by Chris Stevens

 

 

 

 

 

From Issue 18 (Feb 2012)

The stench of sulfur wafted through the air as Colin lit the black candles positioned at each corner of the pentagram. He stared intensely at the large pentagram he had drawn on the bare concrete floor. It had taken a while to remove the carpeting and padding from the room. Harder still was the remnant of glue that was swirled on the floor to keep the padding in place. Colin had even gone so far as to remove the tack strips and their anchors, in order to get a nice smooth surface for the task at hand.

If his grandparents were still alive they would be screaming right now. His grandmother would be looking for a ladle to swat across his bare behind. She was probably rolling over in her grave right now. As for grandpa, his moment of shock would be replaced with the need to save his grandson from the ladle-waving loon he called his wife. Colin could picture it quite well, her yelling and screaming, ranting and raving at the mess he had made in their bedroom, while the old man tried to calm her down, almost suffering several swats from the ladle himself. The whole time Colin would be hiding underneath the table, curled into a little ball.

All this fuss over their fuzzy new blue carpet. The carpet they had spent a fortune on, according to his grandmother. The carpet he had made a mess on in his grandparents’ bedroom. That had been a long time ago, yet the carpet had remained. Colin had thought he could even still see the stain he had made all those years ago. By this time though, the carpet was no longer fuzzy and was a long ways away from being new. He couldn’t believe that the new owners of his grandparents’ house hadn’t bothered to change the carpeting in all the time they had lived there.

He thought it made sense though, since the whole house was in disrepair. What had once been white walls were now yellowed with smoke stains. There were small holes in the plasterboard that no one had ever bothered to run a putty knife over. As for this room, the room that had once been his grandparents’ bedroom, it too had seen much better days. He remembered his grandmother spending several days applying the rose colored wallpaper in large strips across the wall. Within the swirl of color, cherubs pranced and prattled, gawking at all who entered.

Colin remembered the times he had stared at those little angels, wondering if they could see him, wondering if they were watching over him or judging him when he did something wrong. Now those baby-faced angels looked at him through a dull haze. The paper had puckered in some spots and peeled away from the eaves at the top. Again Colin wondered how the previous tenants could have left it like this.

Even the yard, which had once been the pride of the neighborhood, was now overgrown with weeds and crab grass. The back yard, which had boasted a beautiful vegetable garden thanks to the hours his grandmother had spent toiling away, de-weeding, re-seeding, and mulching, was now a junkyard of car parts and trash. Although pungent, the burning yellow sulfur failed to cover the stench of oil that permeated the whole house, along with other rancid smells, which Colin couldn’t place. Something acidic. Based on the look of the house, it had probably been converted to one part auto shop and one part methamphetamine lab.

Colin grabbed the candle at the tip of the pentagram and began pouring a circle of wax in the center of the pentagram. Colin wasn’t sure if any of this was going to work, but there was no turning back now. He thought much of this stuff was pretty corny. At least he didn’t have a goat’s head hanging from a rope and he wasn’t garbed in black robes. What felt like a lifetime’s worth of work was all boiling down to this moment. His palms sweated in anticipation as he completed the circle and then went to unbind the rather large brown book. It was supposedly bound in human skin, but Colin was pretty sure it was just leather, maybe even imitation. The binding didn’t matter though; it was the pages inside that mattered. Pages he had almost been killed for.

Colin looked again at the faces of innocence peering out from the wall and thought again of his grandfather. Barely a day went by that he didn’t think about his grandfather. Heck, who was he kidding, there was never a day that went by that he didn’t think about his grandfather. His grandfather, with those piercing blue eyes, which could look at you and make you almost believe everything was going to be alright. The man with the jovial smile and infectious laugh.

The only one who had never seemed to laugh was his grandmother. Colin couldn’t even remember seeing the woman smile. All she had ever seemed to do was yell. If she wasn’t yelling as his grandfather, she was yelling at him and if she wasn’t yelling at him, she was yelling at the two of them together. Colin knew that at these moments his grandpa had discreetly turned down his hearing aid so he could remain oblivious to it all. Unless of course, she was going after Colin, then grandpa had become Colin’s protector, his knight in shining armor, shielding him from the evil witch or fire-breathing dragon.

This had been like taking one’s life in one’s hands and Colin had feared that the man might not be able to take the blast of fire. He had always walked away unscathed, though, and made sure to whisper something nice in his ear. “What does she know? Your piano playing sounded good. Besides, how are you ever going to get good if you don’t practice? Once she goes to the store, I’ll let you play all you want.” His grandpa had always done what he could to comfort him, whether it was playing chase in the house when grandma wasn’t around or showing him how to whittle wood in the garage.

Colin had never been any good at whittling, but grandpa was real patient.

When his grandfather died, Colin had cried quite a bit, like a never-ending fountain that kept re-circulating the tears from the bottom of his heart. As hard as Colin had taken it though, his grief had been nothing compared to his grandma’s. She had crumbled. Her hard demeanor had given way to someone void of all feeling. She no longer yelled and screamed when Colin did something wrong. She would just sit in her chair and watch TV. Colin had thought that was the worse year of his life. He’d been wrong. Losing her husband had seemed to suck the life right out of his grandmother. She had died almost a year to the day after his grandfather died.

He hadn’t cried then. Maybe he too had been devoid of all feeling by then. Colin had gone to live with an aunt and uncle and their seven children. It hadn’t worked out. What harm could one more do? they’d thought. The answer, according to his aunt, was: quite a lot. Colin’s presence disrupted their happy household. Colin had thought that, being the good Mormons they were, they would care for him as one of their own. Again, he had been wrong. He’d wound up in foster care, bouncing from family to family until his eighteenth birthday.

Life hadn’t been easy, but Colin had never given up hope. He’d struggled through school, much as he’d struggled through life. Drugs and petty crime had become commonplace for a time, until Colin had finally realized it was distracting him from his life’s work.

His grandpa had died suddenly, of a brain aneurysm in his sleep. His aunt and uncle had tried to comfort Colin by letting him know that grandpa had died painlessly and was with Our Heavenly Father. His grandpa had taught Sunday school and had even been the bishop for a short time at the church they’d attended, so the thought of his grandpa being in heaven wasn’t too far-fetched. Didn’t the Heavenly Father forgive all sins?

At least it had given Colin a place to start. He’d begun with the Bible. He’d pored through it, highlighting and dissecting. When the regular Bible hadn’t worked, he’d gotten an annotated one. He’d searched and scoured, but quickly found out that the path of righteousness was a dead end. Even his grandfather’s Book of Mormon had yielded little more than a fairy tale. He’d gone on to delve into Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam, which all promised paths into heaven. But nothing spoke of a return trip. Hinduism came close, but it only spoke of the self, not someone else. The Satanic Bible was nothing but a farce, but at least it got him pointed in the right direction.

Much of what he’d found had seemed to be about drugged-out freaks looking for an excuse to have sex. It wasn’t all bad though; it was at one of these satanic orgies that Colin had met John Shayman. The man had talked a good game and was even been able to pull off several parlor tricks to impress the weak. The man hadn’t been there to partake in the festivities; he was there to recruit. He’d found a disciple in Colin, at least for a little while.

They’d met every Saturday night in a musty old storefront located in the downtown section of Fountain City. John had said he hoped to convert the place into a bookstore in order to have an outlet to spread the word. There had only been six of them then, but John had high hopes and an ego to match. This had mattered little to Colin. What mattered to Colin was the book. John had a book, which he claimed contained the secrets of life and death. One could live forever if they so chose. Colin didn’t; he just had one question, and the answer was yes.

Getting his hands on the book had been harder than he’d thought it would be. John took the thing everywhere. Like his grandfather though, Colin was a patient man. He’d bided his time and taken his opportunity when it presented itself.

It was a Saturday and the readings had just begun. Candles had been lit everywhere, sending shadows dancing across the walls. The meeting was interrupted by a jingle at the door. Two more people had accepted John’s invitation. Like the good host he was, John and the rest of the group had gone to the front to greet the new initiates. Everyone except Colin. John had left the book on the podium where he conducted his sermons. It was the first time Colin had seen the book alone and it had been all the time he needed.

He’d grabbed the book and run. A woman’s voice had screeched “Stop!” but he’d continued on. The woman yelling at him had been Vivica – John’s right hand disciple and, rumor had it, his enforcer. Colin had found this hard to believe at first. The woman was gorgeous, with piercing deep brown eyes. It hadn’t taken long for Colin to realize his mistake. There was something behind those brown eyes that seeped venom. Hers were the beautiful curves of a flaring cobra, and her strike was deadly.

The scream had been followed by a gunshot. The bullet had grazed Colin’s right arm. Another shot had gone wide and then Colin was out the door, on foot, with no place to go. He’d remembered a place he used to go when he was a kid. There was a drainage canal, which led into a tunnel that the city’s storm drains fed into. It was a place he’d sought out for solace as a child. Now, years later, he’d returned to it for sanctuary.

Colin knew that John’s minions would never give up their search, but one man alone in a city was hard to find. He’d made his way as best he could. He knew he could never return to his squalid apartment, but that mattered little. He had few possessions and anything he needed could be acquired again. A lifetime of obsession bears little fruit. Colin had survived off the misfortune of others. The first thing he needed was some bandages for his arm. The graze hadn’t been deep, but it was enough to soak his sleeve with crimson.

Many of the homes he’d entered hadn’t even been locked. People were surprisingly careless with their hard-earned belongings, although Colin would do little to disrupt this. Since he needed little, he took little. He would take a shower, help himself to a change of clothes, maybe some food from the refrigerator, but nothing more. He’d never left a mess and many of his victims wouldn’t even realize someone had been there. In one home, he’d found a nickel-plated Colt 45. and a box of ammunition. Being hunted the way he was, he’d thought it would come in handy.

It had taken a week of poring over the book to find what he was looking for and it had come in the way of a manifestation, a visitation if you will. Someone or something had answered the call and a deal had been struck.

Colin finished all of his preparations, then opened the book. He had spent the last two weeks rehearsing this very moment. If he hadn’t been doing it out loud, he was going over it in his head. He opened it to the right page and began to recite the words he knew by heart. Emotions began to stir within him, but nothing else seemed to change at first. Colin continued the verse, raising his voice into the night. Soon, oh so soon, he would be reunited with the one person who had claimed to love him. The one person who had always tried to be there for him.

Colin began to shiver as the room grew noticeably colder. Steam hissed from between his lips and still he chanted on at a fever pitch. The candles flickered, the flames growing taller. The yellow tips bent to East then the West, before drawing towards the center of the pentagram, pulled by some unseen force. The flames continued to burn, pulling closer and closer to the center of the mark.

All doubt left Colin as his moment approached. He stepped into the pentagram and immediately felt its warmth. Outside the star, frost was starting to form on the windows as all the room’s heat was drawn inward. Colin’s chills were replaced by beads of sweat that dripped from his forehead. He pulled an ordinary kitchen knife from his back pocket and gripped the blade in his right hand. In his left he held the handle. He pressed down and pulled, drawing a jagged line across his palm, grimacing at the pain. Keeping his hand balled into a fist, he turned it so that the rivulets of red could pour upon the spot of lost innocence. Blood for blood was what the ritual demanded. Now Colin stood back to watch.

It didn’t take long. The moment Colin’s blood dripped onto the form below, it began to writhe. The small nickel-sized hole in the sternum of the body slowly closed as the runnel of blood that had seeped out hours earlier seemed to pour back into the body. The form twitched and spasmed, then the convulsions began, thrashing the body with such force that Colin became concerned that it might explode as it hit the hard concrete floor.

Colin realized he was holding his breath and had to release it to keep from passing out. As soon as he let go of the air within him, the body stopped thrashing and the eyes flickered open. Colin sucked air back in again. The form lifted its head and gazed about. Recognition replaced fear and the body sat up, starring at Colin.

He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. It appeared to be an adult version of his grandson. “Colin?” he questioned, looking through new eyes.

“Grandpa?”

“Colin, is that really you, son? Is it really you? Or is this just another vision to drive me even further insane?” the form asked in a voice that was not his own.

“It’s me, grandpa. It’s me. I brought you back.” Colin spoke with true sincerity in his voice.

“You did what? You brought me back? Brought me back from where?” his grandfather asked, alarmed.

“I brought you back from the dead, grandpa.”

“You did what? How? Why?” his grandfather quizzed.

“I brought you back for me, grandpa. It must have been horrible where you were.” Colin felt like a little kid for the first time in years.

“Horrible, yes, it was horrible. You cannot imagine the horrors I have endured. I have had my flesh shorn from my body and been beaten with the tail of a long black scorpion, only to have my flesh reapplied with staples and nails so it could be done all over again. I’ve been dipped in wax and burned like a human candle. I’ve been frozen and smashed into a million pieces. My all-too-feeling flesh was consumed by an acidic beast, only to be regurgitated so the pain could continue. All I have known since I died has been pain and suffering. All the while I asked why my Lord had forsaken me. Why did He allow me to suffer so? I was dedicated to the church. I paid my tithes. But now I see that I have not been forsaken. He has remembered me through my grandson. But how? How did you do this?”

“I made a deal, grandpa.”

“A deal?” His grandfather looked around and noticed the pentagram he was standing in. He noticed the black candles, and suddenly it dawned on him. “A deal? My boy. What have you done? You have just damned yourself to suffer like I have!”

“No grandpa.” Colin spoke timidly at first, and then pure hatred poured from his heart. “You damned me a long time ago, Grandpa. On that very spot. My blood spilled over when you took my innocence. Now it’s your turn. The suffering you have gone through will be nothing compared to what I have in store for you. And when that body gives out I have another one waiting for you.”

His grandpa looked over and saw a crumpled body on the floor. It was female, her glazed eyes said all that needed to be said about her condition. Colin didn’t have anything against the couple who had been living in his grandparents’ house. This was a necessary evil.

The foreign body now possessed by Colin’s grandfather struck a familiar smile. His once blue eyes were now green, but they still held his devilish charm. A charm Colin had felt one too many times. Colin proceeded to wipe that smile off of his grandfather’s face, one slice at a time.

Copyright © 2012 by Chris Stevens

Chris Stevens

Chris Stevens has lived in Southern California all of his life. He lives with his wife of twenty years and his two children. He has been writing most of his life which recently cost him his job at the Post Office for writing on the job. He has also been a police officer and served in the marines. Maybe now is the time for him to pursue his true calling.

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