Estimated reading time — 47 minutes
My name is Jim. I’ve been in and out of construction contracts for the last seventeen years. Between those contracts, I do what I can to make a few extra bucks, since you never really know when the next contract will show up and unemployment pays you just enough to lay awake hungry at night. Most of us have heard of Uber and Lyft. I figured it was the perfect way to sustain my take-out burrito habits until my next work order. However, my driving record isn’t exactly clean.
I owe a few thousand dollars in fines for my DUI from three years ago. Before anyone goes up in arms, no one was injured and I wasn’t in an accident. I was leaving the liquor store for the third time that afternoon and was busted by a cop, waiting in the parking lot for me to wobble back into my car. It’s pretty foolish considering the liquor store is in walking distance, but my drunk brain was more concerned with being mugged than being caught by police. Lesson learned, I’m sober now. Fatter from an oral fixation on Mexican food, but sober.
When I failed to meet the requirements on Uber, I went searching online for something similar to ride sharing or some sort of P2P, smartphone type work. I came across an app called Cerber. I was reading one of those “10 ways to make money without bleeding out” articles when I saw an advertisement for Cerber on the side of the article. Big, orange letters glowed against a black background with the phrase “hellish commutes made heavenly.” I found that to be cheesy marketing, but since I’ve never heard of this specific company before, I figured they were a startup and wouldn’t be too picky about participants. I went ahead with filling out a brief application, submitted and hoped for the best. This is where it started to get weird. Immediately after I hit “submit,” my phone rang.
It was 11:47 P.M. when I pissed myself to the phone ringing. I looked at my phone to see “UNKNOWN” illuminating the screen in my dimly lit bedroom. I don’t answer those calls during regular business hours, let alone during the late night. I decided to respect their privacy, ignore the call and not bother to find out who was calling me. I shoved another taquito in my face, and made my way towards my unmade bed. As soon as I dove into my flattened, stale pillows to begin my pity party, my phone rang again. It still said “UNKNOWN,” but it was now coming in as an emergency. Why?
I answered the phone to a woman’s voice veiled with a cheerful disposition that had to be fueled by caffeine and cocaine. “Hello! Is this James Atwell?” She chirped.
“Uh…yeah? Who is this?”
“Hi! This is Adeline with Cerber calling you back about the application you just submitted!”
“Oh, uh,” I was still tonguing chicken taquito out of my teeth “hi. That was awful fast, did I submit incorrectly?” I said with clear apprehension, but moderate enthusiasm. These folks were fast.
“No not at all!” I could hear her clicking her mouse as she spoke to me, “I just wanted to alert you that we have reviewed your application and would like to know when you could start!”
“Uh,” I struggled to get some pants on, cradling the phone between my ear and shoulder. I finish buttoning my pants and say “now, I guess. Are people active this late?”
“Oh yes! Our most active hours are between 10 P.M. and 4:30 A.M.” she stops clicking her mouse “Please download the application onto your phone, quickly make a profile and you’ll be ready to receive requests! Do you have any questions?” I can hear her smiling, gross.
“Uh, no. I don’t think so.” I say as I finish zipping up my jacket.
“Wonderful! Thank you for choosing Cerber! Give them hell, Jimmy boy!” She hung up before I could respond. Give them hell? What the actual…okay, well no time to waste, I suppose.
I download the app, make my profile and mark myself as available. I drive a relatively new SUV so I’m not exactly convinced I’ll be first pick. Gas isn’t cheap and everyone wants to save money. This means I have some time to clean up the taco foils and cardboard boats out of my car. About twenty minutes into trying to alleviate my car of the turgid smell of jalapeño and old cheese, I got my first ring. It was a ride request for one person, a man named Ray, seeking a ride to San Francisco. The city is about an hour from where he’s requesting the ride, but a drive I am very familiar with. I tap on “accept,” throw the bag of trash in the garbage bin and start heading over to the pinned location.
To my surprise, I was directed to a neighborhood that was just a few blocks away from me. I parked outside of a post-80’s style suburban home, coated in sharp sparkle and salmon pink paint. From the door, I see Ray emerge from his pastel green door and immediately, I knew something was off.
Ray was obscenely tall. He had to be an easy seven-and-a-half feet, slouching. He shoved his pallid hands into the pockets of his gray jacket, hood pulled well over his head so that his face wouldn’t be seen. His long thin, legs, adorning blue jeans and clean, black dress shoes, carried his slender frame at a calm stride to my vehicle. As he came closer, I noticed he was wearing a tie and a formal jacket under his normal hoodie. Different strokes, I guess.
He approached my window, his head down and said “Jim?”
“Yeah, you’re Ray?” He sounds so normal. This man is anything but.
“Yeah. Would it be too much trouble to ask you to fold the first row of seats for me? Because, you know. . .” he gestures below his torso to his knees, all while still keeping his head down. He didn’t want me to see his face, but I didn’t feel threatened by him, so I just ignored his lack of eye contact.
“Yeah, sure. No problem at all.” He steps back so that I can open my door and access the back seat. I folded the first row of seats so that the third row was the only place left to sit.
Ray climbs in, takes his seat and buckles up, “Thanks, man.”
“Of course, bought this thing for comfort anyway, know what I mean?” I chuckled. He remained silent with his head facing out the window. Awkward.
The silence of the drive was excruciating. I did my best not to spend too much time glancing back at him. He hardly moved. Every few minutes he would uncross and re-cross his legs. My nervous tendencies finally got the best of me and I had to be “that dick.”
“Those are some serious stems,” I nervously chuckle, “you play basketball as a kid?”
Maintaining his gaze out the window he replies “That’s a serious gut, you eat a lot of food?”
I got immediately defensive, but I brought this on myself and kept my mouth shut.
“Doesn’t feel good, does it? Someone commenting on your size.” He said so calmly.
“No. It doesn’t. I apologize.” I say through gritted teeth. I was no longer inspired to conjure up anymore small talk for the duration of the ride.
About thirty minutes later, we arrive at his destination, which lead me to old Fort Miley. I never recalled this place having an actual address. While my gaze was fixed on the location, dumbfounding me as to why anyone would want to be here this late, he slowly got out of the car and closed the door. He kept his back to me and pulled out his phone as he started walking away.
I was still very much in a state of “what the hell” when I got a notification on my phone. He gave me five bat wings and a 20% tip, bringing the grand total to $1,279.37. My jaw about hit my lap at the astronomical amount. As I brought my face up to try and stop him and alert him of what had to be a mistake, he kept walking, put his hand up and gave a gentle wave. I watched him until he was far into the trees before I finally looked back down at my phone. He left a written review for other riders that read “Go easy on him. He’s new.”
What. The. Actual. Fuck.
I sped home as fast as I could without tipping off any highway patrol. I ran inside my house, darted to my computer and tried to make sense of what I just got myself into. To my chagrin, I couldn’t find a single thing on the internet about Cerber. Not even a website, beyond the application page they offered through the advertisement.
I sat back in my chair for a moment, my hands in my lap and continued to process everything. Who pays that kind of money for an hour ride? Who the hell was in my car? What the hell was in my car? I grabbed my phone and opened the app again. Maybe something was there that could provide some kind of answers. Well, I found my answer.
I clicked on the menu option that you would see for most applications and found a description option. It read as follows:
“Cerber is a dedicated ride-sharing company that ensures anonymity and safe transportation of the paranormal.”
It goes on to talk about rates, amenities and safety measures. I never had a chance to read the terms and agreements, no one does. I went back to check everything I signed and sure enough, it’s a transport service for ghosts and shit.
The rates applicable to me are too good to pass up. Two-thirds of what it cost to pay my mortgage was made in a matter of an hour. Maybe this is dangerous, maybe it’s absolutely insane, but I’m going to stick this out and see where it takes me.
* * * * * *
I WAS NOT READY!
Tonight has been insane. I got “waterproof” seat covers (let’s face it, water is not the concern here) and salt-free snacks. I had a hard time finding a way to get “finger foods,” so I just got unsalted nuts and dried fruit. I had no clue what paranormal entities ate, so I took a stab. I learned quickly that paranormal entities couldn’t care less about almonds and dehydrated nectarines. Can’t blame them.
I tried my best to get a good night’s rest after the strange evening I had. Part of me was too shaken to sleep, the other part was partial excitement on what my next rides would be like. I eventually gave up on sleep and went to a general store to pick up snacks, water bottles and seat covers. After coating my car in as much vinyl preventive measure as humanly possible, I treated myself to enchiladas and a cold Pepsi. After my meal, I felt accomplished enough to attempt sleep again. I was awaken by another “UNKNOWN” call again at 11:47 P.M. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who was calling me. I eagerly picked up the call, nearly dropping the phone, “I have questions!”
Adeline burst into a giggling hysteria and replied “Oh I’m sure you do, Jim. What would you like to know?”
“First off,” I held a finger in the air, ignoring that this was a phone call and not a physical confrontation, “why the hell are you calling me so late?”
“Last time we spoke, it was this exact time. You answered then and I figured if I called you at the same time, you would answer at that exact time.” She said calmly and slowly. Good point. I carry on with false confidence, trying to pretend that I don’t feel as stupid as I sound.
“Second, I want to know if the payment I received was a mistake.” I asked, chewing on my thumbnail.
“No, not at all. Was that not proper compensation? It appears that ray gave you a pretty generous tip. Would you like to file a dispute?” I could hear her clicking her mouse again.
“NO!” I yelled into the phone. Mostly because I wouldn’t want to see what’s in store for anyone that pisses Ray off. I clear my throat and continue, “no, sorry. I just feel like that was maybe too generous? Why was the fee so high for Ray?” I’m so afraid of the answer.
“Jim, I can assure you that the compensation was not an accident. Do you remember the part of the application that asked you if you had a spouse, relatives, children or friends?” My heart found its way to my colon. I knew where this was going.
“Yeah, I remember.” I practically croaked my answer, my throat felt so dry.
“Well, to put it as gently as I can,” she stops clicking her mouse, “the riders that you’re transporting are not typical beings like yourself. Most of them are harmless, but some. . .” insert long, unnecessary, pregnant pause, “. . . can be dangerous. If something were to happen to you, we would prefer not to worry about liability lawsuits. It’s not that you’re life bares little meaning, it’s just business Jim.” I sit back and recall my answer. I have no one. I answered “no” to that part of the application.
I let the answer sink in too long and hear Adeline chime in, “Are you still with us, Jim? Did you have more questions?”
“Uh,” I close my eyes and try to gather my thoughts, “Yeah. What sort of amenities and safety measures should I be worried about?” I ask, rubbing my very stressed out temple.
“We’ll start with the uncomfortable topic of safety measures, get the ugly out of the way,” she begins with a soft, yet sinister tone, “you should get yourself an air-tight container to hold sage and a lighter inside. Sometimes certain entities can leave behind an unseen residue and the moment you feel a heaviness after your passenger has exited, you’ll want to burn some of it in your vehicle until you can feel the tension has dispersed.” I scurry to find a pad and pen to write this down. She continues, “You’ll also want to invest in a raincoat or poncho.”
“A rainc- Adeline. . .” I ask in exasperation.
“Yes, Jim. A raincoat.” I roll my eyes and continue to make my list, “Make sure you invest in a facemask, protective eyewear and booties. You can never be too careful.” She finishes.
“Alright,” I complete the rest of the recommended items list, “Now what about the amenities?”
“That depends on how willing you are to get your hands dirty for your riders,” I could hear the smirk, “just how important is it to you to ensure your riders receive the highest quality experience?”
“Not very,” I say defensively. I’m sure the government is already tapped into my line by now, “I just want to drive and maybe not die. Extra steps sounds like it could tamper with that.”
She lets out a chortle “Is there anything else I can do for you, Jim?”
“Uh, no,” I feel no more confident now than I did before picking up the call, “thanks, Adeline.”
“No problem, Jimmy boy!” Her sickening disposition returns as if this is all so normal for her work nights, “Can we count on you to continue driving for us?”
I stare off into the bedroom wall, chewing on that question. Why shouldn’t I? The money is right, the work is interesting, and I make my own hours. I would be an absolute fool to turn this down. The worst that happens is I die and after discussing the pitiful state of my private life and the lack of people therein, it doesn’t seem so bad.
“Yes,” I say, switching the phone from one ear to the next, “Yeah. I’ll keep driving for Cerber.”
“Wonderful!” She exclaims, “Good luck! I’ll be in touch!”
“Thanks. Have a good night, Adel. . .” the line went dead before I could finish.
It was already after midnight, it’s time to get my ass into gear. I don’t have time to pick up the safety items, I survived without them last time and
I feel like I’ll get more ride requests on a Friday night, safety gear is going to have to wait.
I park at a local donut shop that remains open 24 hours. It’s not tacos, but I can get a churro there, close enough. My phone dings with a request from someone named Borg in a residential area just four minutes away. The final destination was a twelve minute ride to an old industrial building that I thought was shut down. I accept the request, dust the cinnamon-sugar off my shirt and start driving. I’m instantly relieved when I see that the request didn’t come from Ray. He was nice enough, but his potential is absolutely terrifying. I pull up to a very plain and vapid home. It was well kept with a brand new fence, it was just ordinary. So far, so good. Then Borg walked out.
Again with the tall! He was a mammoth of a man, standing at least seven feet tall, jaw slack, with a large set of tusks weighing down such massive jowls, dripping with saliva. Borg was dragging a very large hammer, wearing mild construction gear including a hard hat, tool belt and cement crusted boots. My eyes were wide, drawing in as much of this creature as my retinas could handle.
“JIM?!” He bellowed as if trying to call my attention from across four football fields.
My body still vibrating, I reply with, “BORG?!” I don’t know what compelled me to be so risky as to yell at him, but my body was going rogue at this point.
“YES, BORG!” Borg opens my door with shocking delicacy, climbs into the back seat, accidentally slamming his hammer on his own foot. He didn’t flinch, but I totally caught that.
Borg stares at the back of my headrest, breathing like a hog with bronchitis. He had breath bad enough to gag a maggot.
“Just getting off work?” I ask to try and stave off the wet snorting sounds from behind me.
“YES. BORG BUILD FENCE. BORG NEED BEER.” Oh buddy, I can relate.
“Jesus, Borg! Do you have a volume dial?! Tone it down and break the knob off, for the love of god!” I finally snapped. This is how I die.
To my surprise, Borg lets out a thunderous cackle so loud that I’m sure it gave me prostate cancer, “JIM FUNNY! BORG LIKE JIM!” I give him a weak smile and decide to just focus my attention on the road. We were rounding the last turn of the trip.
I pull up to the abandoned warehouse and it’s just as dilapidated as I remember. The metal walls and roof were coated in rust, the wooden beams poking out of place with dry rot and patches of unkempt weeds swallowed up any semblance of a driveway. I come to a complete stop and Borg plunks his massive boots onto the gravel. He gracefully closes my door and walks over to my window, “THANKS JIM! GO SLEEP! JIM LOOK BAD!” Are you fucking kidding me?
“GOODNIGHT BORG! GO SLEEP! BORG TOO LOUD!” I bark at him with a grin. He grins back and begins his short, seemingly painful walk to the front doors of the building. I caught myself half-smiling as the doors shut to his murky mansion, when it was violently interrupted by the realization that the smell Borg emitted had not followed him out of my car. Oh no. This is so bad.
I quickly drive to a nearby gas station to assess the damage. This giant, sticky man-fetus was making all that noise for a reason. He literally shit his own pants in my back seat and his internal matter leaked EVERYWHERE, leaving big, Borg butt cheek imprints.
My night was clearly shot. I bought some paper towels, bleach, air fresheners and a few taquitos from the gas station I was stopped at. It took me a full two hours to clean this hazardous waste out of my car, but I was still able to alleviate the blasphemous evidence from my back seat. It was around 3:52 A.M. when I finished. I remembered Adeline saying that the highest hours of operation ended around 4:30 A.M. so I went ahead and put out a ready signal to try and salvage my night. How I wish I would’ve gotten Ray instead, anything else would have been better than this traumatizing experience.
I got another ping almost instantly after putting out signal. At least I had another fat payout to look forward to. Then I noticed something strange. The request was coming from the very gas station I was already parked at from someone named Angela. Stranger still, there was no destination that followed. Albeit bizarre, I figured it was an app malfunction and I accepted the request anyway. Immediately after accepting, my back door opened and shut so quickly that it almost sounded like one fluid motion.
“Hi, James.” That voice. There’s no way. My blood instantly turns to ice and my body starts shaking violently. This isn’t happening. This can’t be real.
I turn my head slowly, shuddering at the woman who sat in the back seat. My horrified gaze met with her milky eyes, shattering my senses like glass. Of all the terror, sadness and despair I’ve ever encountered in my life, it’s incomparable to what I was feeling in this very moment. Tears involuntarily streamed down my face, my mouth hanging open, hands tensed into fists on my steering wheel, white-knuckling my grip as if I may be ripped right through the roof of my car. This isn’t real. It just can’t be real.
The request… came from my dead sister, Angela.
* * * * * *
Angela died at the age of 24, I was 28. My sister was a tiny, intelligent, nerdy and independent woman, who prided herself on her ability to quote every scripture in the Bible in a nondenominational way while also being able to recite every Greek god, their spouse, children and histories therein. She had a natural curiosity for stories, sincere compassion for the voiceless and loved her family deeply. Angela never missed a single Christmas dinner. She was working on her doctorate in international mythology before she died. You all thought that a philosophy degree was useless? Angela and I were very close. The four of us as a unit had very healthy relationships and could always rely on each other. We kept our circle small and tight.
Her body was found dumped on the side of highway 5 and it was in terrible condition. For those of you with weak bellies, I urge you to skip over this paragraph. Her body was severely sexually assaulted with instruments that involve slicing holiday ham. Her head was almost entirely severed from her shoulders, appendages were found in a black garbage bag placed right next to her corpse. Stranger still, her cause of death was not due to any of these fatal blows. She was hot-shotted with heroine and was dead before this massacre could have taken place. The reason they know this is because when a body dies, blood coagulates and takes on a viscous texture, causing blood to pass through veins and arteries at a much slower rate. Pair coagulation with a stopped heart, no longer able to circulate and pump blood, you get a very minimal mess and little blood spatter. Perhaps the most ominous and puzzling part, she was found wearing a necklace that no one in my family recognized. A small, silver bullet dangled from a delicate silver chain. It was like an anti-trophy, a clean break-away from the typical psychopath. This person was a sadistic showman that meant to confuse and bring an unreasonably high shock value to anyone who stumbled upon the knowledge of this crime. It worked. The case grew cold and hasn’t been reopened since. None of us ever got closure from her death. Just two years after we buried her, our parents committed suicide. They locked themselves in the garage, doused themselves in gasoline and lit themselves in fire. They were found still holding hands with no sign of struggle. The death of my parents didn’t affect me as bad as Angela’s death did. You expect your parents to expire. You don’t expect your baby sister to be slaughtered. No one is ever ready for a call like that.
My baby sister, the one who intentionally got a job at the bookstore to sneak books out simply to learn, was gone. Any hope and good that was left in me was buried along with her. I traded in the notions of starting my own family for the more tangible future in alcoholism. My baggage was exhausting enough for me, there’s no reason to subject that sort of madness any further. The gnawing pain eventually went numb and formed invisible mental scar tissue to cover up any residual damage from that impact. Yet here she was, staring at me with a vacant expression, from the backseat of my car.
I jumped into the back seat and hugged her tight, sobbing for several minutes, while she tried to hush me as though we were being watched.
“James, please,” she said trying to quell the inconsolable teenager I was in that moment “I need your help.”
I immediately shot back, grabbing her arms, “I thought I would never see you again, Angela. It’s been ten years.” I said, gathering my composure.
“I know,” she looked down in her lap trying to hide her own pain, “I’m sorry. I would have come sooner. . .”
I cut her off, resting my hands in my own lap and say “wait, why now?”
She looked back up at me and said “I would have come sooner, but you were self-destructing. Seeing ghosts would only amplify that sort of behavior, so I watched from afar.”
“Okay,” I nodded, looking past the milky desaturation of her eyes and into her now very present soul “I can understand that, but you are here now. What exactly do you need my help with?”
Her face became very stern, replying with “I messed up. You know how I was studying black masses, occultism and ritualistic spiritualism?” I nodded and she continued, “well, I was turning up empty handed in every path I traveled, so I dug deeper. . .” she became uncomfortable and shifted in her seat, “I decided to go through the dark web to find what I could on summoning entities. I eventually came into contact with a man who only referred to himself as Wade.” she turned her face to the back of my seat and shut her eyes as if she had to scrape to the bottom of her cerebellum to recall the next few steps, “he claimed that he could summon Baphomet and that he would perform such summons for me. However, I already knew that Baphomet could not be summoned. So he was either going to make a huge fool of himself or I was going to witness one of the most intelligent entities ever written about. Both results would have been fruitful for my research. I was so concerned with just wanting more experience, I never stopped to evaluate the risks.”
She let herself chew on that for a minute. She looked like she was truly checking out of the conversation, so I softly spoke “Angela?”
She shook her head, bringing herself back to the discussion, “I’m fine.” She pushed her hair back and that’s when I saw the giant, dark bruise with a tiny hole in the center of it, like an eerie halo. I chose to ignore it for now because I was growing impatient and wanted her to wrap it up.
“We met at a coffee shop close to where I lived and he drove us two hours out of the way to what looked like a barely standing building, lights still flickering inside. We walked in and he instructed me to take my shoes and coat off. When I was done taking my second shoe off, I blacked out. I’m not sure how long I was out for or what delivered me to being unconscious, but I woke up clearly drugged.”
“It was heroine,” I interrupted, “the cops told us you were hot-shotted. That’s how you died. They had told us you were not an addict since you didn’t have any other physical distress from active use.”
“Yeah,” she rubbed her neck, staring forward, “well, he didn’t kill me right away. He put an IV directly into my neck and delivered it slowly enough to keep me tranquilized first.” A clear expression of rage swept over her face, her voice still calm, “I woke up in what looked like a mortuary. I was on an old, metal gurney, sustained by leather straps. That wasn’t even necessary, I couldn’t even lift my head let alone escape. I knew I was going to die. I was just afraid it wasn’t going to be quick. He told me that I was stupid for seeking dark answers to dark questions and that my demise was entirely my fault. He wasn’t wrong. I put myself in that exact position, I felt foolish. I should’ve known that summoning Baphomet wasn’t possible and that should have been enough to raise some red flags.” I rolled my eyes at that last part. Nerd alert.
“He told me that my death was important regardless of how I had arrived to this situation,” she continued, her voice taking on a monotonous infliction, “he said that he wasn’t even part of any known religious sector. That he was a one-man worship and that it was because he was a true god among men.” Her mouth curled up into a slight smirk and she said, “I verbally retaliated though. My last words before he mainlined China right into my jugular were ‘I thought gods were perfect? You have mustard on your shirt and you reek of dollar store aftershave. You’re not a god, you just suffer from narcissistic personality disorder.’” She cackled at her own remark. I wanted to cry just watching her reflect any sort of positive feeling. I’ve missed her so much.
“Well that pissed him off enough to end it,” she said half-smiling, “I hope it brings you some sort of peace knowing that I didn’t suffer.”
I nodded and replied “it does, but what exactly do you need my help with?”
“Well, I want you to find him, I guess,” she shrugged, “I’m not his first and only victim. I’m not exactly sure what I want you to do once you find him, but I want him to stop this psychotic church-of-self agenda.”
“Do you have any sort of lead you can give me?” I ask eagerly. Maybe she wasn’t sure what to do after he was found, but I had a few ideas. I may even call Ray for help.
“It’s been ten years.” She said, looking directly into my eyes, “but I do remember where the location is. The funeral home that I died in.”
My hands start shaking, my breath trembling, “where was this exactly?” It was then I heard my Cerber notification chime. She finally added the destination to the ride she had requested. I look from my phone resting on the dash to her. She was smiling such a warm, lovely smile for being so dead.
“What do you say, James,” she lifted her finger, pointing at my phone, “shall we begin?”
My body fled with pinpricks of pure adrenaline, “Hell Yeah,” I jumped to my front seat, “I’ve been waiting ten years for this.” We started driving down I-5 south. We had a three hour journey ahead of us. The tip better be fat.
* * * * * *
Angela and I spent the ride in relative silence for the first hour. Something wasn’t sitting right with me. When telling me she wanted me to find him, my mind was too focused on the possibilities of torturing this crackhead that killed my sister, I almost missed that last part.
“Angela,” my inquisition sliced through the quiet hum of my tires and penetrated her gaze on the road.
“Yeah?” She was holding herself as if she was cold.
“There’s something that’s bugging me.” I say, tapping my thumb on the steering wheel.
“What’s up?” No sign of a guilty conscience and I’m not sure I felt so comforted by that notion.
“When you said ‘find him, I guess,’ what exactly does that mean? What do you mean, ‘you guess’?” I was trying to hide the accusatory tone, but I’ve always been terrible with composing myself.
“Well, I don’t really know. I feel like finding him and the resolve therein may allow me to leave this purgatory of just walking around the living. You know, unfinished ghost business.” She genuinely sounded theoretical.
“You mean, you don’t know?” Still sounding like I’m interrogating her. I can’t help it, I’ve seen some weird shit and since she’s my sister, I feel like I can ask away, no-bars-hold.
“Strange, isn’t it?” She says, cocking her head to the side, allowing her eyes to do what I assumed was a blank stare. Her peepers didn’t creep me out until then. “You would think that dying delivers a sense of clarity or answers some questions. That’s just not the case. Dying is like exiting scene one and walking into a different set, in a different costume and unrehearsed lines. It’s confusing. I’ve read a lot about souls being trapped because of unfinished business and I can’t help but think I’ll be closer to resting if I try every avenue, no matter how cliché it sounds.”
My heart crawled into my throat, choking me with sadness. I just got her back and she’s already trying to leave. I try to soften the mood and say “Well, why do you even want to go to heaven? There’s no affirmation in the Bible that says there will be tacos on the other side. Why chance it?”
“I don’t even know if heaven is real. I know this isn’t necessarily my eternity, but heaven could just be a fairy tale for all I know,” dammit, that backfired. Now I feel worse.
“So you’re saying that, what? Your soul just dissipates?” Still swallowing as much sorrow as I could.
“That’s not what I’m saying,” she almost sounds annoyed. I’m not sure if my stupid questions are irritating her or if she’s irritated with her own lack of answers, “I’m saying I don’t know. I’m saying that I do know that I’m stuck and don’t know what the next step is or what arrives thereafter.” She stares out the window, concluding this discussion. I may suck at reading women, but I could tell I wore out the topic. I left well enough alone, grabbed another cold, gas station taquito and munched in silence. Sort of. So crunchy, even cold.
My phone dinged with another Cerber notification. I squinted at the request to share a ride with the current passenger. I guess even the supernatural care about the environment too. Makes sense, they’re typically immortal or live longer than humans anyway, being mindful of cutting back where you can is never a bad idea. They may also be just as cheap as my sister too, who knows.
“Hey Angela, someone wants to share your ride for about fifteen minutes, is that cool?” She nodded, still brooding in her own, nerdy and dramatic state of despair. I hit accept to someone named Siobhan.
I pulled up to a lake that was pinned in the request. Standing there was a gorgeous woman, long red hair, waxen skin and a black dress that only revealed her head, hands and shoes. She was a petite little thing, which I thought would be a relief. She looked WAY too normal.
Siobhan climbed into the back seat and said “Thank you, I didn’t think drivers were ever in this area.” She flashed a sweet smile and buckled her seatbelt. She looks like a human, but humans are definitely not allowed to use Cerber, so what is she? This wouldn’t typically bother me if she had a third eye or a protruding underbite of razor-sharp teeth, but she just looked like the average commuter and that was unsettling in this very specific circumstance.
“I can’t say that they are, I just happened to be in the area,” I said staring at her through my rear view window. Angela seemed to be fairly unfettered by the new passenger. She had nothing to contribute.
I pulled back onto the freeway, glancing every few seconds to see a smiling Siobhan, looking back at me. She’s likely under the impression that I’m thinking of a decent pick-up line. In actuality, I was trying to read the room a bit to see if it was appropriate to ask possibly the dumbest question I’ve ever verbally vomited.
“So uh, what are you?” I ask.
“W. . .what’s that supposed to mean?” She asked so defensively.
“I mean what kind of thing are you? You look way too normal to be using Cerber. So what are you?” It would take an expert team of surgeons from France to remove the foot I just shoved down my own throat. If you can believe it, I was entirely shameless in my questioning. My sister was clearly appalled, since she turned her head towards me, mouth agape in utter horror. If she didn’t look so dead, it would’ve been funny. However, she looked very dead and that caused my body to visibly shudder.
“What are you talking about?! I’m clearly a beautiful woman!” Siobhan all but screamed at me.
“Yeah, James. Shut all the way the fuck up.” My sister hissed through her freaky, postmortem teeth.
“What?” I ask, thinking my question was perfectly valid. I should’ve guessed that Angela knew something that I didn’t by her reaction. I should’ve stopped there, apologized, waited until Siobhan exited my car and asked Angela what the big deal was. But I didn’t. Oops. Big oops.
From the back seat, I could hear gurgling and panting. I look in the mirror to see that Siobhan was shaking violently and her skin was bubbling. It looked like black billiard balls were crawling violently under her epidermis. Her eyes took on a bright yellow, a rectangular iris forming like that of a goat or frog.
“Goddammit, James. Now you’ve done it.” Angela yells in a panic, wincing and huddling by the car door. It looked like she was trying to brace herself for a detonation. Well, I guess she technically was.
Siobhan’s face started to stretch, her face forming a long, horse-like muzzle. Her arms wiggled into a transition of black tentacles, writhing and rapidly becoming larger. Her long red hair morphed into wet, obsidian strands. She looked like a horse-octopus. Between glances of the road and my rear view mirror, her physical being became far more atrocious and I couldn’t help but autopilot my way down I-5 in the meantime. I could see her chest heaving and falling with every snort of hot breath. She went from being this tiny doll to being a massive mess of tendrils behind a set of glowing eyes. She quite literally filled most of my car.
“What…what the hell are you, lady?!” My voice cracked as if I was sixteen again. That sort of sight will suck the masculinity right out of you and make you a mouse in no time flat.
A sharp bray escaped her horse-like lips and caused me to lose hearing. I could see that Angela was trying to bark the answer at me, “what?” I ask, hearing my own heavily muffled reply.
“She’s a kelpie!” Angela screams, throwing her hands up.
“The fuck is a. . .” I couldn’t finish my question before one of Siobhan’s slimy tentacles plunged its way into my mouth. As if I hadn’t humiliated myself enough with my tone-deaf night of interrogations, I subjected myself to real life hentai on top of that. Super.
I take one hand off the wheel to try and yank the tentacle out of my throat, swerving at 75mph in a frenzied panic. Another appendage wrapped around my chest, my throat and my left leg. As if my stupidity wasn’t done controlling the events of this evening enough, I decided to let go of the steering wheel entirely to get a better grip. Bigger oops.
I was losing consciousness and strength quickly. I haven’t been able to breathe for a good two minutes now and with a surging adrenaline rush to try and stay alive, my legs involuntarily stiffened to find leverage. On the gas pedal, of course. Biggest oops.
I found myself speeding down an empty highway, wrestling with a pissed off pony-pus, trying desperately to stay alive and crashed my tank of an SUV into a ditch. Though it was extremely dangerous and entirely unintentional, totaling my vehicle is what saved my life.
I blacked out temporarily and woke up to an uncomfortable stillness that followed the car accident. I could hear Siobhan breathing quietly in the back seat and it sounded like that’s all she was doing. I slowly looked back, blood trickling into one eye and see that she’s still knocked out. After feeling relief wash over me, I was hit with an overwhelming amount of pain from the impact as well as overexertion from defending my airway. I crawled out of my car and dropped to the ground, directly onto my back, knocking the wind out of my already fragile chest. I gripped my shoulder and let out a man’s groan. I lay as flat as possible, looking up and trying to mind too much movement of my neck and back. Angela pokes her face into my vision directly above my body and I ask her to get my phone.
Angela hands my phone to me and I tap on the emergency number, bringing the phone up to my ear.
“Hi, Jim! It appears you’ve been in an accident,” it’s Adeline with her annoying, jovial voice, “I’m sending two drivers to your location, both equipped with Cerber employed physicians. I assume your sister will be joining you?”
That bitch. I’m agitated and grateful all at once. “Yeah. . .” I choke out to her, “have him pick up three tacos, a burrito with extra nacho cheese and a bottle of acetaminophen. You’re buying.” I drop my arm to my side and allow myself to pass out.
I wake up four hours later, suffering a very minor concussion, a shattered esophagus and some bruising on my bones. We were put up in a mediocre hotel room, stocked with an obscene amount of Mexican food and a tall bottle of heavy painkillers. I sit up, knock the painkillers off my nightstand and grab a burrito. Alcoholics shouldn’t touch opioids, I already knew that. I’ll pay myself on the back for the one responsible decision I made by stuffing my face with my favorite addiction.
I quietly ate my burrito in bed and glanced over at Angela. She was sitting in a dusty rose slipper chair, arms folded and staring at the ceiling with her legs crossed. I looked back down at my burrito and allowed myself to bathe in shame for my irresponsible lack of couth. The disheartening fact that I almost died in two different ways in a matter of five minutes was startling and blanketed me like a guilt quilt. I messed up so bad tonight and I’m due for a round of penance.
“I’m sorry,” I say, my mouth full of burrito innards, “I wasn’t thinking properly and put us into a dangerous situation-,” she raises her hand at me, gesturing for me to quit while I’m ahead. I listened this time, mostly because my mouth was full.
“I’m already dead, doofus,” she calmly reminded me as she continued to stare at the ceiling, “I wasn’t in any danger at all. There’s seriously no need to apologize.”
“Alright,” I say, emotionally wounded, “where’s my car?”
“You totaled it, James. We’re gonna be stuck here for a few days until Cerber can iron out the details with your insurance. Adeline called me and filled me in on the process and said she’s going to take care of it. There’s nothing that can be done for at least two days, so focus on healing. We waited ten years, we can wait two more days.” Her disposition softened, trying to soothe me.
“Okay.” I continue eating my burrito, reflecting on the antics for the evening, “Angela?”
“What?” She asked as if she was prepared for another blow of foolhardy questions.
“What the fuck is a kelpie?!”
* * * * * *
I was a complete ass to Siobhan and apologized to her. I added $1,000 of my own cash to her Cerber account. Sadly, that only gets her as far as four blocks. She was gracious about it. Siobhan apologized for power-fisting my throat, I told her she had no reason to be sorry and we ended our call on a good note. She gave me four bat wings and a review that read “He’s cute, for a Neanderthal. I’d ride him again.” Which was beyond kind of her, but now I’m not sure if she was pissed or flirting. Both, maybe? I will continue to do my best at keeping my mouth closed. My social ineptitude is staggering, but I’m learning a very valuable lesson in humility.
Not much transpired in the first day. I didn’t have insurance through Cerber and the agents that handle my claims specifically are human. Adeline is having a wicked hard time finding an “in” with the company that I’m insured with. She says that if it takes more than a week, they’ll just replace my car altogether and terminate the claims. Why they don’t just do that anyway, who knows. Maybe it’s her way of insuring that I stay in one place and heal as best as I can. She could just be putting it off to practice a little damage control. Something tells me it’s the latter.
Cerber put us up with some pretty awesome accommodations. Angela has been balls-deep in books for days now, trying to figure out what that silver bullet could possibly mean. She thinks that if we find its meaning, then we can find the origin of Wade’s beliefs. We find the origin, we can combat them properly. Not sure how useful I can be in this situation, but even if I just get a front row seat to watch her haul off on Wade, I’ll be satisfied.
Accommodations also include an unhealthy enablement of my Mexican food obsession as well as a personal nurse and doctor. They’re both black-eyed people, which I’m not entirely sure what that is, but they’re nice enough. Probably the tamest entities I’ve ever been around. Fun fact; paranormal medicine is a thing and it’s incredible. My esophagus, concussion and superficial injuries have completely healed. Get this- they were able to inject a rapid healing medication that was taken from a strain of werewolf flu! I look and feel like I may stand a chance talking shit to a kelpie again. Kidding. Sort of.
I spent a lot of my time talking to Borg on the phone. I guess he caught wind of the accident and was disheartened by it. Ironically, he sent over an iron nail. It was delivered to me in a tiny, green box with a note that read “Borg sorry Jim got mouth violated. Borg send iron nail. Good for fence, good for kelpie.” What started as a gratitude phone call, turned into construction shop-talk on a few occasions. Borg like Jim. Jim like Borg.
On the second day in, I woke up at 2 A.M. to Angela’s face about an inch away from mine. I flew up onto my bed like a weird sheet surfer, screaming nothing intelligible with hands above my head, spider monkey style. I plunked down on the bed, gripping my chest and said “What, Angela?”
“You talk a lot of shit for someone who startles so easy,” she says slightly amused, “I have found plenty on the silver bullet, but not anything that makes sense.” She walks over to one of many books she has littering the floor of our room.
“Alright,” I swing my legs over the side of the bed, placing my hands in my lap. “So what have you found, then? Can we use it against Wade in any way?”
“Not that I can tell, no,” she says, looking down at her book, “I’m only finding ways to defeat evil entities with silver bullets. Nothing that says they’re used to aid them. This is assuming, of course, that Wade is evil.”
“Excuse me, if?” I ask, completely bewildered.
“Yes, if. Just because he killed me, does not mean he is evil.” She said so confidently.
“Okay, I’m lost. What part of murder is not evil?” I ask, my head spinning.
“Murder to you, sacrifice to the other, martyrdom to another, death isn’t always meant to be sinister. Just because I didn’t want to die, doesn’t make his objective evil. We may have been going about this the wrong way the whole time.” Angela sat on the floor with her legs crossed, putting her head into her cupped hands.
“So, you’re thinking this is some sort of protection doodad?” I ask.
“I guess,” she folds her arms tight against her chest, “I’m still not entirely sure. We may have to just fly into this blind. I would suggest contacting a priest, but given your line of work, it could tarnish anything you have left of your credibility among the paranormal.”
I throw both fists up, give her the double-bird special, “Oooookay. On that note, I’m going back to sleep.”
As soon as my head hits the pillow, the hotel line rings. I throw a bit of a flailing tantrum before picking up the phone. On the other end, I can only hear a faint rustling of what sounded like wind, “uh. . . hello?” I ask, looking at my sister with one eyebrow raised.
“Hi, James.” It’s a man who sounds like a cat that ate the canary.
That’s when I notice that Angela is violently shaking, cowering against the corner of the room, eyes welling up.
“Who is this?” I ask the man with a hint of concern to my disposition.
“I hear that you’re looking for me,” he says in his smooth as cream voice, “I’m Wade.”
“YOU SON OF A BITCH! You bet your sorry ass I’m looking for you!” I scream into the receiver. Pure rage surged its way through every nerve in my body like I was electrocuted with blind madness.
“Calm yourself, child,” now he definitely sounds condescending, “you’ll get your chance. I’m in need of a ride. Do you happen to have time for a request?”
“Oh, are little bitches considered paranormal now? That’s news to me. I thought cowards like you had a super cool fan club that congregates in the basement for pre-murder, circle-jerks. Does that come before or after fucking your mom?” Sorry, folks. I tried. But let’s face it, he had that coming and I’m sure a lot of you would be disappointed in me for not properly tearing this dick-wart to shreds.
He laughed in an unsettling manner, “oh child, you know not the dire situation you’ve stumbled into,” I clench my teeth, blood boiling so hot that I can feel myself sweat as he continues, “that’s fine. In due time, I suppose. In the meantime, please respond to my request. I’ll be waiting.” The line goes dead.
I waste no time and call Adeline immediately. She picks up the phone and starts with “James-“ panic shrouding her voice.
“I don’t want to hear it, Adeline,” I get dressed, putting the iron nail in my pocket, “get me a car. Now. I don’t give a damn what it is, get a car out front.”
“James, I’m not above begging, please don’t-”
“Car! Now!” I scream at her and hang up.
“Angela, we’re going for-“ I stop and come to the startling realization that Angela isn’t in the room anymore.
I frantically race to my phone, ignoring the Cerber notifications, and try calling her. My calls went straight to voicemail. I could feel my torso caving in, anxiety rushing over my body. He must have her. I don’t know how, but my intuition is telling me that he somehow has her.
I run down to the front desk of the hotel, finding a silver plate holding a set of keys and a note from Adeline that reads, “please, in the name of all things holy, don’t do this.” I swipe the keys and rush out to find a standard, black luxury sedan waiting for me. I all but fly into the front seat, turn the ignition and mount my phone on the dash. I tap the Cerber app and buckle up as it loads. My sister is gone, I am armed with absolutely no useful information, nor any weapons. I can’t just let this opportunity slip, especially with my sister being held hostage. I’m rushing into a situation with my presence and good intentions only. This is how he wanted it, though. I had no time to waste.
Cerber booted up to the request home page with one notification already three minutes old. I tap on accept. “Gotcha, asshole.” I say as I accept a request from Archangel Michael.
* * * * * *
Before we get into this next installment, I wanted to dedicate this episode to the memory Keith Flint and the thousands of others who have lost their fight with depression. This one also goes out to those currently fighting your way through it, you’re not alone and help is more local than you know. Thank you, Keith, for bringing an edge to electronic music and for trying your best to fight your demons. You will be greatly missed in both the music industry and the hearts of all your fans. The candle in the window tonight is for you, brother.
Now, on with tonight’s installment.
The location to picking up Michael was a shanty little bar that looked like it allowed indoor smoking and turned a blind eye to quaaludes. Michael was dressed in cowboy boots with an adorable matching hat, a pastel orange, western-style shirt and very neat blue jeans. He resembled either a cop or someone who was trying to be cowboy for the very first time. Kinda like those Scandinavian folks who are obsessed with westerns and intentionally go to the Alamo without a field trip slip. Westerns are boring and I’m not sorry for saying it.
He almost anxiously got to the front passenger seat of my car. His apprehensive nature completely negates what I heard on the phone. Goody, more weird shit that doesn’t make sense. Maybe I’m just too simple, who knows. He gets into my car and I look at him like I’m expecting the first swing. Up close, he looks exhausted and in the middle of existential crisis. I did NOT want to relate to this weirdo.
“Are you the asshole?” I ask, completely ready to die. It’s inevitable in this line of work.
“Are you the intellectual? Oh, right, you’re the dumbass that is about as well-mannered as a toddler riled up on Red Bull.” Oh my god, he is me. I think I’m in love.
“Who are you?” I ask, completely befuddled. I wanted to kill this guy just two minutes ago, very slowly. Now I kinda want to take this inside for a beer.
“Now you can’t read either? How did they even let you have a license? In fact, how are you even still ALIVE?” He gave me this crazy, wide-eyed expression, leaning his face entirely too close to mine. Oh, and yes. He did sound like a genuine cowboy.
“Are you just going to keep asking me unhelpful questions or are you going to play ball and tell me what in tarnation is going on?” Yeah, I mocked him. We’re in love now, it’s okay.
“Alright. I’m not Wade, I’m Michael. The archangel. I’m not going to waste anymore of your time, we have shit to do, son.” He said pointing to my mounted phone. On the screen was a destination in a residential area. A nice neighborhood. That doesn’t settle me in anyway, rich people are creeps worse than my passengers. Self-made monsters. Terrific.
“While we make our way there, you mind telling me why you decided to intercept my very well-earned date with death and dismay?” I ask, less pushy. Despite enjoying this back-and-forth banter, I figured it was a bad idea to piss off an angel responsible for assembling victorious, ethereal armies. I may be sassy, but I promise I’m not as stupid as I look. I don’t care about dying, but no one is actually trying to earn a fast track to hell.
“Divination, son, what’s it look like?” He asks putting a poorly, handmade cigarette in his mouth, “you’re about to go marching to your death and you have the balls to think you’ve got the balls for it.”
“Uh…what…” I ignored the fact that he lit up a cigarette in my car, which is typically a no-no, since this is technically a company car and I’m still pissed at Adeline. I was just traveling down an even deeper rabbit hole of confusion, “Alright, I need to re-examine the facts. You’re an angel, right? As in one of THE angels?”
“Yeah,” he took a long, heroic drag of his cigarette and continued, “And I’m here to save your sorry ass. You’re about to tangle with a lone skinwalker.” He raises his eyebrows at me.
“The Native American myth?” Guess I shouldn’t call it a myth at this juncture.
“That’s right. What’s dangerous about a lone skinwalker is they’ve been cast out of their tribe. He’s only 150 years old, very young.”
“Yeah, he’s basically a fetus.” I say rolling my eyes.
“No, you would be a fetus in this situation. There are skinwalkers that are nearly as old as me.” I immediately wanted to ask how old he was, but I thought better of it. “The reason he is so dangerous is he’s lawless. Not bound to any tribal rules, though skinwalkers have little of those to begin with.”
I impatiently tap my thumb on the steering wheel, now slightly excited to land at our next stop. I think I know what’s coming.
“Since you’re too bullheaded to back down and too stupid to handle this alone, I decided to help you out.” He grins, showing a couple gold-capped teeth and radiating confidence. In turn, I also felt confident.
“Thanks. Now where are we?” I ask, putting my car in park and killing the ignition.
“I have a guy who keeps everything you need right here in his home. Can’t exactly run a store front with this type of material on account of licensing being a necessity in this state. Some folks just need to handle an advanced problem just one time.” He unbuckles his seatbelt and climbs out of the car.
Michael doesn’t bother knocking and enters the home. Every room was unburdened by furniture as well as a lack of lighting. We head down to the basement which was lit with a light violet, bathing the room in an emotional shade of calm. Littered about the room, which I can only describe as an organized mess of different types of weapons, stood a drag queen. Yep. Very clearly a drag queen. The only reason I could even guess this was the cartoon inspired makeup and a wig that looked like it could be a living creature, piled high on his head. From the neck down, he was dressed in a skintight tracksuit, exposing his well-kept physique. I know, keep your mouth shut, Jim.
“Azazel, I’ve brought the kid with the mouth on him,” Michael says, pointing behind himself and at me.
In the most flamboyant voice imaginable, Azazel replies, “hey, honey. You’re dancing with a skinwalker?” Azazel does a mild salsa dance behind his work bench.
“So I’m told,” I’m trying to remain professional because not only am I standing in the presence of an archangel, the drag queen standing before me is a demon. I know what Azazel is.
“Okay, I’m going to give you a 9 millimeter handgun, two 11-round magazines of pure silver, a Molotov cocktail and a lighter. Now, you can’t kill a skinwalker with silver, it’ll only slow it down. Do your best to aim for his legs and arms. When a skinwalker dumps its human form, it’ll have freakishly quick abilities in both arms and legs, so don’t skip any limbs.” By the time Azazel was finished giving me these directions, he had piled everything into a backpack.
“I’m sorry, I have to ask,” both Michael and Azazel were looking at me as though I was burdening them, “Angels and demons work together?”
“Fallen, asshole. I’m a fallen.” Azazel crosses his arms, glaring at me.
“Right. You guys actually work together?” I ask.
“Yes,” Michael replies, “fallen were angels once too. Not all demons have bad intentions. Some like humans quite a lot and want to maintain a sort of balance.”
“Alright,” I grabbed the backpack, completely done with religious topics, “You mind fixing the interception, Michael? I would really like to finish this.”
“Sure, kid.” he waves at Azazel and we begin our ascent from the basement.
“One more thing, Jim,” says Azazel, waving, “don’t miss. You can’t afford to miss.”
I nod with a smile and say “Thanks, Azazel.” He smiles and turns around to finish his original project.
As we’re walking back to the car, I rehearse my plan in my mind. I’ve never actually shot a firearm before, so this was going to be interesting. I’ve also never had to huck a Molotov before. I may actually die trying to kill this thing.
Michael and I get back into the car and I ask him, “Alright, I have to know, why is Azazel a drag queen?”
Michael let out a single chuckle and said “Well, Azazel was cast out of heaven for teaching humans how to build weapons and put war makeup on. He’s always enjoyed cosmetics, so he decided to make it a hobby.”
“Sounds reasonable,” I said, with a genuine nod, “so what does Wade want?” Obviously, Michael has answers, I’m not going to be shy about asking. Not that I ever had that problem to begin with.
Michael pulls out another shanty stoge, lights up and gets comfortable, “Do you remember what it was like losing Angela? How you felt lost and empty, and your life just had less flavor?”
“Yes.” I replied.
“Well, when some folks lose their sense of home in their people, they begin grieving in one of two common ways. Some become hollow, much like you. Some become angry and develop an insidious agenda. They hurt others to gain control of their own pain.” Michael says, never breaking eye contact.
“So why Angela?” I ask.
“Victim of circumstance, son. She’s special, but not that special.” He replied.
“Any idea as to why there was a silver bullet hanging from her body? What about the insanity parade he conducted on her corpse?” I’m angry now. Not at Michael, I haven’t had a taco in several hours.
“I put the bullet there. I was hoping that someone would have caught onto that clue. Of course, that was bust,” He takes another drag of his cigarette, “the mutilation was pure rage. He’s lost and upset. That’s why he killed Angela before he had his fun with her-“
“Watch it, Michael,” I said swiftly, “my sister isn’t a sideshow attraction.”
“Easy, son,” He said calmly. I was actually hoping to piss him off, “point being is he didn’t have a reason. The whole point of all of this is he’s just doing vile things out of rage.”
I was entirely unsatisfied with that answer. It’s one thing to murder someone with intent, but to entirely disregard all life over a temper tantrum is a whole other level of evil.
“Do you know where Angela is?” I asked.
“She’s home, kid,” he said, pointing upward, “her time here was served. She brought you to where you needed to be. So it was time for her to return.”
The oxygen in every fiber of my being was sucked right out of my body, “oh. . .”
“Sorry, kid,” he puts one hand on my shoulder and squeezed, “but we all go home at some point. That’s just how it is.”
“Yeah.” I croaked. What was the point of even going after this thing now? The only reason I got involved was to help Angela cross over. She’s done that now.
“Listen, I know you’re probably thinking of quitting. Would you honestly want this to happen to another young lady? A child?” He asked me, gently.
“You put way too much faith in my integrity,” I shook my head, scoffing, “but no. I don’t want this to happen to anyone else. I’m going to finish this.”
“Good.” Michael said patting me on the shoulder.
We spent the rest of the ride in silence while Michael chain smoked. I continued to rehearse my plan and I was losing confidence with every repetition. Maim and set it on fire. Maim and set it on fire. Maim and set it on fire.
I pull up in front of the bar I had originally picked Michael up from. Since Michael was not a danger to me in the slightest, his ride ended up being free. That’s fine, I was in no position to pout about finances after the free gear to roast my sister’s killer.
Michael gets out of the car and rounds his way to my window, “You gotta lay off the Mexican food, son. It’ll kill ya.” He half-smiled and walked away.
“Thanks, Michael.” I replied, watching him walk into the bar.
I decided that this job was far too much for me. I couldn’t possibly do this. Well, not alone. I exit the Cerber app and decide to make a phone call.
“JIM?!” Borg barks into the phone.
“BORG!” I replied, attempting to match his gusto.
“HI JIM! FEELING BETTER?!” I can hear his tusks scraping the phone as he spoke.
“Yeah, Thanks Borg,” I put the backpack of arsenal in my back seat, “you feel like taking down a skinwalker with me tonight?”
“BORG HATE SKINWALKER. BORG HELP. JIM HAVE RIGHT PROTECTION? JIM STUPID, BORG HAVE TO ASK.” That gelatinous, jovial dick.
“Yes Borg,” I say, trying to remember his honesty isn’t personal, “I have silver bullets and a Molotov.”
“OKAY, JIM. ONLY FIRE KILL SKINWALKER. BORG WRESTLE FOR JIM.” I could hear whatever poor recliner he was ascending from cry out as he stood.
“Thanks, Borg. Oh and one more thing,” I add.
“YES, JIM?” Borg replies.
“Take a shit before you get into the car, please.”
* * * * * *
After I finished my call to Borg, I spent the drive steeping in my own thoughts. My heart found a new way to break as I sat in silence, knowing I likely won’t be seeing Angela again. I never questioned if she was dead or not, but I had become so subconsciously numb that I completely forgot what it was like to hurt. I was actually grateful for the pain. With every tick that increased the number on the odometer, so did my wrath. I didn’t even have the urge to stop and get taquitos. I spent ten years waiting for some sort of closure and even though I was robbed of an opportunity to say goodbye for a second time, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of completion. I know who killed Angela and I was on my way to give him a Borg beatdown, there’s no better closure. I may not be able to say “goodbye” to Angela, but I take great comfort knowing that I’ll be able to say “hello” again instead. For now, I will allow myself to hurt. It helps chip away at any fears that I may have left.
I pull up to Borg’s dilapidated ruins. Borg is outside carrying what looks like a large sword as he waddles his way up to the car. Shit, is he going to fit in the car?
“Borg, what in the holy hell do you have in your hand?” I ask as he packs himself into the front passenger seat.
“BORG BRING FALCHION SWORD. GOOD FOR MURDER SPORT!” Borg says with an infectious amount of excitement.
“You don’t think it’s overkill? I have a gun, you know.” I reply.
“JIM HAVE PITIFUL BOOM STICK. BORG HAVE REAL WEAPON. JIM JUST JEALOUS.” Borg says, hauling the ridiculous blade over his shoulder and into the back seat. I dropped the topic.
“Borg?” I swallow loudly as I continue, “You wouldn’t eat me. . .would you?”
“BORG LIKE JIM. BORG NO EAT JIM. EATING JIM WOULD BE LIKE JIM EAT DOG.” Borg says, matter-of-factly.
“You sassy bastard,” I laughed, “alright, well I’m glad that you find me too adorable to eat.” I fire back.
Letting out his booming laughter, he replies, “JIM NO CUTE. JIM JUST HELPLESS.” He laughs harder, clutching his gelatinous gut.
“Alright!” I chortle, “Are you ready to help me end this?”
“YA, JIM. BORG AND JIM GO PARTY NOW.” Borg smiles. Jesus, this is how orcs party? Ogres? I shudder to think of what a Borg bachelor party would be like.
We spent most of the ride talking about our plan and construction hacks, all while Borg sharpens his sword. I don’t think scraping this thing on a rock actually improved anything. However, I grinned at the idea of Wade suffering at the will of a dull blade.
“In five miles, take exit for Fink Road.” The GPS chimes.
Borg semi-silently lifts his head, looks at the phone, then looks at me, “NOW WE GET SERIOUS JIM.” He was trying his best to keep his voice down, but still failed.
“I know, Borg.” I said, throttling the gas.
“In a half mile, take exit for Fink Road.” The GPS continues.
I come off the freeway and start my way down Fink Road. The road is barely paved and unlit. I flip my high beams on and continue speeding my way through thick darkness. Looking behind me, I can only see a faint glow of my brake lights reflecting off of the clouds of dust kicked up behind me.
“In twenty-five miles, your destination will be on the right.”
Borg must have sensed tension and says, “JIM, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT PLAN.”
“Uh-huh.” I say, keeping my eyes on the road.
“WHEN BORG SEE SKINWALKER, BORG ATTACK. BORG STAB SKINWALKER AND PIN HIM TO GROUND. JIM SHOOT SKINWALKER KNEES, ELBOWS AND EYES, IF JIM CAN AIM.” Borg says, as gently as an orc can.
“Yep, got it. Then what?” I ask, still keeping my gaze focused.
“JIM LIGHT MOLOTOV AND SMASH ON SKINWALKER HEAD. SKINWALKER WILL IGNITE. VERY FLAMMABLE.” Borg replies.
“Flammable?” I ask, puzzled.
“YES. SKINWALKER AFRAID OF FIRE, BECAUSE SKINWALKER CATCH FIRE EASY. BORG LIKE TO WATCH.” Borg lets out a creepy, thick giggle.
“That’s sick, Borg.” I nervously laugh along with him.
“In seven and a half miles, your destination will be on the right.”
I feel my knuckles whiten, death-gripping the steering wheel. I accelerate to seventy miles an hour. I am so ready for this and truly looking forward to my next burrito. If I can manage to make it out alive.
We pull up to a vacant mortuary. No one appeared to be standing outside, no lights were on and the atmosphere was entirely silent as if we were standing at zero gravity.
Borg reaches into his shirt pocket and pulls out a pair of glasses, taking great care not to scratch the lenses.
“Great,” I say, “I’m armed with weapons I’ve never used and my backup is a handicapped Ogre.”
“BORG NOT OGRE! BORG ORC! JIM HAVE HANDICAP MOUTH!” He barked at me.
“Alright, I’m sorry. I’m just nervous, I guess.” I reply.
“IS OKAY, JIM. PLEASE FOCUS.” Borg replies with sincerity and confidence.
I keep my headlights on and stare at the front door of the mortuary, waiting for this thing to emerge. I almost missed Wade walking out from behind the left-hand side of the building. He was dressed in a pinstripe suit, slicked jet black hair, bronzed complexion and a fairly young face. Michael said he was around 150 years old, but he looked like he was in his early twenties. He stood grinning at me, locking my gaze. Borg and I look at each other, nod and get out of the car. I swing the backpack over my shoulder and Borg does the same with his falchion sword. We begin towards Wade at a cautious pace as he glides towards us, entirely unfettered by our preparedness.
We all stop walking once we’re about ten feet away from each other and I say, “Wade?” My voice was about as smooth as gravel.
Wade opens his arms as if to embrace, “Jim!” Both Borg and I put one leg back, bending our knees to receive an attack. Wade puts his hands up and lowers his head slightly, “Alright, you don’t trust me. That’s probably wise on your part.”
“I learned a little bit about you.” I start in with my infamous false confidence, “That you’re a skinwalker and not even your own tribe wants anything to do with you. Did you get caught strangling the family pets?” I finish, satisfied with that low blow, which I could see ticked him off.
“No, not for strangling family pets,” he started pacing, circling. I didn’t see Borg flinch, so I tried to relax as much as possible. I trust that Borg will lead when it’s time to move, “I can see that you’re not entirely certain what a skinwalker is, or you wouldn’t be asking me such a foolish question. That’s your first mistake.”
“Trust me pal, I’ve made many mistakes before this one. Pretty sure a kelpie popped that cherry for me.” I reply with cool ease.
“Right,” he rolls his eyes, “well, a skinwalker is essentially a Navajo medicine man that’s succumbed to dark magic.”
He looks up at us, as if expecting some weird withdraw or newfound fear. I’ve met quite a few beings who could decimate this freak.
When Wade doesn’t receive his desired reaction, he continues, keeping his hands behind his back and standing up straight, “Medicine men have been known to live far beyond the normal expiration of a human. However, medicine men who insist on using dark magic to assert themselves in war? That is greatly frowned upon. My tribe couldn’t handle my ideologies, so I was cast out and you know what? It’s been the most liberating experience I could have been gifted. I roam as I please, I live as I please and I kill as I please.”
“Gross.” I reply, my blood boiling. Borg remains stoic and silent, fixated on our target. He looks so damn cool right now.
Wade gets impatient, “Child, you will either worship me or fear me. The only other option is death.” He sneers, his voice starting to gurgle. I’m guessing this is his rendition of wolfing out.
“I didn’t come here with silver bullets and an orc to join your shit show religion, Wade.” I yell at him. Years of frustration, pain and despair have led me to being absolutely fearless and angry. “I came here to annihilate you for your crimes against humanity, particularly against my sister. I have literally ghost-toted legendary entities that would serve you up on a slice of toast before a morning run. You’re just a well-preserved human with magic tricks.” I reply with searing vitriol.
This does him in, I finally touched the nerve.
“You will respect me!” He screams in his watery voice. It sounds like something is bubbling up from his throat. His skin begins to turn bright red. I don’t mean his cheeks, every exposed portion of his skin is turning red. I can see Borg bracing for something. In turn, I do the same.
“Looks like the tea is on. Come at me, bitch.” If those would have been my last words, that would’ve been epic.
The skin and clothing begins to melt from Wade’s exterior, revealing a dark shade of espresso. I could hear his bones crack and his limbs disjoint until he drops onto all fours with his head down. His roar could only be described as a puma’s with the bass cranked all the way up. Once Wade was finished transforming, he slowly lifted his head and that’s when I finally felt dread in his presence. Half of his face was occupied with a lipless mouth adorning large, pointed teeth. He had small, black eyes fitted just above his shapeless nose and long black hair that went down to his waist. I watched his chest heave and fall with every breath as he stared straight at me.
Borg snaps into action and darts after Wade, raising his falchion, accidentally smacking me in the face with it. I hit the ground and yelp out like a wounded coyote, holding my face in efforts to quell the ringing in my ears.
Borg turns around, still holding his sword up high, “JIM?!” In a flash, Wade tackles Borg right into the car with enough force to cave the driver side door in. Broken glass rained on top of them as they struggled. Wade sunk his massive teeth into Borg’s shoulder, causing Borg to scream and release his grip to favor his new wound. As I squint in their direction, I notice Borg trying to get on his feet while Wade starts speed-crawling towards me. I panic and start scurrying backwards, trying not to look away from this horrifying psycho, spider sprinting in my direction. In my sad attempt to back away, I realize that I’m nowhere near my weapons. Fucking oops.
I hear Borg stumbling his way towards us, falling to his knees every so often, undoubtedly from the pain. I just had to stall this thing for a few seconds to allow Borg to catch up. Wade jumps on top of me, sitting on my stomach and squeezing my throat with both hands. He laughs in a very moist, deep and devious manner while I try clawing at his arms for release. It simply wasn’t working. I could hear Borg getting closer, breathing heavy and clearly struggling. I have to do something.
That’s when I remembered grabbing the iron nail that Borg had gifted me. I quickly shove my hand into my pocket, feeling the cold, rough surface of the nail. I yank it out of my pocket and slam it right into Wade’s neck, causing him to release his grip and reach for the nail. In that split second, I wiggle from underneath him. Borg grabs Wade by the hair and slams him onto the ground. Borg treated Wade like a ragdoll and kept swinging him around until Wade could no longer move, entirely immobilized and worn out. Borg slammed Wade into the dirt, shoving his falchion through his chest and burrowing the other end into the ground beneath him, pinning him in place.
“JIM, GET MOLOTOV.” Borg says with exhaustion.
I fumble my way to the backpack, pulling out the anarchist’s grenade, and run over to Wade’s body. What’s really creepy is he was still breathing even with the blade buried deep into his chest. He didn’t bleed either, like some sort of sentient corn husk doll.
I stand over Wade’s body and light the Molotov, watching him look up at the sky. He had nothing to say and no fight left to offer. I very nearly felt sorry for him. I raise the Molotov above my head and slam it right into his stomach. His whole body engulfed in a matter of seconds in soft chartreuse flames. Borg and I both dropped and sat in silence, panting from expulsion of adrenaline and newly acquired pain.
“Are you alright?” I ask Borg through breaths.
“BORG FINE.” He replies, shifting his weight.
“Thank you, Borg. I couldn’t have done this without you.” I try really hard not to tear up, but since Borg and I have already crossed the threshold of leaking bodily fluids a long time ago, I allowed myself to sob.
“IS OKAY , JIM,” Borg says, gingerly hugging me about as gently as a rusty bear trap, “WADE GONE. NOW JIM CAN HEAL INSIDE.” He finishes, patting me on the back.
I limp over to the car to retrieve my phone and realize I have thirteen missed calls from Adeline. Here we go. I call her back and she picks up in the middle of the first ring, “Jim?! Are you alright?!”
“Yeah, I’m okay. Thanks to Borg, of course.” I reply.
Adeline lets out a sigh of relief and says, “Thank goodness. Is Borg okay?”
“Yeah, we need a ride though.”
“What happened to the company car you had for a grand total of six hours?” She’s furious. So much for being worried about my safety.
“Well, the driver side got crushed in the middle of our dispute.” I reply, wincing at my own words.
She lets out a snort and says, “Alright, I’m sending a car after you two.”
“Thanks, Adeline,” I reply. “After this, you won’t be hearing from me anymore. I don’t think I can work for Cerber any longer.”
“Think again, Jim,” she says with a maniacal tone, “You now owe me a car. I’ve already ironed out the kinks with your own car, but you’re going to stay on with Cerber and regain enough funds to cover the damage of the one you borrowed. Once you repay me for this car, only then will we talk about releasing you from Cerber. Do you understand me?” She huffs.
“I guess,” I reply with defeat.
“Good. I’ll allow you one week to recover, but then I expect you to be accepting rides immediately after. Oh, and watch your mouth. I’m getting complaints about your attitude from the clients.” She finishes.
“Yeah, okay. Sorry, Adeline,” I say, rolling my eyes.
“Wonderful!” She replies in her signature, bubbly tone, “Get well soon, Jimmy boy! Thank you for being a loyal employee at Cerber!” The line clicks and dies.
Dammit. I really need a burrito.
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