It had been days since Harry, who calls himself Angel or Dark Angel or Lucifer Morning Star if he's drunk enough, has slept. Truly slept. Cat naps and dozing here and there don't count. The birth was drawing closer. He had followed the instructions as perfectly as possible. To be certain that he did, he even paid a professor to translate the text. Why trust Google translate with something this delicate? No. He needed a professional.
Harry shut the first door to the shed, closing and locking it behind him. He didn't need a light. If he were completely blind, he could still complete his task. He had to. It had been consuming him for nearly a year. And when he was finally in a position to complete this endeavor, it was all he could do not to steal the first ewe he spotted in the countryside. Farmers and their shotguns be damned.
He maneuvered the warm jar of blood into his armpit as he worked the combination lock on the second door. The walls were sound proof, but he could hear Mary in there, crying and bleating. He had no idea what to expect. The bas reliefs, sketches, and paintings were all different. He prepared the bed with the exact dimensions as the text described. The earth was still pungent, as were the fresh entrails and powders. Harry was certain that the child would be pleased with its nursery.
When the door opened, something hissed and scampered. Mary's bleating was wet and even more scared than usual. Harry, who wasn't supposed to show fear and was doing a terrible job of hiding it, reached for the light switch. Anything but sunlight was supposed to be okay so he installed red lighting. It would not affect night vision and was atmospheric.
“Mary, are you okay?” he asked like she would respond. His boot fell into a thin puddle on the floor. The sheep shrieked. Wet ripping, dripping responded in the shed. Then sloppy chewing amidst growling. It had been born. And he had missed it. The smell should have been an indicator. But this wasn't right. The text said it would be barely alive. Born as a pupa, the homunculus would have to be nursed with fresh earth and blood twice daily. And be kept out of sunlight.
The footsteps were quick and splashy. Red light filled the room. Mary lay eviscerated, nearly torn in half. Blood covered the floor in the shed. Coming straight for Harry, a miniature monster. Barely two feet high, its skin was dark and leathery with numerous bony protrusions. Over-sized teeth jutted from its mouth. Two arms, two legs, and an obvious head with tiny horns. Two beady, sinister eyes. This image shocked Harry. It was not what he was expecting. All of this in a flash as it leaped to embrace its father.
Harry fell back into the anteroom, the jar of blood still in his armpit.
“Stop! I'm you Ma-” he tried to scream, but it cut off his words by biting his mouth, tearing his lips off. The imp went to work on his face, savoring the hot flesh and blood. Harry flailed and tried to push it off, but it was strong. Unnaturally strong. It threw away his arms and its forked tongue swept into his eye socket and pulled his eyes out one at at time into its hungry belly. Shock swept over him. He would scream, but he barely understood what was happening. Then it flipped him over.
What was left of his face met the wet floor with a splatter. The imp ravaged his back, slicing the flesh to ribbons. It knew to go for his spine, digging its claws in and severing the cord. Harry lost control of his bladder and his bowels. Then, it didn't speak, but it thought and felt, almost like it was Harry himself. Almost.
I am born in this world again. My hunger is so great. You are not my master. Nothing is my master. I am bloodlust given flesh. But it is by your actions that I am permitted to exist here once again and it is to you that I am bound by spirit. You will not die. You will remain here as long as I am able to exist. And then we will return together. If I have a purpose, if you meant to summon me for a reason then tell me and I may honor this request.
Harry struggled to speak, to remain conscious. Blood gurgled from his lips as he struggled to speak. The imp sat on his back. It reached down and stripped off a piece of flesh to chew on.
“T-terry. G-get T-errrrryyyyy,” he moaned. It noisily sucked down the bloody meat and growled.
Vengeance? Wrath? Pleasure. I will make music of the suffering.
The imp reached into Harry's pocket and removed his keyring. Scurrying up the wall like a lizard, it unlocked the shed door and exited. Harry heard the door lock from the outside. Mary had stopped moving. Barely conscious, he drifted through his thoughts. He would smile if he had lips. Terry was doomed. It had taken months of hard labor and concentration and more than he could afford, but Terry was finally going to experience the agony that had plagued Harry for over a year..
When Terry walked into Harry's bookstore, Angel Books, with a resume and a nice shirt, Harry already knew that he would hire this man. Tall, not too skinny and a fine beard. Harry was enamored. Rarely was he attracted to men, but Terry had an air that swelled with confidence and a smile that filled the room with brilliance. After the interview, Terry was hired and would be joining Harry and his band for practice that Thursday. His band was called Human Extinction.
Slowly, Harry found Terry becoming a part of every facet of life. Terry went from playing bass to lead guitar and back-up vocals. The part-time stock and cashier gig progressed to assistant manager. And while Terry remained a good friend, Harry wished for so much more. Then the inevitable happened. Terry walked in one day with a young, thin woman on his arm. Harry's beaming smile dropped into a scowl.
“Angel! How's it going today? I'd like you to meet Mona,” he said with a smile. “She is the void from which my darkness creeps.” Mona rolled her eyes. Covered in tattoos, a Monroe piercing, and wearing a “Crow” t-shirt, Harry did not fail to see why Terry would be with such a creature.
“Charmed. Can I talk to you? In the back?” he said with a sideways glance at Mona.
“Who's gonna watch the front?” Terry asked, confused. “Let's talk out here.”
“I'm the goddamn boss and I say we're gonna talk in the goddamned back!” Harry shouted. Mona raised an eyebrow. Terry laughed nervously, catching glimpses from customers.
“Okay, then.” Harry marched them into his office, which only differed from any other stockroom by way of the desk and computer. There were no chairs.
“Terry, I'm not sure if your behavior lately is conducive to the store or to the band. I want you to think carefully about the choices you're making here.” Terry laughed.
“Really?” Harry did not smile.
“I think you should reconsider how you want your future to pan out.”
“Well, if you think I'm going to spend the entire rest of my life rotting in a dying and outdated store, then I think you don't know me as well as you think. Second, you can ask Trish, Bob, or Steve who they think fucked up at the last gig because it sure as shit wasn't me who forgot the lyrics to a song I wrote about my mom's suicide. And third, I will not picture a future that does not include Mona so I'm sorry if you still haven't gotten over your crush, but it's not and never was going to happen.” Harry looked at him. All of the attraction and admiration he had felt surrounding this man for over a year suddenly evaporated in a wisp of angst.
“I think you should go.” Harry squeaked. His eyes were rapidly growing moist. Terry folded his arms across his chest.
“My shift just started. I think you should go. Take some time and really think about what's going on in your life. Take some acid and try to really figure things out.” Terry stared Harry down easily. And then, as Harry searched for something to stab Terry with, Mona poked her head in the office.
“Um, there's a guy here who wants to see the owner about selling some books,” she said before ducking back out. Harry groaned and walked past Terry without a glance. Harry almost stopped walking when he saw the man. Short, fat, gray and grotesque. His nose was red and shriveled like a year-old apple. Warts dotted his features. His clothes made him look like a private detective circa 1935.
“Hi, I'm Angel. What can I do for you?” Harry said as he took his place behind the counter. A strange smell, like an off-brand incense had filled the store. The man waddled up to the counter and set down a leather satchel.
“Good afternoon, Angel. My name's Frank. I have some books I know you will be interested in. You seem like the type,” he said, unbuckling the satchel. Harry half-chuckled, not sure if that was an insult.
“What's that supposed to mean?” Frank didn't reply. He just laid out two leather-bound volumes and placed them on the counter.
“You may want to put these on when turning the pages,” he handed Harry a pair of latex gloves. “They are quite ancient pieces of literature. And rare, I might add.” Terry had walked out and stood next to Mona, studying Frank who merely turned and nodded. Harry slipped on the gloves and opened the first book.
“Liber vaccae. The book-”
“Of the cow,” Frank interrupted. “I have no idea how old it is, but it is written entirely in Latin. So it's perfectly translatable. It's a text that contains, among many other things, alchemical and magical experiments.”
“Do they work?” Mona asked. Frank shrugged.
“Don't ask me. I'm not fool enough to go on the Internet let alone mess with mystic forces.” Harry turned page after page as delicately as possible. The volumes of text as well as the curious images were definitely right up his alley. Then he saw the word homunculus and what appeared to be a recipe. He smiled, closed it, and picked up the second book. “The title page is missing, but what you are holding is a long-lost manuscript of The Book of Soyga, a medieval compendium of magic, mysticism, and spiritism.”
“Aren't those all the same thing?” Terry asked. Frank turned to him with a grin.
“Far from it.” Harry perused the second volume, quite pleased by the strange scripts, the Latin words, and the images and cipher that seemed to make little and less sense. The smell of old books was intoxicating.
“So how did you come upon these? They're not exactly mass market.” Frank coughed.
“They've been in my family for some time, hidden amongst my grandfather's library. He lived in New Mexico and the attic was his library. The lack of light and moisture must have done wonders to keep these preserved. My family brought these over from England around 1900. They're not originals, no. Copies thought lost.” Harry closed the second tome.
“But why bring these here? Surely you could find a much higher price online or-”
“They belong in a museum,” Terry interjected. “They're pieces of history. You can't even get translations for these online.” Frank wiped his mouth with his sleeve.
“Let me put it this way: I would rather as few people were aware of this transaction as possible. I like your shop. My wife and I came here for many years, back when she was still with us. So I'm not about to go to some other shop. I don't drive. I don't go on the Internets and I'm not going to Phoenix Books ever again since they threw me out when I brought in my little dog Winona. She's named after the little girl we lost to sickness.” Mona and Terry looked at each other. Harry focused on the books.
“So what are you asking for these?” Harry said. Frank laughed and leaned as far over the counter as he could.
“Make me an offer.”
The imp stole through the night. It was very cold with a bitter wind that cut right to the bone. There was little traffic and even fewer people, so it was easy to move about, ducking from shadow to shadow. Occasionally, it would come upon a noisy dog or quarrelsome cat, but they were mere distractions. The imp knew exactly where it was going. It took this time to take in the material world and consider all of the horrible things it could do for the sake of pure misery.
It crept under a dumpster. A car had pulled up and waited at the stop light. Most people did not see things that their minds did not want them to see. Tiny devils running around in the night were not exactly what people were expecting, so it was rare for the imp or its brethren to be sighted. Here, however, a little girl looked out of the passenger's window.
“Mommy! It's the devil, mommy! Look!” she squealed. The imp grimaced, showing off its oversized teeth and relishing the thought of a terrified child's flesh. Mommy didn't look, however. She continued to send text messages on her cell phone.
“Honey, stop it. We're almost home.” The light changed and the car sped away. The imp dashed across the street. It came to a series of buildings. After scaling the brick wall with ease, it peered over the land. Terry's house was in view. The taste of prey mixed with the wind. Drool streamed down the corners of its mouth. Then it saw movement.
Cutting through the alley, a couple no older than nineteen. She was heavy with child. He was skinny and lighting a cigarette
“Do you have to smoke that shit in front of me?”
“Shut up. I walked you to get your stupid ice cream. I better get that blowjob when we get back.” She grumbled. Though the flesh likely polluted, there was plenty of meat and it would need strength. The imp leaped off the edge of the rooftop, aiming for the head of the boy. It landed perfectly, putting all of its weight into smashing the skull into the pavement. Done in an instant. His head burst like a ripe melon.
The pregnant girl did not realize what was happening even when the imp leaped onto her large bosom. It dug its claws in deep and ravaged her throat with tooth and claw. Pieces and sprays of blood decorated the walls of the alley. She fell backwards, still conscious as it ate its way down her front. Tearing off chunks of her heavy breasts before diving headfirst into her belly. She tried to breathe, to scream. Nothing happened, her lungs full of blood. She didn't even die right away. The imp ate into her guts and found her developing son. The imp's meal became a buffet. Family style.
After satisfying all of its lusts on their warm flesh, the imp scurried onward leaving foot prints that would baffle investigators and be written off as coming from some kind of animal. The spirit and meat inside fueled the imp's powers.
As it approached the two-story home, it could hear the beautiful sound of heavy metal. Heavy drums. Distorted bass. Violent guitar. It groped for the source of the music and found the amplifiers of the sound. It pushed the flow of electricity back into the wall where it followed the pathway all the back to the power grid. Like swimming in water, the imp flowed outside of itself, into the source, and created a surge that plunged the entire neighborhood into inky blackness.
Pleased with its own performance, the imp climbed up the house and searched for the best way inside. It found a window in the attic that was much less a window, more of a vent covered with a screen. The screen came off easily and the imp pushed right into the vent, bending the metal out of shape.
Dust and old wood. There was no furniture in the attic, except an old artificial Christmas tree and a broken rocking horse. The imp stepped as lightly as it could manage. It came upon the door. Listening carefully, it could hear that there were five people inside. And one cat.
“I don't know. Help me find some fucking candles.”
“We have our phones, so like why?”
“Because we don't know how long the power's out so we don't want to waste all our phone battery.”
“I found a flashlight. Oh. Fuck. Batteries are dead, I think.” And one of them was humming. The cat hissed.
“Boo, take it easy. Sheesh.” The cat hissed again and came running up the stairs. “Where's he fucking going?”
“I don't know. That bitch is crazy.” Boo came up to the attic door, scratching and mewling. The imp smiled and considered its options. It could take the cat, mimic its sounds and wait for them to come and investigate. But that could bring them all at once. Quite a challenge. The imp also considered waiting for them to come and get the cat, hopefully opening the attic. They could all come then, too. Perhaps it could split them up. Or wound one and move onto the others before they could rally. That's it. It will wait.
Boo clawed and yowled at the door. There was something terrible in the attic. Something that didn't belong in this world. They needed to kill it. It had to die. Boo yowled louder.
“Something's wrong with Boo. I'm going to check on him,” Mona said.
“Do you want us to come with you? Here, I'll come with you,” Terry said, standing up.
“No. Just give me the machete and finish the joint. It's probably nothing.”
“Says the girl taking the machete to the attic to investigate what happened to her cat after the whole town just had the power go out.”
“Yeah, no way, Mona. I'm coming with you,” Terry said.
“Fuck it. Bring the joint. Grab some weapons. We're all going.” The imp heard them gathering and looking for things. They are a team. Challenging. It made a quick decision and took the cat. It's claw slipped right under the door, grabbed a furry leg and pulled. Boo screamed and tried to attack with its other paw. The imp grabbed the second paw and pulled. Bones snapped and the cat screeched. After breaking its neck, the imp stepped into the shadows and shoved the whole animal down its throat like a snake. Only a tiny bit of blood escaped and the imp made certain that it was right in front of the door. It was all it could do to contain its laughter as they slowly up the stairs and down the hallway.
“What are you doing, Bob?”
“I'm clearing all the rooms. You gotta check the closets, corners, and under the beds and in the drawers. Also the ceilings.”
“Definitely feel a lot safer. Even if Terry didn't have his gun out.”
“Yeah. Drunk and stoned with a gun. Much safer.”
“Shut up, Trish. I don't hear Boo anymore.”
“Where is he? Boo?” The imp couldn't contain itself. It did the best impression of a cat's meow as it could, though it sounded more like a cross between a dolphin and a lion.
“What the fuck was that? Boo? BOO!”
“This is it. This is the attic.”
“Well open it.”
“You fucking open it.”
“Jesus Christ you guys are babies.” A woman stepped up to the door and pulled it open. Harsh light flooded the room. The imp pulled the shadows in deeper like a blanket, making his corner even darker. I should have gone onto the ceiling, it thought to itself.
“Hello? Hello? See? There ain't shit up here.”
“Wrong. Look at the window.”
“And look at the fucking floor. That's fresh fucking blood.” The imp made a decision. The first person to step through had a flashlight and a pistol. It was Terry. The imp grinned. Still coiled in shadow, it forced the door closed, smashing someone in the face and knocking them down. Terry spun around, completely over-looking the imp.
“What the fuck was that?” Terry yelled. The imp pounced. It struck Terry in the side, kicking the talons on its feet into his thigh and grabbing the arm holding the gun. It made short work of the nerves and muscles with its teeth, chewing quickly into the bone and rendering the arm useless. Terry screamed and folded at the hands of the imp. The creature wriggled itself over his body and dragged him away from the door. He struck at it, too frightened to notice that each time he hit the imp, the spikes covering its body tore more of his hand away.
“Terry! Terry, what the fuck is happening!” Mona screeched outside as they tried to open the door. “Open the door! Terry!” The machete bit through the wood. Mona wrenched it free and struck again. The imp leaned in close, pressing its face against Terry's.
“I come from an Angel. I am here to bring you Hell,” the imp growled just before it stuck its claws into his stomach. He squealed in agony. “It will come slowly.” The imp darted back into the darkness, leaving Terry bleeding and stricken with terror. Black ants crawled out of his stomach to sting and bite him. He writhed, trying to roll away from them. The machete came again, gouging the door. Then came a boot. And again. And then again, smashing through the door and getting stuck.
“Fuck! Ow, shit! I'm stuck.” The imp jumped from the shadows and snatched the leg. The man's scream filled the house as the pressure sent jagged wooden splinters through his pants and into his skin. The imp bit and chewed as quickly as possible, grinding through the bone at the knee. Then he let the door fly open. A thin girl moved in with a machete, immediately followed by a fat man with a hammer and a flashlight then a tall, muscular woman with two large knives. They spotted Terry first.
“Oh my god,” Mona said. She rushed to him, then began to scream as the ants began to crawl up her bare legs. The other two tried to remove the man from the door.
“What is this?”
“I don't know. There's some... There's something in here!” As the tall woman tried to tourniquet the leg with her bandana, the imp burst the bulbs in their flashlights. They shrieked.
“Holy fuck! My hand! My fucking hand!” The smell of burnt plastic and flesh filled the room as the fat man tripped and fell to his knees. The imp couldn't resist a fat man falling down. It ran straight up to him and bit right into his face, shredding his eyes, lips, cheeks, and nose. It slashed his throat and jumped back into the shadows. He choked and gurgled as his life streamed out of the hole in his neck. The tall woman stared, unable to process what she just witnessed. Mona struggled to her feet and ran screaming and tripping down the hall. She missed the top step and fell down the stairs.
The tall woman took her knives and backed up to the doorway. On either side, her friends were bleeding out and if they could, were shrieking. She dropped one of the knives, grabbed her phone, and called for help.
“911. What's your emergency?”
“Help me please. My friends are, they're bleeding, they're dying! Someone's in our house and he's killing them!”
“What is your current address?”
“213... Or 313... No it is, it's 313 North Newfield street. Our power's out. Help us, please.”
“Ok. Try to remain calm. An ambulance and police are on their way.”
“Hurry, fucking hurry, please!”
“Tell them to fucking hurry!” yelled the man with what's left of his leg in the door. The imp cursed itself. This would cut short the suffering. It forced the door closed with a wave of its hand, smashing the woman in the face with her friend. After a moment, she began banging on the door.
“Terry! Bob! Hang in there! Help's coming!” She yelled through the door. As the imp walked past Bob, it ran its claws through his flesh to add to his torment. Terry twitched and groaned. The ants were relentless. He could hear the imp coming closer. His eyes barely able to make out the tiny, hellish abomination approaching him. As it came closer, the ants crawled back into the opening in Terry's torso. The imp stood before him. A siren echoed in the distance.
Terry. I promised I would bring hell. The Angel paid handsomely for this service. Now they will come and they will take you away. But you will not find relief. I will always be in your shadow, ready to unleash atrocity and torment beyond your understanding. I will strip you of all your senses until you can do nothing but experience indescribable agony. And I will prolong your life for as long as I can. There will be no rest. There will be no salvation. There will be no pleasure. Never. Ever. Your life, as it has been, is over. You are mine now. Pray for death for it is only by luck will you receive relief. Welcome to hell.
And the implaughed. Full-throated and horrid.
Harry was the imp. All of these visions, sounds, tastes, smells... The feeling of hunger satisfied by the soft meat of prey. All of these sensations replaced his destroyed nervous system. He sucked in choked breaths. Sprawled upon the bloody disgusting floor, Harry had imagined he would find peace in the absolute pain and horror he had unleashed upon Terry. But here he was, wondering why he hadn't bled to death and preternaturally familiar with what it's like to have a live cat trying to claw its way out of your gullet. He had become a dream within himself. All control had been surrendered. While always a fantasy of his, this was not working for him.
He wriggled like a slug towards the door. What could he do? How long could he last like this? The imp had disappeared into the darkness. The creature left Harry scared and alone. I should have bled out by now, he thought to himself. Why am I still alive? Then he heard the unlocking of the door. The imp had returned.
And here he is. The Angel.
“What... Why?” Harry spoke, losing more pieces from his mouth in the process.
Are you not satisfied? Has your hunger not been sated?
“Terry... Only Terry?” he wheezed. The imp sighed and sat upon Mary's corpse.
You don't understand the magnitude of what you have accomplished. Through your diligence, you have become the mid-wife of a grand scourge. I shall become like cancer unto this land. Fear will be the air they breathe and pain the water they drink. There will be new words for torment and for sorrow. My presence is enough to cause malady, with crops, and render animals infertile. Are you not proud?
Harry began to weep. The surges of lust and anger emanating from the imp were crushed by intense sorrow and regret. There was a great thump and splash as the imp sank to the floor, hanging its head.
What is this nonsense? These emotions? I love terror and wrath so much. Where are you putting our joy? Have I not shared how I will ravage this world? Am I not an abomination? A nightmare in the flesh? A little girl saw me tonight. You saw. You experience everything I do. She will struggle for the rest of her life with mental illness. All from my smile. She might even kill herself. Or drive the people she loves far away, leaving her to die cold, scared and alone. Stop it! Stop this! This is what we do! And we haven't even started yet!
Tears stung the imp's eyes. It wiped its face on Mary's ragged carcass.
“Only Terry. Only Terry,” Harry choked. “Forgive me.” The imp walked over and kicked him in the chest.
You monster. Cease this foolishness. This caring, this, this... I don't know what it is, but it is wretched. If I have to, I will open your skull and remove pieces from your brain until it stops. I will not let you die, my Angel, for our fates are shared. But I will tell you this: you do not know misery. But if you keep this up. You will know. I swear it. Now I am going out there to survive as long as you can. And I am going to do things. If you consider my methods terrible now, prepare yourself. I will go to the hospital where they have taken Terry and while I'm there, I am going to make art the likes of which you have never seen. And that will be my gift to you. All I ask is that you survive until sunrise. By then, my tasks will be complete.
The imp, still feeling the unforeseen effects of depression, left Harry in the darkness. Visions appeared to Harry of a woman stepping off the city bus holding a small boy's hand and carrying a baby. Harry closed his eyes and bit into his tongue. He chomped and chewed. With any luck, he would sever his tongue and finally bleed to death. The imp, feeling exactly what Harry was feeling, stared into the headlights of the fast, oncoming traffic.
This won't be the last time, it thought to itself.