AZRAEL THE ARCHANGEL of Death’s commanding voice echoed within the cramped, dilapidated room. A shadow filled the space, engulfing the occupants. The look of sheer terror that briefly flitted across Boogeyman’s face—contorting his mean old mug from evil menace into that of a frightened bully—JJ found quite humorous. Death’s next words rendered Boogeyman to a shell of his fearsome self; morphing him into a sad, grotesque little imp that JJ actually felt some pity for.
“Purveyor of Perversion.”
The creature that was Boogeyman staggered as if battered.
“Son of Disobedience. Time and again, my foul apprentice, I grant you opportunity to prove yourself worthy. To demonstrate that you are more than the crazed emissary of Chaos you were created to be. To display your reformation and justify my defense of your continued existence, but at every turn you fail me. Every time you succumb to your base and vile nature. Maybe I am to blame for believing that you are capable of becoming praiseworthy. Though that may very well be the issue, you are my burden to bear my naughty imp. Now away with you Boo, to your coop before I realize my folly and feed you to the Dragon.”
The puckish little imp that was the fearsome Boogeyman, gave Death a defiant glare, took a half-hearted fluttering leap and spat a feeble, flickering fireball—about the size of a marble—at JJ, that fell pitifully short of its mark. Boogey-imp screeched and began to comically kick and flap around on the floor, yet another tantrum. Death drew back his hood and to JJ’s surprise, didn’t reveal a brilliant, grinning skull, but a beautifully pale, gaunt face the color of gravestone granite, framed by equally luscious long pale hair, not unlike spun silver.
JJ flinched as if about to be struck when Death reached out and scooped Boogey-imp into the folds of his robes like it was a crying babe and not a squawking pit fiend. As Boogey-imp thrashed in Death’s arms, Death whispered soothing words in a tongue not spoken on earth for over five millenniums and the wriggling within his robes ceased. JJ looked to Millie for confirmation of what he had just witnessed and found that at some point she had swooned. Immediately, JJ dropped to her side and placed his fingers to Millie’s to check for a pulse.
“Do not fret Son of Douglas; your maiden fair is alive and well, though quite unconscious.”
Not sure if he should address the Archangel of Death directly, JJ threw what little caution he had left to the wind and asked: “Will you truly not honor Curt’s last words, my brother’s final wish in death, and smite that foul creature you cradle?”
“Nay Son of Douglas I cannot, and would not if t’were in my power to do so. Only El Kanna can weld the smiting glory of Esh Oklah. Alas, I shant commit my impish little Puck to the bowels of Sheol and the clutches of my misguided brother either. Nay for I to do as such, is like attempting to douse an inferno with oils. I shall take this “foul creature” as you call it and place him back on his perch in the confines and security of his coop. There he shall remain anon and I assure you son of that the next sabbatical I reap this one will not be the cause of any disarray.” Death explained his tone however waspish and ethereal was sincere.
“Oh, I see,” JJ sighed in disappointment. Morosely, he wondered if Curt was sizzling in Hell’s Pit like a sausage link in a frying pan.
“As for your brother, again I counsel, fret not Son of Douglas, his soul will not linger in purgatory for long. Now off with you, flee with your lady love from this accursed dwelling and to a soft warm bed. Farewell, Son of Douglas, you shall encounter me again though not for many, many decades to come.”
Quickly and without warning Death laid a pale hand on JJ’s shoulder, the same shoulder and spot that Boogeyman had rested his claw moments before. Instantly JJ felt a warm, tingling sensation coarse through his entire being. The warm tingle quelled every flaring pain that beleaguered his weary body. JJ closed his eyes and relished the myriad of feelings the warm tingle stirred in him. Fear, doubt, and anguish were replaced with joy, love, and peace. A form of quietus enveloped him. Everything seemed to stop for a moment, suspended in time, and then the warm tingle was gone and time resumed its ever forward trudge to oblivion.
Millie awoke in an elaborate and beautiful oaken four-post bed. The mattress, constructed of the finest satin, felt better than anything she could ever remember feeling in her life. The feel of the fabric upon her bare skin felt heavenly compared to the contraption that had bound her for a time. The way the silky smooth sheets flowed across her breasts as she wriggled deeper into the comforting confines of the bed linen made her more than slightly aroused. She wondered where JJ was and why he wasn’t lying next to her waiting for her to awaken, when a slight wave of panic prickled down her spine. He must’ve just gone to use the lavatory, she reasoned as she began to snake her way out from under the covers.
Something was amiss. Despite her best efforts, Millie seemed to be thoroughly entangled within the bedding. The harder she struggled, the worse her entanglement became, until it seemed the once-comforting linens had a sinister agenda all its own. Without warning, the sheets twisted tightly around her like a massive constrictor reptile squeezing the life from its prey. When she tried to scream for JJ, the bedding sent a silky tentacle down her throat cutting off her plea mid wail…
JJ must’ve dosed off waiting for Millie to regain consciousness. What roused him now was his lady love thrashing about in bed next to him as if she were ablaze. The look of sheer terror that contorted her beautiful features into a death mask of agony was almost more than JJ could bear. Frantically, he tried to wake her.
“Millie! Honey, wake up, wake up!” JJ pleaded as he tried to get Millie’s convulsing body to cease its thrashing. “Please Millie, wake up! Breathe, babe, BREATHE!”
Millie’s screech sent JJ tumbling backward off the bed. His head colliding with the bare, hardwood floor made a sickening thud. Millie sat up, flinging blankets (hither and yon or to-and-fro) off of her, and blearily gazed about trying to force air into her oxygen-deprived lungs. Gradually her breathing became less labored as she recognized her surroundings. She was safe in her own queen bed in her own bedroom. The chuckle that escaped her lips sounded only slightly crazed to her own ears, when a groan of pain caught her attention. JJ!
“JJ, are you hurt, sugar?!” Millie squealed as she scrambled off the bed to fuss over her semiconscious, semi-boyfriend.
“Hmm,” JJ moaned, his head throbbing as he focused his eyes on the most beautiful face he believed he would ever encounter. “Hi beautiful, you say something?”
“Yeah, I asked if you’re alright,” Millie responded, maneuvering so she could cradle JJ’s head in her lap. “How did you end up on the floor, anyway?”
“Oh, I don’t know.” JJ replied with a shit-eating grin. “It doesn’t matter anyway. What matters is that you’re not dead or damaged beyond repair.”
“JJ,” Millie said with a start, jolting both of them into a heightened state of attention. “What happened? What happened after I fainted? How are we alive? Is Curtis dead? If he is, I’m afraid it’s my fault. How—”
“Shhhhh, babe,” JJ soothed, as he ever so gently pinched Millie’s lips into a purse, cutting short her raving deluge of questions. “Help me onto the bed and I’ll regale you with every sorted detail.”
As Millie helped JJ to his feet, then into her bed, she noticed the terrible extent of JJ’s various wounds. His body was a mosaic of bruises. It was oddly beautiful in a morbid sort of way, though the thought of how his body had accrued such a beautifully painful motif, made her stomach roil. After they were both comfy and cozy in Millie’s queen-sized Tempur-Pedic, they lay in silence for a time. Millie had so many questions flitting about her mind like busy little bees; she didn’t quite know where to begin. Thankfully, JJ’s mind seemed cool and collected, and he finally broke the not-uncomfortable silence.
“I do believe I died.” JJ said matter-of-factly. “Only for a few moments here in the really real world mind you, but where I was it seemed like a slice of forever.”
“Oh, JJ. Sugar, I was so afraid that you had died.” Millie confessed.
“Like I said, I think I did die. My memory of what transpired in that other place is becoming very vague and obscure. I’m pretty sure that I did and was given an ultimatum by an Angel of the Lord.”
“What was it?” Millie inquired, intrigued.
“I can’t remember, but I must’ve chosen correctly.”
“Apparently,” Millie said, kissing JJ sweetly on his neck.
“Curtis is dead,” JJ declared as a few hot tears escaped their fleshy prison, to flee down his cheeks. “He renounced that demonic S.O.B. with his dying breath. You announced it like some sort of medieval-era herald. Don’t you remember?”
“No,” Millie answered truly confused. Propping herself up on her elbow, she revealed what she did recall. “The last thing I remember was that hulking demon bearing down on us like a raving, mad grizzly bear. I think he was singing something, it was unnerving to say the least.”
“Wow, really? You missed a lot then.” JJ’s chuckle quickly turned into a wince of pain that caused Millie to fuss over him anew. JJ lovingly endured her ministrations until she was convinced he wouldn’t perish and continued with his recount. “Okay, I’ll take up the tale from the raving mad, singing, grizzly bear part.”
JJ elucidated every moment in explicit detail for Millie’s appraisal. From the Angel of Death taking Boogeyman to the proverbial “woodshed,” to Death’s promise to see him again in a few decades, even finding Millie’s car in the property’s dilapidated garage, JJ unveiled all. Every minute detail was recanted. When he was finished with his chronicle, the two young lovers lay again in a comfortable silence entwined in each other’s arms. It was Millie’s turn to shatter the silence.
“I guess I did miss a lot.”
They both laughed. Millie’s chortle was a bit more uninhibited than JJ’s, as he didn’t want to aggravate his injuries. As their laughter died, the comfortable silence settled back over them like a welcomed warm blanket. Snuggling deeper into JJ’s comforting embrace, a few lingering questions nagged at Millie’s mind. Unable to quiet or quell her queries, Millie spoke into the hollow of JJ’s chest.
“So what was he, it, a spawn of the Enemy?”
“Who, you mean Boogeyman?”
“Umm-hmm,” Millie hummed in reply.
“Surprisingly no, he wasn’t. He was more like an Agent of Anarchy or Champion of Chaos. Death treated him like he was a pet or pupil or something. Whatever their relationship, Boogeyman was definitely Death’s burden and Death took care of Death’s business. No doubt,” JJ added.
“Well, how did Death let Boogeyman slip free of his clutches in the first place?” Millie could hear the incredulousness in her voice but was too tired to care.
“It seems even Death take’s a vacation when needed. However, he can’t just let immortality run rampant while he gets his R&R, lest he suffer The Almighty’s consequences. Believing he could entrust Boogeyman with the Duties of Death, Azrael bounced to wherever Angels take respite. The rest, I believe, you know or can piece together.”
“Yeah,” Millie replied with a yawn, her sluggish mind conjuring to her mouth yet another question to vocalize. “So what did being Down with the Clown have to do with any of this again?”
“In the end not a whole heap of a lot I guess, but still I wonder. I guess maybe it will all be unveiled in time or it won’t.” It was JJ’s turn to yawn.
“Are you still down, sugar?”
“You know it,” JJ retorted a bit more harshly then he intended. A bit softer, he added: “Until I’m dead in the ground.”
“Yeah, I am too, sugar. I am too.”
A short dreamless slumber ensued for the young lovers. They awoke still wound in their tender embrace, inhaling one another’s scent, smiling into each other’s eyes.
“It’s my eighteenth birthday.” JJ declared sleepily.
“Happy Birthday sugar,” Millie replied snuggling deeper into JJ’s arms.
“JJ, where do we go from here?” Millie inquired, sheepishly.
“I’m not sure sweetheart, but I think I’ve got a good place to start.” JJ replied as he gently stroked his fingertips up and down her spine.
“Yeah, where’s that?”
“Down to Simmons Café,” JJ stated confidently. “I’m dying for a Faygo Root beer float.”
Laughing like a couple of lunatics, Joseph “JJ” Douglas Jr. and Michelle “Millie” Slam held each other close, prepared to face whatever future the Big Guy upstairs had in store for them—together.