My Mother’s Death Song

My Mother’s Death Song

 

I’ve been struggling with how to deal with my mother’s passing on Wednesday, February 17, 2016. I decided to document the last few hours, as best I could, here in this blog. Thank you for reading.

 

On Monday the 15th, it was my turn to spend the night at the hospital in ICU with my mother, Martha Faye Hudson. It was also my pleasure. We were taking turns spending the night with her, dividing it between my father, my sister, my niece, and me. I took Monday specifically because I had Tuesday off work, so it would be easier on my sleeping patterns.

Some background:

Mom went into the hospital on January 12th to get a lobectomy done. She had a tumor on her right upper lung. They were going to take it out. However, they found she had a spot on her left lung, so instead of going after the tumor, they needed to do a biopsy on the other lung to make sure the cancer wasn’t spreading. She came through the procedure but Mom was never the same again. The following weeks found her week and a bit out of sorts. She hardly ate and spent a lot of time sleeping. As the deadline for her now-revised lobectomy approached, we all worried how she would handle it. Turns out, she never made it.

On Wednesday, February 3rd, my sister hollered up the stairs to me as I was writing on a novel. She was calling 9-1-1. Mom couldn’t breathe. The ambulance came and whisked her away and my entire world began to crumble.

Mom had pneumonia. On top of that, they found an abscess in her right lung, just next to the tumor. It was blocking her breathing. They put her on antibiotics. We waited a couple of days. Things didn’t get better. They decided to go in a put a drain into the abscess. Mom was wheeled in and when she came out and was taken to ICU, her heart rate was out of control and she couldn’t breathe. The decision was made to put her on a ventilator. Mom agreed, but the pain I saw cross her face is one I will take with me to my grave. She knew what it meant, and she was scared.

Mom never woke up again.

After this, things went from bad to worse. They discovered that at some point, she’d had a stroke. Then they found blood clots. The doctor told us that the cancer was worse. Our best case scenario was that the antibiotics would kick the pneumonia’s ass, she would wake up so they could remove her from the ventilator, they could give her radiation treatment on the tumor to make it shrink enough so she could breathe again, and then she could come home. They gave her two months to live after that.

We went to work, me and Dad and my sister and niece. We tried to wake her up. We surrounded her with love. We did the best we could. Round about then they discovered the stroke and the blood clots and then blocked arteries. Still, we tried, and we held on until it was determined she wasn’t going to wake up.

We made the decision, per Mom’s request, to take her off the ventilator.

So back to that Monday night. I talked to Mom, told her everything I wanted her to know and I assured her I would do my best to live up to the kind of man she wanted me to be. I have failed far too often and will fail many times again. But I will try. I played her songs from my iPad, songs she loved. We spent that night listening to Tom Jones, and Hank Williams, and Loretta Lynn, and loads of old country. I slept here and there but it was fitful.

It was a fine final night with my mother.

Tuesday morning the nurse started running around, concerned. I sat back, watching. I knew it was bad. She adjusted some medicine and to make a long story short, saved my Mom’s life right then. I called Dad. We decided to take her off the machine later that day. The plan had been to originally wait a couple more days to give family more time to come see her, but the doctor’s pretty much told us they couldn’t hold her off for long. We didn’t want her to suffer.

The ventilator was removed about 10 that night, after family came to see her. I hoped Mom would go quick but she was tough, and stubborn, and she held on another 17 hours or so (forgive me if my math is bad here). We spent that night loving her as best we could. She did not suffer any pain. They kept her sedated and on pain meds. It was just a matter of time.

I went home to try and catch a couple hours of sleep Wednesday morning. The nurses said her vitals were stable and would remain so for a while. Dad promised to call if anything changed.

I slept for maybe an hour. I had a dream that I got the phone call and I ran to the hospital. Mom was sitting up in bed, smiling and laughing. She winked at me and said, “Fooled ya!”

And then my phone rang for real, waking me up, and it was Dad, and Mom was fading.

I ran back to the hospital and there we sat at her bedside.

I held my mother’s hand as she passed from this earth at 3:09 p.m.

 

I like to think she sent that dream to me to tell me it was going to be okay. I certainly hope it will. I have never faced a world so empty and lonely before.

 

 

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The Club

 

 

 

The Club

By

Kelly M. Hudson

 

 

Tom was the newest initiate in the Club and, with much pride and not one hint of arrogance, he was sure that he was the finest candidate that they’d ever seen. 

First, he had impeccable credentials.

He came from a poor family, a fatherless childhood raised on the bad side of town, and had worked his way up, putting himself through college, getting good grades and wining a couple of student elections.  He’d since become president of the biggest bank in the area, the youngest to ever ascend to such a highly regarded place.  Some questioned that rise to power, given that his wife, the adorable but nagging Anna, was the daughter of the major shareholder.  Some considered that nepotism, but Tom knew the hours he put in, the late nights and the hard work.  Maybe he didn’t deserve the job any more than anyone else, but he certainly didn’t deserve it any less.  So, he had money, he had power, and he had a wife that was even more powerful than he was.  Add to that an inheritance that was his once Anna passed away and his status was further improved.  Her father had died shortly after Tom was named bank president and his fortune and title passed on to her.  And she, in short order, made up a will making Tom her sole beneficiary.  Not that he was having any untoward thoughts about her life expectancy, but it was still good to know that if anything bad happened, he would be set forever.

Second, he had a great track record in the community. 

He did many philanthropic works around the city and his name was in the papers quite a bit.  And for the good things, not the bad, from charity work with the poor to volunteering at a local children’s hospital.

And finally, third, he had cultivated a taste for human flesh that rivaled those of the longest-standing members of the Club.

The Club was full of the most important dignitaries of the Tri-State area, from former and current Senators, Governors, and Mayors, to business leaders.  The Club was exclusive; the most elite of any organization save for the Skull and Bones.

And this Club, it was devoted to fine dining, and that feasting was solely devoted to consuming human flesh.

How had he been brought to their attention?  Why, through Anna, of course, although she was ignorant to what their true purpose was.  When he’d been made bank president, she threw a cocktail party to celebrate, and many members of the Club had been in attendance, primary of which was the Chairman, Chuck Shultz.

Chuck was a former governor and had his fingers in many business ventures, all of which conspired to make him filthy rich.  And powerful, and, eventually, the leader of the most clandestine and influential group of men in the entire country:  The Club.

They met every other Thursday of every month.  The meetings consisted of business talk, where each member shared with the others potential ways that all of them could profit from moves that the others were making or about to make.  Yes, it was illegal, and yes, it was immoral, but then again, that was the point, wasn’t it?  The rich and powerful had every right to remain on top and guide and control those beneath them.  The Club was one of many conduits to doing so. 

After the official business was through, the feasting would begin.  Each time, a different member was responsible with providing the main course.  The meal was made of human flesh, human meat, and whatever various organs that the preparer had brought to the meal, and was served fresh and piping hot.  They gorged themselves, slobbering up the meat, enjoying the nuances of the various dishes.  Each member had their own specialties; Mayor Robinson made marvelous beef goulash, Councilman Payne cooked an excellent soufflé, CEO Spivey grilled succulent thighs and shoulder meat, and so on and so forth.  Each meal was different and delicious in its own way.

Tom remembered the first meal he ate as a prospective member:   it was steak and potatoes.  The meat had been provided by the newest initiate, Devon Wright, and it had come from his very fat mother in law.  Tom didn’t know this for sure, of course, because no member was ever allowed to fully divulge where their food came from, except to give little hints.  A common one was the “trip.”  Asked about where the meat had come from for this meal, Devon Wright mentioned that his mother in law had taken a “trip” to see relatives in Canada.  When Bob Horn, another new initiate, served his spaghetti and meatballs, heavy on the meatballs, he mentioned how his oldest teenage son, a malcontent if ever there was one, had been “sent to boarding school.”  And so it went.  The rich were never questioned, never put to the test.  They were too powerful to be scrutinized, and the one time a reporter had gotten too close to the story, he’d been sent on a “trip” of his own:   a special assignment to Alaska, by his boss, the Publisher of the paper and fellow member of the Club, who that same night as the reporter was “sent” off to the top of the world, served a fabulous meat loaf.

In any event, Tom’s first meal had been quite the moment in his life.  When he was approached by Chuck to join, he thought it was just another one of those secretive groups, like the Masons, but when actual human meat was put before him on the table, steaming and bloody, grill marks making tiny X’s across the top and bottom, he wasn’t sure he could go through with it.  Oh, he’d found it amusing at first, thinking this was just some joke, some type of hazing that the members gave to their prospects.  They asked him how he liked his steak and he jokingly said rare and laughed.  The others giggled with him, many saluting him on his good taste, but Tom’s own mirth had turned sour when the actual piece of meat was placed before him and he knew, down to the core of his being, that it was truly a chunk from a formerly living human being.

Of course, Tom did what any other ambitious young man, always on the outside looking in, would do:  he took his knife and fork, carved a bloody piece out, dipped it in ketchup, and gulped it down. 

Surprisingly, it was the finest tasting meal he’d ever had.

He dug in after that, finding the flavor of human flesh not only delicious, but intoxicating.  He ate his steak and asked for seconds; this drew riotous laughter from Chuck and his compatriots.  Tom had never felt prouder when Chuck put his arm around his shoulders and declared, “This man, he is one of us!”  And the others, beating their silverware-filled fists against the table, chanted, “One of us!  One of us!” over and over again.

They discussed the business of the Club after the meal.  New members were only accepted when old ones passed on or were too feeble to continue.  That’s how Tom got elected; Anna’s father’s passing was his ticket to the inside.  The Club was exclusively male, and white, although the meeting that first night that Tom was there included talks of adding some color and femininity to the group.

He could hardly remember any of it.  He was so full, his head was swimming.  He’d never eaten so much in his life and, if he’d had a bigger belly, he was sure he’d have eaten more.

The rest of that evening was a haze, with folks chatting and smoking and sucking down dessert (Blood Pudding; he didn’t have any so he wasn’t sure if it was really made of blood or not—he was too damned full).  Chuck stayed at his side the whole time, asking him questions about Anna and her old man, the recently deceased father.

“He was always so secretive,” Chuck confided.  “That man, he was a member in good standing, never missed a meal, but always kind of kept himself to the side, if you know what I mean.”

“To be honest,” Tom said.  “I never liked the bastard.  He was cold and calculating and I knew he didn’t approve of me marrying his daughter.”

“That’s right,” Chuck said.  “I remember.  You graduated from that community college, didn’t you?  What was its name?”

“Carter Community College,” Tom said.  “It always burned the old man up that I didn’t go to some posh school.  No offense.”

Chuck roared with laughter and slapped Tom’s back.  “None taken!  By God, I like your style, son.  I like your honesty and your appetite.  I took the liberty of having my chef set some aside for you to take home.  What is it the little people call it?”

“A doggy bag?” Tom said.

“That’s it!” Chuck chuckled.  “Exactly.  The chef will give it to you on your way out tonight.  Just make sure your dear wife doesn’t get hold of it.”

“I won’t!” Tom said.  “No way she’s touching that meat!”

The night wore down and, as Tom ventured to the door to take his limo back home, Chuck pulled him aside.

“Don’t forget your doggy bag,” he smiled.  He guided Tom to the kitchen where he met, for the first time, the Chef.

Every meeting was held in Chuck’s mansion and he had his own personal chef prepare the meals when he was in charge of the dinner.  The Chef was a large man, tall and gaunt, with spindly arms and legs and pale skin with a mop of black hair on top of his head.  He reminded Tom of a Daddy Long Legs spider.  The Chef shook Tom’s hand and handed over the bag,   He took it with relish and bid both of them a good night.

He was home half an hour later, his stomach settled finally from being so full, but his adrenaline still pumping nearly out of control.

He’d eaten human flesh!  He’d actually consumed the meat from a person who, up until recently, was living and breathing!  It was both thrilling and sickening, the breaking of such a large taboo, and it filled him alternately with disgust and delight.  But the longer into the night he went, his distaste was gradually replaced by happiness.  For the first time in his life, he’d been truly accepted as an equal, and this amongst men of supreme power.

Before going to bed, he stopped at the bathroom, relieved himself and looked in the mirror.  The eyes that stared back at him were the same that had all his life, but they were different now, somehow.  He’d become something different in the last few hours, even if his physical appearance didn’t reflect that reality.  He was still the same old Tom, with healthy skin and a full head of hair and a slight paunch growing around his waist like some kind of flabby tumor.  He made a mental note to start a workout regimen soon.  He flexed his arms, pleased that there was still some muscle mass there.  He’d worked out quite a bit when he was younger, but in recent years, because of his marriage and the demanding hours at the bank, he had slowed down. 

Feeling randy, he left the bathroom and slid into bed next to Annie.  She was dead asleep, her eye mask pulled down tight.  He lifted it and rubbed her breasts until she woke.

“What is it?”

“Let’s make love,” he said. 

She looked up at him, her deep blue eyes the perfect companion to her bleached blonde hair.  Her lips, permanently tattooed a deep red, glistened as she wet them with her tongue.

“Now?” she said.

“Oh, God, yes!” he said.  He slid his pants down.  She groaned.

“You must have had quite the dinner,” she said.

“It was wonderful,” he said.

He pulled the lace that bound the top of her nightgown until it opened and her large breasts spilled out.  They shone in the moonlight dribbling in from the closed shades.  They whispered promises of pleasure and he took them full in his hands, listening to them intently.

“Go ahead,” she said, pulling the mask back down over her eyes. 

He mounted her and rode her like a champion cowboy.  Annie fell asleep halfway through and when he finished, he rolled off her, gasping for air and smiling so hard he thought his face would split.

And as lay there, exhausted but still thrilled, he thought of doggy bag he’d brought back from the party and where it sat, hidden behind his bottle of cheap beer that Annie stayed far away from in the refrigerator.  His stomach rumbled.  Tomorrow, he’d slice up what was in there and make himself a sandwich.

The sweet tang of human flesh tingled the tip of his tongue as he drifted off to sleep.

 

He ate the food the next day, packing it away as a lunch and, when he was alone in his office, he locked the door, sat down, and savored every last drop.  He couldn’t believe that he was not only eating human flesh, but enjoying it so much. 

Tom couldn’t wait for the next meeting.

In the meantime, he made do with what he had, which was regular old, boring cow meat.  He ventured out, trying different meats, from buffalo to ostrich, but none of it even came closer to comparing.  Still, he tried, upping his carnivorous appetite to heights he’d never reached before.  Tom had always enjoyed meat, but he ate it in moderation, keeping away from the red and sticking with the white.  Now, though, with this new awakening, he threw caution to the wind.  He ate and ate, and in the process, his stomach grew. 

Over the course of the month, he kept promising himself that he’d hit the gym, but he never did.  He was too caught up in the changes going on in his life.

First off, all the business tips he got at the meeting had paid off, and handsomely.  He was richer than he’d ever been. 

Between their meetings, Chuck had scheduled a lunch for the two of them, booking a table at Ricco’s, one of the most expensive places in town.  When Tom arrived, the Host quickly rushed him to a table in an exclusive room in the back.  Chuck greeted Tom with a broad smile and a warm clap on the back.

They made small talk and ordered steaks and then ate silently for a while, until Chuck finally spoke up.

“Not as good as our little meals, is it?” Chuck said.

Tom shook his head.  “Not even close.”

“Isn’t that amazing?  Ricco’s has the finest steaks in the country, and yet it pales in comparison to the meal we had just one week ago,” Chuck said.  “We are both lucky and spoiled men, Tom.”

“You’re right,” Tom said.

Chuck’s eyes narrowed and he set his utensils down.  He studied Tom for a moment and for the second time in his life—the first being his initial meeting of Annie’s father—he felt like a bug on a slide in a microscope.

“The boys like you,” Chuck said. 

“I like them,” Tom said.  He felt his throat constrict.  There was a “but” in there somewhere, he was sure of it.

“But,” Chuck said.  And Tom thought, “Aha!” before settling back down.  “You know there is a price to pay for admission.”

Tom nodded.

“I told you before, but I want to make sure, absolutely sure, that you understand what that price is,” Chuck said.

“Go on.”

“You must prepare a meal.  This meal must consist, as do all of our meals, of human flesh,” Chuck said.

“Yes, sir,” Tom said.

“But it’s not enough to provide a fine dinner,” Chuck said.  “You must also sacrifice.  Just like all of us have, you must prove your loyalty to the Club before anything else.  That is why it is required that a member of your family serve as your first meal.”

Tom nodded.  He didn’t say anything because he had nothing to say.  This lecture was the same that he’d been given after enjoying that wonderful first meal with the men.  He waited for Chuck to go on.

“You understand this, don’t you?”

“Yes,” Tom said. 

“Do you have a candidate in mind?” Chuck said.

Tom thought of Annie.  He thought of all the money that would be his once she was gone.  He smiled and nodded.  It wasn’t an evil thought; in fact, it was quite the opposite.  He truly did love Annie, but her attentions, like the sex the other night, had been waning.  He wanted to be with her, in her, but things were changing now.  She was growing more distant, increasingly colder.  Truth to tell, he couldn’t think of a finer way to honor his love for her than to consume her, from head to toe, so that she would forever be a part of him.

“Good,” Chuck said.  He seemed to relax as he exhaled slow and even.  He lifted his glass of wine and took a sip.  “If you want, you may use my chef to prepare your meal.  Some of the others are good cooks, but I’m not, and you have the option, if you wish.”

Tom laughed.  “I have two left hands in the kitchen, so yes, thank you for the offer.”

“You don’t have to provide for a few more months yet.  You still have to pass your probationary period,” Chuck said.  “Although I don’t see any problem with that happening.  So relax and enjoy your time, my boy.  These are the salad days.”

“More like the all you can eat buffet,” Tom laughed.

Chuck chuckled with him, offering a wink and a sly tip of the wine glass.

 

At the next meeting, they were served with a fully dressed human body, glazed and laid out just like a pig, down to the last detail, with an apple in his mouth.  It was a man, or had been, as testified by a burnt and crisp penis, sitting atop the man’s groin.  Tom noticed that the first person to dig into that particular body part was none other than Chuck the Chairman, and it made him wonder.  He shrugged, however, because he didn’t really give a damn. 

He accepted a thick chunk of calf, brittle on the outside, warm and soft and bloody on the inside.  He let the pink meat slide between his lips and rolled it around on his tongue, tasting ever last drop of the juice.  The cook had soaked the body in lemons, he could tell, and peppered the outside with just a hint of garlic.

It was delicious. 

He had his helping and then another, this time the man’s right cheek.  He found this portion a bit tougher.  It almost had a beef jerky consistency and some of it got stuck between his teeth.  He didn’t mind, though.  He could suck on it and enjoy the sensation longer.

Tom watched as Chuck spooned one of the eyeballs out and then paused, catching his gaze.

“Would you like the other one?” Chuck said.  Tom must have given him a funny look because Chuck smiled and nodded his head like a parent dealing with a dumb child.  “Yes, it’s an acquired taste.  But you may enjoy it.”

Tom decided he had nothing to lose, so he took his spoon and dug out the left eye and watched for a moment as it sat there, quivering, the orb seeing nothing at all but still looking so very alive. 

“It’s best if you slurp it,” Chuck said.  “Roll it on your tongue, bite it in half, and then swallow.  If you let it linger, you may find that it has a bitter taste at its core.”

Tom watched as Chuck ate and then did as he did.  He sucked the blue eye from the spoon and let it ride over his tongue.  He gagged for a moment as the thick, viscous fluid choked him, then he relaxed and enjoyed it, swallowing the excess fluids, which had no real taste of their own, and then, in one swift motion, bit the eyeball in half and quickly swallowed it. 

Indeed, a bitter taste did flood his mouth, making it water, but it was only for a moment and then it was gone.  The aftertaste was delightful.

It was rather like eating an oyster.

Chuck laughed as he watched Tom and soon they were both giggling like schoolgirls. 

Later that same night, a black man, a prominent businessman, was inducted into the Club on probationary status.  Everyone stood and applauded.

“This is a big moment for us,” Chuck said.  “After all, we have to keep up with the times.”

Tom thought that odd, since the Civil Rights Act had been passed over three decades ago.  But he shrugged it off.  He didn’t care how backwards or reticent they were; the Club was his new home.  And he loved everything about it.

 

“Can I ask you a question?” Tom said.  Chuck, putting away a good-sized piece of steak, nodded and wiped his mouth.

“Where does all the food come from?” Tom said.  “What I mean is:  not every meal is a serving from a family member.  They can’t be.  We eat twice a month, so the meat must come from somewhere.”

Chuck took a long drink of wine, letting the liquid dribble from the corners of his mouth for just a fraction of a second before sucking it back up and smacking his lips together.  He reminded Tom of a fish.

“Excellent question,” Chuck said.  He arched his eyebrows and a slight smirk filled the bottom half of his face.  “Would you be surprised if I told you that we had our own farming system?  That the people elected for this honor were unaware of what they were ultimately volunteering for?”

“Not at all,” Tom said.  His stomach rumbled and he felt a healthy belch coming on.  He seemed to have grown two pant sizes since the first meeting and he was showing it, the way his cheeks were bloated and his belly was becoming a round basketball sitting over his crotch.  “In fact, it seems the most intelligent way of doing such a thing.”

“Indeed,” Chuck said.  “What we do is, we have a contact in the Social Worker community, and for a minor fee, this man weeds through potential candidates, selecting only those that are truly healthy and devoid of any diseases or substance abuse problems.  He then sends a dossier to me and I peruse it, selecting those I think best.  We then pose as a new company and offer our selection a job, through our social worker contact, and we have our own private doctors check them out thoroughly.  If they make it past this stage, we stamp them “Grade A” and then send them out of the city to the countryside, where we fatten them up with easy living, wine, and lots of comic entertainment.”  Chuck sighed and rubbed his eyes.  “You would be surprised at how laughter and mirth lends to a more tender meat.  In any case, when the time is right, we harvest our subject and they end up on our serving table, with any leftovers frozen to use the next time.”

Tom smiled.  It was a wonderful machination.  You could pluck from the poor and indigent populations for several life times and no one would be the wiser. 

“Do you really stamp them with a ‘Grade A’ symbol?” Tom said.

Chuck laughed and waved him off.  “Of course not!”  His face turned purple from his glee and Tom, caught up in the humor, doubled over and giggled.  In this moment, he realized he was happier than he’d ever been in his entire life.

 

Later that night, he wasn’t so happy anymore.  Annie was having none of his advances, and although he was horny as a teenager that snuck into an Adult Film Convention, she acted bored and even a bit put out.

“No!” she said.  She slapped his face when he tried to slide his hand inside of her shirt.

“Please,” he said.  “I need it.”

“Go to sleep,” she said, turning over so that her back was to him.  For the briefest of moments, he though of raping her.  He thought he’d rip off her nightgown and take what he wanted.  He would treat her like the piece of meat she was; unworthy of anything but satiating his appetites. 

Then he thought of the meal soon to come, and an idea grew in his mind, insidious and evil. 

He slept that night like a baby, the remembered taste of human flesh dancing on tip of his tongue.

 

“Have you thought how you’re going to do it yet?” Chuck said to him.  They were having another one of their lunches, two months later, as the date of Tom’s initiation drew nigh.  In actuality, they were enjoying dessert, a fat piece of chocolate cake for the both of them. 

“Yes,” Tom said, licking his fork clean.  He’d gained another ten pounds these last few weeks.  He’d gone to the gym a few times, but it was for naught.  He actually didn’t mind the extra weight and thought it looked good on him.  He’d always been a little skinny and now he was filled out full and proper. 

“I was meaning to speak to you about that,” he said.

“Go on.”

“Well,” Tom said.  “I have something special in mind, something I don’t think that you or the Club has ever tried before.”

“You do have me intrigued,” Chuck said.  He dropped his fork and let it rattle on the empty cake plate and lifted his coffee to take a sip.

“I have an idea that I will need your help in pulling off, if that is okay with you,” Tom said.

“Tell me what you need,” Chuck said.

And so Tom shared with him the name of the paralyzing drug that he wanted but couldn’t obtain on his own, and the work his Chef would have to do, and how exactly he wanted to pull this feat off.

When he finished, Chuck sat for a moment, absorbing the information.  After a few moments, a slow and sly smile spread across his face and he nodded.

“Absolutely,” he said. 

 

The night was here.

Tom was a bundle of nerves.  He’d set the whole deal up, telling Annie that they were to attend a dinner party at Chuck’s and to dress in her finest.  She was all excited, chattering with him anxiously, happy to be in his presence for the first time in months.  In fact, she was so cordial and sweet that for a moment he regretted what he was about to do to this lovely woman.  Then he remembered all the times she’d held out on him, and the other times, the worse ones, when she’d lorded her inheritance over him.  Those were the times he most hated her, when she reminded him where he came from and how he was born to a nothing family.  He let those thoughts linger in his mind whenever he felt his sentimentality growing. 

They arrived at Chuck’s mansion an hour later, and as fretful as he’d been on the ride over, Tom was now perfectly calm.  He mingled amongst all the friendly faces of his colleagues, pleased to know that, in a few hours time, he would be an equal among them.  No longer would he be the man from the poor family, who worked three jobs to get through college and who then rode the coattails of his wife to his current status in life.  Now he would officially be one of them, one of the elite, and he could hardly wait for the coronation.

The time came and, his calm now firmly in place, he invited Annie to stand in the midst of the group of men, all white but for the one black member, with no other females in sight.  A funny thought occurred to him then, flitting through his mind for just the briefest of moments:  How come Annie hadn’t noticed?  She’d moved through the party, friendly with everyone.  But why wouldn’t she?  These were people she’d know her whole life.  Still, the oddity of being the only woman should have made some kind of impact on her.  Then he realized how vapid she was, how she’d soaked all the attention in, and how she’d enjoyed being the only female there.  She’d noticed, and loved every moment of it. 

Chuck slid up behind him and placed a hand on his shoulder.  Tom met his eyes and Chuck nodded, producing the syringe with the paralyzing agent.  Tom smiled and cleared his throat.

“Annie, my dear,” he said.  “Come join me.”

She glided over to him and turned her back to him, her neck long and inviting in the low-cut evening dress she was wearing.

“I want to show you, gentlemen, the love of my life,” Tom said.  He nodded for Chuck to move closer and immediately felt Chuck’s warmth next to him. 

“She means more to me than anything in the world,” Tom said.  “Anything except for you, gentlemen.  For you see, my dear wife is to be my sacrifice.”

Annie giggled and Tom felt the bite of the needle in his own neck and panic hit him.  What was going on?  Chuck was confused!  He’d gotten the wrong person!  Had he become so excited that he made the simple mistake of jabbing the wrong neck with the syringe?

The liquid in the shot hit his nervous system and he felt his legs go out from under him and he tumbled to the plush carpet amidst a cacophony of applause and cheers.  He could not move now; the only parts of his body that seemed to respond were his eyelids and his inner organs, keeping up their functions.  The rest of him was unresponsive. 

He lay there and watched, his mind sharp as ever, as Annie took several bows and Chuck moved to her side, putting an arm around her waist and nodding approvingly.

“Gentlemen, I give you our newest member and first female to join the Club, Mrs. Annabelle Gilchrist.”

The room exploded with more applause and cheering.  It was so thunderous that Tom feared he would go deaf.  But as he lay there, pondering just what had happened to him, how he’d been duped and used and fattened for the kill, another thought occurred to him:  he was going to be their meal.  He was Annie’s sacrifice.  He was going to “go visit his mother” or “go on a fishing trip” or “take a journey to Europe.”  And he was never going to come back.

He reflected on the months leading up to this, how they’d treated him as one of their own, the whole time mocking him behind his back.  He was just like all those others, the ones he’d heard about on the farm, only he’d been groomed right under their noses, not in some far away place.

Annie turned and knelt down and offered him a sad, sweet smile.  She stroked his hair and pinched his cheek.

“You had a wonderful idea, darling,” Annie said.  “The plan you’d made for preparing me was too good to pass up.  And I decided, if it was good enough for me, it would be good enough for you.”

Tom tried to scream, but no sound would come.  He felt their fingers and hands lift him and carry him to the kitchen, where the Chef was waiting.  Tom tried to move, tried to raise a finger, tried to do anything other than lay there, helpless and weak.  But there was nothing he could do.  He felt everything, as the Chef’s cold hands stripped him of his clothes and then rubbed warm, melted butter into every nook and cranny of his body, across his fat belly and flabby arms and legs.  He lay there, weeping furiously inside, fearing what was to come, as the Chef then shaved his body, cleaning Tom of any hair.  And when that was finished, the Chef, with a sigh and a grin, rubbed his body down once more in melted, warm butter.

Then he was wheeled out to the banquet table and placed in the midst of them, the hungry rich, the people he’d called his friends but now realized were liars.

The sharpening of the knives, their blades scraping together, stirred him from his sudden hatred and brought back the fear, worming from the pit of his stomach up to the back of his throat.  Still, he could not move, he could not scream.

“Who would like the first portion?” Annie said.

“I would,” Chuck said.

Annie carved a large chunk from Tom’s right thigh.  He felt every slice, every awful, painful moment.  He could see, when the cutting was done, the bloody plate handed over his body to Chuck, who accepted it gratefully and pared himself a bite.  Tom watched as Chuck chewed then swallowed a piece of him, a piece gone forever now, and stared as his blood dribbled from the corners of Chuck’s mouth as he groaned with pleasure.

Chuck sucked back the excess blood and smacked his lips together.

“A wonderful idea you had, there, Tom,” Chuck declared.  ‘Steak Tartar!”

The Club cheered. 

Dozens of knives lanced into his skin as the greedy rich cut out portions for themselves.  He tried again to scream, one last time, when he felt the cold blade of Annie’s knife slide under the base of his penis and, with a quick flick of her wrist, slice his manhood off.

The last thing he saw was Annie grinning, slurping up his bloody penis between her teeth like it was a noodle of spaghetti.

 

 

Tagged

Travel Journal pt. 6

Day Eight:

6/8/13

             Wow, I am out of it.  What a rough day.  It was all driving, so I have no really interesting stories to tell you about.  The road was a grind.  I thought it would be cool to drive past Chicago but I never saw it.  My route took me along I-90 and it was nothing but construction and toll booths all the way.  I swear to God, when I wasn’t dodging giant trucks or trying to figure out which highway went where, I was pulling over and paying somebody for this privilege.  I did pass by Rockford, home of Cheap Trick, which was kind of cool.  I blasted one of their songs, to be corny and to salute them at the same time.  Cheap Trick is a damned fine band.

            Indiana was next, and if God had made a more boring place to drive through in this world, he would have named it Kansas.  My goodness but there was nothing to see.  And the roads sucked, too.  More construction.  By the time I got past it all and was in the home stretch, the construction in Illinois and Indiana added an extra two hours to my trip. 

            I saw more dead deer by the side of the road.  I didn’t see an eagle, but I saw a bird that kind of soared like one.  It went by really quick.  I decided it would do as a sighting.

            Lot of fears and anxieties mixed in my belly, along with the Wendy’s I had for lunch.  Now it was getting down to it. I was almost home.  No more fantasy world of driving across country.  No more stopping and looking at sights and doing whatever I wanted.  It was time to buckle down, get a job, get a place to live, and get on with the rest of my life.          

            And what is that supposed to be, you may well ask?  I’ve got some goals.  I want to get a house at some point.  I want to meet a nice girl and shack up with her.  I want kids, probably, I guess.  I’m not foaming at the mouth to have them, but I think I am more ready now than I’ve ever been.  I want to be happy.  I don’t want to be so lonesome anymore.  I want to be free.  I want to sell books and live how I want to.  I want the usual stuff that everyone else wants but almost all of us find so hard to achieve.  I can accept working a job I don’t care much about, as long as I can sell some books, as long as I can have a nice woman and a happy life.  I still want adventure and I will always seek it out, but I want some peace, most of all.  I want to slow down a little and just enjoy it, every moment.  It’s hard for me to do, given my nature, but I’m going to try.

            When I finally passed through Indiana and saw the welcoming sign into Kentucky, I gave out a whoop.  I’d done it.  If nothing else, I’d made this ridiculous journey and was back where I think I belonged.  Now, whether Kentucky wants me or not is another story altogether.

            I drove to Lexington, took the exit, and drove home.  As I pulled in, I thought of the last words of the greatest novel ever written, and I will let those words be the last ones I write here.  I parked in the driveway, turned the car off, and stared at the house.

            “Well, I’m back,” I said.

 

 

Travel Journal pt. 5

Day Seven:

6/7/13 

            Is that right?  Seven days on the road?  You know what they say:  I’ve seen a million faces, and I’ve rocked them all!  Ha, ha!

            Yes, I’m delirious.

            I spent all day in this state.  I was fine when I got up, other than the usual panic about my future.  But hell, this worry has become my morning coffee.  I got on the road and got going, determined to at least make Chicago before I called it a day.  Actually, I had dreams of making it all the way home.  Several encounters with road work took care of that hope really quick. 

            There isn’t much to say about this day.  From about noon on, I was totally out of it, driving like a zombie.  The scenery went by and it was pleasant enough, but nothing to shake me from my state.  I finally left South Dakota and went into Minnesota, and it was pretty and all, but it was mostly just farmland.  One thing about South Dakota before I forget:  some people there sure love to put anti-abortion billboards up.  It was a funny mix through the state, alternating signs that advocated protecting the fetus with signs advertising adult shops at various stops.  South Dakota, ha!  But Minnesota was fine, at least this southern part of it.  I bet the further north you go, the prettier it gets.  I was impressed by the giant windmills that were erected along I-90.  They were massive and really cool, especially when moving. 

            Wisconsin was next, and where I am as I write this.  It’s pretty, too, but man, I am so burnt out right now a UFO could fly by and I’d just go, “Eh,” and keep on driving.  My foot stayed on the pedal, or more accurately, my cruise control was constantly set on the speed limit, and I kept pushing on.  Until I hit that long patch of construction where I went from 65 mph to zero.  It took almost an hour to get through it.  And that, my friends, did me in.

            I stopped in Madison and got a hotel room where I am composing this short missive to let you know I’m still alive.  Nothing much exciting happened today.  I listened to about half of a book on tape and that was cool, but by six o’clock (I’m in the Central Time Zone now, and that’s messing me up, too) I was done with everything. 

            Some observations:

            I cannot eat another lick of fast food.  It is killing me.  I want to keep moving and get home so I’ve been driving thru spots and eating as I drive.  If I have McDonald’s one more time, the next Ronald McDonald clown actor I see is getting kicked in the balls.  But I will say this for McDonald’s, they’re always there when you need them.  I wish I could say the same for Long John Silver’s.  Ha, ha!

            There are a lot of dead deer along the highway.  Good God but I couldn’t go very far without seeing another carcass lying there, rotting in the sun.  It is kind of depressing. 

            I wonder what happened to the dead bird I hit yesterday? 

            Only saw one eagle today, and I’m not sure it really was an eagle.  But it will do.

            I am down to my last pair of clean socks.  I have to make it home tomorrow or I am doomed!  Doomed I say!

            Yes, I am out of it.  I hope this was entertaining.  Tomorrow’s entry, if I can write one, will be the last one, because I will be home, dammit.  And although I am excited about this, I am also scared to death.  It is a hard thing starting over, despite all the wonderful support I have, and I truly question whether I have the patience and the energy to pull it off.  I guess I really have no choice in the matter; it’s do or die. 

             

Travel Journal pt. 4

Day Six:

6/6/13

             I am beginning to think I’m neurotic.

            I had a good night’s sleep, even slept in some, taking my time in getting up.  There was no real rush today.  I had one last place to see and then that was pretty much it for this trip.  And yet, I went back and forth for an hour trying to decide whether or not to actually do it.  I’ve always wanted to go to Wounded Knee, but after talking to some folks at Crazy Horse Mountain, my enthusiasm was dampened somewhat.  And when I plotted out the trip, I didn’t like that it was going to take so long.  So I made three different maps for myself:  One to get there, one to leave from where I was, and another that was a compromise between the two.  After much debate, I finally just decided to do it.

            I’m glad I did.

            The drive was long and pretty desolate.  Oh, the scenery was nice, but I was all alone on the road for most of the trip and when my phone failed to get reception for long periods of time, I got a bit nervous.  What if I broke down?  I mean, I was really in the middle of nowhere.  But I figured this was a microcosm of life:  you can worry and be frozen with fear or you can just keep pressing ahead and hope for the best. 

            I passed through the Pine Ridge Reservation.  I’d heard a lot about it and some of it was true.  There is a lot of poverty and that was sad.  But at the same time, it didn’t look too much worse than some Eastern Kentucky towns I’ve been through.  Still, I’d always wanted to go there, and it was cool to finally do it.  And yeah, the scenery was pretty, regardless.

            What I was told about Wounded Knee was very true.  It is literally just the graveyard on a hill.  There is no museum around it or anything special made of it.  There is a big sign to explain what happened, and that’s it, other than the memorial marker in the middle of the cemetery.  And you know what, I kind of liked that.  It was quiet, and somber, and felt right, respectful.  There was no spectacle made of it.  I only stayed a little while, but it was enough to feel the area.  Even though it was a long drive, it was worth it.  I still can’t believe so many people were slaughtered there. 

            My next drive was something.  I was going through the Reservation on roads that were even more isolated.  I swear, I would have been out there for two days if something had gone wrong.  Talk about taking the back roads…

            I enjoyed it though, and where I spilled out made it more than worth it:

            The Badlands.

            Wow.  They were beautiful, scary, and everything I’d imagined they would be.  It was like taking a trip to another world, or deep into some prehistoric past.  Amazing.  I stuck around for a while, taking pictures and checking it out.  This was my last stop for this trip, the last one I’d planned at least, and I let it soak in.  Ending it here in the Badlands was a great choice. 

            Then I was on the road.  And on the road.  And on the road.

            Did I mention seeing an eagle yet?  Well I did, and only one, but it was enough to make me smile. 

            I also hit a bird on the road.  It was a stupid, stupid bird, and big, almost two feet tall.  I don’t know what it was thinking.  It just came walking across the highway, head bobbing like a turkey, right into my path.  I kept thinking it was going to look up and fly away or trot back the way it had come, but it didn’t.  It kept right on going like it was retarded.  I switched lanes and tried to avoid it, but there was nothing I could do.  Its head hit the front of my car and that was all she wrote for that bird.  When I stopped later to check the bumper, there was no blood, surprisingly. 

            I guess it’s not a road trip across America until you kill something.  I thought the hundreds of bugs who gave their lives to my windshield and grill would be enough, but I was wrong.  Poor, stupid bird.

I drove all day and ended up in Sioux Falls, SD.  Oh, and I passed over into Central Time.  The hours just slip away. 

            I’m not sure what I’m going to post next.  I will continue this Journal, but I can’t imagine having anything much more to say than “I drove, and drove, and drove.”  I think the next two days will be all driving, in case you didn’t get the hint.  I plan on going through Minnesota and Wisconsin and then down through Chicago and Indiana into Kentucky.  I’ve never been through Minnesota and Wisconsin, and I want to see them.  Who knows, maybe I’ll stop and experience something cool.

            Or maybe not.

 

Travel Journal Pt. 3

Day Five:

6/5/13

            I can’t believe I’ve been on the road for five days now.  It seems like forever and yet it seems like I just started.

            Today started rough.  I didn’t sleep well at all.  Kept tossing and turning, worrying, freaking out about everything; the past, the present, the future, whether or not I was making a big mistake in moving, whether I would be making a big mistake if I went back.  On and on and on it went and when I woke, I had that old familiar pal, that ball of worry, back deep in my stomach.

            I did what I always do:  I got busy.  I wrote, packed up the car, and hit the road.  I bought some more cheap coffee and got my first little jab for wearing my cowboy hat.  Some guy behind me whistled the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly theme for half a second.  I just ignored it.  I like my hat.

            The thing is, this was supposed to be my good day, my great day.  I was finally going to go and see some sights I’d always dreamed of going to; but I had to get a move on, and I had to shake off the morning fatigue of little sleep and massive anxiety.  I drove as fast as I could and finally arrived at Little Bighorn.

            And you know what?  Today turned out to be the best day of my trip so far, not surprisingly.

            Being at Little Bighorn was a humbling, serious experience.  I’ve always kind of sided with the Indians on these things and nothing changed today.  But the Park Ranger did a great job of explaining all the sides to the story of the battle and I remembered that it’s always the little guy, the working stiff, the fellow just doing his job, who gets the shaft every damn time.  Those soldiers were mostly immigrants trying to make their way in a new world and they ran into trouble that was brewing because of the greed of Washington, gold prospectors, and their own commanders.  Sound familiar?  The more things change…

            Walking along, I took a trillion pictures and tried to imagine the scene over those few days, of the slaughter and the gunfire and the bravery.  It was boggling.  What a pretty place, what a terrible way to die.  Custer had it coming, though, and don’t ever let anyone fool you into believing otherwise. 

            While there, my first odd experience of the day happened:  I saw a rattlesnake.  I was walking along a path (and they warn you to stay on the paths, to both preserve the scene and to avoid rattlesnakes) and slowed down as I passed a small family who were listening to the mom read from a guidebook.  I stopped to take a picture when I heard the rattle.  I thought it was strange, that maybe my new boots were making a funny noise, when I realized it was a rattler. I was too curious to be scared, and believe me, I would have been shrieking like a little girl if I’d been thinking straight.  And then I saw it, not more than two feet away, slithering off.  It was just a baby rattler, maybe as long as my forearm.  I just kind of laughed it off.

            I stayed a couple of hours, really enjoying the experience, before I took off.  I had a long drive to get to my next stop:  Mount Rushmore.

            And it was a loooong drive.  I got tired and cranky a couple of times, but I pressed on, the good feelings from Little Bighorn hanging with me still.  I had a few more anxiety attacks, but nothing I couldn’t handle.  Then I finally made it.

            But before I get to that, another weird thing happened on this drive.  I saw a blackbird chewing on a dead snake by the side of the road.  I guess the snake had been run over and the blackbird lucked into an easy meal.  Anyway…

            Mount Rushmore is impressive.  It is huge and they don’t let you get very close.  I marveled at the skill it took to make it, even as I inwardly cursed at the thoughtlessness of erecting this monument in the middle of the most holy site of the Lakota Sioux.  I mean, talk about rubbing it in.  Still and all, it was breathtaking and I was awed.  I even snuck in a little Face Time with my friend Dan and his son Jeremiah.  It was really cool surprising them with a view from where I was, considering they didn’t know where on earth I was calling from. 

            Did I mention anything about eagles today yet?  Well, probably not, ‘cause I didn’t see any until, get this, I was looking up at Mount Rushmore and I’ll be damned if an eagle didn’t soar right over the Presidential heads and hang up there in the sky for a while.  It was the most patriotic thing I’d ever seen.  I expected Lee Greenwood to pop out any second and break into his “I’m Proud to be an American” anthem.

But just like going to see the Grand Canyon, unless you’re there to hike around, there isn’t much to do.  Once you see it, you’ve seen it.  I hung out for half an hour and hit the road again, racing the sun, hoping to make my final destination for the day.

            And I did.  Crazy Horse Mountain and wow, how cool was it?  First of all, the audacity of trying to carve the figure of Crazy Horse riding a pony out of a mountain, and make that figure something like ten times the size of Mount Rushmore?  Are you kidding me?  I loved it.  So far, only the head has been carved, but it is massive.   The complex around it is, too, with lots of art and statues and historical stuff about the Indians.  I could have spent all day there.  But after an hour, I was worn out.  I still had to drive another half hour to get to my hotel for the night, so I said goodbye to Crazy Horse and went on my way.

            Little did I know that the strangest things yet to come were about to happen.  The strangest and most pleasant.

            I passed through Wind Cave National Park there in South Dakota and about a mile in, driving through twisting and turning roads, I saw a coyote running across a field with a dead rabbit in its mouth.

            Wow.

            Half a mile further on, I saw two baby buffalo run up to the side of the road and watch me as I drove past them.

            Wow.

            Another mile and there was a group of five, full-grown buffalo by the side of the road, eating grass.  I pulled over and took some pics.  I did not get very close.  One of them was easily the size of my car.

            Wow.

            And then, finally, another half mile further, there was a herd of buffalo about two hundred yards away from the road, grazing.

            Wow.

            What a great end to a fabulous day.  I got to see so many things I’d always wanted to. 

            Here’s hoping I get a good night’s sleep and tomorrow is even better.  But really, I don’t think it can top this one.

 

Travel Journal Pt. 2

To read the first part, please scroll down

Day Four:

6/4/13

             It was a strange day.  I got up, took my car to the Firestone, got the tires checked, and everything was fine.  I did my writing, showered, and took off for the day.  The last couple of mornings I did some Yoga when I got up to keep my body a little bit active while travelling but I didn’t do it this morning.  I decided to take a break because I knew I was going to need that extra time.  I had a long way to go.

            The girls from the Missoula Western wear place really hooked me up.  They gave me directions to drive a back way to Glacier National Park, an alternate route to the one I was going to take.  It was, as they promised, a lovely drive.  I got to Glacier, paid to go in, and suddenly realized how foolish I’d been.  I thought I was going to go up there, drive around, get some pics, see some sights, and drive off.  Nope.  Glacier is huge and it demands much more time than that.  Time I didn’t have.  So I did drive around some, and I did take pictures, and I hung out for about an hour, but that was all I could spare.  I felt stupid, but oh, well.  At least I went.  And it was still pretty spectacular.

            I decided to take my already-planned route back to Missoula and I-90 to see what it was like.  I kind of wished I hadn’t.  Oh, it was a nice drive, but it wasn’t as good as the way up that I’d taken.  Too many stoplights.  But still, I made time, and before I knew it, I was back on the road, headed towards Wyoming. 

            I said goodbye to Missoula as I drove past it.  I really like that town.  The people were nice and good to me and that goes a long way. 

            The drive…Dear Lord, the drive!  I was determined to make it to Billings, which was another five or six hours.  Add that to my drive up and back from Glacier, and I was looking at a 12 hour driving day.  I could stop before Billings, sure, but then that time would be added to tomorrow, and tomorrow I wanted free time to look at some sights.  So I knuckled down and got it done.

            Montana is beautiful.  I did not go for more than five minutes without gasping at some landscape, or a mountain, or the clouds, or the sky.  It has now officially entered into my Top Places I’d Like To Live list.  There are just three places right now, Kentucky, Hawaii, and Montana.  I’ve only lived in one, but I sure do appreciate the other two. 

            I am entering a weird zone during this time.  I spend a lot of time inside my own head during normal life, but this is kind of ridiculous.  I wonder sometimes if this all isn’t some kind of strange dream, the whole leaving and the driving.  Everything has a surreal feel to it.  And this isn’t me complaining, just explaining.  I’ve really talked to no one I know since yesterday morning.  There has been some texting and Facebook and stuff, but nothing with actual, physical communication.  I am not lonely, though. 

            I got to Billings and am ready to crash.  I am beat.  Tomorrow I plan on doing what I came here to do, which is get to South Dakota and see some sights.  I’ll tell you about it tomorrow.

            Did I mention the eagles today?  Yep, saw a few.  I love the way they fly.  It’s interesting, watching the other birds, flapping like crazy, doing their best to stay afloat, when an eagle just sort of…glides.  Very little effort.  And they’re majestic, too. 

            I just read that last paragraph and I laughed.  I guess I am going a little crazy, ha, ha! 

            Gonna plan some of tomorrow out and then head to bed.  More to come.

 

Trip Journal Pt. 1

This is my journal I am keeping of my trip from San Francisco back home to Kentucky.  I am driving across country.

Travel Journal

 

Prologue:

 

            I left because of the loneliness.

            It was overwhelming and unbearable, a constant ache in the pit of my stomach.  I was miserable.  I’d been in the Bay Area for 16+ years and now I couldn’t stand it anymore.  I loved my job; it was the best eight hours of my day for five days a week.  But outside of that, I was unhappy.  I began to find ways to be busy doing meaningless things just so I would be distracted from the loneliness that was eating me alive.  It all came to a head one day when I went to see a movie on a Sunday, figuring it would fill about three hours and by the time it was over, I could go home, eat dinner, and go to bed.  Thus my Sunday would be knocked out of the way.  But the movie that day was sold out and I was stuck:  What was I going to do with those three hours now?  Panic hit me hard and I freaked out.  It was shortly during this episode that I realized I had to make a change.

            This is no indictment of my friends in the Bay.  They are wonderful, caring people that I’m lucky to know.  But most of them are married, have kids, or are in serious relationships.  That left little room for me and, while I totally understood, it was no relief for my miserable state.  I was practically begging people to do stuff with me on the weekends and not getting much favorable response.  Everyone had their lives to lead; I was the one left behind.  And that’s okay, that’s how life is, but when you’re the one who’s out in the cold, you realize at some point that something has to be done.

            So I was going to move back home to Kentucky.

            It was something I always wanted and knew I would do someday.  I wanted it to be after I made it somehow as a writer.  Maybe I’d sell one of those dozens of screenplays I wrote, or maybe that movie me and my buddy Paul were working on would get made.  Or maybe one of my novels would sell.  Wouldn’t that be something?  Never happened, of course.  So I was at a position where I was going to have to give up a great, solid job, and move all my stuff across country, just on the hope and prayer things would be better there.  In addition, my parents were getting older and I needed to spend more time with them.  So it was all wrapped up and easy to digest.  I was excited.  Time for a change!

            I worked hard for a long while, shipping my things back home, getting my affairs in order as best I could (I suck at being responsible), and at last the final week of May arrived and I was going to be on my way.

            What I didn’t count on was the outpouring of love from my friends in the Bay.  They really came through, drowning me with thanks and appreciations and we all got to tell each other how much we meant to each other.  It was wonderful, humbling, thrilling, and about as terrifyingly sad as anything could be.

            I was going to leave this?

            I knew I still had to go, though.  There was no question about it.  The wheels were in motion and I was headed back home.  But it was hard.  Way harder than I ever thought it would be.  The last day, Friday, was one of the best and worst days of my life.  They threw me a party at work and it couldn’t have been any better.  But I still had to walk out that door for the last time, saying goodbye to my home for 16+ years. 

            I cried a whole lot that night.  I hardly slept.  And when the alarm rang, I got up and got to work, setting my teeth to the task.

 

Day One:

6/1/13

 

            I woke, rolled out of bed, my stomach in knots. Was I really going to do this?  Yes.  I had no choice.

            I wrote, I ate breakfast, and I packed my car.  My good friend Gerald came by to see me off.  We got Starbuck’s together one last time and hugged it out in the parking lot.  And then I drove away.  Goodbye, Alameda.  I cried a bunch.

            I drove through San Francisco one more time.  When me and my best friend Tim moved out here in 1996, we first came into the city across the Golden Gate Bridge.  I thought it only fitting that I complete the circle and leave that very same way.  I drove across, took a pic.  Goodbye, San Francisco.

            I had a playlist prepared of songs about going home.  I fired it up.  It got me a long way.  I cried more.  The knot in my stomach would not go away.  It was funny; for the longest time, I felt that knot and it drove me to finally decide to leave, but now that I was going, the same knot returned, but it begged me to stay.  I pushed it down.  I had to keep moving.

            That first day was all about moving.  I did not want to stop.  Not to eat, not to drink, not to go to the bathroom.  I drove nearly 12 hours in a delirium.  But I saw a lot of cool stuff.

            Northern California is beautiful.  I took 101 up north and passed through the Redwoods and the big hills out there.  If you go along 101, you’ll run into a lot of funny side road distractions.  I stopped and took a picture of myself with a giant dinosaur.  Yep!  Good times. 

            Along the way, I saw a few dead deer by the side of the road.  I even saw a dead black bear, a baby probably because he was so small.  It was sad to see.  I guess he got hit by a car.  I was going through a tiny California town, the speed limit 20mph, when a deer ran out across the road and galloped on by, right between a bank and a fast food joint.  I smiled. 

            I learned that there’s a lot of people in Northern California who like to carve big statues out of trees, and some of those people live across the border in Oregon, too.  I also saw a lot of white trash folks, and I don’t say that to be disrespectful; that’s just what they were.  There were also many hippies, thumbing for a ride.  If I had the room and one of them was a girl by herself, I might have braved it.  But they were in pairs, or packs, and they always had a dude along.  I had no room, in any case.  My car is packed to the gills.

            I ended my day in Coos Bay, Oregon.  I was out of my mind when I pulled into my first Motel 6 and crashed out for the night.  I still didn’t sleep that well, waking up several times in a panic.  That knot won’t go away.  I hate it.  Nothing is made easier by constantly checking my phone for pics on Instagram and Facebook and for texts from those I left behind.  They all talk about crying and missing me.  I miss them, too.  Terribly.  But I have to go on.  I have to.  I keep reminding myself that the only reason this all happened, this outpouring of love, was because I was leaving.  If I hadn’t, things would have stayed the same.  And I would have been miserable still, counting hours, trying to fill my Saturdays and Sundays with stuff to do just so I wouldn’t go crazy.

            I finally slept until morning.

 

Day Two:

6/2/13

           

            Today was a little better.  That knot wasn’t so tight but it was still there.  I was looking forward to the adventure I had planned.  I was going north to join Interstate 90 and head across Montana and into South Dakota.  I always wanted to drive through Montana; I don’t know why.  Too many cowboy movies, I guess.  And South Dakota’s got all the stuff to visit, like Mt. Rushmore and Little Big Horn, places I’ve always wanted to see.  I figured I would go ahead and take advantage of it.  After all, I’m not getting any younger and this will probably be my last chance.

            This day was the most tedious so far when it came to the travelling.  Day One I was delirious, but Day Two I was driving down a stretch of highway (84) past Portland and into Western Oregon.  Up until and right after Portland, the drive was great.  But then the landscape flattened out and it got kinda boring.  Also, the ride that I figured would only be about two hours long turned into four.  Yikes!  But I made it, got up into Washington, and drove up until I finally hit 90.  This is going to be my main artery for the rest of the trip.  I will branch off here and there, but this is my path up until I hit Chicago. 

            My listening for the drive has mostly been old Kentucky basketball radio broadcasts that I’ve saved up over the years.  I have about ten of them.  I’ve listened to all but three as of this time of writing. I really blazed through them, leaning on them to get me through the heartache.

            The knot is still there.

            Did I tell you about the eagles?

            I saw my first one after I left the Bay, soaring over 101, and I took it as a good sign.  I’m sure they’re everywhere and this has been nothing special, but I’ve adopted them as my “animal spirit” for this trip.  As long as I see them on occasion, I am filled with confidence.  And I do.  I see them quite a bit.

            Actually, somewhere along 84, I saw a funny thing involving an eagle.  One soared over the road and was heading out over the river to my left when from out of nowhere, a big blackbird had the balls to swoop after it.  I could not believe what I was seeing.

            The blackbird actually flew down and attacked the eagle.  It pecked it and flew off, circling back around again.  The eagle kind of reacted like, “What?  Are you kidding me?” and let it be.  But the blackbird tried again, pecking the eagle on the back of its head.  This time the eagle tore off after it, beak and talons blazing.  I didn’t get to see how this all turned out because I passed a bend in the road and they were gone.  I bet that blackbird regretted what it did, though.

            I made it into Washington and that drive was prettier but not enough for me to be less grouchy.  I was tired and cranky and needed to rest.  I was determined, however, to make it to Spokane, which I did, and got another Motel 6 room.  I ordered some cheeseless pizza, sat down and watched Game of Thrones, and then went to bed.  This time I drugged myself with some Tylenol P.M. to make sure I slept.

            And I did.

Day Three:

6/3/13

           

            I woke to another panic.  I hate this crap.  I just want to relax and enjoy the trip.  But it’s not just what I left behind that is nagging at me, it’s what lies ahead.  I have no job now.  I am basically going home to live with my parents until I can find something.  And boy, won’t that be fun?  Nobody likes looking for a job.  Add to it that I was coming off of a job I worked for 16+ years, a job I had worked up the ladder until I was very comfortable, and now I would be starting over again at the bottom, and I am not too happy about this part of the change.  Why can’t I sell a novel and make some money and be a writer for a living?  It’s what I want to do, and what I will continue to do, regardless.  But it’s a hard business to make it in, and my stuff is just too weird to ever really sell, I think.  I will not give up, though.

            I drove out, got some gas, two things of water, and a medium cup of cheap gas station coffee.  I was set. 

            This drive was the opposite of yesterday.  Idaho is beautiful.  My God, I cried a couple of times just looking at the scenery.  I am in awe of planet Earth.  The trees and the mountains and the lakes and rivers…I cannot put them into words.  And Montana, Good Lord help me, could it get any better?  I was snapping pictures with my phone camera left and right, almost running off the road several times.  But it was worth it.

            I saw a bald eagle.  I couldn’t believe it.  There was this one tree, sitting all alone by the road at the top of the bank to some river, and it was naked, as if it had been stripped of its leaves.  The wood was polished and shiny, like some kind of tree from a fantasy novel, and it screamed portentous.  Something inside told me to pay attention to it.

            Sure enough, I saw a few birds fly over to it and sit in the branches.  They stayed spread out, respectfully giving each other some space.  Then an eagle flew over and I thought, “Cool!  I got to see another eagle.  See?  They really are my spirit animal for this trip.”  And then it landed and turned its head.  A bald eagle.  Unbelievable.  I never thought I would ever see one in real life.  My smile was so broad it almost cracked my teeth right down the middle.

            I was headed to Glacier National Park but quickly learned I wasn’t going to make it.  I lost an hour in the time change and it started raining.  I decided to wait it out and try again in the morning.  It was going to add another day to my journey, but what the hell.  I was in no hurry.  I decided to stop in Missoula, which I was going to do anyway, and make a day of it.  Things turned out kinda sour, though.

            It started with some kid puking his guts up in Arby’s, where I’d stopped to eat.  I was getting some Horsey Sauce and some ketchup when he spun around and spewed on his seat, three feet away from me.  I took my food to the other side of the restaurant and hoped it wasn’t what he ate. 

            As of this writing, I’m fine.

            Now I had a day to kill.  I decided to go looking for that cowboy hat I wanted to buy on this trip.  I had the time so I might as well get it done.  I looked up a couple of places and found out one was closed so I got directions to the other one.  I got lost twice but eventually found it only to be greeted at the door by an employee who told me the power was out, so no one was allowed inside.  Are you kidding me? 

            With no answer as to when they would open again, I went back to the motel (6) and decided to finally get some work done on this journal. 

            I finished writing the above, waited a while, and tried again.  This time, success!

            I got a cowboy hat I like as well as a new pair of boots.  The folks there were really helpful and I ended up chatting with a couple girls who worked there.  One of them gave me different directions to Glacier, a course she said had an even prettier view.  It was a nice time at the outfitters.  I usually keep to myself and when I do ask for help in a store, I get treated like a freak.  Not today.  Missoula was nice to me!

            My night was a trip to Cracker Barrel, the first time I’d been there in probably twenty years.  I applied for a job there as a dishwasher back in the early nineties and got turned down because I had long hair.  I found out a month later that they discriminated against gays in their hiring.  Us long hairs and homosexuals have to stick together, so I started my own personal boycott.  It lasted almost twenty years.  I think I did pretty good.

            My tire pressure light came on.  I tried checking the pressure but the gauge I borrowed had the numbers rubbed off.  I will get up in the morning and take it to a Firestone and get it checked out.  Hopefully, it will all be okay.  If not, it will get fixed, by God!

More tomorrow night.  Or the next…

 

 

 

.   

 

A Treasure

A Treasure

By Kelly M. Hudson

You might think me mad, but the story I am about to tell you is true.  It is vitally important that you understand I am not making any of this up, nor am I embellishing it in any way.  This is the truth, as best I can explain, of the exhilarating and terrifying events that happened to me over these last few months.

It all began with the delivery of a package from Japan.

I work in an office as a file clerk.  I am a relatively non-essential person who does a rather essential job.  The only reason I have this job is because my father owns the company.  He is a wealthy man and heads one of the largest investment firms in the country.  I grew up in his shadow and I must tell you, his shadow is not only immense, but deep and dark, as well.  I never succeeded in life as he did; most of my efforts to start up businesses or the like on my own ended in utter failure.  As a last resort, my father employed me here, at his home office.

This has caused much derision and resentment towards me.  The majority of the staff hate me and loathe my presence.  At first, this caused much consternation on my part.  Eventually, I deduced that their dislike of me was purely their fear that I was some sort of spy, sent by my father, to watch and report on their actions.  Once I came to this conclusion, their reactions not only didn’t bother me anymore, but I found great fun in playing games with them.  Often, I carry a blank sheet of paper and a clipboard around, watching my fellow employees and pretending to take notes.  I write gibberish, of course, but it is amusing to see them scramble and act busy.  Some might perceive this as mean or petty, but I think it is no less than they deserve.

On to the package.

To have anything delivered to work is a strange event in and of itself.  No personal mail is allowed, even for the son of the owner.  What further sets the delivery apart is that I had not ordered anything from anywhere, much less an exotic country like Japan.  It arrived, out of the blue, all on its own, with no note or return address.  When the mail person dropped it on my desk, I assumed it was another work assignment, something to be filed or boxed away.  When I saw my name on it, I paused.

How could this be?

I did not hesitate to open it.  There would be days to come when I was glad I rushed into the opening, and days later when I cursed myself.  But I could not know, at the time, what I was about to do.

The box was the size of a small book.  I tore the edge off and tilted it so that whatever was inside would fall out.  A smaller, golden box tumbled free, spilling onto my desk.  This box was much like one that held jewelry.  Perhaps it was a ring of some sort?  But who would send me a ring?  And I knew no one from Japan.

The smaller golden box was five inches square and two inches deep.  I picked it up.  I held it before me.  I shook it.  Something shifted inside.  I stuck it to my right ear.  I shook it again.  Something rattled.

I gazed about the office.  The floor I worked on was a series of cubicles, with adjustable and movable partitions.  Every small space was identical to the next.  I had a tiny desk, a computer, a printer, and a wastebasket.  There was also a chair.  Most of my work was done outside of this area, one floor down, in the filing rooms.  But I spent some time here, organizing various computer files, as well.

No one was paying a bit of attention to me.  As usual, unless I was walking around, acting the prick, nobody knew I existed.

I opened the box.

The top hissed and spat a gust of air, much like if a seal was broken.  Dust puffed out, clouding around my fingers and dissipating.  I set the top down and looked at what was inside.

A Blue Tooth earpiece.

Interesting.

Why would anyone send me such a thing?  I already had one, of course, for my own phone.  This one, however, was quite unique looking.

It was a carved piece of ornate gold.  Tiny inscriptions ran along its length, many lost amidst the swoops and swirls of its outer shell.  I could not help but recall my college art classes and sculptures I’d seen in books, artwork from Babylonian times.  There were figures mixed amongst the writing, none of which made any sense to me.  The script was some form of Arabic, but none I’d seen before.  It was a mixture of representative figures and some foreign font I’d never before encountered.  The characters themselves resembled all manner of creatures, but none that seemed earthly.  There was a snake, but it had legs and ears like a wolf.  There was a bear, but it had wings like a dragon and tusks like an elephant.  There were men, too, but they had three legs instead of two, or four arms and no legs at all.  There was a turtle with a spiked shell and a horn like a unicorn thrusting from its snout.  There were other such beasts, some I could not place a name nor a description to, they were so alien.  And as I said, they were tiny and yet intricate.  At the tip of the device was a small bulb sticking out, an indicator light.  It was a soft, glowing red.

It reminded me of a pendant I saw that my father owned.  I wondered for a moment if he had, in some fit of generosity or guilt, bought me a complimentary piece to it.

I reached down and picked it up.  Despite its appearance, it was much lighter than my own earpiece, about the weight of a cotton ball.  I rolled it around in my fingers for a moment, enjoying the feel of it.  But there was something else to it.  I felt short, sharp, electrical sparks sting my fingers.  Instead of being unpleasant, however, they sent waves of extraordinary pleasure shivering up my hands.

And then I heard it, so faint, less than a whisper:  voices.  They were the sound of feathers brushing on rice paper.  The sound of a mother, humming to her infant child.  The pleasing sound of assurance, of peace.

All this and more washed over my body.  It grew to a point where I had no more choice to put the device into my ear than I would have breathing to stay alive.

It fit perfectly, wedging in and nestling, snug and happy.  A slight hiss echoed in my ear, followed by an airy hum.  I could feel the piece connecting and communicating with my phone.

I was jolted by a sudden, piercing pain.

The device whirred.  I could see, in my mind’s eye, a crevice open and a small tendril snake forth from it.  The tentacle wrapped itself around my eardrum, hugging it tight.  I felt a slight pain and my head spun.  Tiny needles erupted from the tendril and bit into my eardrum, embedding themselves deep.  Something popped in my ear and a sharp shock rocketed through my head, straight into my brain.

I passed out.

I came to a few moments later, slumped over my desk, head draped on my right arm.  Blood trickled from my ear and pooled on a clean piece of paper beneath my arm.  The pain was gone, but that side of my head was sore and felt oddly swollen.

I sat up.  The room spun.  I put my head in my hands and closed my eyes.  I wanted to weep.

No one had come to my aide.  No one bothered to check on me to see how I was.  Everyone passed by my cubicle as if they thought I was taking a nap.  I’m sure some snickered.  It was a horrible realization to come to, the acknowledgement that no one cared if I lived or died.  I doubted even my father would have been upset.  To him, I had been a constant source of disappointment and chagrin.

I touched my face.  I winced.  My flesh was tender.  I wanted to rip that infernal device from my ear but I feared doing so.  I could feel it, attached to my ear drum and worse, snaking into my brain.

It was at that precise moment that Nona spoke to me.

Who is Nona, you ask?  Why, she is the primary reason for this story.  Nona, you see, is the ghost that lives in the Blue Tooth.  She is the spirit that possesses me from time to time.  She is the one…

It is best I just continue to tell the story as it unfolded.

Her voice was barely a sigh, and yet it filled my entire body.  I could feel her, inside, completing me.  It was as if some long lost piece of me, that I didn’t know had been missing, suddenly appeared.

“Hello, Roger,” she said.  Her voice had a lilt,
a wonderful melody.  It was the symphony of angels.  It was the most soothing, peaceful sound I’d ever heard.

“My name is Nona,” she said.

Of course, I thought at first it was someone speaking to me, either from my phone or around my cubicle.  I checked but no one was there.

“I am here, in your ear bud,” she said.

I looked at my phone.  It was turned off.  How could this be?

“You have been chosen, Roger.  Chosen for a glorious future.”

I could not find the words to respond.  What was there to say, after all?  A voice was speaking to me through a wireless device that was connected to nothing, a wireless device that had attached itself to my brain.  Yes, someone could have been transmitting from somewhere else, straight into the earpiece, or perhaps it could have been some type of recorded message, imbedded in the apparatus.  But I knew, in my heart, neither of these explanations was true.

There was a woman who lived inside the mechanism now affixed to my head.  Either that, or I had truly gone insane.

Music wept from the apparatus, bleeding into my brain.  It was calm, soothing, and filled every fiber of my being with tranquility.

“Come with me, Roger.  Come,” she said.  “Let me tell you of what was and is and will be.”

“How do I go with you?” I said aloud.

She laughed in my ear.  It was the sweetest sound.

“You need not speak.  Just think.  We are one now,” she said.

“How do I go with you?” I thought.

“Close your eyes again.  I will take you there.”
I did as she asked and the instant I did, the blackness inside my eyelids swirled, filling with bright sparkles and flashing lights.  My stomach dropped and the world spun around and around.

She appeared to me, then, in my inner brain, a vision of perfect beauty.  I was in a meadow, lying on my back, fluffy grass and sweet-smelling flowers surrounding me.  The sky was blue, the purest blue, and the clouds that floated by were pink, like cotton candy, and there was the scent of caramel corn on the wind.

“Here,” she said.

I sat up and there she was, standing only a few feet away. She was tall and slender, with pale skin that was almost translucent.  She had high breasts, full hips, and was clothed in a kimono.  She was Japanese, with shiny black eyes and luxurious black hair that flowed straight down her back like a cascading waterfall.  She was, in short, the most gorgeous creature I’d ever laid eyes upon.

And she was gazing straight at me.

“Blessed vessel,” she said, bowing slightly.

I grinned from ear to ear.

I have not had much experience with women.  I had a few relations in college, but none amounted to much.  I had never really been serious with a woman, ever.  And I knew then, I would never attain a woman such as this, for the rest of my life.

She glided over the grass, her feet barely an inch above the blades.  The closer she came, the more clothing she lost.  First was her kimono.  It fell from her shoulders, slid down her torso, hung for a moment on her hips, and then slithered free.  She wore a white sheet beneath, wrapped tightly around her.  With a flick of her wrist it, too, fell.  I watched as her glorious breasts were revealed, full and heavy, tipped with dark nipples, stiff in the wind.  A tuft of black hair sat between her legs, glistening, beckoning to me.

She hovered over me.  I lay back and found myself naked, as well.  What became of my clothing, I could not say.  Nor did I care.  I should have been ashamed of my nakedness, given my portly frame, pale skin, and poor physique, but I was not.  I felt oddly calmed and renewed.

She leaned forward, floating above me, our noses gently brushing.  Her hair turned to whispers, and they filled my ears with words of love and peace.  Her lips met mine.  We kissed.  I tasted her tongue.  Strawberries filled my mouth.  She leaned down against me.  We made love.

I cannot begin to describe that moment, or any of the others that followed.  Suffice it to say they were the finest moments of my life, filled with pleasure beyond my wildest imaginings.  And comfort.  And joy.  The deepest parts of me were fulfilled.

When it was over, when she lifted from me, kissing my cheek and promising she’d return, I wished those moments would never end.  And then she was gone, and I was alone.  And then the meadow was gone, and I was back in my tiny apartment, lying in my bed, the streetlight shining in through the window.

And I was covered in blood.

I was naked.  My skin was tight against me where the blood had dried, and the blood covered my chest, my groin, and the tops of my legs.  I had splatters on my arms, dotting me like freckles, from my shoulders to just past my elbows.  My hands were as if dipped into a can of red paint and left to dry.

I opened my mouth to scream when Nona came back on and spoke to me.

“No,” she said.  “This is your reality now.  Listen to me, and I will guide you through this.”
I should have ripped the fiendish apparatus from my ear and taken my chances.  So what if it stripped my brain, or damaged me so I could never hear again?  I had been a party to violence, to evil, and this I knew to the core of my being.  I understood it as elementary as the body understands eating to stay alive.  I had been manipulated and used, put to work as some sort of mindless slave or drone.

God forgive me, but I wanted to believe her so badly that I did as she bade.

Her voice, you see, was so beautiful.

“Stand,” she said.  “Walk to your bathroom.”
I stood.  I walked to the bathroom.

“Our bathroom, now,” she said.

I staggered to a halt in front of the mirror.  The man who stared back at me was not myself, but some kind of savage from another time and place.

“What have you done?” I said.

“I am you, now.  Not always, but when the call comes, I must answer,” she said.  “And so shall you.”
“Answer what?”
It was then she explained to me just how damned I truly was.

“I am from an ancient order of assassins.  I lived my life to kill for my masters.  But that was not enough.  My contract with them was written in blood, and it also gave them permission to take my soul, if need be.  They did.  And now, though I am but a spirit, I still carry out their wishes.  I must take a vessel, a willing vessel, to do the work.  When you said yes to me earlier today, you gave me your permission.”
“And if I said ‘No’ now?”
Her voice was as sweet as the kiss of God.

“You will not do that to me, will you?”

“No,” I said, despite myself.

“My masters employ me, from time to time.  There are others like me, trapped in devices, used to kill.  Sometimes the jobs are frequent, other times there may only be one a year.  In any case, I will take care of you,” she said.

“What do you mean?”

My eardrum buzzed.  It was pleasant.  I was suddenly out in the field again, on my back, her naked and riding atop me.  I was confused and scared, but I was also fulfilled more deeply than I had ever been before.  She rode me, bucking, gyrating, driving down hard, until I begged her for mercy because the pleasure was so great.  She giggled and snapped her fingers and I was back in my body again.

I was sitting in my tub, my hands full with two washcloths, soaked in soap.  I was scrubbing the blood from me.

“Know this,” she said.  “I will never harm you, or see you come to harm.  I have centuries of experience.  You will forever be safe in my embrace.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing.

“When I receive the summons and the job, we shall do what we did today.  I will make love to you.  At the same time, I will take your body and accomplish the task that is set before us.  When I finish, sometimes I grow weary.  This is where you step in.  You must take whatever measures are required for us to never be caught.  Do you understand?”
“Yes,” I said.

“Will you do this?”
I said nothing.  I wanted to be free of this horrible predicament.  At the same time, I was the most willing of slaves.

She touched my brain.  Sexual ecstasy flooded my body.

“Will you?” she said.

“Yes,” I said.

And from there, my life changed.  Irrevocably.  Forever.  Changed.

To chronicle what has happened would turn to the tedious.  Suffice it to say that, on occasion, I would go away to that meadow and the most rapturous love would be made between me and the beautiful Nona.  In the first six months, I would say we went out five times.  It was too many.  It was too little.

I grew addicted to her; to her touch, to her scent, to her voice.  I wanted nothing more than to crawl inside that meadow and stay, with her, forever.  If it meant she used my body to kill thousands, I did not care.

I also grew to know her better.  We chatted, sometimes, when there were no jobs.  For long hours, I would sit in the darkness of my tiny apartment and stare at a blank wall and think through conversations with her.  She never told me much about herself.  She did tell me of a man who had come in the night, when she was a small child, and murdered her family.  She escaped because she hid, and this man did not know of her existence.  Later, when she was older, she joined a league of assassins, her goal to hunt down the killer of her parents.  She said she never found him.  It was a sad story, one that filled me with anguish.

When I asked her how they kept her soul from departing, she told me she did not know.
“Magic,” she said.  It was her only answer to such questions.

Whenever I asked her how she felt about her indentured servitude, she would never answer.  She would either deflect the question by asking me something, or she would laugh, bitterness lacing that sweet voice like icing dripping down a slice of cake.

We never made love except when there was a job.

I asked her why.  She did not evade this question.

“It is your reward, the only thing that makes life bearable for you while you are being used in such a way,” she said.

“What about for you?”

“I do not understand.”

“Is it a reward for you, as well?”

I was met with stony silence.

Whether she cared for our encounters or not, I could not say.  She certainly played the role perfectly.  If I had any doubts they were quickly swept away, each and every time.  Whether it was by lies or my willingness to be deceived, I do not know.

But most times were the same.  She would come, we would play, and then I would wake up at home, either in the shower or dressed and ready for bed.  Depending on the severity and stress of the job, she would carry me as far as possible.

Until that one time.

I was at work, at the end of my work day, when she spoke to me.

“Oh, really?” I said aloud.

“Hush.  People will think you crazy,” she said.

I laughed in my mind.

“Let them think what they will.  I hate them, anyway.”

To this, she laughed.

“We must go,” she said.  It was what she always said.  This time, however, the strain was evident in her voice.

And with that I was whisked away to that bright and shining meadow.  Did I ever tire of the same place, the same actions, or the same pleasures?  I ask you:  do you ever tire of thinking about the greatest moment of your life?  And if you could, would you not revisit that time, over and over again, as long as each time, it felt as if it were the first?  That is how it was for me.We were rolling in the grass, making love, and I was just about to reach that magical moment when her eyes flew open and terror stabbed from them.  She screamed and I blinked and the next thing I knew, I was no longer in that wonderful meadow.

I was lying, face-down, in a slop of human intestines.

I coughed blood.  Was it my blood?  I could not be sure.  It filled my mouth, choked my throat, and clogged my nose.  I pushed up and turned my head to the side and vomited.  What came out was a stream of blood and the food I’d eaten for lunch.  It splattered on the concrete floor I was lying upon.

“Get up,” a voice said.

I gazed at a man standing in the shadows, five feet from me.  I could not make out his features, but he was of average height and size.  His voice was ancient, dark, and carried a strange echo to it.

“Get up and die,” he said.  There was something else to his voice.  He sounded tired.

“I don’t understand,” I said.  I didn’t know what to do.  Nona was gone.  I could not feel her in my brain or anywhere, for that matter.  I didn’t know where I was or who this person was.

“No,” he said.  “She is gone.”

He paced back and forth, arms tucked behind his back.  He kept to the shadows.  All I could see was his general shape.  He seemed to be wearing a suit, but that was all I could make out.

“No, not gone,” he said.  His voice chimed with that odd echo.  It was almost as if the person speaking was not the person who owned the voice.  “She is hiding.  My last blow wounded her.”

At this he laughed.  At this, my anger was provoked.  How had this man hurt my Nona?

“What have you done?” I said.

“Look around you, boy,” the man said.  “Look what your precious angel has done.”
I glanced around.  I was in an empty warehouse.  No, not quite.  Not empty.

The sight I saw sickened me almost to point of vomiting again.  I was surrounded by four dead bodies, each of them eviscerated in some fashion.  One had his throat torn out, another was lying on his back, his face gone.  A third was missing both his legs, from the hips down.  Where they had gone, I could not see.  And the fourth was the body in front of me, the one whose intestines I woke up to in my mouth.

“This is the work of your precious Nona,” the man said.  He laughed again.  It was bitter, full of acid.  “I knew when we trained her she would be good, but she has learned much, much more in her time than even I could anticipate.”
“What are you talking about?” I said.

The man stepped from the shadows.  When I saw his face, I could not believe my eyes.        The man who stepped from the shadows was my father.  I should amend that statement.  He wore my father’s body, much as Nona wore mine when on her assignments.  Around his neck was the pendant my father owned, the one that reminded me of my ear bud.  It shone bright.

“Ah, the truth dawns on you,” he said.

It had.  I understood in that precise instant that my father had been a shell to be used, just as I was.  And, apparently, he had been since I was a small child, seeing as I could not remember a time that the pendant around his neck had not been there.  The other conclusion I came to, the second horrifying thing I came to know, was that the assassin who was wearing my father’s body was the same assassin Nona had spent her life and her afterlife trying to find.

He laughed.  Oh, it was the most awful of laughs.  It echoed around the room, ringing off the bare, concrete walls.

“Your precious Nona works for the same service I do.  All these years she hunted me, all these years she was so close.  And then, through happenstance, she was assigned a body close to mine,” he said.  “When she realized this, when she realized who I was, she did what she had always longed to do.  She attacked me.  But she did not reckon that I had power that could harm her, as well.”

“Please,” I said.  “Leave us be.   I promise I will make her understand, make her leave you alone.”

“You cannot make that promise,” he said.  “And besides, why should I trust my fate to the whims of your love?  Not when I can end it all, right here.”

I choked back my tears.  I was never so frightened in my life.  I was alone, facing not only my father, the man who I had been scared of my entire existence, but also his body, possessed by a demon, a master assassin.  How could I hope to survive this night?

“Please,” I said again.

He took a step towards me.  He face melted away.  His visage was not the man I’d always known as my father, but was now one gigantic, leering grin.  His face became teeth, big as my fist.  Bloody saliva dripped from the corners.

“You and she will die, together,” he said, his entire head opening in the middle to accommodate his speech.

I jumped to my feet ran.  It was foolish and stupid, but it was my only recourse.  If I could find some way out of this warehouse, perhaps I could flee to someplace safe.

He caught up with me in two strides.  His foot snaked out, tripping me, and I fell headlong.  I landed on one of the dead bodies, the one without a face.  My palm hit his cheek and slid off.  My face struck his jacket pocket.  Something hard and heavy lay beneath it.

A gun.

My father loomed over me, still laughing.

“There is nowhere to run,” he said.  He paused and his face changed back to that of my father.  He looked down at me, shocked at first, and finally, his grin returned.

“Son,” he said.  This was my father’s voice.  His real voice.  He was back in control.  “You were always a disappointment.  Now, now…”

“Please,” I said.  “I will make this right.  I will make her back down.”

He shook his head.  “I don’t even know what’s happening, except you’re obviously the next target.  And I suppose I should feel ashamed, but what would it mean if you died?  The world would not miss you.  I certainly will not.”

“Please,” I said again.  It was fruitless, but I had nothing left to do but beg.

“Roger,” Nona whispered into my ear.  She sounded so far away.

“What?” I thought.  “If you’re back, take me over.  Do what you must.”

“I cannot,” she said.  “I am too weak.”

“God help me,” I said aloud.

Father laughed.

“There is no God,” he said.  “Only death.”

I knew then I was alone.  Nona was with me, but she could not help.  My father had forsaken me.  If I was to survive, if my love for Nona was to live on, I would have to save us.

I reacted without thinking.

My hands flew to the gun.  I yanked it out.  I moved so quickly that it took my father by surprise.  Never in his life would he have imagined I could do such a thing.

“No!” he screamed.

I rolled over, pointed the gun, and pulled the trigger.

Nothing happened.

I clicked it again.

Nothing.

My father laughed.

“The safety, stupid,” he said.  And as he said it, his voice changed, and his face changed, and he was back to being that leering grin, a head full of teeth and bloody slobber.

I flicked the safety.

“Die!” Nona screamed in my head.

“Die!” I screamed aloud.

The gun fired.  The bullet flew.  The grinning teeth opened.  The bullet struck.  I fired again.  And again.  And again.

The spray of bullets wiped that grin from the face of the planet.  As quick as the man inside of my father was, he was not faster than a speeding bullet.  His head exploded in a geyser of blood and bone and brains.  Skull fragments clattered wet to the floor, joined by moist chunks of his skin.  My father staggered in place, his hands clawing at the air where his head had been, blood squirting between them from the stump of his neck.  He fell to the side, twitched, and did not move again.

“Thank you,” Nona said.

I wet myself.

“It is going to be alright,” she said.  “We have one more thing to do.”

“I cannot,” I said.  I dropped the gun.  My entire body was shaking so hard I thought I was having an epileptic fit.

“I believe I can finish this now,” she said.

The sweet music rang in my ears and I was whisked back to the meadow.  Once there, my body messaged by the grass and flowers, my shaking stopped.  Nona appeared before me.  She was bruised and battered.  I held out my arms.  She filled them.  I pulled her to me.  She wept against my shoulder.

Later, she told me what had happened, how she had been contacted to kill someone and, in the course of this action, stumbled upon my father conducting a secret meeting with members of his boardroom.  She saw immediately who my father was and who possessed him and, instead of doing the assigned job, she took saw her chance and took it.  But the man was more powerful than she was.  She killed the others but my father proved too resilient.  He struck her with some sort of magic that sent her spiraling into a momentary coma.  That was when I woke.

His expenditure of power weakened him, however, and made him vulnerable.  I had gotten lucky, but it was only because Nona had tired him out.  My good fortune and courage to attack had saved us both.

When my father died, when Nona took me over again, she crushed his pendant, sending the assassin’s soul to hell.

This was not the end.  The guild that owned her was not pleased by her actions, but they would not lose another treasured asset.  She was reprimanded, but that was all.

We stayed together, only now, things had changed.  No longer is she distant from me.  She never leaves me now.  We spend long hours, in my apartment, talking, laughing, sharing stories.  Now we go to the fields to make love whenever we want, not just when it comes time for her to kill.

Sometimes, after we make love, I hold her and she weeps.  Other times, she holds me and I weep.  Together, we have become one.

We fulfill one another, and we will continue to do so, until the day I die.

Kelly M. Hudson is the author of two novels and over two dozen published short stories.  You can find out more about his work by going over to www.kellymhudson.com

Tagged , , ,

 

 

 

 

Stuart Selby

Stars In

“The Wild Hunt”

By

Kelly M. Hudson

 

 

            No one would ever accuse Stuart Selby of either looking or playing the part of a hero in any kind of story, much less a tale filled with action, horror, and intrigue.  But one gentle fall day, around the time of Halloween, Stuart Selby did indeed play the part of hero, and he did so in the fashion by which he lived his life:  most humbly.

            The story began as he drove out of the small town of Angelville on an errand for his boss, Mayor MacAfee…

 

            Stuart Selby knew he was going to have a bad day when he ran headlong into an Army blockade.  He drove his compact car like a man possessed, zipping around each tight curve of Safehaven Road like the Devil himself was riding on his tail. 

            He pushed his thick glasses up his nose.  A small, mousy man, with wispy hair that grew thinner every moment that passed, Stuart was nearly swallowed by his tiny car.  His narrow shoulders, thin chest, and pencil arms were barely held in place by the seat belt.  He was built like a string tied to a balloon.  He wore his brown suit—the only suit he owned—and penny loafers, with his tie loosened around his scrawny neck.

            Stuart loved the road and loved taking his car out for a spin, for it was the only time of the week that he ever truly let himself go and doing something risky.  All his life had been one calculated and safe moment after another—as drilled so effectively into his brain by his psychosomatic mother—except for when he was driving.  For some reason unknown to him, as soon as his hands touched the steering wheel and his foot settled on the peddle, he was a different man. 

            He knew Safehaven Road like the back of his own Mother’s hand, which he had held and admired through all of her long “illnesses,” until the day that a real disease finally gripped her and she died.  In an ironic twist, the one time she was truly sick, Stuart’s mother denied being ill at all, instead living in a complete and total denial of her condition.  The cancer came quickly and she was gone in a matter of days. 

            Stuart looked down at the picture of his mother that dangled from the stereo knob on his dash.  She was in her late fifties when the picture was taken, and it must have been a positively great day, because her eyes shone and her face radiated joy.  He loved his mother and missed her terribly, but he would be a liar if he didn’t admit to a degree of relief at her passing.  No longer would she shadow his every move.  He was free at last.

            That sounded bad, now that he thought about it.  She really had loved him, doting on him, plying him with vitamins and health foods and herbal potions.  She never let him play sports and she didn’t let him out into the sun (cancer, you know), so he remained pale and stringy his entire life.  But she did allow his mind to roam free, giving him access to any kind of book or magazine she deemed fit.  She frowned on his adventure books, and she scowled at the scary ones, but Stuart braved them all on his lonesome and through the actions of others, learned how to deal with life’s crises.  So when she finally died, when he did breathe a bit of fresh air for the first time ever, what did he do?

            He drove his car, of course, wildly and with abandon down Safehaven Road, until he reached the county line, at which point he turned around and did it all over again.

            That was months ago, and the moment of freedom was short lived.  He had to go to work immediately for Mayor MacAfee as his assistant.  It was the job Stuart’s mother had held before her sudden passing, and one which fell on him as some kind of familial obligation.  In the end, though, it made perfect sense.  He had aided the Mayor many times as an extension of his Mother’s help, and he knew the job better than anyone else. 

            So now there he was, racing along in his car, enjoying himself, thinking of his dear departed mother, when he burst around the bend and had to slam on his brakes to keep from barreling into the Army trucks that blocked the road just ahead.  The tires screeched and smoked as they slid along the pavement, his car finally coming to a halt just two feet away from the wooden barricade lined with soldiers.  They pointed their rifles at him.  He sat behind the wheel, trembling with adrenaline and shock, looking up at the soldiers through his thick glasses, a tiny thread of snot leaking from his nose.

            “Turn the car around!” bellowed a command from a bullhorn somewhere behind the line of troops.  “This area is quarantined!”

            Stuart didn’t know what to do.  He turned off his car and rolled down his window.

            “This area is quarantined!” the bullhorn yelled again.

            He stuck his head outside of the window.

            “Um, excuse me?  What do you mean, quarantined?” he said, his voice small against the assembled might of the U.S. Army just two feet away from him.

The line of soldiers parted in the middle, and a Sergeant, with a pot belly and the bullhorn, appeared from behind them.  He stopped at the wooden barricade and glared at Stuart before raising the bullhorn to his lips.

            “It means no one is allowed to enter or to leave,” the Sergeant screamed through the horn. 

            “But I’m on an important errand for the Mayor,” Stuart said.

            The Sergeant continued to glare at Stuart.  He was clearly irritated.  He spoke into the horn again.

            “I don’t care if you’re on a mission from the President himself!  Turn your car around and go back into town!”

            Stuart didn’t move.  He was in a real quandary.  As he tried to think the situation through, snot trickled from his nose.  One of the soldiers noticed and broke discipline.

            “Look!  I think he’s already infected!” the soldier shouted, pointing at Stuart.

            A rumble ran through the rest of the troops.  The Sergeant turned the bullhorn on them, demanding quiet.  When they settled down, he turned back to Stuart again.

            “You’re still here?  You have orders to turn around or you will be shot!  Do you understand?”

            Stuart nearly wet his pants.  He reached down, his hands shaking, and started his car.  He put it in reverse, turned around, and drove away from the soldiers and back towards town.

            It was a troubling start to a soon to be terrifying day.

 

            He pulled his car to a stop into a parking space, he threw the door open, and ran into City Hall.  He ran through the building, up the stairs, and skidded to a stop at the closed door of the Mayor’s Office.  Stuart gathered his courage and knocked as hard as he could.  His knuckles stung from the blows.

            No answer came.  He knocked again, harder this time, crying out in agony from the pain.  Inside, he heard furniture moving. 

            “What is it?” the Mayor said.

            “It’s me, Mayor.  It’s Stuart Selby!” Stuart cried out.

            He was greeted with a deafening silence.  He listened and waited, eventually pressing his ear up against the door.  He heard a rustling sound from inside the office, then a door inside shut, and heavy footsteps approaching the door.  He jumped back, doing his best to catch his breath.  He feared he might have an asthma attack and he’d stupidly left his inhaler in the car.

            The door opened, and Mayor MacAfee filled the frame, his dark face regarding Stuart with reproach.  Tall and round, the Mayor was a blustery man, full of piss and vinegar, his weight approaching three hundred pounds, much of it fat but a good bit of it muscle and grit. 

            “I thought I told you to get out of town!” he said.

            “I tried to, sir!  But there were soldiers, and I—,” Stuart said, but was stopped as the Mayor grabbed him and hauled him into the office.  He pushed Stuart a couple of feet into the room and slammed the door shut behind them.

            “Did you say ‘soldiers’?” Mayor MacAfee said, his left eyebrow arching.

            Stuart nodded.  He looked around the room and was surprised at the sight greeting his eyes.  The place looked cleaned out.  All the pictures were gone, leaving behind white, empty rectangles dotting the walls.  Boxes were arranged by the desk, full of office supplies and knick-knacks.  It looked like the Mayor was moving. 

            “Yes, sir,” Stuart answered, turning from the empty walls and facing the Mayor once again.  “They wouldn’t let me pass.”

            The Mayor’s face fell, his anger melting like an ice cream cone on a hot summer day.  His face turned pale and his knees trembled.  The Mayor reached out and steadied himself by leaning his left arm against the wall.

            “My, my…” he muttered, shaking his head.

            “Sir?” Stuart said.

            The Mayor held up his beefy right hand and tried to gather himself.  He released his grip on the wall and stumbled over to his desk.  He fell into the chair behind it with a sigh, the air kept whistling from his lips like wind moaning through a deserted house.  His hands trembled as he wiped his face, over and over again with his fingers.

            “I’m sorry, my boy.  I’m terribly, terribly sorry,” the Mayor said.  “I tried to spare you.”

            “What are you talking about?”

            “They turned you away?  They’re out there already?” the Mayor said, not hearing Stuart. 

            “That’s right.  The Army.  I didn’t know what to do but leave.”

            The Mayor sat back in his chair.

            “So soon,” he muttered, over and over again.  “So soon!”

            Stuart was puzzled beyond belief.

            “What is it, sir?  What’s going on?  Is there some kind of trouble?”

            Nodding slowly, the Mayor opened his desk drawer, pulled out a flask full of whiskey, took the top off, and threw back a swig.  He grimaced, wiped his mouth with his sleeve, and took another gulp.  The Mayor set the flask on the desk and looked at Stuart.

            “Want some?”

            Stuart shook his head.  He never shared drinks with anyone.  Too many germs. 

            “Of course you don’t,” Mayor MacAfee said.  He looked down at his shoes.              “Your mother raised you well, my boy.  She loved you so much.  That’s why I tried to get you out before the trouble came.”
            “What trouble is that, sir?”

            Mayor MacAfee cleared his throat. 

            “I can hardly believe it myself, but an evil most ancient is about to befall this quaint little town of ours.  He comes tonight to ride, and all will die,” Mayor MacAfee said.

            “Who?  What are you talking about?”
            Mayor MacAfee stared into the distance.

            “The Devil himself, my boy…The Devil himself,” the Mayor said, and then promptly broke down into tears.

            Stuart rubbed his hands together.  What did the Mayor just say?  The Devil?  Was he losing his mind?

            “I know what you’re thinking,” the Mayor said, between hiccupping and crying.  “You think I’m crazy.  Well, so did I when I got the call this morning.”
            “Who called you?” Stuart said, humoring the poor man.

            “The President,” Mayor MacAfee said.

            “Of what?”

            “The United States.”  .

            Stuart looked about the room.  Who should he call?  Who did you call when a Mayor lost his mind?  A doctor? 

            Mayor MacAfee glared at him. 

            “The President called me.  And he told me about an emergency protocol that all those in the highest offices knew about and were afraid they would have to utilize.  Well, now was the time for this President, and now is the time for our town,” the Mayor said.  “How we could have gotten picked is beyond me.  He told me it was a lottery system.  First, they determine the country.  Second, the state.  And third, the town.  They always pick small towns because it helps to keep things quiet.”

            “Who’s ‘they?’”

            “The world leaders.  They’re all in on it.  How do you think they get to power?  On merit?” The Mayor laughed, bitter and harsh.  “I didn’t get elected like they did.  It’s all on the major levels, not on the local.  But we have to comply, or we’ll be killed, too.”

            “People are going to get killed?  How?”

            “The Hunt!  How many times do I have to tell you?  Tonight the Devil rides in his Wild Hunt!”  The Mayor’s face turned bright red. 

Stuart backed away from the desk.  He would have to go get some help, of course.  He wasn’t sure if it should be medical or psychological.  The Mayor would probably need both.    
            “They said I could live, and choose one other person,” Mayor MacAfee said, getting control again.

            Stuart found himself oddly touched by what the crazy Mayor was saying.

            The Mayor scowled.

            “No, I didn’t pick you.  I chose someone else.  Idiot.  I feel sorry for you, and that’s why I tried to get you out of town,” the Mayor said.  “But I was too late.”

            He studied the Mayor for a long moment. 

            “Mayor, why don’t you go on home and get some rest.  Everything will look better in the morning,” he said. 

            Mayor MacAfee jumped up from behind the desk, his face burning hot.

            “You dolt!  I’m not crazy!  This is big, bigger than anything you’ve ever dreamed of,” he said.  He tromped around the desk and stopped directly in front of Stuart.  “It’s all true, son.  The devil really exists.  He’s coming here and our little town is doomed!”

            Stuart’s mouth fell open.  He truly didn’t know what to say to all of this.              Just as his jaw dropped, the door to the office rattled with a knock.

            Mayor MacAfee’s face lost all color. 

            “It’s him,” the Mayor said, his voice a quiet hush.  “It’s him!”

            Stuart rolled his eyes and walked over to the door.  This whole thing was either a stupid joke or the Mayor had gone crazy.  Either way, he was tired of it.  He opened the door and a small, squat elderly man trundled into the room.  He looked harmless enough, like someone’s doting old grandfather, complete with graying Lincoln beard, pot-belly, and hairy eyebrows.  They looked like two wooly-worms perched on his forehead, wiggling around.  The old man wore a red, worn terrycloth bathrobe, and a pair of slippers with tattered socks, and smoked a pipe that chugged out cherry-wood smelling smoke.  He smiled kindly at Stuart and stepped past him and the Mayor and sat behind the desk.  The old man had a twinkle in his eye, one that spoke of mischief and trouble.  He looked about the room and smiled his approval. 

            “So this is what your office looks like.  Very tidy, I must say.”

            “Oh, God!” The Mayor trembled.

            The old man arched one of his wooly-worms.  

            “Hardly.  But that’s the point, isn’t it?” he said.  The old man looked Stuart over, appraising him.  “Who is this milksop?”

            “Excuse me?” Stuart said.  He didn’t know what a milksop was.
            ”Sorry,” the old man held up his hand for forgiveness.  “It’s been a while.              “‘Who is this fine young man I see before me?’ I should have asked.”

            “I’m Stuart Selby, and I am the Mayor’s assistant.  Who are you?”

            The old man puffed on his pipe and sent merry rings of smoke pluming up into the air.

            “Your boss didn’t tell you?”
            The Mayor cried out and fell to his knees before his desk, pleading with the old man.

            “I tried!  I tried!  He wouldn’t believe me, sir!”

            The old man nodded slowly.

            “Yes, it isn’t like the old days.  No one has faith anymore.  It’s all about science and technology now,” he sighed.  “I suppose it make things easier on me, though.”

            Stuart laughed.

            “What, pray tell, is so funny, young man?”

            “You’re the devil?” Stuart said. 

            The old man smiled.

            “Yes.  I am Satan,” he said.  “Although I really miss when people called me ‘Old Scratch.’  Do you think you can do that for me, Mayor?  Call me ‘Old Scratch?’” Satan turned to the Mayor, who nodded emphatically.

            Stuart snapped his finger. 

            “I get it now.  Some kind of hallucinatory gas was dumped on the town and that’s why it’s cordoned off.  And why everyone is acting so crazy.”

Satan plucked the pipe from between his lips and pointed it at Stuart.

            “Tell me this, then, young man:  Why aren’t you acting funny, then?  And what of everyone else?  Surely all seemed normal when you came to this office today?”

            Stuart shrugged his shoulders.

            “Maybe it only affects certain people.”
            “Yes, quite,” Satan said.  “That’s one of the excuses they use, you know?  ‘Toxic gas.’  Or some other natural disaster.  They will say it’s a nuclear meltdown, or an earthquake, or maybe a bomb was accidentally dropped on your small town.  They use thousands of excuses to keep things quiet.  Governments lie better than I do, and that’s saying something.”
            Stuart shook his head.  “This is crazy.”

            “Oh, it’s all true, all true,” Satan said with a chuckle.  “Your denial will not save your life nor the lives of the other citizens of this small town.  My boys are hungry and it’s been a long time since the last Hunt.  They’re eager and I can’t hold them back much longer.”

            “I’m going home,” Stuart said, rolling his eyes.  “I’ll wait it all out there.”

            “Too bad your mother won’t be there, eh?” Satan said. 

            Stuart, who had turned to leave, suddenly froze in place.

            “What do you mean?”

            “Your mother.  She’s not at home anymore because she’s dead.  Correct?”

            How could this old man know about his mother?  Maybe he read it in the paper?
            Satan turned his attention from Stuart to the Mayor.

            “So, the one you picked, she’s been hiding in your closet this whole time.  Who is she?” he said.

            The Mayor stuttered and Satan laughed.  He gestured at the closet door and it flew open.  A young woman inside fell from the closet and sprawled to the ground at Stuart’s feet.  She looked up, confused and ashamed. 

            It was Mrs. Wingsly that lay at his feet.  Mrs. Wingsly, the pretty young lady married to the Sheriff.  Mrs. Wingsly, the teacher of Stuart’s Sunday School class.  Mrs. Wingsly, she of the blond hair and brown eyes and nice legs whom everyone in the town lusted over.  This was Mrs. Wingsly, and she was apparently having an affair with the Mayor.

            Satan laughed.

            “They’ve been sleeping together for quite some time now.  Let this be a lesson to you, young man.  Sins are always exposed.”

            Mrs. Wingsly looked down at the floor in shame.

            The Mayor coughed to get the Devil’s attention.

            “We can go, right?  Those are the rules?  The town leader and one of his choice?” The Mayor asked, his eyes pleading.

            Satan nodded.

            Mayor MacAfee scooped up Mrs. Wingsly and stood her to her feet.

“We have to go,” he whispered, his voice fraught with terror.  “Before the bad things begin.”
            Stuart stared at the two of them awkwardly.

            “This is insane,” Stuart said. 

            Satan winked at Stuart and puffed his pipe.  He sent perfect smoke rings into the air.  The Devil, apparently, was really good with a pipe.

            “This has been going on since Jesus walked the planet, boy,” Satan explained.  “It was a trade off.  Humanity got forgiveness, and I got to play more games with them.  After all, I’m not the bad guy, but the Accuser.  I just tempt.  And every now and then, my employees and I get to go out and have some fun.”

            Stuart gasped.  How could anyone talk about God like that?

            “Let me make it plain for you,” Satan continued, amused by the scrawny young man standing before him.  “Every twenty years or so, God allows us to go on what we call ‘The Great Hunt.’  We hold a lottery in hell and all of the demons there get to participate.  Forty of my employees are chosen and these winners get to go out and stretch their legs a bit.  We run through a small town and kill everything we find, from people to dogs to insects.  We toy and tease and torment and then murder.  After everyone is dead, we hold a banquet, using their blood as our wine and their flesh as our feast.  You will be filling a deserving belly tonight, my untrusting friend.  There is nothing you can do to prevent this from happening.  At best you can delay it.”  With that, Satan puffed a few more smoke rings into the air and smiled, content that he had struck fear into this young man’s heart at last.

            “You’re nuts,” Stuart said.  He just refused to believe any of this.  Sure, this whole deal was pretty weird, but that didn’t mean he was really dealing with Satan here.  He waved goodbye to them and stormed towards the door.  He bristled past Mayor MacAfee and Mrs. Wingsly and reached entrance door before Satan spoke the words that would change the destiny of Angelville and Stuart Selby for all time.

            “Your mother says hello, Stuart,” Satan said, a sliver of taunting in his voice.

            Stuart froze in mid-stride.  His heart leapt up into his throat.

            “What did you say?”

            “Your mother, she’s in hell right now.  Some of my finest employees are tormenting her, even as we speak.  She says hello and she’ll see you soon,” Satan said with a grin.

            Stuart turned, his face flush with anger.

            “My mother couldn’t be in hell.  She was a good woman.”

            Satan laughed a deep belly laugh.  Tears rolled from the corners of his eyes he was chuckling so hard. 

            “You really are a silly young man, Stuart Selby.  Of course your mother is in hell.  She’s there for the way she treated you,” Satan said.  “In fact, some would say it’s your fault she’s where she is now.  If you hadn’t been born, she would have gone on to become the Nun she so desperately believed God was calling her to be.  But she fooled around with a traveling salesman and became pregnant with you, which was not only a heinous sin, but a big mistake.  She had to give up her dreams and devotion to God to raise you.”

            Stuart’s heart stopped beating.  How could this old man know all these things?

            “You…” Stuart trailed off, unsure of what to say.

            Outside, a loud thunderclap rocked the building, startling Stuart and the others.  The sky outside the window darkened as storm clouds brutally swept the heavens clear of their former, nice, deep blue hue.  Thunder boomed again, and again, shaking the walls of City Hall.  Satan laughed.

            “Next, the earth will split open, and those that have been chosen by fate for the Hunt will appear!” Satan cackled.  He took the pipe from his mouth and knocked the contents out onto the desk in front of him.  He looked up at Stuart and motioned to him.  “Go, unbeliever, walk to the window and gaze upon the hosts of hell and then tell me that I am lying or that this is all some game.”

            And Stuart did as Satan bade him; he walked over to the window as if in a trance, his arms and legs numb, his jaw slack, and his brain fuzzy.  He stopped at the window and stared out, watching the horrific scene that unfolded before his eyes.  Just as Satan had said, the ground split open with a crack, the earth peeled back and a strange white foam flowed up and over the crevice, spilling out onto the perfectly manicured lawn, burning the grass and sending sizzling swirls of smoke into the air.  The crack vibrated and an awful humming noise filled the air.           It buzzed in Stuart’s ear like a trapped honeybee. 

            Forty demons poured forth from the fissure, each of them sprung from the fracture as if shot from a cannon.  They were, each and every one of them, riding some type of beast as if it were a horse.  These creatures, fellow demons Stuart assumed, ran about on six legs and were covered in giant, pus-filled scabs dotted with coarse black hairs.  The color of the beasts’ skin was a charcoal gray, and they had small snouts like that of a razorback hog, with long curling tusks at the end.  Each creature had a bit in its mouth and a saddle on its back, just like a thoroughbred horse.  But these were nothing compared to the things that rode on their backs.  No two were alike, and they were each gruesome in their appearance.  Some had horns, others didn’t; some had red skin, some had blue, some obsidian black, and others albino white; some had pot-bellies and others rippled with muscles; some were short, others tall; but one thing united them and it was an indescribably repugnant evil.  This malevolence dripped from their pores like sweat from a fat man and drenched both the air they breathed and the ground their beasts strode on.  They were demons, and they were an abomination before God and man. 

            Stuart stepped back from the window, too scared to speak.  Stumbling a step back, he bumped into Satan, who had just come over to the window to check out the spectacle himself.  He looked up at Stuart and gave him a naughty wink.

            “Those are my employees.  Pretty sexy, huh?” Satan laughed.

            Stuart looked at the little old man and shook his head.  He couldn’t speak, he couldn’t think; all he could do was stand there, his mind unwilling to wrap itself around the reality of the situation.

            “Yes, very soon my workers will run you and all of the other townspeople down, whether it be in the streets or in their homes.  All will die tonight, and then we will feast!” Satan boasted, throwing his hands up straight into the air as if in triumph.

            Stuart turned and walked to the door, dazed and bewildered.  Satan watched him,  laughing.

            “Going so soon, Stuart?  What’s the matter?  Momma not here to wipe your snotty nose?  Nobody to baby you?” Satan said.  “You’re going to die and you’ll be with your mother soon, don’t you worry, little baby!”
            Stuart, still numb, reached for the doorknob. 

            “Soon you will see with your own eyes what a slut your mother has become in hell.  You will see her swooning and drinking from my loins, lapping from the fountain of damnation!”

            And something happened then, deep inside of Stuart.  Something snapped, shattering to a million pieces.  He was scared, he was out of his mind with worry, and he wanted nothing more than to go dig a deep hole and disappear.  But at that moment, all of his fear and depression rolled off of his shoulders and fell to the ground like harmless dandruff.  Satan was out of line talking like he was, insulting his mother.  And he found his anxiety gone and replaced by another emotion:  anger.  Stuart turned slowly to face the devil, his face red with rage.

            “What did you say about my mother?”

            Satan continued to laugh.

            “I said she suckles the teats of Babylonian whores and drinks their fermented milk,” Satan chortled.

            Stuart’s fists clenched in fury.

            “You shut your dirty mouth,” Stuart said.

            “What’s the matter?  Momma’s boy upset?  Poor little Stuart!  He couldn’t play with the other kids because his mother was sick in the head!” Satan danced a little jig as he bombarded Stuart with his mockery.  “What is the poor little boy going to do about it?”

            Stuart wrapped his rage around his body like an old man would a blanket on a cold winter’s night.

            “You shouldn’t talk about my mother like that.”

            Satan laughed and laughed.  This young boy was really making his day. 

            Stuart thought for a moment and the craziest idea crept into his mind.  He mulled it over for a second.  It was a gamble, but one he was sure he could win.

            “What do you say to a contest?” Stuart said, a coy smile slinking across his face.

            “A contest?  What are you talking about?”

            “A challenge.  I take on your entire entourage of demons, and if I beat them, you leave this town and never come back,” Stuart said.

            “What do you mean?”

            “A race, from here to the outskirts of town.  Whoever reaches the finish line first wins.”
            Satan thought to himself for a few moments.  It had been a long time since he’d been defied in such a way.  Usually people groveled and begged to be released; not many had the wherewithal nor the temperance to dare him into a competition.  He took a step back and looked Stuart over, from head to toe, observing him in detail for the first time.  There was a heart to this kid that he admired.  This idea added spice to the day, and Satan liked it hot.

            “What do I get when I win?” Satan said.

            Stuart smirked.

            “My soul.  What else?”

            Satan nodded, considering.  One of the old bargains, something in exchange for a soul.  Not only was this guy full of vinegar, he was old-fashioned, too.

            “What about your mother?  Don’t you want to free her from hell if you win?” Satan said.

            Stuart laughed. 

            “Old Scratch, you are a liar,” he said.  “My mother sits with God in His heaven even as we speak.”
            Satan considered this for a moment.  The kid was smart.  So smart, he must have an angle that Satan hadn’t figured out yet.  And if this was so, competing in this contest was a bad idea.  

            “I will pass, boy,” Satan said.

            “What are you, chicken?” Stuart said, acid dripping from his tongue.

            Satan’s cheeks turned red with embarrassment and fury.  This whelp was audacious!  He clicked his teeth together and grumbled to himself.

            “Turn around, Devil.  I want to see if that yellow streak runs from your head to your ass,” Stuart said.  He was full of himself now; sure and confident.  He would goad this old man into sending his abominations into battle if it was the last thing he did.

            “To hell with you then!” Satan raged. 

            Stuart smiled.

            “One rule, though.  We have to stick to the road.  If either myself or any of your minions go off the road, they are disqualified.”
            “Yes!  I accept your challenge!” Satan screamed, his voice shrill.  He paced in a small circle, rubbing his hands together. 

            “Then let’s get started,” Stuart said, turning and striding to the door.

 

            A cold wind whistled through the trees that ran around the perimeter of City Hall, causing them to bend and sway.  Their leaves, brittle and ready to fall, rustled like chimes.  The sky was almost as dark as midnight, with storm clouds roiling and lightning  flashing, throwing the landscape into a bizarre relief. 

            Standing in a circle, the forty demons of Satan sat on their steeds, each chortling and sneezing and spitting as Satan explained in the old language what was about to transpire.  He walked along the edges of the circle, imploring each of his workers to victory, occasionally pointing to Stuart, who stood in the middle of the circle, looking very small and weak.  The demons all took turns looking at Stuart and shaking their heads.  Some licked their chops while others stared off in the distance, bored.  All were ready to get on with the Hunt, and if they had a slight diversion then that was fine by them.  They would run the runt down and eat his heart after they had plucked it from his chest.  Then they would turn on the town, a place ripe with delicacies. 

            When Satan finished, he grinned at Stuart, folding his arms in satisfaction.  He had no doubt how this was going to turn out.  The only question was how long Stuart would last.

            For his part, Stuart stood still, quietly listening to the Devil as he urged his troops on.  He was still not quite in his right mind, his heart and brain rattled by rage.  He realized that this was a fool’s hope, but he was too angry to care.  That evil little elf had crossed the line and Stuart was going to make him pay. 

In the meantime, Mayor MacAfee darted from City Hall, dragging Mrs. Wingsly with him..  They barely made it fifteen feet from the building when they ran headlong into a group of townsfolk, and the man leading the throng was none other than Sheriff Wingsly himself.

            Mayor MacAfee and Mrs. Wingsly stopped in their tracks.

            “Just what in Sam Hill is going on over here?” the Sheriff said.

            The townspeople, who numbered around sixty, looked past this little scene of exposed infidelity and gaped at the assemblage of demons.  Some of the women swooned, some of the men fainted.  Others stood their ground, believing that their eyes were deceiving them.

            “That’s my wife you’re towing around,” the Sheriff said,  Mrs. Wingsly looked down at the ground.  The Sheriff glanced past them and spied the gathering of demons.

            “Say, what’s going on over there?  Some kind of costume play?  Halloween isn’t for a couple of weeks yet!”

            “That’s no play,” the Mayor screeched.  “That’s the Devil himself and he’s come to lay waste to our town.  We’re getting out!” 

            The Mayor grabbed Mrs. Wingsly’s hand again and pushed through the crowd.  They were too busy staring at the spectacle before them to really notice.  Even the Sheriff didn’t seem to mind; his eyes were fixed on the demons and their monsters.  Then a townsperson spoke up out of nowhere, breaking the spell.

            “Hey!  Isn’t that Stuart Selby in the middle of those things?” 

            The crowd, their curiosity taking over, moved as one to the gathering.  Within seconds they were standing just behind the group of demons and peering between them to get a good look at what was going on.  In the middle of the group, Stuart was ranting and raving, walking in circles.

            “You dare come to MY town and try to mess with MY friends?” Stuart bellowed, his face red.  “You will pay for this!”

            The demons had stopped murmuring amongst themselves and instead hurled curses and insults at Stuart.  They spat at him and their beasts stomped their feet.  He was not the least bit concerned by this.  Instead, it fit squarely into his plan.  He would make them angry enough to forget all about the town and lead them off in a wild chase.  He may die, but at least the town would be saved.

Stuart stormed between a couple of demons and strode over to the Sheriff.  He leaned in close and whispered quickly.

            “This is real.  Get as many people out as you can.  I’ll keep them busy for as long as possible,” Stuart said.  He laughed heartily and turned back to face the group of demons.

            “My grandmother could outrace you fat pigs!”  Stuart pushed back into the group.  He strode over and stood next to the Devil.  “Let’s get this going.  I have a soap opera I’m missing on the television.”
            Satan glared at Stuart. 

            “Yes, quite,” Satan said, making a grand gesture with his hands.  He leaned back and shouted at the top of his lungs.  “Let the Wild Hunt begin!”

            The demons roared their approval as the Sheriff quietly snuck the townsfolk out off the square and into the shadows. 

 

            He sat behind the wheel of his compact car, his foot pressing on the gas.  The little four cylinder engine raced, straining under the hood.  The car sounded like a dying lawnmower.  Stuart wished he’d taken the time to get the oil changed and the timing belt fixed, but it was far too late now for regrets.  Indeed, it was too late for most anything other than desperation.  His anger had faded once he saw the Sheriff and the townsfolk escape, and although he couldn’t be assured they would make it out of the city limits, he was sure at least some they now had a chance.  That had to count for something. 

            Stuart sighed and looked to his right and his left.  He was book-ended by demons on their great beasts, each snarling and looking in at him like he was a steak dinner and they were starving street urchins.  This wasn’t going to take long, he thought.  They were going to run him off the road and eat him and then send his soul howling to hell.  After that, they would go after the townsfolk and all of his sacrifice would be for nothing.  He had to make sure to give the people every bit of time he could.  He looked down at the picture of his mother dangling from the stereo knob.  She looked up at him smiling.  Somehow, Stuart knew that wherever she was now, she would be proud of him. 

            Looking at his mother gave him back his courage.  He rolled down his window and nodded his head at the demon cursing him on his left. 

            “You’re the first one who’s going down, big guy!” Stuart yelled.

The demon snorted fire and his ride reared up onto its back two legs, hissing.

Satan rode out onto the road astride a monstrous beast with purple skin and a light coating of fur.  Huge tusks, white in the darkness of the day, glinted as they curved from the creature’s mouth.  Steam came from its large nostrils as it stamped its four feet in place.  The beast was taller than Stuart’s car, so Satan had to look down upon Stuart as he smiled sadly at him.

            “You all know the rules:  First one to the outskirts of town wins.  If you go off the road, you are immediately disqualified,” Satan announced, looking around at his demon horde.  “Are you ready?”

            The demons howled.

            Stuart rolled up his car window and turned the stereo on.  A rockin’ tune blared from the cheap speakers.  Stuart bobbed his head to the beat.

            “On your marks!  Get ready!  GO!” Satan screamed and dug his heels into the side of his mount.  The creature lurched and took off, leading the pack as they burst down the road.

            Stuart slammed the car into gear.  The front tires burned with smoke on the asphalt road.  He lurched forward and the car stalled out.

            The demons roared past him, laughing and cavorting, disappearing around the bend.

            Stuart slammed his palms down on the steering wheel and cursed.  He turned the key.  The car mumbled but didn’t turn over.  He cursed again.  He turned the key and this time the car sparked up.  He slammed the car into gear and took off down the road in hot pursuit of the demons.

            The rear end of four demons and their monsters presented themselves as a wall when Stuart took the first turn in the road.  He slammed on his brakes and cut the car to the right.  There was no way around the four as they took up the whole road, and trying to slam through them would probably result in wrecking his car, so he spun the car and went in the opposite direction, back the way he’d just come.  There was the one main road in and out of the town; Stuart knew this to be true but he was pretty sure the demons didn’t, so when he went around the bend in the road he jammed on his brakes and spun his car back around and gunned it back towards the demons.  Sure enough, they came loping around the corner, curious as to what he was up to.  Their faces fell in shock when they were greeted with the sight of Stuart’s little yellow compact car barreling towards them, spitting dust and gravel.  The four demons peeled their steeds off in either direction, scrambling from the pavement of the road and onto the grass that bordered each side, thus disqualifying themselves.  Stuart drove on, his car zooming around the bend and disappearing into the distance. 

            Further down the road, the landscape changed.  The rolling, grassy hills transformed to thick trees and dark, dense forestry on either side.  It would be like this for another couple of miles until the road cleared into sprawling fields of grass just before the town limits.

            Stuart pressed on the gas.  The demons and their mounts weren’t too far ahead of him.  They were fast, but at his car’s best speed, he knew he was faster.  The problem was the turns in the road.  This patch, about a mile long, consisted of a series of twisting bends. 

            He came upon the back end of the pack, three demons and their slavering stallions, galloping along.  Stuart switched his driving lights on, which caused the three to turn and glance back at him.  As they did, he gunned the engine and flew right at their rear ends.  The mares bucked and picked up speed.  The three rode ahead of Stuart with a great burst of speed, right into the turn up ahead.  The demon riders tried to correct their mounts with much screaming and crying.  Each of them flew, screeching headlong into a patch of trees and off the road.  Stuart slowed down and took the turn.  He honked and waved as he passed them.  Curses peeled from their tongues and followed him until he went around another bend on down the road.

            There was another group of the demons just ahead.  He was still too far behind the front of the pack and he had to make up time fast.  Stuart reminded himself that it wasn’t a victory in racing that was most important on this day, but the chance for the townsfolk to get away.  He had to make sure they had enough time, and he would buy that for them, regardless of the price.  Still, it would be nice to win, if for nothing else but to see Satan’s smirk wiped off of his face.

            He barreled towards the group in front of him.  These demons played it smart.  They closed ranks and slowed down, making it impossible for Stuart to pass them without disqualifying himself.  He rode their rears, weaving back and forth, looking for a bit of space to exploit.  The demons held steady and went slower and slower.  Stuart mashed on the car horn, sending out a wave of obnoxious noise that echoed off the trees.  The steeds leapt forward, jolted by the sudden sound.  The riders lashed and cajoled them but Stuart kept on his horn, weaving the car around and sending them scattering into the trees. 

            Ten more disqualified.

            Stuart smiled.  Maybe he did stand a chance, after all.

            He took the next bend with style, bopping his head to the rock song on the radio.  All his hope vanished when he saw what was up ahead.  He slammed his brakes again and pulled to a stop.  He sat, silent, and rubbed the steering wheel with the palms of his hands. 

            Sitting in the middle of the road, blocking the entire path, was a felled tree.    

He let out a long, sad breath.  He was out of ideas.  How could he get this tree out of the way without running off the road?  And even if he did, how could he make up the time this was costing him?  He opened the car door and stepped outside.

            He ran to the tree, breathing in the clean air.  He loved this town.  He loved this road.  How ironic it would be the death of him.

            He stopped when he reached the tree and looked down at it.  It was a big one, four feet thick and as tall as the road was wide.  He shook his head and tried to come up with some way to move it but could think of nothing.  He beat his fists against the trunk of the tree, tears springing from his eyes.

            The ground rumbled and loud snorting rippled over the air.  He had just enough time to duck down before a dozen demons, all riding their mounts at full speed, leapt over the fallen tree.  The animals landed and skidded across the road, running past Stuart’s parked car.

            Sweat poured down his face as he ran to his car, flung the door open, jumped in, and hunched over the steering wheel.  Behind him, the demons turned around and circled his car, punching and pounding it with their long talons.  He watched them, his heart about to burst with fear in his chest.

            They had him encircled.  There was no way out and he had little room to maneuver, but he knew that he had to do something.  Taking a deep breath and glancing at the picture of his mother, he threw the car into reverse and jammed on the gas, sending the car backwards like a missile.  The demons screeched and jumped out of the way as he steered down the road away from the horde.  They sprinted in pursuit.

            Stuart stamped on the brakes, jammed the car into drive, and slammed the gas pedal down again, sending the car headlong into the approaching monsters.  Some jumped to the side and off of the road, others simply moved out of his way.  Once he passed them, he smashed on the brakes, whipped the gear into reverse, and flew backwards at a furious speed.  He hit the brakes and slid to a stop amongst the demons who were turning to pursue him.  They all sat there for a moment, staring at each other.  Stuart laughed at them, put the car in drive, and took off again.  The demons and their mares howled after him, hot on his heels. 

            He steered the car straight for the tree blocking the road.  The radio pumped rock music as the tree grew larger and larger in his sight.  Hoping he wasn’t too late, he stamped on his brakes once again.  The tires dug into the pavement and the car slid forward, smoke pouring from the burning rubber.  The bumper of the car just touched the tree as the car stopped.

            The demons, however, hadn’t noticed Stuart’s ploy, and they ran headlong into the tree.  A dozen demons and their creatures plowed into it, rolling the massive piece of wood forward and to the side, just enough for his car to squeak by.  He drove around the tree, his car never leaving the road.  The demons who crashed into the tree sat, heads spinning, choking on the dust Stuart’s car kicked up.

            Racing along, he calculated the remaining distance.  He didn’t have much time, and a good portion of the pack was ahead of him.  Also, he couldn’t discount the others he’d just left behind.  They weren’t eliminated yet, just stunned, so they could come back into play.  He wiped the sweat from his forehead and drove on. 

            The next bend revealed a clear road.  Had Satan already crossed the finish line, or was this some sort of fiendish trick?  He didn’t know and, really, did it matter?  He had no choice but to continue and hope for the best.

            He was halfway to the next bend when four demons and their mares burst from the trees and raced to his side.  They had disqualified themselves by hiding in the trees, but that didn’t seem to matter to them.  The one on his right butted into the front fender, causing the car to swerve a bit to the left.  Another slammed his car from the left, and Stuart knew exactly what they were up to. 

            It was called cheating.

            They buffeted him back and forth like a volleyball, jostling and shaking him along the road, each bump making his care slow little by little until he was barely going over thirty-five.  

            He stomped on the gas and the little car lurched forward, clearing his pursuers.  They galloped along to catch up.  Both moved in to crunch him at once.  Stuart slammed on the brakes and the riders suddenly passed him by, bashing into each other and tumbling off the road.  The two trailing demons jerked their steeds left and right to avoid running into their comrades.  They instead crashed into a pair of trees with a thunderous crunch. 

            Stuart drove past their tangled mess, waving as he went.

           

            The final stretch soon lay out before him.  Here, the road straightened out and it was a flat run to the city limits.  Stuart rounded the final bend and there they were, way up ahead, the remainder of the demon horde.  There were ten or so of them, with Satan leading the way.  They were within sight of the finish line and far, far too ahead to catch up with.

            He had no choice but to try.  He gunned the engine.  The poor little thing rattled like an old man with emphysema.  It was gaining speed, but something felt wrong. 

            Satan glanced over his shoulder and spotted Stuart’s car coming along behind them, its headlights flashing on and off.  He was both amazed and pissed that the kid had made it this far.  But Satan knew he was going to win, regardless of the boy’s heart and skills.  He smiled and raced along, looking ahead at the line of Army vehicles blocking the road just two hundred yards away.  What he saw angered him more than he’d been angered in over three centuries.

            The townsfolk of Angelville sat on the other side of the barricades.  They had somehow slipped out and were now beyond bounds for Satan and his workers to hunt. 

            With a squeal of rage, Satan pulled on the reigns of his great beast and brought it to a screaming halt.  The demons behind him did the same, stopping their steeds and looking to their boss for guidance.  Satan’s face turned red with rage.  The boy had outwitted him.  The townsfolk were safe and there would be no Wild Hunt today.  They would have to wait another twenty years or so before the pleasure and the privilege would be theirs again.  And it was all because of some sickly little nerd.

            “Charge him,” Satan said.

            If he was going to lose the town, he could at least win this bastard’s soul.

            The demons turned, enraged, and surged towards Stuart, looking to ram him right off of the road.  Satan watched, not satisfied, still very angry, but understanding that this moment, when they crushed Stuart Selby, would be all that he would have to comfort him in the years to come.  He decided to sit back and enjoy it.

            Stuart saw the demons coming and didn’t know what to do.  Just beyond them lay the finish line and the good folks of Angelville, lining the barricades, mingled with Army soldiers.  They tossed their hands up in the air and the entire town roared for Stuart, calling his name and cheering him on.  He smiled, his hands hard on the wheel.  The Sheriff had gotten them to safety, after all. 

            The demons barreled towards him, their eyes red with hate, their mounts snorting fire and steam.  A howling wind swirled across the road, moaning load and insistent.  He held firm to the wheel and he steered his car straight at them.  He would not lose this game of chicken.  He gritted his teeth, narrowed his eyes, furrowed his brow, and stepped as hard as he could on the gas.

            “Come on, baby,” he urged his car through his teeth.  “We’re almost there!”

            Stuart plowed into the demons.  They lost their nerve; never had they faced an opponent so fearless, and this resolve caused them to waver.  They peeled to the right and the left, falling off the road and losing the race.  They tumbled into the surrounding fields in a jumble of tangled limbs and screaming faces. 

            One mount, however, did not part, did not swerve, did not waver.  This one ran straight at Stuart and dipped its head low, ramming into him.  

            The noise of crunching steel, tinkling glass, hard flesh slapping unyielding metal, and cracking bones, was something awful.  The townspeople of Angelville gasped.  Mrs. Wingsly swooned and fell against her husband.  Mayor MacAfee groaned, saw Mrs. Wingsly, groaned again, and fainted.  No one caught him as he fell straight to the ground.  Satan threw his head back and laughed.  The boy was an utter fool and now he was surely dead.

            All was not lost that day, however.  For indeed, Stuart’s car did run into the creature and its demon rider, and the front of the car did nearly shatter from the impact; but something else occurred that same instant:  Stuart’s car went airborne.  The strength of the collision sent the car up into the air and tumbling forward, end over end, towards the finish line.  Stuart sat behind the wheel and watched the surrounding landscape spin by, screaming at the top of his lungs.    The car flipped through the air, sailing over the demon and slamming down right on top of Satan and his steed. 

            Satan had a brief moment to look up, swallow hard, and close his eyes.

            Stuart’s car crashed upon Satan and his mare, smashing them down into the ground, bounced up and rolled forward, screeching to a halt, sitting upright, bent and shredded.  The horn blared, went weak, and died. 

            The townsfolk, as well as the soldiers, leaned forward to see if Stuart was okay.  The car door creaked open and fell off.  Stuart stumbled from the wreck and dropped to the pavement, his face covered in blood and his left arm broken.

            Behind the wreck, Satan stood from the tangled intestines of his great, dead beast and glared at Stuart lying on the ground.  Fire blew from his mouth as he worked to extricate himself from the gory mess of his dead steed.

            “Get up, Stuart!” the Sheriff cried.  The townspeople and the soldiers joined in, hollering and imploring for him to get to his feet.

            Stuart heard them, and he wanted to get up, but his body hurt in ways he’d never imagined, and he was so very tired.  The thought of standing to his feet filled him with nausea.  No, the asphalt felt pretty good right about then. 

            “Yes, get up, boy!” Satan bellowed, his breath rancid with hate.  “Get up and let me kill you!”

            That Stuart didn’t like.  He looked over at Satan, his head aching and his body on fire.  The little old man pulled his foot from a wad of bloody meat and was tromped towards him.  Hatred burned from Satan’s eyes.  This race was not yet done.

            Stuart, using the cries of the townsfolk of Angelville as a ladder, hauled himself  to his feet.  Satan was twenty yards away and closing fast, his tiny hands clenching into fists, smoke coming from his nostrils, and fire bursting from his mouth.  Turning around, Stuart saw that he was twenty yards from the city limits, where the townsfolk and the soldiers lined the barricades, pleading with him to run.  He knew he would never make it before the Devil caught up to him, so he turned back to face Satan with a broken arm and a smile filled with shattered teeth.

            “Come on then, Old Scratch,” Stuart said, his voice hoarse and faltering.  “Come and get some of Stuart Selby!”

            Satan, infuriated at this last insult, ran at him, dipping his head and sprinting with all his might.  He was determined to massacre this young man who had made a fool of him.

            Stuart stumbled a step back, motioning at Satan with his one good arm.  The Devil was suddenly upon him, flying at him.  Stuart laughed and stepped to the side at the last instant, sticking his foot out.  Satan tripped and tumbled across the asphalt.  He skidded, leaving behind half his face and a good bit of his chest on the road.  He didn’t stop sliding until he slipped off the road and into a ditch.  

            The crowd at the barricade burst into applause.

            Stuart bowed in acknowledgement and stumbled towards them.  As he did so, Satan stood and screamed at the top of his lungs.  The race was over.  He had lost.  And this, this impertinent young man had beaten him.  This weak, small, sniveling little punk had bested him, the most evil creature in the universe. 

The townspeople and the soldiers cried with jubilation and fell upon Stuart as he crossed the finish line.  They lifted him up on their shoulders and paraded him in a circle, chanting his name and shouting for joy. 

            Satan dusted himself off, watching the spectacle for a moment.  He reached into his pocket and pulled out his pipe.  He lifted it to his lips and cursed when he realized it was broken in two.  He tossed it to the ground and watched as the people of Angelville celebrated Stuart’s victory.  In the end, he had to smile.          It had been a century or two since a mortal had bested him in anything, so Satan felt it only right that he admire the small, sickly Stuart Selby and give him his due.

            Stuart, riding the shoulders of his fellow townsfolk, looked down at Satan and grinned as two of his teeth fell out.  His whole body hurt in ways he’d never known before, but he’d also never felt better in his life.  Satan saluted him.  Stuart bowed slightly towards Satan in acknowledgement. 

            When he looked up, the Devil and his minions were gone, the darkness that carpeted the skies had fled, and bright sunshine poured down upon the town and its cheering folk.  

 

    Stuart …

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