
I watched it all unfold from a tall perch, atop the Observation Deck of the Empire State Building. No windows obscured my view. The slashing wind and the sound of approaching thunderstorms shared the space with me. My special vision allowed me to zoom like a telescope on certain blocks.
Key areas overflowed with members of the Dark. They sliced apart homeless people and shoved whole groups of people into stores, locked the doors, and used science-created bombs to blow the stores up.
A few minutes apart from each other, explosions rang out from many of the sections of the city I had been watching. Flash points in the operation. Another blast, a big one, in the center of all the others, around the Upper West Side. A massive burst of flame, like a bonfire gone wrong, flamed from that spot and stayed there. That had been the special bomb. Stolen from a military headquarters in upstate New York. A little dash of naplam and complex computers inside the bomb itself made the flame settle and rise up like a memorial, or a statue.
Surrounding the large explosion, five stalks of fire and smoke from the still burning storefronts created pictures in the sky. Invisible to human eyes, but very clear to me: Lines. Between each explosion was a dark red line connecting them in a starshape, three lines coming from each point. The red was blood red, and it was mixed with all kinds of dark hues of purple and pink: Death, violence, and pain. My soldiers were wreaking havoc exactly in the right places. I was painting with death.
The pentagram shape was almost complete. I pulled a thin book from my jacket and opened up to the spell I wanted, for I was not proficient at these Earth magics. The skill can be learned, though, and I had spent decades in study.
I was human, once, in fact. I remember I found the occult in my teenage years. Probably what led me to be killed by a vampire pretending to be a street-punk. In Heaven, or whatever you want to call it, I began to talk to God. He told me I had great things in my future. He asked me to join his quest for Eternal Purity in all worlds. I, of course, agreed.
But then God forgot about me. He put me at a desk with a simple job which I did, simply, for what-felt-like millennia. I watched the human world wither and decay in a mere hundred years. World Wars, famine, depression, disease. Violence and bloodshed.
I went to God’s representatives and begged them to give me something to do. I want to help humanity, I said. But they turned their back on me, said I was proving “unstable.”
I’ll show them.
The lines were complete, the pentagram had been formed. I closed my human host’s eyes and recanted the spell, giving life to the image I saw before me. I opened my eyes. Hovering over four of the boroughs of New York City, a massive, burning pentagram shape would be visible now by all watching. The streets below were alive with panic and fear.
All the negative emotions filling the air came to me, like a magnet. I fed off the energy, feeling stronger with every murderous jolt.
I flipped some pages in the book. The summoning spell now. I read the Latin aloud and added: “Hear me! God of Heaven, creator of this world, giver of life. Send your firstborn to me! Send him here for all humanity’s sake. They need him.”
For you see, I was after something very simple. But it’s something that doesn’t let you sleep at night, or think straight until it’s done and over. Revenge. Revenge on The Lord himself for abandoning me and his Children on Earth. I’m going to hurt him in every way I can imagine.
The pentagram shape that came from the blackness of my demon heart will be hidden in shadows. The Messiah will not see it coming. A portal began to form above the Dark five-pointed star.
After leaving Heaven, spending some timeless time in Purgatory, I arrived to Hell, and they greeted me with arms wide-open. They said they’d been expecting me. They turned me into a demon and granted me special powers to exist for long periods of time on Earth. They also gave me a special assignment: a Message. From me, to be delivered personally to all humanity, something to the effect of “Time’s up, motherfuckers. Start praying now.” If for nothing else than to scare humanity into another World War. They also said, “Be as creative as you like.”
I looked at the beautiful pentagram and the swirling vortex of magical energy forming above it.
“SON OF CHRIST!” I shouted. “Come forth!”
The vortex was large enough. All he had to do was step out and the dark energy I had created will destroy him. Humanity can watch their would-be savior die, again. I thought it was pretty creative.
But he didn’t step out. The vortex stayed open and long minutes passed of silence. My soldiers were waiting below, staring up at me. I growled and leapt into the vortex.
I stood on a solid cloud. Around me, thunder and lightning like a New York storm. I felt no large holy presence. Jesus was nowhere to be found.
However, I wasn’t alone in the clouds. Two small creatures lingered in darkness. My demon eyes saw weak signals. My human eyes, adjusting to the dim, saw two pretty girls, looking lost, confused, and scared. I stepped closer to them, not believing either set of my eyes.
Barely any magical energy emitted from the two. They were just … girls. How had they gotten here? What did they want?
I hovered above them, angry. I already felt the cloud-room disintegrating, the magical energy of the spell dissipating. My whole life’s work, destroyed … by accident.
I turned my anger to the females. Their stupidity had cost me my revenge. They will pay. I raised my huge demon arms to smite them both in one blow, but then stopped. One cried on the floor and the other cradled her, not looking at me, staring at the floor, praying.
Somewhere inside me, a heart that once belonged to a boy named Matthew, beat once, loudly. I lowered my arms, compassion filling me. I walked out of the cloud-room, through the vortex I had come through, back to New York City and Reality.
Above me, the flaming pentagram disappeared and calm night sky returned. I hit the floor, knees first, and would have sobbed, if I had the humanity for it.

My powers were gone after that. So much so, many of the spells I had done in the last days reversed themselves. My soldiers became ordinary human beings again, or ordinary demons again.
I went into hiding, alone, lost like a city-boy in the suburbs, with no direction or purpose to follow. Most nights, now, I stay up and stare at the ceiling, hoping for an answer.

5. (Epilogue)
Liz and I never stopped being in love… well, at least not so far.
We jumped from city to city for awhile, paranoid and scared. Years passed, and we found ourselves in Europe, Canada, back in the West Coast of the US. We married. We settled down on the coast of Northern California with a sincere air of hope. Our past fears and worries were exactly where they should be, in the past.
We bought ourselves a beautiful wooden house, made over a decade by a long-dead, loving father. Hand carved wood beams supported the light, white house, on stilts; half of the house over the beach, the other on grass. It was the type of place you find, fall in love with, and never want to leave.
Most nights, now, we sit on our moonlit patio and watch the waves crash down onto the beach, one after the other, endlessly returning, trying again and again, hopeful.


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