Let’s get one thing crystal-fucking-clear: Not even the Devil likes a rapist.
He takes them in Hell, sure, because the Hounds have to eat something.
There are a number of truly horrible people in Hell. We’ve got murders, thieves, arsonists, tax evaders, Republicans, a whole cast of terrible players. You can find a lot them walking around freely – some of them are even clients of mine. But what you will never find out on the streets is a rapist – unlike Upstairs.
Believe in him before you die or not, the Devil doesn’t do forgiveness.
No one in the Madame's office flinched at the violent requests. Not even me. My mind was whirling, but nothing they said seemed unfair.
“Let’s go over the plan, then, shall we?” the Madame asked.
Everyone nodded. “Zosia will meet the mark at the usual bar and go with him to the killing ground.” She turned to the victims. “Can you tell her what to expect?”
Hannah nodded. She had a militant look in her eye. “He’s tall with light brown hair. He’ll seem funny and nice and he’ll offer to buy you a drink.”
Next to her, the other two women were nodding. “Later, he’ll take you to go home with him. He drives a black pickup and he’ll hold the door open for you when you get in. Then he’ll take you out into the country and…”
She paused and looked down at the table.
“You don’t have to keep going,” Aric said. He looked at me. “That’s as far as he is going to get.”
I wasn’t sure if he was looking at me in a show of solidarity or to quell my fears. Truth be told, I wasn’t that afraid. I’d already died. And I was going up there with the force of Hell’s most powerful secret agency behind me.
(In this mindset, I was being a bit naïve. I didn’t yet realize that Above, demons were largely on their own. The Madame wasn’t going to suddenly appear if you got into trouble. But it was my first mission, so I'll chalk it up to inexperience.)
I nodded back to Aric.
“Well then,” the Madame said. “Let’s get started.”
Getting sent Above from Hell wasn’t quite the experience I was expecting – and it’s not that glamorous. Throughout the world there are hundreds of hellmouths, or entrances to the Underworld. A lot of them are in cemeteries. Because of proximity issues, some are in really strange places like the basements of K-Marts or IRS offices. In general, its best if they are in locations where there is already some loitering, so it’s not as strange when a demon pops up out of nowhere.
Our hellmouth was in the back shed of a gas station on a highway in rural Iowa – which is about as far away from glamorous as it gets. Basically, how the hellmouth works is that when a hellion needs to be sent up, the Bureau activates a trap door and you just…climb out of hell. When you get out, you shut the door and it goes away again.
It’s magical, sure, but not, like, cool magic or anything.
When we arrived, I stared around for a moment, marveling about being in the world again. Aric got right to work. Outside the shed, an Impala was waiting.
You know how God sometimes speak to people and asks them to do stuff? Yeah, the Devil does that too. While God might ask you to kill your only child in his honor, Satan is more likely to ask you to leave a car somewhere -- so a demon can use it on their quest to mete out some punishment.
Aric picked the keys up off of the back left tire – the typical location, I would find out later – and unlocked the trunk. He set the black case he was carrying inside and then went around to the front and started the car. I got into the passenger seat.
“The bar is about forty-five minutes away,” he said. “I’ll drop you there and then head to the killing ground.” He met my eyes for a second. “You’ll have to get him to pick you.”
“I can do that.”
The bar was in a more popular part of Des Moines, but still I noted several seedy characters when I walked in. None of them matched the photo the Madame had shown me just before she sent us up.
I settled in at the bar, ordering a vodka tonic. I sipped it as I watched the bar fill up. It was a little past eleven when he finally walked in. He looked ordinary – jeans and flannel shirt, light stubble, not particularly well-built – but I made sure to make eye contact. Then I turned back to the bartender and ordered another drink.
Demons have certain…skills Above. And a few limitations, I guess. I’m not sure which category it falls into, but I know I can’t get drunk. Therefore, there was no reason not to pound back drinks so this guy would think I was tipsy.
A pretty girl alone at a bar, I had to fend off several advances during the night. I entertained a few a little longer, only to see if the mark was watching. He always was.
Around midnight he approached me.
“Are you here alone?” he asked, taking the bar stool next to me.
I looked at him a moment, trying to size him up the way I would if I wasn’t here waiting for him. “I was supposed to meet a friend, but they bailed last minute. I was already here, so…” I waved a hand at the bar and took a sip of my drink.
“How about I buy you another drink to help make up for your shitty night?”
“I never said it was shitty.”
He made a face. “Sitting at a bar alone getting hit on by an endless line of pathetic guys? Sounds pretty shitty to me.”
“I’ve turned down drinks from everyone else.”
“Then it must be time to accept one,” he said with a smile.
I had him now. I could feel it. Guys love to be exclusive – best, first, only – and this guy’s extracurricular activities probably meant he was more territorial than most. Nothing like a girl who was just his type and had turned down everybody else.
Time to accept his drink and go get murdered.
On the way to his car, I stumbled and giggled uncontrollably, trying to sell – but not oversell – my drunkenness. He smiled knowingly, clearly intoxicated women were something to which he was quite accustomed.
When he stepped in front of me to open my door, I took the opportunity to glare at his disgusting back and let my hatred for him consume me even more.
Inside the car, he played quiet country music and told me stories about growing up in rural Iowa. As the city lights got further away, his stories slowed down and eventually stopped. We had been driving for a while now and it was time for even an inebriated living human to realize this situation wasn’t good.
“Where do you live again?” I asked in an uneven voice.
“Just a little further up the road,” he said. “It was my grandfather’s house. Part of the Homestead act.”
I stared out into the dark, endless fields around us. My heartbeat picked up.
He hadn’t been lying about the house – it was just a few miles up the road. He turned off onto a gravel driveway. As we drove down it, I saw a flash of blond hair in the trees and the sinking feeling in my stomach lifted a little.
“It’s nice here,” he said as he pulled up in front of the garage. “You’ll like it.”
My breathing picked up here. Panic would be – and was – settling in. Having Aric in the forest calmed me, but I tried to keep my mindset clear. Hannah, Mila, and Leslie didn’t have that comfort when they were here.
We got out of the car.
“Come on in,” he said, walking toward the door.
Inside the house, it looked as though his grandfather stilled lived there. Everything was old – the television, the refrigerator, the radio on the table – and was covered in a disconcerting amount of dust.
There was no way he actually lived there.
I looked up at him with that question in my eyes and he looked back with an expression more frightening than anything I had seen before. His eyes were expectant and his mouth was a small smile. He knew I knew what was about to happen. He wanted me to know.
“You don’t live here, do you?” I asked in a breathy voice, knowing it was my part of the script.
I swallowed. “Why did you bring me here?”
He tilted his head to the side and his smiled widened.
“I need to go,” I said quickly. “I need to go now.” I tried to pass him to get to the door, but of course he didn’t let me.
“I don’t think so, Anna,” he told me, his fingers digging into my arm.
Anna was the name I gave him at the bar. She was an outgoing girl from Minnesota and he was trying to kill her. Suddenly anger pushed back the feigned panic and fear. I wrenched my arm painfully from his grasp and shoved him away. Then I took off toward the door.
I made it outside but heard that he wasn’t far behind me.
It didn’t matter though. Aric was waiting by the door to the garage. He nodded at me and stepped inside. I started to run toward the car, but a hand grabbed by hair and yanked me back. Another hand brought a damp cloth to my mouth.
Since he couldn’t see me, I rolled my eyes. Cloroform wouldn’t work on a demon. I’d have to pretend anyway, so I screeched for a moment, kicking my feet as he dragged me by the neck before going limp.
Eyes closed, I felt as we entered the garage and he dropped me onto the floor – no, not the floor. It was softer than that. He was muttering to himself as he walked around and metal clanked.
Then he was back and I could feel his damp breath on my neck. First his hands ran down the outside of my arms and then my stomach and then they dipped lower…
That was enough.
My eyes flew open and my hand snapped up to his. I let me eyes flare red – something demons can only do Above – for moment when he looked up at me in surprise. Behind him, I could see Aric hovering, a piece of cord in hand.
He acted quickly, bringing the cord down in front of the mark and pulling it back hard. My would-be killer’s eyes bugged – partly because of shock and partly no doubt due to the sudden lack of oxygen.
Aric dragged him back and into a lawn chair where he deftly tied his hands to the chair’s arms. Then he just stood back and stared at him, his own eyes blazing red.
I came to stand next to him.
“Good work,” he told me.
Our victim looked at me him horror. “You’re –”
“Just your type, right?” I smiled.
His eyes widened even further.
“Kyle Cunningham,” Aric said, shaking his head. “Do you know why we’re here?”
I frowned. The Madame hadn’t told me his name.
Kyle shook his head in a quick, shaky way that said he most definitely did know why. “I have no idea –”
Aric sighed deeply and rolled his eyes. “Well, if you’re going to lie….” He took an oily rag out of his pocket and shoved it into Kyle’s mouth.
Then he walked over to a metal work station at the back of the garage. On it was the black case he had put in the trunk earlier.
“We were sent here by Hannah,” he said.
Kyle’s eyes were going to pop out of his head if he opened them any wider.
Aric lifted a glinting knife out of the case and studied it. “And Mila. And Leslie. And Adrian. And Penny. And Meredith.” He put that knife down and picked up another one.
The blood was gone from Kyle’s face and I thought I could see the beginnings of tears in his eyes. He looked to me as Aric turned back with the knife in hand. I stared back at him without an ounce of sympathy.
“You weren’t very nice to them,” Aric said. “And they aren’t very happy about that.” He held the knife up under the better lighting and turned it so it glinted. “They want me to do some not-very-nice things to you. And Kyle?” He looked into his eyes. “I told them I would.”
Kyle whimpered into the rag.
“Miss Scorch,” Aric said. “Would you like to tell the man what he has won?”
I kept my eyes on Kyle. “Castration. Disembowelment. Decapitation.”
Kyle’s breathing was so heavy now, I thought he might choke on the rag. Tears were rolling down his face and he was trying to speak – or scream.
“Stop whining. No one else is going to hear you,” Aric said with disgust. “And do we strike you as sympathetic?” He shook his head. “You raped and murdered six women –and tonight you tried for a seventh. You can’t possibly be that surprised by this. Or did you think you’d just get away with it?”
Kyle’s pathetic face said that was exactly what he was expecting. Aric shook his head at him, with a little too much humor.
“Now, there really is no need to prolong this,” he said. “We’ll start with the castration – because you’ll live through it. You’ll wish that you won’t, but you will.” He walked in front of Kyle, who was pulled against the cords so hard they were cutting into his skin. But they weren’t budging.
“I know what you are thinking,” Aric said. “How does one man cut off another man’s dick?” His hand moved so quickly I barely saw it. Then Kyle was screaming louder and blood was running down the front of his pants and pooling on the ground.
“Like that,” Aric said simply.
Then he turned and walked back to the work station to change knives. He did not move quickly.
“Sometimes castration is all we do,” he called back. I wasn’t sure if he was talking to Kyle or to me. “It’s a good punishment by itself.”
I was still watching Aric. He was crying, but something had changed in his eye. He wasn’t afraid and he was predatory anymore, but there was an anger I hadn’t even seen in another human. Not yet, anyway.
His veins pulsed in his arms as he pulled at the restraints. I saw the left one give too late and he pulled his arm free and lunged toward Aric. The chair hit him first and he whirled around, swinging out his knife and catching Kyle along the stomach.
Kyle froze and then took a wavering step back. His stomach full open and blood gave to seep down his front.
“I don’t regret it,” he said. “Any of it.”
My stomach turned.
“Those girls, they –”
He never got a chance to finish the sentence, because an axe went through his neck. He gurgled and then his face went slack. The axe lifted and came down again and again and again. Until it was done.
I looked up at Aric and he was staring at me, his brow furrowed.
“That was my job, you know,” he said.
I tried to dredge up a little remorse, but I couldn’t find any. I shrugged. “It got done, didn’t it?”
He nodded. “And not cleanly, either,” he said, looking at the body on the floor. “That’s good in a punishment.”
Aric had stowed the Impala in the forest and he led back me to it. I sat back down into the passenger seat and assessed myself, trying to see if I felt any differently than I had when I had been in that seat before.
I did, of course. Damned prostitute or not, I wasn’t a monster. Killing someone was a heavy thing, I acknowledged that. What I didn’t feel was any remorse. Kyle Cunningham hadn’t gotten anything he didn’t deserve.
It felt nice to think that and know that it wasn’t just my assessment either. His soul had already been judged by those in the afterlife, by the darker part of the scale. They had merely used me to take a soul that was already theirs – and I knew they would do to him what they wished.
Aric didn’t say anything on the ride back to the hellmouth.
If I had thought he was afraid of me, I would have been wrong. If I thought that he was angry with me, I would have been wrong. If I thought he was thinking of me at all, I would have been wrong. I found out later than Aric’s bouts of chatter were sporadic and interspersed with long, almost sullen silences.
When we reached the gas station, he pulled the car into the spot he found it in and put the keys back on the left rear tire. Inside the shed, the hellmouth was open and waiting. Aric went down through it first and I followed, pulling the door down over my head.
The Madame was waiting for us at the bottom of the ladder.