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CHAPTER 36 – A Gift

“Satan, wait!”

Mickey’s attention had been so fully focused on the devil-dog and its gaping, tooth-lined and blood-rimmed maw only feet away that he hadn’t seen the black witch come through the stage door. But, now that he saw her, it only seemed natural that she would be here, too. He had come to believe that the dog was always in her shadow. Maybe it was her shadow. She had summoned it that first time by calling out ‘Satan,’ and she had just called out ‘Satan’ again. He had never been a believer of anything but his own superiority, but what more evidence could he want?

Unbelievably, and to his great relief, the dog did appear to abort its attack; although, it still gazed up at him on his ridiculous little perch. How could he have thought he would be safe up on the fragile box that rocked back and forth just with his shifting weight? Even if the huge dog couldn’t reach him by simply standing on its hind legs, it wouldn’t have any trouble tipping the thing over. It wouldn’t even have to jump. But what else could he have done? If he had stayed on the floor, he would be as dead as Angie. But, she had called the dog off, and his mind was so filled with relief that he didn’t even wonder why.

She walked across the stage to the unmoving women sprawled on the floor, each with a pool of blood beneath her head, then to where the girl that Angie had dropped sat holding the dying man’s head and shoulders in her lap. The black witch knelt and said something to the girl, then to the man who said something back and shook his head. The black witch looked briefly at his wound, caressed his cheek, and stood up. The second girl, the one Mickey had lain on the floor, sat up rubbing the side of her head and crawled over to sit beside the other one where they both quietly cried.

When the black witch stood up, the dog turned his head and looked back at her for a moment before returning his hellish gaze to Mickey. She walked over and stood beside the dog for a moment, then knelt beside it. She said nothing, but she peered into its grotesque face. Every few seconds, the dog moved its gaze over into that black witch’s eyes, but then back up at Mickey again. Even against the terror-driven trembling of his body, Mickey shivered as icy chills raced up and down his back from witnessing the witch and the dog talking to each other.

After what could have been a couple of minutes or a couple of hours – Mickey’s internal clock had lost all sense of time – the black witch stood up, stepped back, and to the side. The dog backed up a step or two, turned and walked over to the other girls where it lowered its enormous head to sniff each one as well as the dying man. The girls responded with a hand lightly to the side of the massive jaws. After a moment, it glanced back at the black witch, grunted once, and lay beside them. But it still glared with horrible intensity at Mickey.

“You can come down now,” the black witch said.

Mickey tore his gaze from the dog and peered at her face, into her eyes, trying to fathom what terribly important thing he knew she had just uttered, but panic had taken absolute control of his mind and body. His mind kept replaying scenes of the backyard battle where blood flew amid screams cut short. That time, he had scrambled through a window and hid. This time, there was no place to hide, and the terror gripping him wouldn’t let go.

He glanced down at Angie again, wishing – hoping – he would get up and distract the dog and the black witch long enough for Mickey to get away. But Angie wouldn’t move. He just lay there, studying the remains of the high ceiling while Mickey cowered in his terror that he had never wanted Angie to see.

“I said, you can come down now.”

Mickey looked back at her. He concentrated on her words, the same words she had spoken, before. She had said he could come down. Did she mean he could go back down to the floor without the devil-dog ripping him apart like it did Angie? Did she mean he should come down so he could be ripped apart? Or did she mean something else entirely, his confusion fueled by his own terrible wish to be able to leave his perch without falling into that horrible grinding machine? His powers of comprehension were only gradually returning beneath the torrent of panic that still engulfed him.

“He won’t hurt you, now. You can come down.”

“He … he won’t hurt me?”

“You can come down. He won’t hurt you.”

Mickey’s mind was winning its battle with the panic, and he began to think again, to reason. She said it again, that he won’t hurt me. Maybe he won’t hurt me … but, why? “Why are you helping me?”

She gazed up into his face with no expression on her own. She said, “That was my brother … the one you killed … the boy.”

He had no idea what she was talking about. There was no boy with them there in the auditorium. Maybe the dog ate him. She couldn’t be talking about the man. He wasn’t dead – not yet. His mind continued to grope for its power to think, to reason, to recall selected memories out of a flood of slaughter images. There had been a boy prisoner, a black boy prisoner. Maybe she didn’t like her brother, and she’s glad it killed him. But, no, after he had ripped the hoods off, he remembered a cry of anguish from the crowd. He remembered looking out and recognizing the face of the black witch that had kicked him in the balls and in the face and then butchered his men. He had felt elation as he realized she must know one of the prisoners, maybe even be related. He felt joy at the idea of finally having his revenge, and he told Morgan of his discovery. Morgan told him to be ready to kill all the prisoners at his command. He did, and the boy was first. Two quick flicks with his blades, and he had his vengeance – yes, that boy.

But, if that was her brother, why was she helping him? Could it be that she felt so overwhelmed, so defeated, that she just wanted him to leave? Could it be that he had, after all, outraged her so much that she could not stand against him? That had been at the core of his survival strategy since that first day: overwhelm everyone with such revulsion, such devastation of the soul, that they would not – could not – stand against him in battle.

She took half a step back when Mickey made the first tentative move to dismount from his roost. He interpreted her move as a reaction of fear, of unwillingness to even be near him. Fearful, perhaps, that his vileness was an indication of how dangerous he was, or even just the vileness, itself. He didn’t care what caused the fear, so long as he was feared. It meant survival.

He uncurled some more and began lowering one leg down from the cramped space. He smiled inwardly when she took another half step backwards, and he slipped the other leg over the edge. After a quick glance across the stage assured him that the devil-dog still lay beside the two girls, he swung his upper body over and dropped to the floor.

She took another step back.

“So, now I just walk out of here, right? He ain’t gonna stop me? He’s gonna let me go?”

The black witch didn’t move backwards, anymore. She didn’t change her blank expression for several seconds. Then, as though hellish flames had begun to animate them from within, her eyes began to gleam. It was like they filled with a fire that had no heat, crystalline flames that were as cold as the eternal night beyond life. One moment they seemed to blaze like glowing coals; the next they glittered like shards of glacier ice. A mirthless grin spread across her face, distorting her lips and mouth into a hard grimace.

“Oh, no,” she said, letting her staff fall to the side and drawing a long, sleek dagger from a sheath at her side. “He didn’t say you could leave. He just said he wouldn’t kill you.” She paused as a deaths-head rictus stretched her lips through which her next words extruded. “He gave you to me.”

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