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Lamashtu’s Milk



Estimated reading time — 10 minutes

“Deputies have confirmed that accused spree killer Jason Urban was transferred to the Akron Detention Center in the dead of night two days ago and has been held there in segregation in a highly secure wing of the prison since then. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a representative of the ODC dispelled the rumor that this meant Urban might be charged as an adult. Says the source, ‘As heinous as the crimes to which he confessed are, seventeen is the legal age for the state of Ohio to try someone as an adult. Jason Urban is only fourteen years-old, and despite the magnitude of the crimes with which he has been charged, he is still only a minor in the eyes of the law.’ The same source further clarified, ‘He has been transferred because the Ohio Department of Juvenile Corrections facilities are not as well-equipped to deal with a high profile case like this one. Or with an inmate like young Mr. Urban.’
-Item, Scioto County Register, May 5th


Prisons came in two flavors. They could be high-tech, built according to the latest principles of penology and outfitted with the newest ballistic shock shields and all kinds of newfangled nonlethal toys. Or they could be underfunded throwbacks with vaultlike heavy doors that could last another thousand years but had sallyports that looked like they could be tripped by a wily con with a shoelace. The Akron Detention center was very much the latter kind, a medieval fortress where the screams were constant but muffled. The violence didn’t just hang in the air, but seemed to seep into the cement cladding the walls and iron bars in the prison cells.


The interviewer was let onto the closed block by two big-bellied guards with black DOC ballcaps. They carried the weight of a crude authority along with their literal heft, like baseball umpires calling a game in hell. They glanced at him, keeping their shotguns at the port-arms position, as if they held halberds in their hands and were sentries telling him he could not pass. The glances turned to scowls when they looked closer at his laminated nametape, noticed that his press pass was from a respectable outfit rather than a scandal sheet.


It was always like this, Kent had noticed. When the guards heard there was media on the compound, their eyes grew alert and guts got sucked in. They’d go all Cool Hand Luke, striking poses in the towers behind their mirrored shades up on the catwalks. They hoped to be featured in the docs, or to at least make b-roll so they could point themselves out to family when the episode aired on TV.
Print was different, though. Print was usually less salacious, and even worse, journalism of the exposé variety, usually about abuses by the bulls and the saintly suffering of the cons. The guards’ eyes said it all as they took in Kent Dinsmore: liberal media fag. He accepted the stigma that came with his job, remained polite even in the face of the guard’s “This way,” so terse he somehow fitted two words into one compact syllable.


Kent followed them down the row of cells with doors like submarine bulkheads, tiny squares of smudged bulletproof glass letting the desperate-eyed cons watch the activity on the tier. Each of the cells had what looked like a small judas gate at waist level on the doors. He would be conducting his interview with Jason through this small slit just large enough for a tray of cold, greasy food to get shoved through. “Stop.” The guards halted and the assorted manacles, cudgels, and self-defense sprays on their utility belts rattled in time.

Kent stopped, waited for the guard on the left to use the ancient unwieldy key on the rusted lock.
“This is noncontact.”
Kent nodded. “Do you have a chair I can sit in?”
“No.”


Accommodating. He remained standing. He had no choice. The slit on the door opened outward, speckled with an oxidized rust that looked like ancient blood. The guard stepped back after opening the port. Kent leaned down. His physical discomfort no doubt pleased the guards. “Jason?” He looked through the hole, feeling like a zoogoer at an exotic reptile’s enclosure.


Animal in a cage.


He fought the first flush of sympathy as it coursed through him. This boy had shot seven people with his father’s Bushmaster AR-15, killing four civilians and seriously wounding one, at a Fourth of July Parade. And this was after slitting his father’s throat with a butcher knife and stabbing his mother more than fifty times in the chest. There had been so many points of entry on her that several wounds overlapped and had widened into a single gash that made separating one knife strike from another a forensic nightmare. This was Jason’s first official interview, though, and Kent wanted to hear it from him. But first he had to appear.


Kent gazed through the square space, seeing the far cell wall and a steel toilet spotwelded to an old cast iron plate, ancient metal fused to even older iron. Eyes appeared at the slit, so intense Kent was convinced they weren’t attached to a face. They were just disembodied orbs swimming like the ones Polidori beheld in place of a woman’s nipples that opium-drenched night a couple hundred years ago at the country estate where Mary Shelly wrote Frankenstein. Or like the eyes in the old Billy Idol video. They were reptile eyes in that small square-shaped port, at once alert and lifeless, eyes intent on survival but open and unblinking. They hungered but held no curiosity. Jason’s nose was thin, more hatchet-like than aquiline, his teeth clenched in a vicious, resolute set.


“Thirty minutes.”
Kent gave only the slightest nod to the guard. He tilted his head to get a better angle on Jason.
“I’m Kent Dinsmore from-”
“Shut up,” Jason said. “Thirty minutes isn’t much time.”
Kent kept quiet. Now was not the time for pride.

“My dad was in OIFs One through Four.”
Kent nodded. Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“He knocked up my mom right before he deployed the last time.” Jason had a thin, quavering voice that went with his willowy frame and narrow features. It was the voice of someone who had been bullied, hard, at home and at school, but there was a vicious undertone if the quaver was parsed. There was resolution beneath the tinny uncertain warble, as if the fear of being weak and preyed upon had turned him into someone who preyed in preemption.
Thomas squinted. “I thought you were born when he came back?”
“I was.” He smiled, showed eyeteeth tapering to vampiric points. “It was a miscarriage, Jenda’s third.”


Probably not a good sign that he called his mother by her name rather than “Mom.” But it was too late to look for signs anyway. He had already started shooting.
“He was stationed at Tallil Airbase. You know where that is?”
Kent nodded. He had never done embed work, but he had friends who had. He followed the war from the heady optimistic days with the toppling of the bronze Saddam in Firdos Square on into the disastrous denouement, when the coalition and everything else collapsed.
“The last time he was stationed near the Ziggurat of Ur, down south.” He sneered. There wasn’t much to distinguish it from his smile.


Jason turned around in his cell for a brief moment, showing ears that tapered to batlike, vorpal edges, sharp counterpoints to the vampire teeth. “The Americans built a Pizza Hut less than a mile from a temple that had been there since Abraham was but a babe.” Jason shook his head, awed by the audacity of it. “The Gods are not easily mocked.” His jaw, clenched even at rest, clamped down like that of an epileptic trying to bite off his tongue. Kent was almost sure the boy would smolder until he did have some kind of fit, but he quickly recovered himself. “The Old Man came home. He and my mom tried again.”


“This time they succeeded?” The sneer became something like a smile again. “Yes and no.” Jason paused. “They had luck inasmuch as my mom didn’t have a miscarriage. The bad news is they had me.”


Kent lowered his eyes, ashamed of how easily Jason could just acknowledge the cursed nature of his existence, as offhand as if it were just an admission that he sucked at playing pool. “Things went okay for a while.” He got lost in something like reverie, which Kent thought strange, since he must have been in a mere preconscious, cooing state in the salad days of his parents’ marriage. “My father had his GI Bill. He had some money saved up from his deployment. He went to Voc Rehab and learned AC and Heating Repair.” Jason shook his head and the sneer came back. It was clear he’d had greater aspirations than his father, if murder could be considered an aspiration. Sadly it could, since it involved fame sometimes, provided you did enough killing or the nature of the kill was especially gruesome.


“I wasn’t a demon seed from birth.”
Kent held back from asking the most natural question, the one that everyone from psychiatrists to bored housewives leafing through the glossy scandal sheets at the shopping counter wanted to know. What happened? He knew he didn’t have to ask.
“Then my mother found it.”
“It?” Kent rolled his neck, loosening the stiffness.
“Don’t get any closer,” one of the guards said.
Kent froze.
“The little stone gargoyle Big Jason got from this haji.”


He also called his father by his first name sometimes. Jason and Jenda, getting by on his wages as a repairman and her tips from the Denny’s to tide them over when the repair work was slow. It might not have been a fairytale, but it could have worked. Except for Jason.
Kent stayed quiet. He didn’t need to ask what a Haji was. He knew about the Haj. He had Muslim friends in journalism. Perhaps one of them should be interviewing Jason, since they might have a more nuanced view of the region, its customs and religious history.
“You know Pazuzu? From The Exorcist?”
Kent sagged, deflating. This was why he had driven five hours? Put in the request with the warden who was even ruder than these two bovine guards breathing down his neck? So that he could interview some wretched, pop-culture poisoned millennial who watched too many movies and decided to kill because it was easier than developing a talent?


“My father had a terp with him.”
“Terp?”
“Yeah,” Jason said, “an interpreter. And they got tight while doing their door-to-door searches for weapons in Nasiriyah. I guess if you live through enough life and death situations with someone, even if you consider them a haji, you start opening up to them.”
“There’s danger in that,” Kent said.
Jason shrugged. “You have to trust someone.” He cleared his throat and continued. “They’re really big on having large families over there. Family’s everything, I guess, the way it used to be in America. Family and religion.”


He’d said it wistfully. Kent thought it strange to hear a mass shooter millennial pine for the old conservative ideals. In some ways it made sense. Jason had grown up without these things as an ever-present force and so didn’t know that what could protect and preserve could also stultify, strangle.


Kent stowed his feelings, realized the boy probably saw him as an ageing boomer idealist lost in the fog of some acid trip he’d taken thirty years ago and from which he’d never totally returned.
“This terp had mercy on my father. Gave him this little Pazuzu to help him.”
“A demon to help him?” Kent was lost. It hadn’t seemed to have done a world of good for Linda Blair, or anyone else involved with the supposedly cursed production of William Friedkin’s masterpiece.
Jason smiled, tickled by his naivete. “Demons have friends and enemies like everyone else.”
“And your father was friends with the demon?”


Kent heard a snort from behind him, the crude scoff of a skeptic. Not that Kent believed, either, but if he didn’t keep an open mind Jason would shut down.
“The terp thought Jenda might be cursed by Lamashtu…” Jason waited patiently for Kent to betray some sign he knew who that was.
Kent not only hadn’t seen any movies about Lamashtu, but he wasn’t sure he ever heard the name.
“She’s the wife of Pazuzu.”
“You’ve got ten minutes left.” The booming voice behind Kent didn’t sound like it would brook any protest. A bribe might have worked but Kent’s expense account was low and things were tight back the magazine’s headquarters. Print was on its way out.


Jason spoke faster. He had to say this, sing the praises of the salvific demon that had guided him to do what he did and which still kept sentry over him. “Pazuzu protects infants and the unborn from Lamashtu’s devouring wolfen maw.”
“She’s a wolf?”
“Wolf head, big human tits.”
A laugh escaped Kent, surprised him. He didn’t think it would be possible to laugh in such a moment. But laughter was always a surprise.
“He snuck the Pazuzu through customs. It wasn’t hard.” Jason shook his head. “Other guys got everything from blocks of hashish to AK-47s out in those Connexes. If millions of hits of ecstasy can get through Rammstein Airbase on a c-17 Hercules, you can sneak a little clay figure out of there.”
It sounded like his father had told Jason some other stories, but they didn’t have time for them. Ten minutes was already something like seven now.


“My mother found it, the little Pazuzu statue. After she had me. It creeped her out and she threw it away.”
“Without telling him?”
“Without telling him. He found out later,” Jason added. “And stabbed her to death.”
Kent’s brow creased in confusion. “You’re saying they falsely charged you with murder?”
“One murder,” Jason said, offhand, as if relating box scores. “I murdered Big Jason after he stabbed the shit out of Jenda. Then I went and got his AR and did what Lamashtu demanded of me.”
“You mean, she found you when Pazuzu wasn’t there to protect you anymore?”
“Like I said, a demon is more like the Greek daemon. The Exorcist is a good movie. But it’s Hollywood bullshit. Another bit of feces ejected from the fundament of the Great Satan.”


His voice was no longer his, but rather much deeper, a growl that threatened to break through the steel wall separating the boy from the men with their shotguns. His eyes rolled back, showing stark whites traversed by thin bluish veins. The guards clutched the walnut stocks of their weapons tighter to hide the tremors in their hands.


Jason blinked, stunned, looking around as if he had been returned to his body and dumped in this room without knowing from whence he came or how he got here. The look was one Kent recognized from the vacant, blackened and sharklike stare of his grandpa when he had been in the grips of senility. But the confessed killer before him had only turned fifteen a couple days ago.
Happy birthday.


“I blacked out after I killed my father. I wasn’t possessed at that point. I just slit his throat for what he had done.”
“Killing your mother?”
He flashed his famous sneer, shook his head harder than a camel trying to bat away a horsefly. “Lamashtu is my mother. And my lover. And my daughter.”
It sounded like a Freudian nightmare. Thank God their time was almost up.
“During my blackout she appeared to me, and I drank milk from her breast.”
“Even though she had a wolf head?” He tried to suppress the smile. Humor again, ex nihilo and in spite of the nightmare. Or maybe because of it.
“She had human tits.” Jason raised his narrow shoulder blades in a shrug.
Touché.


“And thus fortified with her milk, I grabbed my father’s gun and sought out the infidels in their wretched celebration, where they waved their blood-soaked flags in proud parade.”
“The Fourth of July event.” Kent said.
Jason nodded, speaking with what bit of himself Lamashtu still allowed him. “It was justice to avenge the desecration of my goddess’s temple. Perhaps taking Jenda’s babies as forfeit, mangling other American offspring under the guise of birth defects or Gulf War Syndrome, would have been satisfactory. But my father made the curse worse by trying to defy its justice. And once the infidel dog soldier’s bride threw out the Pazuzu statue, they were no longer under the protection or patronage of my gargoyle-faced, priapic pig of a husband.”


Jason spoke again in the deep voice of a strange woman. Either his vocal cords had been commandeered by a spirit or he was one hell of an actor and had definitely been hitting the dictionary pretty hard while locked up (no fourteen year-old talked like this).
“Time’s up,” one of the guards said, and flipped closed the metal port over the door hard enough to flick the killer’s nose where his face crowded near the opening.
Kent stood, knees sore from the time spent crouching.
“Kid’s crazy,” the guard said, turning the rusted steel key in the lock housing.
“Maybe,” Kent said.


Either way it would make one hell of a writeup.

Credit : Joseph Hirsch

https://www.joeyhirsch.com

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2784412.Joseph_Hirsch

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