I hope I’m not too late, he thought as he walked up to the house. He rapped smartly on the door, composing his face into an appropriately mournful expression before anyone opened the door.
He was just in time. As soon as he was ready, the door swung wide, and the man who opened the door said, “Father. You’re here. Thank God, I don’t think he has much time.”
The man nodded. “I understand. Where is he?”
He was led into a small room at the end of the hall. It stank of medicine, and illness, and impending death.
The little old man was sitting up, propped up in bed by several pillows. “You are George Wilkins, correct?” he asked. The man in the bed nodded. “It’s good to see you, father.”
He nodded, then turned to the man that had escorted him into the room and said, “Can I have some time alone with him? The anointing of the sick is a very... private ritual.”
Without any hesitation, the man nodded and left the two of them alone.
The priest walked over to the side of the bed and eased himself into the chair that was set up by the side of the bed.
“You know why I’m here, I assume?” the priest said.
George nodded, swallowing nervously. “I think so. I don’t have much longer to live, do I?”
The priest didn’t answer immediately, then slowly, somberly, nodded. “I’m here to perform the last rites, George. I understand that it is extremely important to you to confess your sins, is that correct?”
George nodded again. “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned, and I am frightened for my immortal soul.”
The priest settled into the chair. “Continue, my child.”
George’s lip trembled, and it took him a moment before he said, “I don’t quite know how to begin, Father. I... I suppose it started when I was twenty-seven.”
The priest cocked an eyebrow. “That long ago?”
George nodded, then continued. “I... I think I sold my soul to the devil when I was twenty-seven.”
At this, the priest leaned forward. “Indeed? Continue.”
George took a deep breath, then said, “When I was twenty seven, I was very hard up. I had no money, no job, no prospects. I was on the verge of being homeless, and I had a family to support. In the very extremities of my suffering, I pleaded for deliverance from whoever was listening. I had honorable intentions, Father, I really did. I prayed as long as I could, imploring God for help with my current situation for weeks. And then, in desperation, I made a deal with the devil. At least, I think I did. I don’t know. I mean, I said it half joking, but the next day I found a job. After that, everything started improving. I got promoted within a year. Within ten years I was made vice president. I was able to retire at fifty. And ever since then, the memory of that deal has plagued me. I know it is impertinent of me to ask this, Father, but is there anyway to find my way back into God’s loving arms?”
The priest folded his legs, then unfolded them just as quickly, as though he were unsure what to do with himself. “I don’t know. But I can certainly try.”
George nodded. “It would mean a great deal to me, Father.”
The priest stood, taking a bottle of anointed oil from the folds of his clothing, and he began applying this to the old man’s forehead, carefully making the shape of a crucifix. “Through this holy anointing, may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit,” he intoned. After a moment, George closed his eyes.
Faintly, the priest murmured, “Did you really think it would be that easy, you old fool?”
“What was that, Father?” George asked, although his voice was already weaker.
“In pace requiescat,” the priest murmured. He grabbed one of the pillows out from under George and pressed it to his face. George struggled for a moment, and then gradually his frenetic movements slowed, and finally, stopped.
The priest stood up, smoothing out his clothing before he stepped out into the hallway beyond. “I’m sorry,” he said. “He’s gone.”
The man waiting outside nodded, his face working with emotion. He seemed determined not to cry in front of the priest, although it would be a close thing. The priest decided to help him accomplish this, and excused himself as quickly as possible.
The man was still crying to himself an hour later when someone knocked at the door. He opened it to find a priest standing on his front step. “I’m sorry. I got here as soon as I could. Am I too late to perform the last rites?”
“Long ago in this town lived an old man,” I said, using my scariest voice. Well, not my scariest voice, but the scariest voice I could use in front of this crowd. “They say that years ago he was murdered this very night, not out of love, not out of greed, but sheerly out of spite.”
“What does spite mean?” someone asked, and he was quickly shushed by the others. “They say these are his remains,” I continued.
I began passing around the objects. “This is his brain, which no longer feels any pain.” I handed around an old, squishy tomato, and there were several squeals and a chorus of “Ewww,” from the boys.
“These are his eyes, still frozen in surprise.” Two peeled grapes began making the rounds, with much the same result.
“Here is his heart. Be careful lest it start.” I passed around a chunk of liver.
“Now we have his hair, which once was so fair.” I passed around some corn silk, and I heard someone say, “Is this really hair? Did your mom really kill this guy or what?”
I ignored it for now. “Feel these drops of his blood. These are all that’s left, the rest turned to mud.” I heard someone scream, and then go running out of the room.
“One hand, all alone, just rotting flesh and bone.” I gotta admit, I was really enjoying this. I had never had a chance to play this game when I was younger, and even though it was morbid as hell, it was kind of fun. I passed around a rubber glove that I’d filled with pudding earlier. Hey, it’s not my fault that I didn’t find out Chris doesn’t like tapioca until after I’d bought three boxes.
“Now touch his ear. He nevermore will hear!” I boomed. I was getting into this now. I mean, it’s not like I was reading them “The Raven” or anything, but I was doing my damnedest to sound good. A dried apricot made the rounds.
“This is his nose. He will never again smell a rose,” I said, passing around a chunk of hot dog.
“These worms are all that’s left to feel. For them, the old man made a lovely meal.” As soon as the spaghetti began making the rounds, I stood up and walked over. I knew that this was mean, but I couldn’t resist.
“There’s one more thing to see, before you set sail. Feast your eyes on the old man’s tail.”
With that, I threw on the lights, and all the kids looked over at me to see my tail waving around behind me. There was a moment of stunned silence, and then as one, the kids started screaming in that high pitched scream that only seems to happen in movies. A few seconds later, the basement was empty except for me and Chris.
Chris was wearing a look of sheer exasperation that didn’t fit on his six-year old face. “Mom,” he said crossly. “That wasn’t funny.”
I walked back over to the table, picking up the hot dog, glove, and spaghetti from where they’d fallen in the mad dash to vacate the basement. “It was kinda funny.”
Chris sighed, and said, “Now all the kids are gonna think I have a freak for a mom.”
I sat down next to Chris and said, “No, they won’t. Cheer up, kiddo. It’s Halloween. All that’s gonna happen is all your friends are going to have nightmares for about a week, and then everyone at school will think you have the coolest mom in the entire first grade.”
“Maybe,” he said, still not entirely convinced.
I threw an arm around him and squeezed him tightly. “Oh, come on. Tomorrow, everyone will ask you if my tail is real. All you have to do is say no, it was your mom’s idea of a joke, and then everyone will tell you that they knew it was fake all along.”
“So you want me to lie to my friends?” he asked.
I sighed. “Look, kiddo. Normally, I would say no. But you know how things are. You and me, we’re special. I mean, how many other kids do you know that can say their daddy was an angel?”
“Was he really? Or are you just saying that?” Chris said, and there was a weird look on his face that I didn’t like. He was smart for his age, but sometimes I wish he would look and act more like a normal six-year old. That was impossible, though. I ensured that he wouldn’t be normal, no matter how hard either of us tried.
“What do you mean, Chris? Have those kids at school been bugging you again?”
He shook his head, then screwed his face up into a little ball and said, “Mommy, what’s a tramp?”
I felt my breath catch in my throat, and I said, “Why, baby?”
“Well, Tyler Murphy says that I don’t have a daddy because you’re a tramp. Is a tramp a bad thing?”
To be honest with you, I was glad that Mr. Tyler Murphy wasn’t among the kids who had been invited to the party, because if he’d have been here, I’d have marched him upstairs, washed his mouth out with soap, and then slapped the holy living shit out of him.
“Don’t listen to Tyler Murphy, sweetheart. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Now you listen to me, okay? You are a very special little boy, who has a very special daddy that loves him. Do you hear me?”
He leaned in closer to me, and I hugged him to my chest.
“Yeah. I guess. But if he loves me so much, where is he?”
“Baby, we’ve been over this. He’s gone. He went to heaven. But he’s watching over you right now. And I know he loves you very, very much.”
He was crying now, and I had to bite my lip to keep from joining him. It was getting easier not having Steve or Chris around to watch over me, but it was never exactly what I’d call easy. I’d only known Chris for a little over two days before he’d been killed, but in those two days I ran the entire gauntlet of emotions over him. He’d been an angel, and had been really confused over his feelings for me as soon as he found out I was half-demon. I saved his life and nursed him back to health, keeping a constant vigil until he was awake. That was when things went bad. When he first awoke, he was freaking out. He didn’t want to be anywhere near me, let alone at my mercy in my house. Steve, who was as close to a father as I ever had in my life, eventually (and I say eventually like it took more than fifteen minutes) convinced him that I wasn’t the kill-everything-that-moves variety of demon. After that, we made love.
God, it sounds so sleazy when I put it like that. Let me get one thing straight with you before we go any further. Half-demon or not, Steve raised me to be a good little Catholic girl, and I don’t normally make a habit of sleeping with any stray dick that happens to swing my way, okay? But this guy... He was different, somehow. I think he put it best. He said, “Monica, I know the way God works, and I know he has a plan for everybody. I think this is part of what he has planned for me,” or something to that effect. I can’t remember exactly anymore, and that scares me. It seems like every day I lose another little piece of him, and I had so little to begin with that I don’t want to lose anymore.
Now, in case you aren’t familiar with me, let me catch you up to speed. My name is Demonica Valios, and I am a half-human, half-demon hybrid. I was born on October 31st, about thirty two years ago, one year to the day that my mother was brought in screaming. She was screaming because she had been beaten and raped by a man who she said didn’t look like a man at all, but a combination of man, cat, toad, and spider. This was Ba’al, my father.
Anyway, Steve, the man that I really consider to be my father, was a doctor at the hospital where my mother was taken. He witnessed my birth, and then later found me in an alley a couple of blocks away. He tried to kill me at first, but then my tail knocked some sense into him, and he took me home and raised me as his own.
Steve tried to raise me as a normal kid, but seeings how I could light the candles on my birthday cake with my breath, normal wasn’t exactly something that came easy to me. Eventually, Steve realized that my having a normal life was impossible, so he started training me in every martial art that he could enroll himself in.
Long story short, I used to be an absolute badass. Used to be.
That was before Death took both of them from me.
It’s a lot harder to get over Steve, because sometimes it seems like he’s still here, you know? I mean, I don’t live in the same plantation anymore, but sometimes it seems like I’ll walk into my cramped little kitchen and see Steve making an omelette, or walk into my living room and see him hunched over a book, poring over a vital passage of the Necronomicon. It just seems like his death creeps up on me every now and then, biting me in the ass in little ways. I mean, I know he’s gone, but sometimes I just hear him chiming in with his little nuggets of wisdom, using that droll tone of voice that seemed to be his and his alone.
Sometimes, I think I’d trade everything I have right now just to hear him one last time, to sit at his feet and hear him tell the story of my birth again, just to hear his description of finding me in that alley, with the little aside that he always put in-“Of course, I’d never do that now, Monica,“-as he described holding the scalpel to my throat.
God, I miss him sometimes.
But I’ve got Chris now. Chris is my little angel, and I may just mean that in a literal way. Right now, he isn’t showing any signs that he inherited anything from either me or his father. He doesn’t have any wings, horns, halos or tail. He looks like an absolutely normal little six year old boy.
After he was born, I wore out my welcome at the convent pretty quickly, and I found this place. It’s a nice little roach hotel of an apartment, right in the heart of New Orleans. Just like Steve always wanted.
I try my best to keep the two of them alive, though, at least in spirit. Chris’s full name is actually Steven Christopher Valios, after the two most important men in my life. Well, aside from Mike.
Mike’s name is actually Herbert Jankiewicz, but he had it legally changed when he set up shop as a private investigator. The way he tells it, he tried being a modern day P.I., but he wasn’t able to make enough money to have some coins to jingle in his pocket. After a couple of thugs came and worked him over with lead pipes and brass knuckles, he changed the name on the door to Mike Diamond and went about doing his best Humphrey Bogart impression. After that, the money came rolling in... kind of.
That’s actually how he met me and Penelope. He was hired by my father to track me down and keep me safe. Of course, he didn’t know that he was dealing with a demon at the time, but I don’t think he would have turned down the half-million dollars that Ba’al brought with him even if he’d come into his office complete with red skin, tail, and horns.
That’s not fair. I didn’t mean to make him sound like an unscrupulous bastard who will do anything for a quick buck, because he’s not. He and Penelope have been married for nearly seven years now, and he’s never treated her like anything less than a queen. Even when she was less than courteous to him, he was still an alright guy around her.
I don’t know how much of her affection was already there and how much of it spawned when Mike took a bullet for her, but Penelope did almost a complete one eighty on her stance with Mike. She went from being a complete and total bitch to him, to being the happily married Mrs. Penelope Diamond. As a wise man once said, Ain’t love grand?
Chris was still crying, but he was starting to slow down, taking the little hitching breaths every couple of seconds that signal the end of a tantrum. I held him close to me and made soft, shushing sounds until he stopped completely.
“Come on,” I said when the sobs had stopped completely. “We gotta get you dressed. Mike and Penelope will be here any minute to take you trick or treating. Don’t you want to go?”
He wiped a big runner of snot away with his sleeve, and I had to really restrain myself not to scold him for that. We’d had enough tears for now, and I didn’t want to get him started again, because I knew that this time I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from joining in.
“Yeah. I guess,” he said finally, and he stood up, snorting another string of snot back in. God, I love the kid, but he’s still just a little six year old who still thinks the word fart is endlessly hilarious, and sometimes I have to remind myself just how gross six year olds really are.
He could and had put his costume on by himself, but as I was walking around getting myself ready, he said, “Mom? Could you come and help me?”
I nodded, holding a pair of felt demon horns loosely in my hands. Halloween is the one time of year that a demon isn’t out of place, so I usually dress up as one so I can go out in public without having to tape my tail down.
“Yeah, baby. I’ll be right in.”
It hurt to see Chris in his Halloween costume. I asked him what he wanted to be this year, and he’d looked me right in the eyes and said, “I wanna be an angel.”
It wasn’t exactly the most high-tech of costumes, consisting mostly of a sheet that I’d cut a hole out of for his head and a halo made out of coat hangers, but it was enough that you could tell what he was supposed to be.
“Well, what do you think?” I asked him. He was standing on a little step stool that he normally used to brush his teeth, and he was looking morosely at himself in the mirror.
“Is that what angels look like?” he asked.
I shook my head. “Not quite.” With that, I disappeared into my room.
I’m kind of a sucker for surprising my boy, because I’ve seen that hurt look on his face way too often. I’m sure it hasn’t been easy having me for a mother, especially since there’s no daddy to help balance me out, and sometimes it seems like he’s just too moody. So I try to surprise him into a smile whenever I can.
Which is why I spent the last two weeks while he was at school scouring all the costume shops for a really nice set of angel wings. I’d found some that were nearly as large as Chris himself, covered with glitter and made with real feathers. They were realistic enough that if they’d actually been attached to his back, Chris might have been able to fly with them.
I dug them out of the closet where I’d been hiding them for three days and walked out with them, saying, “Angels need to have wings before they look like angels.”
Chris poked his head out of the bathroom door, his eyes lighting up like a slot machine when he saw the wings, and he came bounding over happily. The wings had straps like a backpack, and I helped him into them and adjusted the straps until the wings fit like a glove. “Lemme see, lemme see,” he said, running back over to the bathroom. I followed him in, enjoying the broad grin plastered all over his face.
For a minute, he actually looked like a kid ready to go trick or treating.
“Just like Dad,” he said.
I said something about having to go get ready, and ran off to my room, sobbing quietly so he wouldn’t hear.
A few minutes later, the doorbell rang, and I wiped my eyes before I opened the door.
As soon as I opened the door, Penelope came rushing in, giving me a quick hug and peck on the cheek. “Nice costume, Monica,” she said. “Very original.”
Mike nodded to me, raising a hand in typical guy fashion. “How you doing, dollface?”
“Hey,” Penelope cut in. “I thought I was the only one you called that.”
“How’s it going, guys?” I asked, hoping to cut them off before they started with the whole routine. I mean, I absolutely love both of them to death, but there is nothing more annoying than being around two people who are madly in love when you are very single. “So who are you supposed to be?” I asked.
Penelope took a little spin in her outfit, which looked almost identical to Mike’s. They were both wearing long brown overcoats and fedoras. “Can’t you tell?” she asked. “We’re Rick and Ilsa, from Casablanca.”
“Okay... ” I said. “Come on, Mike. You’re supposed to dress up for Halloween.”
He laughed. “Hey, look who’s talking.”
“Hi, Uncle Mike. Hey, Aunt Penelope.”
I turned to see Chris coming down the stairs, looking absolutely adorable in his costume. Penelope apparently agreed with this assessment, because she nearly knocked me over in her mad dash to coo over him. Mike just gave Chris that same raise of the hand that I’d gotten, and said, “How’s it going there, tiger?”
“Good,” Chris answered, trying to squirm out of Penelope’s grasp. I’m pretty sure that she hated having her cheeks pinched just as much as the rest of us when she was a little kid, but I will be damned if she wasn’t standing two feet away, doing the same damn thing to my kid. I knew she and Mike had been trying to have one of their own, but so far, zip. I think that might have had something to do with Mike’s behavior around Chris. He always seemed like he was trying too hard be his friend, and he just came off as phony. He was a great guy, but he just couldn’t get Chris to like him no matter how hard he tried.
“Um, Penelope?” I said, trying to get her attention. “We should probably get going. It’s starting to get dark, and I want to get him home before all the perverts come out of the woodwork.”
“Oh, come on, Monica,” she said, straightening up. “What kind of pervert would be dumb enough to try and steal a kid from a demon? And besides, if he tried anything, you could just fuck him up with your tail.”
“Hey!” I said. “Language.”
“Ooh. Sorry. Old habits die hard.”
“You’ll die hard if you drop the f-bomb in front of my kid one more time, you old hag.”
She swatted me playfully and said, “Yeah, yeah. You’re three months older than me, so watch who you’re calling a hag, you whore.”
“Mom, what’s a whore?” Chris asked.
“Never you mind, let’s go.”
With that, we all stepped out into the cold, dark night. Happy birthday to me, I realized. Happy birthday to me.