JJ DOUGLAS FLOATED, suspended like a fetus in a mother’s womb, listened to the soothing sounds of the silence that otherwise engulfed him. He was utterly, blissfully—alone. Nobody was there. No evil peered from the shadows waiting to pounce. There were no shadows—no ‘light.’ He was unsure of all: Time, illusions, existence. However, one fact remained clear: he was at peace.
Stars bloomed like flowers all around him and, as such, perished like flowers under winter’s frosty touch. The birth and extinction of galaxies, the death cries of a billion species, the weeping of one thousand universes brought no interruption to the bliss JJ was experiencing at this moment. He felt on the verge of understanding—everything.
A millennium followed, or perhaps ’twas just a moment, as perspective flowed into his mind like cool, cascading, life giving water. The idea came to him that time may be an illusion, but that he must exist. He must be more than some ethereal remnant of a long forgotten, omnipotent being—he must be. He must BE! As he contemplated his existence, other thoughts occurred to JJ too fleeting to follow—eluding JJ’s mind like fireflies from a child’s grasp.
Slowly JJ began to feel about for anything familiar in the milieu around him and felt—nothing. Panicked, he tried to open his eyes and found that he couldn’t. He moved his hands to his face and feeling missing pieces, felt oddly incomplete. No eyes, no mouth, but his nose was in place. His face was a complete blank except for his nose. Horrified, JJ daintily groped for his lower region, his body heaving a sigh of relief at finding his manhood, whole. I wonder, JJ pondered, and feeling for his ears found them intact.
Convinced of his existence, JJ had a suspicion that maybe his time on Earth was over. As this thought caused in him a sense of melancholic foreboding, a radiance so bright it would’ve blinded JJ—had he eyes—washed over the void of peace in which he lay. Reclined and nestled within the embrace of Heaven’s luminous clouds. Suddenly, the silkiest, most commanding voice JJ had ever encountered, spoke to every fiber of his soul, filling him with immeasurable joy.
“Fear not, Joseph Bruce Douglas Junior, and be at peace. I am Gabriel of the Seraphim, who stands before the one true God, and am sent to speak to thee, to bring thee tidings both favorable and ill.”
You must be joking, JJ thought, an Angel now. I’m virtually senseless, dead and now I’m getting breaking news from an Angel. Boo—
“Yea, silence the incessant blather of your thoughts Joseph. I jest thee not, for Adonay did not see fit to bless his servant with that which you call humor. I took your sight and I took your speech for you need the use of neither to comprehend that which you must hear and I have been charged to communicate. In regards to your demise that decision will be yours to make. After—”
After what?—so I’m not dead?—God sent—
“Nay, interrupt not this counsel further Joseph, least ye invoke Abba’s ire. His is a wrath best unprovoked. Your soul has proven faithful Joseph. Your faith will be your salvation or damnation as you decide. In fact the most powerful weapon you wield, and your greatest spiritual gift is your Faith. Your faith is what sets you apart from the flock Joseph.
Faith in your mother’s taxed yet tempered love. Faith in a woman’s capacity to accept and ability to return the love of a man on the verge of oblivion, who in his heart is more like a child at play then a man grown. Faith, Joseph, your faith in a confidant’s fealty and honor, despite overwhelming evidence that proved the axiom of said ally’s insidious intentions were all but honorable. Faith in one large suitor’s intentions towards your beloved mother, faith in the words of a scorned and misunderstood old woman, and faith in the path that Yahweh Roi hath placed you upon.”
No, but, no—I have failed. Death—”
Have you Joseph, have you failed, truly? Has it not been written that you have been given the authority to bludgeon serpent and scorpion alike? Including overcoming all the power, schemes, and machinations of the enemy? Life is a cycle dear boy and death is an intricate part of that cycle. You cannot slay Death only belay him awhile. The beast at your door is not Death however, but an instrument of Death. One of his most vile and most heinous instruments most assuredly, but an instrument nonetheless. Whereas you cannot control Death’s finality, even his tools have been known to fall into disrepair in a manner of speaking. However, broker no doubts concerning this truth I beseech you—Death will com anon. Accept this as you do your own flesh and live a joyous life. Deny this and life will be unbearably trite. Now pay close heed to my next words Joseph, as they are the true reason I’ve been sent to pontificate to you.
Continue to trust and follow your faith, child, you shall not be led astray but obtain glory.
With those seventeen words spoken, JJ was rendered whole once more. And with his newly restored vision, he beheld a visage of such awe-inspiring wonder that he instantly wept like a newborn babe. The message combined with the insane beauty of Gabriel’s angelic features, filled JJ with intense, raw emotion. JJ wanted nothing more than for this heavenly host to take him between his wings and whisk him to the unconditional embrace of their creator. Gabriel gave a negative shake of his glorious head.
Merrily I would entreat you with such a request Joseph, but look to your faith. With Him child, in Him, all matters are possible. Is your premature demise what you truly wish? You must now make your choice Joseph: Transcend on Home or Recede into One’s self. Choose.
Curtis Olsen writhed in agony upon the bare, wood floor. Blood pooled around him at an alarming rate. Landing with a sickening splat, Millie violently expelled the head of Curt’s penis from between her teeth to join the rest of him. She couldn’t even take a moment to revel in her victory, as something seemed to be laboriously crawling forth from the pool of Curt’s sanguine juices. Comprehension hit her like a Mac truck going seventy-five-miles an hour. The mirror shattered. Reflected in each razor-sharp shard the pale dead eyed face of the Melancholy Children screamed in silence.
Millie, herself, screamed like a wild banshee. She shrieked, really. As if her piercing cries would render her bonds to tatters. She screamed at JJ to wake up and untie her. She cursed Curtis, oblivious to the creature he was inadvertently birthing into this world, as he moronically tried to reattach the bit of himself he lost with earnest, and a stream of incoherent mumbles. She defied the creature that was being birthed into this world under her terrified gaze, via Curt’s lifeblood. She begged for her life outright. She prayed to God to intervene—and it seemed, that perhaps, He did!
Suddenly, JJ’s lifeless form moaned as if in immense pain. He pushed himself up into a seated position, took a huge gasping breath, and blearily looked around trying to clear the cobwebs from his consciousness. He remembered everything from his brief visit from Gabriel, though he didn’t recall being in so much pain. A gasp caught his attention. He turned his head, much too fast for his current state, and fought off regurgitation as his wavering vision settled upon his beloved Millie.
Testing his voice, JJ rasped: “You look terrible.”
“And you look like a prince. Help me, JJ!” Millie pleaded.
JJ took a cursory glance around him and his gaze fell upon Curt’s straight-razor, lying half open and forgotten, not three feet from where he sat. Deftly, he plucked the blade from its resting place and set to cutting his beloved free from her fetters.
“Work faster, sugar. Get me out of this contraption before it’s too late!” Millie demanded.
Unfortunately, it was already too late. Time was up. It’s a Boy! Here’s Johnny!
Boogeyman towered terrifyingly massive over his prey. He was incensed with rage, but when was he not? His bondservant/retainer/skivvy/thrall/vassal had defied him. Soiled his prize, and now he lay dying, whimpering like a mewling babe. However, this maggot’s demise did act as his catalyst into this world. For every dark cloud—Boogeyman considered and chuckled in spite of his temperament—you’ll find me around.
“What’s so funny?”
Millie couldn’t believe the commanding power within JJ’s voice, speaking each word in a tone that brokered no repute as he faced-off with the monster looming before them. JJ, himself, was not surprised in the least. JJ had made his decision and he chose to have faith. JJ felt invincible in his faith, like Superman. Unfortunately just like The Man of Steel, even JJ had his weakness, his Kryptonite, and Boogeyman thought he knew exactly what and how to exploit it.
“Greetings and salutations; isn’t this just Shakespearean. By your posture I’d wager you could slaughter Hyperion.” Boogeyman greeted his ‘guests’ with a sneer. Black ichor oozed from between his teeth, flowed down his chin and dripped off thickly, to land with sickening little patters on the floor. Each drop hissing as it ate into the wood like acid.
“Actually, as I recall from what little Shakespeare I was forced to read in Miss Rowe’s English class, this situation fits that bill,” JJ replied defiantly, mocking the creature before him.
“You will close those flippant lips Joey-boy. Else I use your mouth for my fiendish joy.”
“Yeah, that’s not going to happen—ever! You don’t seem to understand stank-breath; I’m not intimated by you, not anymore. You don’t scare me in the least and needless to say I feel liberated.” JJ retorted as he took a hobbled step up to Boogeyman to show he meant business.
“Oh Joey-boy your humorous limp is quite ludicrous. Your trembling features betray you; your words drip with hubris.” Boogeyman chuckled, the sound worse than that of fingernails on a chalkboard amplified through a megaphone, and placed a massive claw on JJ’s shoulder. “You make me laugh, you make me giggle, and you surprise me so. I shall save you until last and you can watch your love die slow.”
“Yup. I’m free of my fear of you demon. Your sinister threats have no power over me, anymore. In fact your words, however menacing their intent, sound more like the sniveling of a selfish brat not getting his way, than a malevolent, malignant monster.”
“Boy you act as if I could not with the slightest twitch of my right wrist; simply render you to goo and bits while stuffing her with my left fist!” Boogeyman bellowed, tightening his grip painfully upon JJ’s shoulder. The steel in JJ’s eyes never faltered.
“Save your foul breath for your fall, big homie, I think you may need it,” JJ replied with a knowing little grin of his own. “You see—I know what you are.”
“Then step correct, come on with it son! Enlighten us all to your secret wisdom! Tarry not, I shan’t spoil your fun! Just what am I other than fearsome?”
“You are quite terrifying. You are chaotic. You are Legion.”
“You are quite correct; I am all of that squared. You speak no secret only knowledge declared!”
“You are also archaic, supercilious, myopic, a poor succedaneum, and most importantly—a tool.” JJ wrenched his throbbing shoulder free from Boogeyman’s viselike grip. “Like any tool left out in the elements too long, you have become rusted and warped—no longer useful. And like any substitute, your stewardship is no longer required, as Azrael has come back to reclaim his birthright.”
“Don’t speak as if you have knowledge of my glorious inception, such heresy will only fuel my unquenchable aggression!”
Spattering the ceiling with his black corrosive bile, Boogeyman brayed obviously wounded by JJ’s announcement. His following tantrum was epic. Boogeyman rampaged like an out of control child on a talk show, roaring and raging around the room. Seeing his opportunity, JJ returned his attention to rapidly unfettering his lady love. Just as he freed her right hand, Curtis grabbed JJ’s ankle, which gave him such a fright he almost sliced off a finger passing Millie the blade.
“JJ, my ninja,” Curt spoke in the weak uneven tone of a person on the brink of death. “I’m sorry, homie. I’m sorry I bushwhacked you. I truly am, ya’ know what I’m sayin’?”
Kneeling, JJ said: “Yeah, Curt, I—”
“No JJ let me finish, because I think these are going to be my last words.”
As Curtis Olsen made his peace with his best friend and Millie finished cutting herself loose, Boogeyman calmed. Turning a disconcerting look upon his tricks, Boogeyman spoke his next words with what JJ could only discern as steeped with concern.
“Poor misguided Joey-boy; you know nothing of The Angel of Death. If you had true erudition such as me, you’d save your quaking breath.”
Boogeyman menacingly stalked towards his prey. The look of an apex predator in his fiendish yellow eyes, took in his game. With every giant clomp of his cloven hooves, he eerily sang some long forgotten nursery rhyme.
“One, two oh great Death waits for you. Three, four cower upon the floor. Five, six your feckless life he’ll nix. Seven, eight hide beneath the grate. Nine ten—”
“Nine, ten faith will win out in the end.” JJ interrupted, finishing the rhyme with a grin.
Boogeyman stopped in his tracks and returned JJ’s grin with a grizzly one of his own. The two combatants faced-off like gladiators in the Roman Coliseum. Every molecule in the room seemed to reverberate with power as the tension between antagonist and protagonist came to a head. Just before critical mass, Millie’s sweet voice rang out to break the spell of impending bloodshed.
“Listen close demon for this will be articulated but once.” Her voice resonated with an otherworldly power, JJ found familiar.
“By whatever good is left in me, by all the Angels in heaven,” Curt’s voice, on the contrary, resonated with a strength JJ thought was lost.
“Silence, desist you may not speak again slave. Utter one more sound and your skull I will cave!”
“By the faith of my friend, no, my brother Joseph Douglas Jr.; I, Curtis Olsen, with my dying breath renounce my Faustian bargain with you, foul demon, and commission that your essence be delegated to the deepest, darkest recesses of Hell’s pit for all eternity.” With that statement, Curtis Olsen, JJ’s oldest and dearest homie, shuffled off his mortal coil and passed on to the Echoside.
“Truly your friend’s feeble, though noble, gesture doth underwhelm.” Boogeyman scoffed. “He is too late for I’ve already been bore into this realm.”
Slipping free of his overcoat to expose his huge, heavily scarred two-toned torso, Boogeyman advanced upon his captives.
“JJ, Curtis is dead. I think we need to retreat and regroup, sugar.” Millie pleaded as she grasped JJ’s hand.
Feeling like he was at the edge of some great and fathomless precipice on the verge of a hurtling fall into the abyss, JJ stood his ground. An intense vertigo gripped his guts and his scrotum clenched up painfully, yet by his faith JJ stood his ground.
“So much blood has been shed with more yet to spill. I shall not be done until I’ve had my fill. Against my unrelenting will there is no haven. I guarantee this: You will never feel safe again.”
Boogeyman halted his hulking frame inches from where JJ stood. He placed the tip of one razor sharp claw under JJ’s chin. JJ’s skin felt like it was going to crawl right of his body, but he stood his ground. Boogeyman tilted JJ’s head up so he was forced to stare chaos in the face. Chaos needed a breath mint in the worst way. Flecks of ooze spattered JJ’s upturned face with Boogeyman’s next words.
“From your bones the sweet marrow I shall greedily suck, then festoon my bedchamber with your savory guts.”
“YOU WILL NOT!”