Deals with the Devil
Maenad spat out the blood pooling up in his mouth as he emerged from the dark alleyway and onto Main Street. His gloomy thoughts were swirling with an ugly combination of adrenaline and focus. The image of Hannah walking away from him seemed to be stuck on repeat in his mind; there was nothing he could do to stop it. Maenad breathed in sharply at the feeling of betrayal and winced as pain filled his abdomen. Nothing seemed to hurt worse than being played for a fool by someone you trusted. Maenad had taken a chance on the young outlaw and had nearly lost his life because of it. The Pinkerton’s Bonny had created had proven to be everything the Coalman had prophesied.
“Damn you, Bonny,” said Maenad as he stumbled on a cobblestone and fell to one knee. He gripped his rib cage and gritted his teeth. He had broken several ribs while fighting the Pinkertons. Maenad couldn’t help it, his body was shaking now as he tried to maintain his balance and composure. The people around him had stopped to witness the scene he was creating. They were staring at him kneeling in the street now; some even hesitating to help but thinking better of it. Maenad chuckled darkly at the sorry image of himself. He must have looked like a bloody mess to them.
Let them look, He thought. Let them all look!
Maenad didn’t care anymore; as a matter of fact, he was way past caring what any of these people thought. He tried to get to his feet again and stumbled back to the ground grimacing in pain as he went. His animal instinct was telling him to run away and hide like a beaten dog, but his heart was telling him otherwise. Maenad spat out more blood and watched as it drizzled from his lips and onto the ground. He waited for the dizziness to pass. Holding down the vomit in his throat, he steeled himself and then pulled himself up again. His legs wobbled as he pushed forward down Mains Street like a drunken fool. More blood spilled from his lips as he spoke to himself openly; not caring who heard.
“Damn you, Bonny!” He chuckled darkly. He could feel his body trying to heal itself and mitigate the pain. “You’re too damn smart for your own good.”
The people of Wichita pulled away from him as he walked past. They all were treating him as if he were diseased with a bad case of Red-Ear. They were treating him just like they treated his mother and brother. Maenad really couldn’t blame them for the harsh reaction. Deep down inside he understood why they all pulled away. They were all pulling away because he was nothing but a monster to them all. The man who had terrorized them for years as an outlaw on the Tarmac; robbing and killing. Maenad spat at the thought of their judging eyes. He had never killed anyone that didn’t deserve it.
These so called followers of The Lady of The Desert, thinking only of themselves. Thought Maenad bitterly as he met their strange gaze with one of his own. Their expressions seemed like they were lost in deep thought, as if pondering a tough question. Maenad noticed there was a darkness to their eyes that hadn’t been there before. It was like coal dust was leaking from their tear ducts and coating the eyelids. It was subtle but still noticeable in the gloom of the street lamps. There was something deeply wrong with the City. A bizarre shiver ran up Maenad’s legs and spread to his body like wildfire.
It was at this moment that a strange thoughts came to Maenads mind. They felt like they should be his, but yet… were not his. With each passing second the impressions grew stronger and stronger. Images danced round his mind like sparks caught up in a gentle breeze. It felt like they had always been there from the beginning; Starting with his birth and working outward. Maenad reached up and touched his head as if trying to focus on something important that was slipping away from him. There will always be someone to take care of you now, a soft voice spoke to him from within. It felt familiar, like an old friend was speaking back from his time in the desert, to lead you through the wilderness.
Maenad stumbled at the expression and nearly fell over again as his memories all began to disappear slowly into thin air. All the shortcoming of his lifetime and misdeeds were somehow a lie; they were false memories of a life he dreamed up for himself several years ago.
Don’t listen, Came another thought deep within. This voice was unfamiliar to Maenad as if filled his subconscious. It was the one that had told him to leave the God Killer back at the church. It sounded more authoritative, don’t listen.
Maenad hesitated as the words of the stranger shattered his thoughts and brought back all the pains of his brother’s death. It felt like a bucket of cold water to the face. The sound of the gun blast. The smell of the powder and blood in the air. The rage he had felt. The anger and lack of mercy he had shown to all in his path. The sadness that overwhelmed him every night alone in the cell he called his body. It was all real to him and not something he had dreamed up long ago in a cave in the middle of the desert. Maenad staggered in the street as if being punched in the gut. His heart thumped loudly in his ears as he relived it all in a single second. Black tears were coming to his eyes and streaming down his face. He could see them dripping from him like hot tar off a skillet. The words of the stranger in his thoughts repeating softly, “This is what is real Maenad. Accept it, Don’t Listen.”
Every memory returned again and with it the bitterness…
Maenad breathed out a sharp sigh and shook his head at all of it. He suddenly hated himself more than he had hated anything before in his life. He hated how he wanted to go back to the illusion he had been fed. The illusion where the pain of the past was no more than a fading memory of a former life. But, to Maenad, going back would feel like an act of cowardice… so he bore the pain again, and again. He bore the pain in memory of his brother and mother. He bore the pain of Jim and his father. He bore the failure of Hannah and the lost opportunities with Bonny. It crushed him inside… and at the same time it freed him.
“Damn you,” said Maenad to the voice that had provided the contrast. His thoughts were clearing up and his body felt renewed. The physical pains diminishing with each passing second. Save her, came the voice again as it faded away into the back of his mind. Maenad didn’t need to ask who it was that needed saving. He looked passed the dazed crowd to the ominous red glow in the distance. The sounds of gun blasts echoing into the night sky and people calling out for help was heard more clearly. It felt like someone had unstopped his ears. There was a war going on that would change the history of the world as they knew it.
Maenad darted forward and threaded his way through the crowd, pushing past the onlookers. He slowed down as the people ahead of him seemed to get more and more congested with every step. It seemed like the people of Wichita were all facing the same direction now; minds clouded by an unseen source. They all seemed to be looking toward the north side of the city where the governor’s mansions stood.
“Get out of my way!” Growled Maenad as he held up his broken shotgun and pulled the trigger. He winced in pain as the thing exploded into a hundred pieces above his head. It launched metal fragments into the throng; hitting a few pedestrians in the process. The loud blast of sound seemed to wake them up slightly. Maenad chucked the handle of the shotgun away and watched as a pathway opened up slowly. They all moved like cattle. The people of Wichita were staring at him on both sides of the street; it felt like a dark parade was being held in his honor. Their eyes slightly darkened around the edges as they accepted the new reality being fed them. Maenad noticed that some of them were crying black tears as they tried to fight the influence of the voice inside. Some of them gripping their skulls tightly as their memories faded into oblivion; being replaced by a new world order!
Was this really The Lady of The Night? Thought Maenad as he trotted past them in horror; seeing their genuine smiles as they succumbed. He was becoming more of a believer in his father’s words with each passing second. His father had said the Goddess would reveal herself to him real soon…was this that time? Never in the history of the Tarmac Desert had a God revealed itself like this one was.
“The vision of this new world is beautiful.” Shouted an onlooker as he stepped out slightly into the street ahead of Maenad. He was pointing to the cobblestones as he continued, “Look at the streets my brothers, they are paved with gold!” the people of the crowd gave in all at once to look at the road. They began to speak all around Maenad like mindless soothsayers; seeing signs and wonders that were not there. Their voices unsystematic as each one accepted the gift of peace offered by the Goddess of The Night.
“How beautiful!” They shouted their praises. Some even getting on their knees to feel the cobblestones with their hands. “In this new word we all are rich!”
An onlooker grabbed Maenad by the arm and slowed him down. She was smiling earnestly at him. Maenad could see some of her teeth were missing as she spoke, “The King of the Tarmac has stepped out among us as well!” She indicted to his ragged clothes as she spoke. She was seeing something that wasn’t there, “and what fine apparel he wears! Only the best for our king and his royal family!”
Maenad pulled his arm away from the demented woman. He watched as she stumbled forward and tried to regain her balance. He ran for the mansion before any more of the zealots could grab him and prophesy their visions.
“Oh praise be to The King of The Tarmac!” she shouted at him from behind, “May him and the Lady live forever in peace! May their posterity rule forever and ever over us!”
“Long live the king!” they all shouted as if at a revival.
Maenad ignored the strange comment as he focused on the Smash Estate. There was definitely something bigger than him or Hannah going on at the present moment. The words of the High Priestess ringing in his ears as he went along. She had said that a dark prophets was to come after all this was over. She had said that Hannah had spoken blasphemies in the name of Scylla. Had Hannah been overcome like them all?
Maenad wondered what all this garbage meant as he reached for the knife at his belt. His hand landed on empty leather as he realized he had lost it in the fight back with the Pinkertons. Maenad growled at this sudden revelation and pushed forward into the governor’s intersection. Beyond the open gates a huge bonfire raged and multiple gunshots erupted into the night again. People were still screaming out in pain… and then all at once a creepy silence filled the air around the manor.
Maenad’s senses became uneasy as he passed through the arched gate and into a world of chaos. He looked around the battered landscape for any signs of life. It felt like the end of the world. The ground around the outer courtyard was littered with the bodies of the party goers. Each one finely dressed, and each one dead. Their lifeless eyes gazing into the void of the storm above like turkeys. Large canopies were turned over and chairs were thrown about from the skirmish that had taken place. The people had panicked and tried to flee for their lives. They were all mowed down in the process of escape; some even making it to the inner wall.
Maenad froze as he noticed all the Pinkertons sitting on the grass around the yard. They looked like obedient children waiting for a story. Their knees were folded up against their chest and their arms wrapped around their big metal bodies. Some were even sitting next to multiple dead party goers with bullet holes in their heads and chests. Maenad didn’t need someone to explain to him what had happened. It was clear that this God-like entity had somehow taken control of Hannah. Had used all the Metal Men to kill the desert aristocracy and was now working on the minds of the people of Wichita. Maenad couldn’t believe he was actually considering this line of reasoning. It all sounded like madness! Like a fever dream!
Maenad shivered as the meaning of it all danced before his eyes. Everything inside of him was fighting against believing in religious fairy tales. He wanted to believe this was all Hannah’s doing, but everything seemed off. Maenad, himself, would have given in moments ago if it hadn’t been for the strange voice in his head telling him not to listen. It had somehow used his own pain to anchor him to the real world… but the thought of the pain leaving was still so tempting to him. One of the whole reasons for leaving the prison was to set things right and finally find peace again. Those illusions somehow offered him everything. Maenad found himself searching for the influence from before almost without thinking about it. He could feel it at the edge of his thoughts; just behind the pain barricade of his brother’s death and his lack of action to save Jim in the desert. He had to stay in this new world to make things right. He could do nothing really for his brother… but for Jim and Hannah he could still be something of importance. That is, if Jim was even still alive.
Maenad breathed out a heavy sigh as he considered this whole quest being in vain. If nothing came of it, what harm would it do giving in and forgetting it all? He considered his mortal state. It felt like damnation both inside and out remaining in the real world. Maenad approached the pain barricade again and flirted with the idea of leaving all the responsibility behind. All it would really take to bring back the peace was the willingness to let it all go. To give up his pain for a better life… a life where he could make better choices…and what was wrong with that?
Fear and cowardice blossomed in his chest.
“I can’t,” said Maenad as he pushed the thought away and kept moving. He cautiously approached a Pinkerton on the east side lawn. This one didn’t look like it was hibernating like the others. It was laying on its side with a big hole in its chest cylinder. Sparks were jumping from the open cavity as motor oil leaked onto the grass. The thick oily substance gave the appearance of blood, but Maenad knew better. It smelled nothing like blood. The head of the Pinkerton turned suddenly and watched as he approached. The orbital disk was cracked in several places and the light beyond the glass was dimmed.
Maenad froze at the sudden movement from the Metal Man. He had danced with these machines moments ago and new what they were capable of. He flinched as it buzzed out slightly. The left arm of the Pinkerton fell forward and landed in the grass with all the oil. The green orbital disc going out forever as a black and white picture fell from its damaged hand. Maenad waited for a second to see if it would spring back to life; nothing happened. He cautiously walked over and picked up the photograph and studied it. In the picture could be seen a young girl sitting on the kettle heads lap. She couldn’t have been more than 10 years old when the picture was taken. On the back of the photo was written these words in poor penmanship:
You’re one of the family Sam.
Maenad rubbed his thumb over the lettering and watched as the graphite smeared slightly. He wasn’t a fan of the rich and powerful; Heck, he had spent a good portion of his life robbing them blind. They were the only ones that could actually afford the cost of a Pinkerton. This Rose girl was no doubt from an upper class family that had purchased the thing for protection.
Maenad eventually set the image of the girl and her machine back on the lawn and reached for the Pinkerton’s gun. It was at this moment he saw the body of the child laying in the grass behind the chest cylinder. He didn’t need to move the young girl to know she was dead. He could see it in her eyes from where he crouched on the lawn. The flames of the burning mansion behind him was casting enough light on the corpse.
Maenad had seen that look of shock in a lot of men… but never in a child as young as Rose. Regardless of her affluence in society, the kid didn’t deserve the hand she had been dealt just moments ago. He reached over to her and ran his fingers over her eyelids; closing them properly. Something deep down inside of Maenad was telling him he was going to see Jim’s lifeless body. He cringed at the thought of another failure.
Maenad looked back over to the severely damaged Pinkerton lying next to the girl. It was far more damaged than any of the rest. Had the Pinkerton tried to protect her? Thought Maenad as he pulled the gun out of the holster and studied the landscape for clues. In the light of the bonfire he could see no other Pinkertons in the same condition as this one. Maenad flipped open the gun and counted the bullets inside by spinning the barrel with his free hand. They were still in the revolver; unfired. He stood up as an ear piercing scream sounded from the east side of the Estate. It sounded like a young woman was in distress.
“Please no, don’t do this!” She screamed.
“Christina, don’t watch…” Said a familiar voice. “I love you My Little Wichita Pea…”
A loud bang was heard before the man could finish his statement. The young woman screeched out into the night like a wounded dog. Her voice tormented and pained. Maenad’s sharp eyes landed on a big barn on the far side of the yard. Its massive structure almost camouflaged against the inner wall. Maenad jumped over the Metal Man and sprinted for it at full speed. His boots crunched against the gravel as he spotted a slight opening in the barn door. A soft glow was spilling out and the sound of bitter sobbing could be heard on the other side. Maenad rushed for the opening and jumped through the door headfirst. He dropped to the ground and rolled behind a work bench in the center of the room.
Maenad held up his gun and pulled the hammer back into place with his thumb; the action relieved the poundage on the trigger. He tried to control his breathing and slow his heartbeat. His aim would suffer if he didn’t control the anxiety welling up inside. Maenad turned and peaked out over the work bench. His eyes landed on the sobbing girl below the loft. Her hands were over her face and her chest was heaving in and out with every harsh breath she took. Maenad could see she was kneeling next to the body of her dead father. Blood was spilling out from the head wound and coating the barn floor like a bad varnish. The smell of gore and horse manure was overwhelming.
Just when it seemed like the bitter mourning of the girl would reach its apex…it suddenly stopped. The air filled with a bizarre silence; one that could be felt on the skin. Maenad shivered at it as he watched the hands drop away from Christina’s face. A perplexed look slowly began to take over the sad visage; as if she was confused as to what she was doing there in the first place. Her hands lifted again and touched her forehead lightly. She eventually ran her fingers through her long blond curls and pulled her hair back and away from her face. She turned and looked at Maenad. It looked like she was seeing right through him; as if the outlaw didn’t exist.
Maenad stood up slowly as he studied her eyes. There was a darkness around the edge that was becoming more and more pronounced with every passing second. Her lips were moving slightly as she pushed herself backwards into the stable door. Her long slender legs stretched out into the blood of her father; staining her stockings and dress. Black tears drizzled down her soft white cheeks as she fought to regain control of her memories. Maenad walked around the bench; keeping his eyes on the girl. He was wondering if the trauma of seeing her father murdered before her eyes would create a significant pain barricade. Christina looked like she was having a hard time making a decision to stay in this world.
Maenad knew the feeling.
Eventual the tears stopped coming and Christina smirked at the new world order forming around her fragile mind. Her voice was soft but audible now, “Oh, how beautiful.” She stood up, the blood of her father dripping from her clothes, and looked down at her dress. “I have been made a princess.” She looked over to Maenad and seemed shocked to find him there. She eventually curtsied and motioned for the door. “You majesty.”
Maenad was tight lipped as he watched the girl wander out from the barn.
“They are only visions for now,” came a voice from the loft.
Maenad didn’t turn to look at who spoke. His eyes were still on the open door. He knew it was Hannah, or at least she was professing to be Hannah. “Visions of what?”
“A society of peace and happiness. A society where there is no more suffering and no injustice. Where people’s pain melts away and every human gets along,” said Hannah as she played with a long branding prod. She traced out the big letter ‘S’ at the end of the rod with one of her slender fingers. It had been the same one that had branded Jim months ago. “Once everyone is on the same page. We will begin turning it into a reality.” She pointed at the open door that Christina had walked out. “What they are seeing is the blueprint. It’s the beginning of better things for the whole human race. When it actually becomes a reality, the influence will diminish.”
“What if someone stepped up and stops it from happening!” said Maenad.
Hannah chuckled at this futile argument. Everything was playing out to her liking. “You always were stubborn Maenad. It’s one of the many things that I like about you.”
Maenad watched as Hannah’s eyes sunk in and went completely black. It looked as if the mere husk of the outlaw was speaking to him now. It was unsettling. Maenad set his jaw as he spoke, “You don’t know me demon! I am not your property!”
Hannah draped her legs over the loft and lifted a hand at this rebellious comment. It was clear that some elucidation needed to take place. Maenad had known her almost all his life he just didn’t see it yet. She placed her thumb and middle finger together and snapped them.
The effect on the outlaw was quick and overpowering. Pungent emotion erupted in Maenad’s chest like a bomb that had been planted there ages ago. The sudden presence of it sucked the breath right out of him like a vacuum. Tears came to his eyes as he dropped his gun and fell to his knees like a wounded stag. He clinched his chest as the barn around him faded away from view and a desert landscape opened up before him. Maenad knew where he was almost instantly.
He had been transported to the lowlands of the Tarmac Desert; he had been transported home. The dark image of an outlaw sitting on an iron rock caught his eyes. It was at this point that Maenad knew he was somehow reliving one of his fondest memories. The man in the image was him, but he wasn’t alone. He was sitting next to some strange being from the other side. Her skin was radiant like bright silver and her dark hair danced in an unknown breeze.
Maenad could see the strange woman stroking his arm and leaning into him; whispering to him. The feelings of the old ways came rushing back to Maenad like a punch to the gut. It was warm and comforting, like the embrace of an old friend after a long absence.
Maenad was speechless. It had been this feeling that had come with him through hell and high water. It had been the motivating force that drove him to pursue Jessica through the desert. It had drove him to escape the prison and make things better with the people he hurt. He could feel the intoxicating emotion radiating off the woman like the rays from the sun. Before Maenad could comment, the memory faded away and was replaced by another. Jim’s youthful voice sounding through the ether; it was only a whisper, but it was still audible. Maenad could hear himself having a conversation with the kid. It was a conversation he remembered all too well:
“Do you believe in God?”
Maenad came to his feet slowly as the image of him and Jim riding the steel horse appeared before his eyes. It was strange to view himself like this. It felt like he was having an out of body experience. They were at the edge of a massive cliff in the middle of the Tarmac Desert waiting for a bullet train to appear. Maenad recognized the place as ‘Dead Man’s Pass’. The silver skinned woman from before was standing between the two horses listening to the conversation unfold between Jim and him. She seemed genuinely interested in what Jim had to say on the subject of theology.
Maenad watched as the shadow of himself continue the conversation:
“Jim, you’ll be okay.”
The silver skinned woman nodded her head at this comment and reached over to the shadowed version of Maenad sitting on the steel horse. She touched his arm, and when she did this, the feeling transferred from the memory to the real Maenad. He looked down at his arm. He could actually feel her soft fingertips now on his own skin.
“My dad was a big believer in God,” said Jim.
Both the shadow version of Maenad and the strange woman smiled at this.
“Yeah, was he?” asked the shadow Maenad.
“Yeah, he was,” said Jim. “And he was a big believer in doing what was right so that you could get back to live with him in the clouds.”
Maenad could see the silver skinned woman smile broadly at this declaration and placed her hands over her face as if embarrassed by the comment. She looked over to Jim and shook her head. Her voice was soft as she spoke to Jim, “You still have a lot to learn.”
Shadow Jim couldn’t hear her.
“God lives in the clouds?” said shadow Maenad incredulously.
The silver skinned woman chuckled at this and scolded the shadow Maenad. “No, he doesn’t live in the clouds. Stop teasing the boy, Maenad. Be encouraging to him!”
“Yeah, he lives in the clouds,” said shadow Jim as he looked up into the sky. “But you have to be good in order to live with him.”
“I supposed that sounds good,” said shadow Maenad.
“Do you think we are doing the right thing in robbing the train, Maenad? Do you think that there’s room for second chances in this world?”
“I would say it’s debatable,” said shadow Maenad
“Do you think that God likes to debate?” asked shadow Jim
The real Maenad watched as both him and the silver skinned woman laughed at this comment. It felt like three friends had met out in the desert and where having a good time. The conversation played out until the bullet train appeared through the pass and both him and Jim disappeared over the edge of the cliff. Maenad stood there transfixed by the scene and the feelings welling up in his chest. He had felt all these things and could not deny it. He turned to the strange woman standing next to the edge. She was looking at him now. Maenad watched as she blew him a kiss and tilted off the cliff, disappearing from view.
Before Maenad could follow them over the cliff, the landscape faded away into nothing. Memory after memory replayed before his eyes until everything went black and the feeling of falling took over.
Maenad couldn’t tell if he were alive or dead.