In Rides the Devil -- Short Stories

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The Urn

It was late spring of 1946 when Jacob Franz Baranoski hobbled off the train with the help of a cane. He held a leather satchel that weighed him down. He panted for a breathe as he waited until he was alone on the platform. The hour was late when he made his way down a vacant street and withdrew the last thing his father had owned: a pocket watch. It had taken him two years to track it down after the fall of the Third Reich. He stood under the streetlight with his reading glasses on, trying to read the watch dial. It was two hours ahead of Luxembourg time. As he slipped the old family heirloom back into his tweed coat pocket, he looked around for the one he came all this way to meet. Jacob had used every penny he had to find those that had killed his granddaughter, the last in his line.

“I hope the trip wasn’t too long,” a young man said from behind.

Jacob looked back and gave a pleasant nod, “Patrin, nice to see you again. I got your message on the wire, and so I had to come down and see them for myself.”

“Was it that necessary?” The young man sniffed. “You could’ve just had me do it.”

“Nonsense,” Jacob looked around, “you’re still a pupil. What I have with me,” he lifted the leather satchel as if guessing its weight, “should only be done by a Mishnah; not a neophyte like you.”

They walked beside each other.

Jacob limped with the help of the cane, as he had done since years of captivity in a concentration camp.

“At least let me help with the burden of carrying it alone.”

“Very well, then.” Jacob handed the satchel over to Patrin.

Patrin took the bag. “It’s heavier than I thought.”

“What can you tell me about those that killed my granddaughter?”

“They were from a group called Amerikadeutscher Bund.”

“American Nazis in Luxembourg!” he spat out in disgust. “I figured they only remained in America.”

“They’re everywhere, like rats.”

Jacob stopped pacing briefly, “so you do know where these monsters are staying?”

“Yes,” Patrin opened his jacket to show off the Luger pistol he kept in a leather shoulder holster.

“What is this?” Jacob exclaimed, “Now we’re bringing guns?”

“You don’t approve, Mishnah?”

“Of course, I don’t approve.” Jacob padded the leather satchel Patrin held. “What’s in here should be enough.”

“But what if it doesn’t work, Jacob? Then what are we going to do?” Patrin shook his head, “this is why I brought this along.”

“Have you not seen the extent of the battle for freedom has cost Europe?” Jacob gestured around. “Not just for our people, but for all people that long to be free and unmolested by tyranny. He gestured for the satchel to go back into his hands and motioned for the young man to see the contents within.”

Patrin opened his mouth in shock, removed his cap, and held it to his chest. “You messaged me, but I thought it was in code.” He reached out to touch the item but hesitated.

“It’s not a toy to be played with, Patrin.” Jacob closed the satchel. “It is real, and I will prove it to you.”

“I know, but you’re not planning to actually-” Patrin wore a look of concern, “I mean, it can’t be possible, right?”

Jacob held up a wrinkled hand, “just show me where they are. Then we’ll see what’ll happen.”

“They are holding up in an abandoned house just a little ways from here. They are waiting for a message from the Homeland.” Patrin winked, “but you see, my old friend, I set up the meeting for you.”

“You set this up?” Jacob wagged a finger at Patrin. “I had no idea you could-”

“Forging passports and documents is my specialty,” Patrin contended to carry the leather satchel over his shoulder as they walked. “You of all people know this to be true, yes?”

Jacob nodded, knowing how the young man had managed to save him and some of his people from the concentration camps. Some saved by buying their freedom, others by producing falsified documents of their heritage and birthright. He did anything he could to get them to freedom overseas, in the new world.

But Jacob knew better than to run. He knew how to fight.

He did all he could to make the Nazis pay for their global deception. They sent agents throughout the world to infiltrate and indoctrinate the world to accept the elimination of the Jews and whoever stood in their way while inciting hatred and swallowing countries whole, then devouring innocent lives like the scourge they were.

They came to the abandoned house. One of the remaining walls flickered with firelight from within. There was a murmur of voices, followed by a chorus of laughter.

“How should we do this?” Patrin handed the leather satchel back to Jacob, then slipped his hand into his tweed jacket for his pistol.

Jacob gently set the leather satchel down and pried open what was left of the front door. In his hand, he held his cane. Four strapping young men sat in the middle of the room, surrounding a bond fire rising from an empty oil tank. Smoke and ash licked upwards in the night over a collapsed roof. In unison, they spun towards the door and stopped their jovial banter.

“Who’re you?” The biggest one in the group advanced as Jacob swung his cane up and caught the man between his neck and chin. The strongman howled in pain as he dropped. His eyes revealed the pain and fear as he coughed in a fit for breath. The three others in the group eyed each other for a reaction. One of them pulled out a knife and was about to lung forwards. Patrin came up with his Luger pointing at the man’s face.

“Setz dich alle hin!” Patrin said in perfect German. “Alles von Dir!” He grimaced, “Sitzen!”

The men obeyed. The injured man held his neck and shuffled over to the others in his group. The four men scowled back at the two strangers. Their eyes full of indignity and rage, like rats trapped in a corner without hope of escape.

Jacob knew that look so well. He had seen it before in the eyes of the Nazi Soldiers and Officers that sicced their German Shepherds on the prisoners—laughing as their victims screamed and joked amongst them that what they were doing was justifiable. Then again, he saw it in the eyes of the Americans as they liberated the prisoners remaining in the concentration camps. Jacob noted that same look when they rounded up the Nazi sympathizers to hang them or place them before a firing squad for allowing such atrocity.

Even the death count blurred perception of right and wrong and shattered the very psyche of the world at a certain point. But still, even though all that, it never stopped the corruptible. Evil always remained a constant in one form or another. Jacob knew that if you set a malevolence force upon a lesser one, often enough, it would return victorious, but over time even the strongest of opponents had a weakness. Hatred alone could spill blood and shatter bone, but not spirit. Jacob needed a tour-de-force to eliminate his enemies in one fell swoop.

That’s when he had decided to find a Shedim of his own, particularly one mentioned in the Talmud, Zohar, and cryptic texts uncovered in a medieval Kabbalah. He set upon a pilgrimage of the occult by haunting and clambering over ruined libraries, synagogues, and bomb-blasted Hebrew temples to search for the one manifestation that was an insult to God himself.

In his heart, he was a man beyond redemption, beyond forgiveness.

Four young men sat on their knees glaring hatefully from their bonds up at Jacob and Patrin. Patrin had the Luger pointed at them, and at one point, pistol-whipped the lippiest one in the group. He even had to threaten to shoot the bastard in the leg if he continued to test his patience. Jacob liked Patrin’s hatred for the Germans and his ability to sniff them out after the war. To find a rat, you needed a rat catcher.

“I am no Hebrew,” Patrin stood back away from the one he clocked upside the head. “I am Romani, and if you must know, I am a baptized Orthodox Christian.”

“So?” Spat the other captive in German. “You’re still going to pay for this, Gypsy. When our brothers-”

Patrin placed the barrel of the Luger in the man’s mouth to shut him up. “I lost my whole family to scum like you in the camps. I am the last of my kind. With your aerial bombs, tanks, and Sturmabteilung, you managed to level my village and all that surrounded it. I am now a man without a home or country. Death is too good for you.”

“That’s enough, Patrin. Soon enough, they will know true Hell.” Jacob was removing a little wax-sealed metal urn from the leather satchel and set it down with a row of tiny black candles and a chalk outline around his position. “By the hand of God and his angels, I promise you eternal vengeance.” He dug out a weathered little leather-bound notebook and started to flip through the marked pages.

“W-what do you mean?” Patrin noticed that he was not in the chalked circle. “What are you doing?”

“You see this?” Jacob held up the metal urn. “It was forged from melted down fillings the Nazis pulled from our people’s mouths.” After he placed it down, he then pulled a small leather pouch from his pocket jacket. With two of his calloused fingers, he sprinkled ashes from the pouch. “This is the cremated ashes taken from a large oven, constructed to rid our people’s bodies in the concentration camps; after their victims were led into showers, filled with carbon monoxide.”

“What you have taken with you from all that atrocity is unspeakable,” Patrin nodded with his head, “I dread to think what you keep in that urn.”

“Merely a component of conjuring something powerfully diabolical in the most unnatural form,” Jacob grunted with a mischievous glint in his good eye.

“That is still to be seen, but I will just rely on this pistol for now.” Patrin, at that moment, honestly didn’t know if he should have his pistol aimed at his companion or on their captives. The man had lost his mind.

“You think that we would have true justice by simply shooting these bastards?”

“That was my original plan, yes.” Patrin nodded. “Now you show up with these—occult trinkets to do what? Convert them?”

“So you are a man of faith?”

“After all we’ve been through together? After what I’ve seen performed by such cruel and low men like these, you have the gall to ask me that?”

“Then come with me, into the circle I drew. Together we can conjure an evil to torment these—”

Patrin held out his hand, “you are my brother in this, but hear me out. What greater evil can you possibly conjure from the relics of the dead of our people that a bullet or knife would suffice?”

“Come,” Jacob waved him in. “And learn!”

Patrin pulled the rosary out from around his neck, kissed the cross before slipping it back down his shirt, and stepped into the circle. He scratched at the side of his head as Jacob started the magic in ancient Hebrew.

Somewhere in the cloak of night, a warm turbulent current of wind stirred. It traveled quickly like blown hot ashes through the devastated Luxembourg streets. Down the shell-shocked alleyways, it sighed. It then crossed over many broken or crumpling stone bridges and then tumbled over the cobblestones of devastated streets. It passed through an empty railway station and stopped upon the doorframe facing where Jacob conjured from his protective chalk circle. There the apparition lingered, waiting to hear the completion of its hidden name so it could do its master’s bidding—for a while.

Patrin gasped as an unholy thing coalesced into what appeared to be a muscularly hairy, half-naked semi-human male—covered in what looked like reptilian scales and black goat fur. It had a cluster of eight goat eyes in the center of its head. To everyone’s surprise, the demon’s midsection bulged as a man aroused. The jinn had two pointy teeth situated in the front of its frog-like mouth. It looked down upon his conjuror and protected host chattering with agitation. “Why do you call upon Ashmedai, the Prince of demons?”

Patrin yelled out in terror, “Lord, save us from this abomination!”

Jacob, without a word, reached out and shoved Patrin out of the conjuration circle. Patrin howled in painfully fiery torment until he became nothing but a pile of smoldering ashes. The one called Asmodeus possessed and delighted himself on what was left of the poor man’s soul.

Ashmedai smiled menacingly down at Jacob. “Your sacrifice was-” He thought about it carefully before saying the word, “unexpected.” With a gnarled and sharp finger, he bent low to point at the broken chalk circle that allowed Jacob to contact the demon from Hell, “including your own.”

Jacob realized his error and screamed as the Hell-born beast set upon his body and soul as a plaything to torment.

The captive victims struggled in their bonds in utter terror over what had occurred before their eyes.

When there was nothing but two piles of ashes where the two men stood, Ashmedai turned his head to face the bound killers and smiled cruelly at them.

“I have been watching all four of you weaving your vile crimes throughout the land without refrain or worry, but I assure you with evil intent, it eventually meets its dire threat.” He pointed upwards and laughed as he dematerialized into smoke and blew away.

The bomb-shelled house above the captives started to tremble. The damaged foundation could no longer take the strain. At first, there was a deep rumble, and then debris started to fall. The bound men screamed as the falling house stoned each of them to death, leaving them buried in a pile of rubble.

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