Again a warning.
ADULT CONTENT. For the love of anything that you hold Holy, if you are a sensitive reader DO NOT SCROLL DOWN. Contained within are graphic mental images (depending on how good your imagination is) of attempted paedophilic rape of a fourteen year old girl. I say again, ADULT CONTENT DO NOT READ IF YOU ARE SENSITIVE TO ADULT THEMES.
You have been warned.
Devil’s Den (Part Two)
The temperature plummets.
I look at the thing sprouting up. It’s grin grows in its vacuous, roiling face.
No. No. Nononononononono. My mouth moves with no sound. Puffs of white enunciate for me.
It can’t be.
Not one of them. The Deal. There was the Deal.
Dad’s scythe droops in my suddenly limp wrists.
Oh Jesus. I’m going to die.
“Don’t be afraid,” it says in that thick voice, “I’m just like you…”
I shake my head again, backing up, nearly tripping over the mattress.
“No,” I say, “no you’re much worse.”
It laughs. Martin’s shoulders rising and falling, chest heaving, his own human mouth spread in a rictus grin that would make the Joker proud. He takes a step forward to match my one going back. Again. And again. I stumble, fall, the scythe disappears and I scuttle backward, needing to find somewhere safe to hide until he goes far far away. But there’s nowhere. Abandoned, doesn’t necessarily mean a mess, and the workers that had lost their jobs had, for some reason, taken the time to clean the place up all nice and pretty. Bully for them, trouble for me. Tears stream down my cheeks. My eyes are riveted on the nothing-face hovering above Martin, set on a pair of strong shoulders leading down to dangerously clawed hands. They flex, onyx black nails catching in what light filters through the archways of the unfinished mall. A storm is brewing outside. Sunlight dims and brightens with the rise and fall of growing clouds. If I can get outside while the sun is still shining, if I can somehow make it outside, the thing will disappear. That’s why they wear human bodies. The sun. They can’t stand the sun. They can’t function in the sun.
Fear paralyses me.
I can’t dodge his blow. He’s too quick and I’m too stupid with fear. Without understanding why, I find myself making the acquaintance of the macabre pillar with a loud, hollow thud that echoes in my ears long after impact. I slide down the pillar slowly, landing in a boneless, grotesque bastardy of the Cobra pose. He’d-it had-thrown me face first so I would slide down. So he could get easy access. My ass in the air, my broken face plastered and smeared with dried blood and dust, I’m helpless to stop him.
Do I really want to?
What he is, what the thing above him is, can’t be stopped. Not by me. I know what it wants, what it will take and it isn’t my virginity. No. That bit is for the sick fuck playing host to it.
I try to cry. Chuff a little bit. It hurts too much to have emotion. So I shut my eyes and wait, my hand clasped reflexively around my bracelet. Too weak to use it. Too weak to care. Too weak and helpless to be Death or any spawn thereof.
“Yes,” Martin’s voice this time. Hissing, gleeful.
Maybe it won’t hurt too much.
Thunder adds insult to injury. I feel his clammy hands encircling my hips, dragging me toward him on the mattress. Pain bellows up my face, stinging my eyes, piercing my brain with thousands of tiny, white hot pokers. A whimper escapes my lips, the only reaction to the ink-black spectre’s claws in my shoulders. I should be screaming, but there’s already so much pain coursing through my body that I can’t process it.
“Take her quickly,” the thing snarls, digging his claws into the meat of my shoulders. “You know what to do.”
“I know! I know!” Martin shouts. I hear the irritated rustle of fabric slipping in and out of fumbling fingers. His long string of curses adds colour to the grainy image my mind’s eye has conjured up.
Had he been wearing pants? I can’t remember.
Something hard and stiff slips in between my legs. It slides itself back and forth. Martin sounds a long, lustful groan. I cry. I try to scream. My hand clamps around my bracelet in a last ditch attempt to get this pervert off of me, to save myself. The nails in my shoulders become nails in my back, too close to my spine.
“Shut her up!” Martin begs, the hard thing in between my thighs going soft.
I scream louder. The nails dig deeper.
A hand appears in between my legs, pushing them apart, stroking the soft thing furiously. “Shut her–AAAAAAAHH!”
The hand and nails disappear in a spray of hot blood. I fall limp to the mattress, my own blood joining the new stuff in a thick pool around my chest and arms. I try to blink away my fuzzy vision. Images swim before me, clearing, becoming muddy, clearing again.
Martin stands at an odd angle, one hand holding a limp arm at the shoulder. A piece of PVC piping sticks out from where rotator cuff meets its socket, leaving the arm to hang by rapidly deteriorating sinew and tendon. The thing above him-the Snatcher-hisses and growls its rage at Cheesers.
Except Cheesers isn’t Cheesers any more. He’s a furious white haired boy about my age-maybe a little older- with white eyes and claws for hands. Bandages from those hands slip off his arms, falling to the ground in a seesaw motion. He’s my own Snatcher. My twin.
See, there can only be one Death in the household. One kid to inherit the throne. When there’s more than one, something wonky happens to the world. I know I said it’s a family business, and it is. Dad’s dad was Death, and so on and so on. A few Aunts. Maybe a cousin or two. I also have Uncles who are a form of Death. Reapers. Uncle Vinny in Chicago, Uncle Derek in Kansas, Uncle Richard in Denver, Uncle Michan in Ireland, the list goes on and on. We’re part of the same family, only related to each other by the barest of familial threads. Someone-can’t remember who-explained it to me that there was only one Death. That one Death became many Deaths as mankind went on, because Death wanted to experience Life as much as He could and so spawned my family tree.
I’m not stupid. The story was a nice way of saying Death was like God and boffed everything that had two legs and tits. End of discussion. The story later went on to say that God got angry at Death for procreating and littering the world with His spawn that a Condition was placed on Him.
“Thou shalt only have one Child,” God said unto Death. “One Child to inherit thine throne and scythe.”
“One child cannot cull thine own brood,” Death argued, “for that is the purpose of mine. Death unto Life.”
“Many of yours means devastation to mine own. One Child to inherit thine throne and scythe.”
That was the condition. One child to inherit. Any other children that are born either die soon after birth or are killed. That’s what happened to Cheesers. Mom and dad had to kill him. Just like dad had to kill his sister, and his dad had to kill his two siblings. But God wasn’t exactly an asshole about the whole thing, either. We can’t have siblings. But we can have Snatchers. The soul of our dead siblings to snatch other souls for us. Given the form of animals because dying people don’t respond very well to a bony hand reaching out and taking their souls from them, black eyes staring out from an unfeeling, smiling skull behind a cowl. Besides, animals (especially the small ones) can get into tight places to get those souls hovering over smushed or buried bodies.
The diseases today, the statistics associated with them are what is left of the Snatchers after The Deal between Lucifer, God, Life, Death, Fate, Time, and Lillith.
“One Child to inherit. One Child to Snatch the souls. One Child to Reap.”
My Uncles, Aunts and cousins to Reap. Cheesers to Snatch. I’m Death, or going to be, anyway.
Snatchers is a nice word for disease, pestilence, famine, and any other nasty thing that ends in Death. In the Middle Ages, when the First Death’s spawn were running rampant, they were known as The Plague. Of the Pharoah and otherwise. God intervened with medicine. Fate favoured science, Time allowed for invention, and Lillith stepped in; calling Her children to her. A Deal was struck between them.
No Snatcher shalt ever be used to perpetrate Death and disturb the Balance without Consult.
Obviously someone decided it was better to beg Forgiveness than ask permission.
Who would have access to the Snatchers? They’re Lillith’s property and she isn’t too keen on sharing. God and Lucifer know that all too well. Time and Fate are neutral and unchanging. Something is very, very wrong if someone has found a way to get to the Snatchers.
Cheesers opens his mouth. A growl issues forth. A low, dangerous thing that shakes his whole frame. He hunches his shoulders, claws splayed, teeth bared.
“Get it!” The Snatcher shrieks in fear. “Kill it!”
“I can’t!” Martin whines. “My arm!”
“Useless!” The Snatcher spits, sweeping his arm, prying himself away from its host. His clawed feet touch the ground with a sizzling hiss. The cement rots underneath them. Black sloughs off of black, spreading in an oozing puddle, killing as it goes. As the Snatcher walks toward my twin. I try to scream at him, panic seizing me.
I can’t lose Cheesers.
I struggle on shaking arms, the scythe growing in my hand again. The Snatcher slashes the air beside him. A violent gust of wind, sharp as a blade, slams me back down onto the mattress. It takes the air from my lungs and cuts a new hole in my face and chest. I finally scream, more out of anger than pain. I push myself to my feet, forcing the bracelet to grow in my hand.
I would find a way to send the Snatcher back to Hell.
The two Snatchers, light and dark, circle each other for the barest of minutes. They don’t give me enough time to climb off of the mattress before they meet in a furious symphony of claws and roars. Boiling black blood kills anything it lands on. I can see bones where Cheeser’s skin used to be. It grows back only to die again. Red blood soaks into the Snatcher, feeding it, helping him grow. As many times as they cut each other, neither makes a killing blow, makes a dent. The scythe is solid in my hands, the wood shiny and glossy. I spin it around, feeling where the holes in my back should have been filled with muscle and tendon.
There’s pain. Enough of it to send me to my knees screaming and begging for a Death of my own. But Cheesers. I can’t let Cheesers die. Because if he died, really died…
Never mind. It isn’t going to happen.
His scream sends me running, blade held high. He staggers back, hand over his gushing throat, trying to stop the bleeding. Roaring like an animal, I swing the scythe for the Snatcher’s belly.
He ducks out of the way, nimbly avoiding my blow with a dancer’s grace and speed. I’m not so talented. His nails rake new furrows in my stomach, nearly splitting me open, tumbling me to the ground. Cheesers takes over where I left off, throat still spilling precious life’s blood. I shout something stupid at him. His clawed hands find the Snatcher’s stomach and tear a wide, white hole. The thing staggers backward, hands flying over the wound, picking black tendrils from other parts of his body to try and patch the hole. It grows almost as fast as it can patch it. Attached to him like a cat to yarn, Cheesers keeps ripping and clawing, gaining himself ground and new wounds.
“Now!” He squeaks. “Now, Grimm! Get up! Get the fuck up!”
He doesn’t need to tell me twice. Holding my stomach together, I reach for dad’s scythe and use it to help me to stand.
“NOW!” He screams.
The Snatcher backhands him. Cheesers goes flying into a pillar, landing with a sickening thud on the cement. I want to run to him. Fight the urge. Each step toward the Snatcher sends pain screaming through my body. My brain tries to shut itself off, the only survival instinct it knows. I fight that, too. Twirling the scythe in my good hand, I grip the handle hard and swing, aiming for the half-closed hole in the Snatcher’s stomach.
I collapse to the ground in a faint, black smoke swirling around me.
When I wake up, it’s in a hospital bed surrounded by beeping and booping machines. I sit up in a panic, cold sweat breaking out on my forehead.
“Cheesers!” I shout.
A black hand pushes me back onto the bed.
“He’s fine, G,” Rod says. “Dierdre’s looking after him.”
Dierdre is quite possibly the only cat I know that refuses to indulge the feline instinct to eat small, furry things. I blink at the big black man in a priest’s collar.
“Rod?” I ask, my voice suddenly weak and full of tears. Of course it’s Rod. Why would mom and dad come down? Dad’s probably drunk off his ass, slumped in his recliner watching reruns of Hogan’s Heroes or M*A*S*H, and mom doesn’t want anything to do with the family business. Ever since she found herself liberated from the restraints of the 1950’s, she’s been on a one woman rampage of career fulfillment. Never mind her fourteen year old daughter that was almost raped and who came face to face with a Snatcher for the first time in her life, and that she could really use her mommy to cry on and explain a few things because her mother is not a very good liar when it comes to her knowledge of the family business. No. Mommy’s too busy to bother. Make an appointment early next week if you still want to talk.
Rage boils inside, spills over, and I cry on my surrogate dad’s-my Reaper’s-shoulder. His arms wrap delicately around me and hold me close. He croons meaningless words that make me feel better without me fully understanding why.
“I don’t think I can do this,” I say when my tears have finally dried and I’ve explained what happened to me and Cheesers to his concerned gaze.
Hard rain lashes the hospital windows in a fury of wind and temper. Thunder booms in irregular blasts. Lightning chases after, climbing through the clouds in sudden, bright bursts.
“Yes you can,” he says.
“What about the Snatchers? If they’re out…”
“We don’t know that,” he says. “This could be an isolated incident. We gotta keep our eyes out for them.”
“If Lillith-” I struggle with the enormity of the thought, of the reprecussions if it came out to be the cause, “if God-”
Because the two are one and the same.
I swallow hard.
“There’s evil and there’s good in the world, sugar,” he says with calm certainty. “God ain’t got nothin to do with either. It’s people. All that bad stuff and all them good things come from people. It’s a balance. God just takes blame and praise in turn.”