Restoration

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📅 Published on January 3, 2019

"Restoration"

Written by Jordan Eilbert

Estimated reading time — 69 minutes

Part 1

I work in restoration. Your house or business floods? My crew comes in, dries everything up, cleans the baseboards, preps the place, tosses the ruined stuff into a dumpster and hauls it away. We leave the place clean and ready for a fresh coat of paint. I’m usually pretty proud of the work me and my crew does. We do it all too. Mostly we have to do flood damage, but there are times when we get called to rich folks houses to remove stains from stone and concrete structures. I’ve had a museum call for the same. I’ve made a name for myself in being able to get just about any stain out of any stone. You think it’s easy, or that you can just scrub away a stain, but folks forget that marble isn’t solid material. It’s porous, and it sucks in liquid. That’s why polish and maintenance are important. I’m not naive though. Plenty of times I get called in for “Red Wine” – yeah, okay I get it. You were partying with the hooker, she OD’d cracked her coked out head on a coffee table and suddenly there’s a pool of blood on the marble floor of your penthouse and you can’t get the stain out. Worse? The Wife’s home next week. I’ve done the clean-up enough times to know a few things

  1. You don’t ask stupid questions. Hell half the time the hooker’s fine or would have OD’d anyway with or without the expensive John. So no skin off my nose. And if you’re cleaning up the scene before the cops can show up, honestly, that’s on them. I have a job to do, and I do it.

  2. Don’t remember these people. I’m not some guy who’s going to get brought in on some indictment hearing or some stupid tabloid media circus all because I decided to suddenly have a good memory. I do a job like this, I get your address, I show up, I shake your hand, I call you “Mr.Smith”, and then I leave, I delete your address, and I carry on with my life. The less I know the safer I am.

That being said, I don’t get the blood cleanup very often. It’s normally innocent stuff, Wine, Sewage, Flood Water, sometimes human feces (you think it’s gross but it’s easier than anything else to clean.)

The weirdest request?I need to give you context on weird. I had a call to clean up a place after something called a “Luna Party” which somehow involved a whole lot of menstrual blood and dancing in it. (Next time bring a tarp…) That’s not my weirdest call. It was a Friday, I don’t know why that mattered when I got a call. The secretary was out for lunch as was the rest of the crew, rather than let it go to voicemail, I took the phone call. This was my first mistake.”M & C Restoration Inc. Fred speaking.” Yeah, I’m Fred.

There was a pause and then a guy’s voice comes over, kind of timid. “Yes, Hello. I understand from your ad you can remove stains from all sorts of stone. Marble as well?”

“Kind of our specialty.” I boast, “What sort of stains are you talking about?”

“Blood.”

I never had someone just out and out say it. I get all the pussyfooting around, sure. “Wine”, “Salsa”, “Sangria” – Sangria was my favorite considering that ‘Blood’ is in the name. But this guy just out and said it, plainly. “How large an area?”

Another pause, “I’d say about… maybe 10000 square foot?”

“Not the property,” I tried to clarify, “Just the stain.”

“Yes, I know.”

“…You need 10,000 square feet of marble, which is stained in blood… cleaned?”

“Yes.”

This time I had to take a moment. How many gallons was that? I thought back to that ‘Lunar Party’ thing, or whatever, but even that as only a single floor.

“I’m sorry, some context is probably needed.” the voice on the other end continued, “My name is Timothy. I work in antiquities. A curator friend of mine referred me to you after you managed to clear her museum steps of some blood that apparently occurred after someone took a nasty fall.”

I cleared my throat, “Right… okay. Yes. I’m just still trying to process, 10,000 square feet of stained tile.”

“Is it too much?”

I was still a bit dumbfounded.

“Let me be Frank; this site was the location of a rather bloody massacre some time ago. My colleagues and I have already examined the site in its entirety and we’re looking to begin restoration.”

At this point, my concern got overridden by cash. Antiquities? Historical site? This sounded like a fat government contract! Christmas came early to ol’ Freddy! “What’s the budget for this project of yours?”

“Time is more of the essence than anything else. We need the site cleaned in preparation for other restoration efforts. So as soon as possible would be preferred. Your fee is, essentially, yours to name. You’re literally the only one who I can call on for this task.”Haggling wasn’t this guy’s strong suit, sounded to me like he needs to read The Art of The Deal.

“You’re talking a whole lot of space to clear, 10,000 square feet is a whole lot of floor.”

“It’s not all floor. A good portion of it is on the walls and ceiling.”

“How high is the ceiling?”

“About 50 feet.”

I was silent again, I was going to need to rent a scissor lift for that. I thought for a moment and cleared my throat, “I’m going to need a whole lot of equipment, materials, and at least five guys if you want this job done right and fast.”

“Of course.”

“How long has the marble been stained?”

There was a moment of silence, “By the current timeline? Oh, well maybe 200… wait, What’s the current year again?”

I wasn’t too sure why he was asking but I figured I shouldn’t sound stupid, “It’s 2018.”

“350 years… roughly.”

I thought for a moment, thinking about how, this being the United States, there was no way for there to be a structure like he was talking about. I ignored him and assumed he had to be wrong. Anything over a decade is as set in as it’s going to be anyway. I took a breath, “I can’t do it for less than thirty grand.” I figured he’d work on needling the price down, but then he shocked me again.

“Understandable. I’m assuming I can ignore a number of taxes and paperwork if I provided a cash payment?”

I coughed in shock, nearly swallowed my cigarette, “Yes, certainly.” Cash? I’m going to have this job done and it was going to be tax-free? I felt like I just won the lotto.

So the job itself comes up. I’ve got my crew rolling to the address. The address has a huge rusted gate, chain on the front, typical of a site you’re not allowed to get to. I see a guy standing about six foot in a black trenchcoat, black sunglasses, gloves, black dress shoes and slacks, brown hair and pretty pale. He doesn’t say a word, and unlocks the chain on the gate, pulled it off pretty quick. I thought it was a heavier gauge than he made it seem, but I was probably just mistaken, being in a huge truck and not too close to the gate.

The guy opens the gate up and walks up to the side of the truck.

“Fred, yes?” he says flatly.

I nod, reaching my hand out to him, “You’re Tim?”

“Timothy, yes.” he shakes my hand, firm handshake, and his hair is cut short, trim, proper.

“Military?” I ask.

He nods, stepping back and pointing down past the gate, motioning with his non-directing hand to move.

Definitely military, so I nod and drive up. I see a huge mansion, white and gray stone steps, old siding falling apart, boarded up windows, messed up the roof and the entire place looks to be knocked down but getting rebuilt was apparently on the docket for today, and I was getting paid to not care. As we unload Timothy opens up the front doors and knocks them in place, he starts talking loudly, “The doors need to be open at all times while you work, there is no ventilation inside.” He has a pair of pretty heavy duty door stops on each door. From the outside, I cannot see anything inside. Nothing but pitch black. “You’re going to need lighting, so I hope you brought a generator.”

I laugh while my crew unloads the trucks and sets up two generators, pulling down some cans of gas, “This isn’t my first rodeo.”

“So it would seem,” says Timothy, and then he walks inside and vanishes into the blackness.

I motion for the crew to set-up the lights and the first place we go is on either side of the door. He wasn’t kidding about needing light, the boards were perfect and the inside was absolutely dark. Like the middle of a moonless night dark. I hear the generator kick on and the lights perk up a second later. That’s when I see a massive white face appear out of the dark with brown drips across it. It’s an angelic woman carved expertly out of marble, I swear I can see the pores on her cheeks and the split ends of her long hair. There’s a second similar statute about thirty feet to the left and it’s covered in brown stains.

I hear one of my guys, Chavez, speak up. “My God.”

That’s about when I got the hint something wasn’t right.

Chavez spoke up again, “Hail Mary, our father protect us.”

I picked up Chavez from a day laborer site about one year ago and I’ve been paying him under the table ever since. He’s either from Mexico or Honduras, he was a good worker so I never bothered to care, and could never ask.

“This is too much, this place is cursed to high Hell, the blood’s all over those angel statues, what is this?” Chavez was rambling.

You see, the reason I never could ask Chavez where he came from was that Chavez doesn’t speak a God Damn word of English.

Timothy voice soon echoed across the room, walking over the solid marble in various states of stains and scrapes. “I trust this isn’t too much for you, or your men?”

I didn’t actually spot where he had come from, but I wasn’t paying attention before Chavez got a smack upside the head from one of my full-timers Pete.

“Since when the Hell can you speak English Chavez?”

“When the Hell did you learn Spanish Peter?” Chavez asked.

Timothy seemed agitated, “Gentlemen if we can begin the job now?” and he walked past us and outside.

I turned to both of my men, “Pete, Chavez, shut the fuck up the both of you. We do this job, go home, you all get a good paycheck, okay? No more questions, let’s get moving.”

“This place is cursed,” Chavez said before turning around and pulling in the pressure washers and detergent bottles.

I got up in Chavez face now, certain he can understand me, “Then the quicker we get started, the quicker we can get the Hell out of here. Understand?”

“Understood,” Chavez said, still looking confused.

Pete then spoke up, “Hey boss…” he focused a flashlight to a portion of the floor where the stain ended.

I looked over to where he was shining the light.

The brown stains were everywhere, as described, but toward where one large swath of brown ended was an impression on the floor in the stuff, much clearer. The impression was of a sword, which had to have been drenched in blood. The sword-shaped stain didn’t bother me. It’s what was apparently holding it. An outstretched arm shape, and then two massive wing-like stains on either side, with a human-like face profiled on the floor. Everything below the waist of the figure vanished in the larger stain across the floor. We each had an idea of what we were looking at, but we were too stunned at the sight.

Chavez was the first to break the silence, “Angels died here…”

Part 2

I heard what Chavez said but I don’t think I was letting it sink in. Angels don’t die. Angels don’t exist, personally, but that’s neither here nor there. If angels existed I’d have seen a damn miracle or two around my house, my mother was a God nut, super religious, yet nothing saved her from her car accident or stopped my father’s cancer. No there’s some rational explanation. I know there is, this imprint on the floor, sure it could be human, Timothy said this was a massacre over three hundred years ago.

So, some guy died in a pool of his own blood, sword in hand, and the rest pooled in the shape of wings.No no, couldn’t be wings. This was kind of like Rorschach test. Someone sees puffy clouds, Chavez sees wings because there are two giant thirty-foot statues of angel’s flanking the center of the damn room. It’s in his head, that’s all.

I get a hold of myself, “Chavez, Pete, get the scissor lift in here, help out Bob and Mike and let’s get this job over with. Sooner we start, sooner we’re done, chop chop.”Pete gets motivated pretty quick, but Chavez is now on one knee making the cross over his chest and saying God’s prayer.

I ignore him for now and get to busy myself with the task at hand. The most difficult problem first: The statue on the left needs to be cleaned, and carefully since it’s a work of art.

As Bob and I are guiding the scissor lift into the place I hear Timothy shout something at Chavez. I rush over, now I feel like I’m on a normal work site.

“Hey hey, don’t shout at my guys, what’s going on?” I intervene.

Chavez has both of his hands up, stepping back from a huge structure of canvas and plywood making up a barricade to the right side of the entrance. “I was just checking for more stains, Fred.”

Understanding Chavez is a new thing for me but it’s not entirely unwelcome.

Timothy seems exasperated, “I appreciate your due diligence but this… This area is unstable, I cannot have anyone past these barriers. I apologize, I should have made that clear. The main hall is where the cleaning must be done. Only the main hall, any area that’s barricaded is unsafe, I can’t be held liable for the safety of your men if they wander past them.”

I look to Chavez, “you heard the man, help Bob with the scissor lift and then get to pre-treating the statue. Be careful, okay?”

Chavez nods, and looks to Timothy, “What saint is she?”

Timothy looks at the statue for a moment and gets this kind of far-away look in his eyes. “Dinah of Enoch.”

Chavez gives Timothy thumbs up and says, “I’ll take good care of Saint Dinah. She will sparkle!” He runs off to help Bob with the scissor lift and a very confused Bob and Chavez make their way over to the statue of, Dinah, I guess.

Timothy is smiling an odd kind of smile, and I almost break my “No questions” rule for a moment. I get my hard hat on and start shouting at Bob when I see he’s not wearing a harness on the lift. Typical worksite stuff: got to remind the old timers they’re mortal and make sure the greenhorn of the group doesn’t fuck something up. I’m happy to slide back into my routine. It wouldn’t last, of course.

About halfway through the day we’re just about done getting the bust of this statue clear, and I gotta say she’s looking as good as new there when we hear a huge bang. It sounds almost like someone took a large aluminum pipe and smashed it down onto the marble. It echoes over our tools and even the guys with ear protection are taken back by the sound.

I scream and shout to cut the equipment and tell Bob and Chavez to get off the scissor lift. Lord knows if something blew on the damn thing, it’s a rental after all. I call Mike over to have a look. Mike slides under the lift as Bob and Chavez unhook their harnesses.

Chavez looks to me, “It wasn’t the lift, boss.”

“Well, then what the fuck was it?”

Chavez points to behind one of the barricades and I spot Timothy running towards it, I think I hear him mumble something like, “This can’t be happening right now.”

I shout to him, “Hey, Tim, you need a hand?”

Timothy shoots me a stern look and in a pretty practiced officer tone commands us, “No one is to go beyond this point, something may have collapsed. If there’s an issue I’ll let you know, you stay there.” and disappears behind a piece of plywood and canvas.

I look to my guys and tell them to continue to inspect the scissor lift and then get back to work if everything is okay. God only knows what compelled me to walk toward the barricade at that moment. Morbid curiosity? A lapse of sound judgment? Mini-stroke? Still not sure to this day, but man was this at least the third or fourth stupidest thing I did that day. I get just close enough to hear voices, there’s a woman on the other side and Timothy.

“I’m sorry, I truly am, but I’m afraid they’re all gone,” I hear Timothy say, hushed, but still enough for me to hear, “I know your pilgrimage must have been arduous.”

The female voice sounds frantic and heartbroken, “But that can’t be! Surely, this cannot be! Who would do such a thing? Who could? Was it an army?”

“It was just two people, unfortunately.” He sounds almost guilty, “They seemed to come in relative peace, but it was soon apparent that at least one of them had other ideas. All fought valiantly but they couldn’t be stopped”

The woman’s voice is trembling, “It was her, wasn’t it? The daughter of Lu-“

The pressure washer kicked in and startled me while drowning them both out, and I realized how close I was to the barricade trying to listen. I stepped back and made my way quickly to the rest of the group, keeping an eye on the far barricade Timothy had vanished behind. I don’t see Tim emerge till we’re just about done for the day, the statue clean.

Timothy stops as he sees it, in reverence of some kind I guess, looking it over silently.

I walk over to him, “So far so good. We should be able to get some pretreatment on the flooring, let it sit overnight then we’ll hit it hard tomorrow.”

Timothy just nods, “Your men do swift work.”

“That’s what we do,” I say proudly.

Pete starts yelling for me from across the room. I excuse myself and hustle over.”What’s up?” I look at where Pete is and he just points down.

There’s, for lack of a better word, a gash in the flooring.

I need to explain why this floor is unusual, more so than just having blood all over it and more than the shapes in said blood. You see, this floor doesn’t have seams. It’s a solid chunk of marble. I’ve seen some expensive walls and floors that are huge slabs, sure, happens all the time. If you have enough money they’ll tow a mountain to your house. But this was a mansion worth of floor that, for the life of me, I could not find a damn seam in.

Now the gash, it’s almost ten feet long and at the center, it looks almost six inches deep. Even with the light, while I can see the bottom, it looks pretty dark inside the gash.

Pete looks to me, “I’m going to ignore how this got here and just ask what we’re supposed to do? The surface scratches are easy to buff out but this isn’t going to buff out easy.”

I call Mike over to have a look.

Mike looks it over and runs his hand over the edges of the opening, as well as the sides, it’s all stained of course. “Jesus…” He stands up and looks it over, “That’s one clean swipe, there are no cutting marks like you’d get if you were slicing into it with a floor cutter… so… uh…” He starts thinking, “Can toss in quickset to fill it, get it most of the way full anyway, and we could just toss on some filler and polish but… I think we can do better with some resin, make it look a bit more natural. It’s up to the client though, this is going to cost extra.”

I look it over, a two-inch-wide, ten-foot-long, and six-inch deep slash in the marble certainly wasn’t in the order. I look to see Timothy is already approaching us. “Just the man I need to see.”

Timothy looks down and shakes his head, “She did some serious damage…”

Don’t ask, don’t ask, just don’t. I keep saying that in my head. “We can fill it and get it level, may even make it look pretty. But this wasn’t in the original quote, so I’d say about another four grand.” I’d feel bad if this entire job didn’t feel like some crazy funhouse.

Timothy just nods, “Fine fine, don’t go crazy, just so it’s level and no one trips over it.”

Mike heads out to get the materials we need, and I drag one of the sandblasters over, the gash is smooth, and it’ll need to be rougher if that quickset is going to fill it in right. Everyone gets to work while I start to blast into this thing. Then something black shoots straight up out of the gash and clatters somewhere behind me. This is why I wear a hard hat, folks. I cut the blaster, and look around, it doesn’t seem like anyone else heard anything. I look to what popped out of the gash and realize the gash is about nine inches deeper, and I can see it’s still solid marble, no subfloor or dirt. Nothing is behind me but my closed toolbox. Whatever popped up must have shattered when it hit the ground, or all I saw was sand and blood popping up out of the gash in the floor. I get my ear protection back on and finish up prepping the gash to be filled.

We pack up for the day, the floor is pretreated, we store the tools and such inside, and I do a quick head count, and I notice I’m short one Honduran. Oh, yeah, mystery solved on that one, Chavez is from Honduras. I look around and then spot him coming out from behind the barrier, Timothy walking behind him, his hand on his shoulder.

Shit.

I run over, “Chavez what the Hell, you were told not to-“

“Sorry boss, won’t happen again.” he’s very quiet and looks to Timothy, “Please consider? I do not mind.”

“It’s dangerous Jorge.” Timothy says, “Discuss with me later, yes?”

Chavez just nods and walks off.”What was that about?” I ask.

Timothy just walks past me, “I thought you didn’t ask questions?”

“Not when it involves one of my guys.” I clear my throat, “Who, I’m sorry, disobeyed your instructions.”

Timothy glanced back at me, and with the light from the door behind him I kind of got the best look at his ice blue eyes, “Ensure it doesn’t happen again, Fred.”

I just nod dumbly as the red flags keep waving in my head. Just don’t show up tomorrow, take the money, leave the gear, go on your merry way. Granted I’d only been paid half of the job, but still, it was a decent amount. We get packed up, and the crew and I head out, packing my toolbox and other smaller items in the truck. I notice Timothy is locking up the doors of the place and then escorts us to the gates. He closes them with him on the other side.

I pull my truck up to the gate, “You are living on site?”

Timothy hesitates for a moment, but answers, “Yes. I have a trailer out back.”

“See you bright and early tomorrow then.”Timothy just nods and waves me off. I never actually paid attention to where he went from there.

I turn to Chavez in the truck, and ask, “So what did you and Timothy talk about?”

“¿que?” is all I get from Chavez. He has to be fucking with me, I put it out of my mind, drop Chavez off at his place, he waves as always. “Gracias, señor Fred!”, and heads home. I head back home as well.

At home, the kids are asleep as is the wife, and I’ve got my toolbox in the garage. I pop open my toolbox as I’ve got to swap a few things in and out for the next day, specifically some mixing bits and the like.

When I open my toolbox, however, something inside of it is certainly not a tool I have ever used. I suddenly recognize it, it’s the object that came out of the gash. My toolbox was opened behind me, it must have closed when the thing slammed into it.

The object is about three wide deep in the center, two feet long, and about three inches thick at the top, tapering to a point at the bottom. It looks almost like a wedge, and I realize it’s probably blood that seeped into this gash and solidified over the years.I pick it up, and it’s light, but despite my attempts, I cannot break this thing. looking at this object in the light for the first time. It almost looks like a blade, either that or the shape of the Gash just shaped this thing into one. The top is flat, the bottom comes to a point, not sharp, but it could be. Light seems to penetrate through the edge of this thing and it is tinted deep red, the rest appears to be black. I didn’t even know blood could become a solid, but I guess if there’s enough of it, it’s possible.

It’s about ten after eleven when I swear I hear three taps against my front door as if I had a knocker or something. I don’t, by the way.

I leave the object in my toolbox, closing it and locking it, and head to the front door. I’m not an idiot, I make sure to check my closet next to the door, and I make sure my shotgun is loaded. It’s after 11 PM, what psycho comes knocking at someone’s door at this time of night?

I open the door halfway and am greeted by an outstretched hand with a black ring on each finger, one of which was about to tap again on the door. The hand pulls back and clasps a wide-brimmed white hat, removing it from his head and lowering it to about chest level. One hand is behind him and he’s standing a good six foot three, wearing a white duster of some sort and a red tie over a black, very expensive looking, dress shirt. He has white-rimmed glasses and yellowish eyes behind them, jet black hair that’s well kept. As he speaks it’s almost like his voice doesn’t match his body, his face isn’t odd but doesn’t stand out, and his voice sounds almost like it comes from an old cop movie.”Evenin’ young man. I understand you’re working with an associate of mine, goes by Timothy?”

While client confidentiality isn’t my cornerstone, keeping my business out of my personal life sure as shit is. “Sorry buddy but I’m going to have to ask you talk to me during business hours.”

His face falls slightly, “now this is important… regarding that place you’re working in. Timothy may have you misled, you see, he’s using this place for his own means, not prosperity.” he pulls out some kind of business card and twirls it over each of his fingers before handing it to me.

I look it over, it just has a phone number on it, no other information.

His other hand brings an unlit cigarette to his mouth, he inhales, smoke venting out of his nostrils. “If you were to happen across something… of note… I’d be appreciative if you could contact me.”

“I’m not doing that, I’m not the kind to take things from a worksite.” Normally, this is completely true.

A shit eating grins spread across this guys’ face and his oddly perfect teeth almost glisten in the light on my porch. “True. Be a shame to take something that you don’t understand, only to wind up dead,” he cocks an eyebrow at me, “or worse.”

I had it with the creep on my porch at this point, “Listen, pal, hit the bricks, you hear me? Get the fuck off my property or I’ll call the cops,” I try cocking a shit eating grin myself now, “or worse”, I don’t think it works.

He stands still, I can barely tell if he is breathing.

I pump the shotgun behind the door, I know there’s no point to this, I just eject a perfectly good shell, but I want him to hear that I’ve got a gun, it’s pump action, and it’s in my hand.

His voice suddenly changes, or he just drops the facade, and a raspy voice like that of a lifelong chain smoker slithers out of his throat, half a whisper, half a wheeze. “Not parting with it then, eh? Well, I’ll have it one way or another, for certain.” The accent is hard to place, it’s not quite Middle Eastern, but it’s not like anything I’ve ever heard.

I now pull the shotgun out and point it at his face, “And now I’m done with you. Whoever the fuck you are, get out.”

He doesn’t even flinch, he just grins more, a hissing chuckle dripping out of his mouth, “You are a fun one… never once does your sort disappoint… always resorting to the fire provided by Prometheus yet,” he pauses, eyeing the barrel of the gun, “never considering where it came from.” I’m not sure where he pulled it from, but he suddenly crunches into an apple he must have had in his pocket. “I suppose… I’ll have to reconsider. Maybe when you’re asleep, like what happened to that hooker you cleaned up a few years back on Broadway?”

My heart skipped a beat. I don’t talk about clients and clients would never talk about me, and I never go into that much detail either, I just restore shit.

“A man of your skills is bound to clean up a homicide of two. Knowingly or not,” He tilts his head back, looking at me down the barrel of the gun, “cleaning up the sin left behind by those less scrupulous than yourself? Oh, we’ve been watching you for some time,” now, for some reason, his eyes go wider, “Red Fred.”

I click the safety off of the shotgun and put my finger on the trigger. “Get the fuck out of here right now.”

Another loud crunch of his apple and he seems to mockingly throw his hands up, walking backward, keeping eye contact with me with those yellow eyes, “Very well… another time then. You are a fun one Red.” he turns and starts to walk off.

I haven’t moved the gun yet, still trained on him, “Don’t fucking call me Red you…” I realize I hadn’t gotten this creep’s name, the card that he gave me only had a phone number. “Whatever your God-given name is!”

My mother always said that when she mad. She’d shout out into phones all the time when telemarketers would give her fake names and shit, “What’s your God-Given name?” – so it’s a force of habit I picked up. I only said it when I was really pissed at someone. And this guy had me pretty livid. Bar-none, the dumbest thing I apparently did all day.

He stops dead on my walkway, and his hands slowly go down to his sides, “ooh…” his voice whispers out as if he had just won a prize. “You compel my God-given name?” his head starts to turn toward his right shoulder, but his shoulders aren’t moving, not an inch.

As I watch I get ready to shoot. I swear if his head does a full 180-degree turn, I don’t care what his name was, I’ll just start shooting until he stops moving and probably pump a few more rounds into just to be sure.

His head stops just shy of completely turned, I can see both of his yellow eyes as he slowly placed his hat back on his head. He grins and I swear I watch his pupils dilate till his eyes look almost entirely black with yellowish rings around them, “You can tell Timothy my name too,” he lets out another hissing laugh and I swear I can hear the gun shaking in my hands for some reason, “It’s Belial.”

I don’t know why but I feel the blood drain out of my face for a moment and the whole area got a bit dimmer as if something were draining it of light. I stagger slightly, but regain my footing, press the shotgun butt against my shoulder tightly, as if it’s somehow going to help me.

He turns away from me, and as he walks off, he wheezes out, “Don’t forget to tell Timothy I stopped by,” another puff of smoke clouds around his head, “and what I stopped by for.”

I pulled the gun back, shut the door, locked it, and shut the blinds. My heart was hammering in my chest as I checked the shells in my gun to ensure I had it loaded. I click the safety back on and I rush upstairs to my bedroom. My wife is fast asleep as I sit on the edge of the bed, gun in hand, staring at my front door down the stairs.

I swear I can hear something three taps against my window at random times all night.

Part 3

Morning came and I haven’t put the shotgun down yet, still sitting at the end of the bed and checking the windows. It seemed like the tapping stopped sometime around dawn. I hear my wife’s alarm clock go off and the sounds of her rousing from her sleep.

“Morning honey,” she mumbles, brunette hair a mass of frizz and tangles.

“Morning,” I say simply, making sure she’s okay.

She gets out of bed and heads to the bathroom, I hear the kids alarms go off next and my boys are heard roughhousing in their room.

My wife, Sandy, comes out of the bathroom, toothbrush in hand, and is about to motion for me to go contain the wild animals that are my fifteen and thirteen-year-old boys. She stops when she spots the shotgun in my hand. She quickly spits out her toothpaste, “Fred, why the fuck are you holding the shotgun?” she looks me up and down with her soft brown eyes. “Are those the clothes you had on when you came home yesterday?”

‘Honey I got visited by a guy who is probably not human in the least and he threatened the family if I don’t return a red blade-like object that came from some mysterious excavation site,’ is the most truthful thing I want to say. It also sounds batshit insane and the more I play the sentence over and over in my head the more I question my own sanity.

“Fred?” Sandy pokes my shoulder.

Apparently, I was staring off into space while trying to think up a logical response to her completely rational question. “I… Uh… someone was on the lawn last night. Was banging on the door and wouldn’t go away until I got the shotgun.”

Sandy cocks her hip and shoots me one of those emasculating wife stares. “So rather than call the cops you reach for the shotgun?”

I cock the shotgun and clear the ammo out, before heading back down to the closet to put it and the shells back. “Just wasn’t sure if it was a prowler or kids.”

Sandy pokes her head out of the bedroom, “And speaking of… Colin, Trevor! Shake a leg!”

I close the closet and see my boys bounding down the steps in various states of dress dragging their backpacks and heading to the table. They start fighting over cereal and I quickly resolve it, before a good scolding and getting them prepped for the bus. They finish up and are soon out the door with coats and sneakers on.

My wife follows down next, wearing her robe, “Don’t you have that job today?”

I nod, looking at the time, “Yeah, you’re right.”

“Then get motivated.”

I do, and head out the door, give the wife a kiss and I’m heading back to the site, making sure my toolbox is with me.

Same as the first morning Timothy is there at the gate, he undoes the chain and we all head to the mansion again. He props the doors open and the crew heads in.

I get the business squared away first, Chavez and Pete on the scissor lift to finish a few touches on the walls while Bob and Mike get to mixing the quick set and filling in the gash in the floor. They also work on making sure there’s a barrier between the gash and the rest of the work area, so we can work on the rest of the flooring.

During this prep work, I notice Mike eyeing the doorway. “Mike, you taking in the scenery?”

Mike points to the roof on the outside, “Steepled…” he leans into the doorway, shining a light up to the ceiling, “Flat”.I look to Mike, “Attic.”

Mike pulls out a laser measurer, “Steeple peak is… 53ft.” he leans in, “Ceiling is 50ft.” He leans out again “low point steeple is 44ft.” he leans back in, “Flat ceiling is 50ft.”I grumble a bit, “Our last day here Mike, get the job done, that thing’s probably on the fritz.”

“My eyes aren’t on the fritz Fred!”

“Damn your eyes.” I see Bob looking at the same thing as Mike, “Bob, do something!”

Bob seems startled but manages to compose himself and get back to setting up his tools.

I walk past the crew as they prep and pop open my toolbox. I find the strange object, or artifact, or whatever out of my toolbox and head toward Timothy.

Timothy is observing Chavez and Pete when he spots me coming.

“This wound up in my toolbox,” I say, holding the object out in front of me.

Timothy looks it over without touching it, then looks to me after a solid minute. “This came from here?”

I nod, “From inside that gash in the floor.”

Timothy holds his right hand over the thing for a moment, then he starts guiding his hand back and forth over it slowly.

I have no clue what he’s doing, I’m about to ask, but as I look up I notice his eyes seem to be a more intense blue then they were before, specifically his right eye.

Timothy stops suddenly and just grabs the thing with his right hand, and pulls it hard out of my grip. “Thanks for returning this.” he turns it over in his hand again, his eyes seem to be a normal shade of blue again. “It’s a very rare find.”

“That’s what your associate said.” I was hoping to fish for some info. If this Belial guy knows Timothy then Timothy should know him.

“Associate?” he looks at me quizzically.

I nod, “Yeah, tall guy, kind of yellow eyes, way too perfect teeth?”

Timothy seems completely confused. “I’m afraid I don’t know anyone like that. All my associates are here.”

I figured it was time to stop trying to get him to spill the beans and just come out and say it. “Listen the guy shows up last night, tells me he wants that thing, and then tells me his name is Belial and that you know him.”

Timothy’s face goes slightly pale, “You’re certain he said Belial?”

I just nod.

Timothy looks to the object and then walks to the doors. “Sorry for this but I hope you have everything you need inside.” and he shuts the doors.

I’m a bit dumbfounded at this point, “I thought you were concerned about ventilation?”

Timothy just walks right past me and toward the barricade. “Ventilation is the least of your worries at the moment.”

I turn around and the entire crew is dead silent, not sure what to do as we hear some banging, a few doors closing and then some rustling past the barricade. I just come out and say it, “We have this one last day to get the floor cleaned, and get that gash and the smaller scapes and holes plugged. Move it, now, and then we get the fuck out of here.”

The crew seems pretty much on board and the sounds of work soon overpower anything else.

Almost half an hour since Timothy left I suddenly feel a hand on my shoulder and I spin around out of sheer instinct.

A small round bottle is shoved into my hands

“That’s for you,” Timothy says before he hands the bottles to the rest of the crew.

I look and see it’s just a small round glass bottle with a long spout at the top and a cap.

Timothy doesn’t have the object in question any longer and now he heads toward the barrier again, as he passes me I grab him.

“I need at least a ‘what the fuck is this’ explanation and a ‘who the fuck is that’ for this Belial guy.” I glare at him.

“That,” Timothy says as he points to the bottle, “is for protection from Belial.”

“That’s half of my questions, Tim.”

“Timothy.”

“Who the fuck is Belial?” I reiterate.

He looks up to the angelic statue and I turn to see the large statue of Saint Dinah. “He’s her opposite.” before he can elaborate he’s back behind the barrier.

Just finish up today and get the fuck out, is all I can think of. I grab a pressure washer and start working alongside my guys to get things rolling.

It’s the end of the day, and it’s cleanup time, Timothy opens the doors and checks outside for something, and we all start loading up the trucks.

Timothy looks around seemingly satisfied, “This is quite excellent work Fred, thank you.”

I nod, hoping we can finish up shortly. “The gash in the floor is fully repaired, it will take a full 24 hours to cure but you can walk across it without much issue. We cleaned up the main hall here, got the walls, statues, ceilings and of course the flooring squared away.”

“And the Amphitheater,” Chavez says as he and Pete seem to be pulling equipment from the left side of the room.

Pete’s face is pretty pale as he walks by but I stop them regardless.

“Amphitheater?”Pete just looks to me and shakes his head.

I sigh, “Chavez, that wasn’t in the order.”

Timothy chimes in, “How did you get into the Amphitheater?”

I’m never going to get out of this place, am I? So close, yet so far.

Chavez happily shows us down the left-hand side of the hall and clicks on the lights.

A pair of massive fifty-foot double doors stand right in front of us, and reach from floor to ceiling, the ceiling looks like it tapers to a dome. It’s not so much that there’s a pair of massive fifty foot tall double doors right in front of me that are almost twenty feet wide, it’s what’s on the damn things that bother me. Carved into the marble are pictures of armor-clad angels with feathery wings. Under their feet are various horrible looking creatures, a few of the angels stand over said defeated creates with spears shoved in them, others are in the process of smiting them. As the doors go up the carvings get weirder, not just feathery Angels but these other winged humanoid things, they look like lizards with wings. Stranger still is at the very top of these doors is a huge lizard-like figure, massive bat-like wings spread out, holding a shield with a cross on it and a huge spear. It’s hard to see fully, but the doors seem to meet, or at least have to meet, in the middle, where his face would be. If you could call it a face, it was mostly a lizard head, with horns, over a long snake-like neck.

Chavez takes a knee in front of the doors and starts reciting God’s prayer.

One of them clicks open.

“Voice activated doors?” I ask, hoping there’s some kind of rational explanation and wondering why we haven’t left yet.

Chavez gets up and opens the door enough to walk in. He drags one of the lamps in and powers it up, motioning for us to come in. “We found this door here, and I and Pete cleaned it up, it was easier than the rest, the floor here is different.”

I look down and, thank God, there’s a seam. I finally found a seam in this place. But the seam is from Marble to Granite, and as I walk in it’s pretty clear that, oddly, everything is made of granite in this room.

Stacking up into the darkness, so high I couldn’t even tell, were chairs. These chairs were large, stone chairs. They all culminated around a central chair. A chair is an understatement, this was a throne. The chairs all surrounded the ‘stage’ we found ourselves on in a huge crescent.

I turned to Timothy, whose gaze was transfixed on the central throne, that far away look again in his eyes.

Chavez was, again, the only one to speak. “Saint Dinah?”

Timothy nods and leaves the room. “I did not know how those doors opened. Thank you, Chavez.”

I click the lights off, and pull the lights out, making sure everyone is out of the now perfectly dark room. “Good work guys, now let’s get packed.” I’m now overly invested in getting out of here as fast as possible.

Pete leans over to me, whispering, “The door outside, and the amphitheater doors are on the same wall, but there’s no structure on the outside that could fit that.”

I notice this as well as I walk outside the mansion, and then back inside. “Pete.”

“Yeah?”

“Don’t think about it.”

Pete just frowns at me, “I guess that’s the best bet.”

I give a final examination of the place before we kill the last of the lights, and I do have to say the place is looking nice. The white marble floor is polished to the point where I can see my reflection, the gash is sealed up nice and neat, and just looks like a vein in the marble. Everything is looking perfect inside, the walls, the ceiling, the floor. I give a little nod to the Saint Dinah statue and head to the door as the lights are taken down. I do my headcount and once again I’m short a Honduran.

I walk back inside and find Chavez kneeling in front of the statue of Saint Dinah, only the light from the setting sun reflecting off the floor to light the room softly. “Chavez, end of the day, let’s go.”

“I’m staying,” he says simply. I notice the bottle that Timothy handed him is empty.

“Did you drink that?” I said, a bit shocked, “do you even know what is in that Chavez?”

“God’s Blessing.” Chavez stands up and he just looks, for lack of a better word, happy. Like a man without a care in the world.

“I’m not just leaving you here Chavez, the client isn’t going to like you hanging around here.”

Timothy chimes in, walking back from behind the barrier again, “Actually Chavez agreed to assist me in a few things going forward.”

I turn to look at Timothy, “You ever think I might not want to lose a member of my crew?”

Chavez speaks up, “Mr. Fred? It’s okay. I want to stay here. I want to help Saint T-“

Timothy interrupts, “He volunteered, it was hard to say no to him.”

I give Chavez a look.

He just smiles and extends his hand. “Nice working with you Fred.”

I ignore it, “Get your head on straight, I’m your ride.”

“I’m staying Fred.”

I turn and shout, “Chavez I’m not staying here any longer, okay? I’m out, done, finished!” I stop for a second. I didn’t say ‘Finished’ I said ‘Finito’, but for some reason, it came out as English. “I’m 100% done with this place, okay? I’m out. Job’s done, you want to stay? Enjoy.” I head towards my truck, look to my toolbox, ensure nothing else is there that shouldn’t be, close it and out I go.

As I head out of the doors Timothy starts to close them behind us, him and Chavez still inside. Timothy looks to me before he closes the doors, “The remainder of your payment is in the truck. Everything we discussed. I cannot fully express my gratitude.” He shuts the doors and we load up.

I check the truck and there’s an envelope with the second half of the payment. I’m pretty shocked and I count the bills a few times, I’m up a good ten grand. I’ve heard of getting a tip but this was a bit overkill. I know one pair of kids whose college fund is going to be in a good place after all of this.

At home, I’m doing the husband thing and cleaning up the dishes from the wife’s dinner. Sandy and the boys are asleep and that’s when I hear a crash in the garage. I run to the closet, grab the shotgun and fill it with a few shells before I rush in. I’m kind of expecting him at this point.

My toolbox and all the tools are strewn about all over the floor. I see my garage door opened slightly and suddenly something small and almost glass-like hits me in the face. I look down to see what looks like a chunk of the object that was in my toolbox, about the size of a half dollar, land on the floor.

“That is but a pittance, Red Fred.” I turn to the voice and I see glowing yellow eyes in the darkness, “Not nearly what I need.”

I pull the gun and go to shoot, but I feel a tug against my entire body as if someone grabbed onto my sweatshirt from the front and pulled it downward. I barely take a step forward but it’s enough to get me to point the gun down at the floor.

I look up as Belial’s hand is dropping from being in midair, steam rising off the black rings on his fingers. “Weak… not this weak though.” Another hissing laugh, “He offered you protection, how noble.”

Before I can take aim a tool shoots off of my workbench and smacks into the shotgun, which lands a few feet from me. I lunge for it but it suddenly leaps off the floor and into Belial’s hand.

Belial takes the shotgun and places it against his shoulder, looking down on me. “As if a little bauble could do anything against me.”

I try to get up but he places his foot on my shoulder, I can’t move.

“You’ve done something very foolish, Red Fred.” he soon is crouching down onto his haunches over me. “You’ve hidden the only thing that can help me move up from a puppeteer to God,” the shotgun barrel now slides under my chin as I see Belial’s face illuminated by the light coming from the doorway. “But there’s hope for you yet!”

I’m shaking at this point as I’m not sure how the tables turned so fast.

“You can fix your mistake, and in return, I’ll spare you and your family’s lives!” his voice wheezes, but not as much as it did before. He somehow seems stronger. “Despite how I look, I’ve done quite a bit to exist in this world. Possessions’ normally a lesser demons game, but the discovery of that Sanguine Amber…” he cocks the shotgun, “I could not resist.”

I’m sweating and slowly try to get to my feet. I’m on my hands and knees by the time I feel the barrel at the back of my head.

“Now this is your next course of action: You will leave here, right away, and retrieve for me the Sanguine Amber you found. You will bring it back here, and give it to me. In return, you’ll be at my side rather than in my path,” I swear I can hear his grin somehow, “Nod if you understand.”

I just nod, what else could I do?

“If you do not bring me the amber, if you do not return home, or if you somehow reach out to Timothy for aid, I will go upstairs and I will make your children watch as I violate your wife in every way you can and cannot imagine.”

I clench my fists, “If you lay a hand on her I’ll-“

“You’ll what, mortal?” I hear the safety slide off. “Bleed on me?”

I relax, and I hear the safety slide back as the gun clatters to the floor.

“You’re on the clock, Freddy.”

I look up and the garage is clean, the door isn’t open, there isn’t even a sign that I had dropped the shotgun, as it’s sitting neatly on my workbench. I get to my feet, shaking, and turn to see a figure right behind me, causing me to shout in fear.

Sandy is behind me and she punches me in the shoulder, “Jesus it’s just me! Why are you so jumpy Fred? What is going on?”

I rub my shoulder where she nailed me and I try to figure out how best to protect one’s family from someone who’s clearly not from this world. That’s when I remember what Timothy handed me at the worksite. I rush to the closet to find my coat.

“Were you on the phone? I thought I heard you talking to someone.” Sandy asks.

I pull the bottle out of my coat, and turn to her, pressing the bottle into her hands. “Sandy, I know this is going to sound batshit nuts but I need you to drink this and share it with the boys okay?”

“They’re asleep Fred,” Sandy says curtly. She looks at the bottle, and raises an eyebrow, “This isn’t some random point where you poison us all and run off to Malibu with some bimbo is it?”

I grab her by the shoulders, looking her dead in the eye, “I’m asking you to trust me. Just drink half the bottle, split the rest with the kids, okay? I need you to do that for me right now. Just drink half.”

Sandy is clearly worried now but she undoes the cap on the bottle, “Okay Fred, okay. Calm down.” she takes a swig, then another until the bottle is half empty, and caps it. “So I drank it what…” she trails off and suddenly closes her eyes, opening them again and looking right into my eyes. “Oh, wow that’s probably the best water I ever drank.”

I nod, “Make sure you give it to the boys, okay? I left something at the worksite and I need to get it.”

Sandy just nods, “I love you, Fred.”

I let go of her shoulders, “I love you too, just make sure the kids drink that and keep the doors locked, okay? Don’t let anyone inside.”

Sandy just nods again, “Okay Fred, be careful.” she walks up the stairs and waves, smiling serenely as I rush out the door, lock it, and make my way to my truck. In retrospect, I should have kissed her.

I was driving swiftly, fast enough to be a little worried but not fast enough to get pulled over.

I got to the gate of the worksite in roughly an hour, which was a pretty good time from my house. I saw the gate wasn’t chained up anymore, which seemed odd because Timothy had to undo that chain every time. Did he never leave the mansion after they closed the doors? I drove down the driveway and hit my brights, knowing it might be dark in that main hallway, and ran to the doors. “Timothy! Open up!” I slammed my fist on the door, “Damn it Timothy open the damned door!” I look to see there’s no padlock on the door and jostle the old doorknob, swinging the doors open. “Chavez! Timothy!” I shout into the empty room expecting an echo, but I hear no such sound.

I’m hit with a musty scent, the smell of rotting wood and mildewed fabric. I look around, pulling out a flashlight. The boards are letting light in from the front, there are no statues, no marble floor, just a set of collapsed staircases and a rotting subfloor with a few ripped and torn rugs and graffiti. I take a step outside, and just confirm it’s the same place, then peak back inside. The barricades are gone, the marble ceilings, the walls, the seamless floor. It’s as if it was never there. I run through the ruins of this ancient mansion, the mansion is mundane, old, too ruined to fix, should be knocked down. I try a door or two, each opening to rotting room after rotting room. I eventually became overwhelmed with the fungus in the air, and I stumbled out the door, falling to my knees near my car. As I tried to catch my breath, I tried to figure out what the Hell was going on. I turned to look at the old mansion behind me, and I could only think of one thing:

The site we were working on was gone or was never here in the first place, and the amber was gone with it.

Part 4

I was panicked, I wasn’t even sure what to do. Timothy was a “Don’t Ask” customer, so I had no contact info saved, no way to reach him, not even a cell number. That’s when I realized I did have some hope. I got back into the truck and hauled ass to my office. I could get there in about twenty minutes, I could check the caller ID, and maybe reach him that way. I zipped out of the long driveway and got moving as fast as possible, leaving the gate open, I don’t even think I closed the doors to the old mansion.

I got to the office in just under fifteen minutes. I fumbled with the lock, having to stop myself for a second and then calmly get the key into the slot. I pulled the door open and rushed to my desk.

I hit the call history on the phone, and I finally got a number. Out of state, sure, it was from New York, which was fine, and probably the right number. I hit the speed re-dial while jotting the number down. My stomach dropped when it went directly to voicemail, and I heard the message on the other end.

“You’ve reached Major Timothy Crestfall, please leave a message and I’ll get back to you shortly. Godspeed.”

I hadn’t caught my breath by the time the beep occurred. “Timothy, please you need to call me back. Belial’s threatening my family, my wife the kids, I gave them that water you gave me but this guy… he’s… I don’t think…” should I say it out loud? To make it real? “I don’t think he’s human. Help me.” I hung up and tried to call again, direct to voicemail once more. A random thought runs past my frantic mind. “He’s a bit young looking for an officer, right?”

My cell phone rings. It’s a 1-800 number of some sort, calling me in the middle of the night. I was about to ignore it but something told me I shouldn’t. I answer the phone. “This is Fred, who is this?”

There’s a crackle on the other line, I think I hear something like a scream before it cuts out entirely, a young man is on the line and he sounds shaken. “Sir, are you Mr. Fred Macaione?”

“Yes, who is this?”

“This is your home alarm central monitoring, sir we’re getting alerts that multiple smoke detectors have alarmed in the home. We’ve contacted the fire department, but we’re not able to reach anyone in the house via the front panel, are you home at the moment?”

I feel a little dizzy but I stand up regardless and make my way to my car, “Oh God-have you tried my wife’s cell?”

“Yessir, we’ve attempted multiple times, are you home?”

“No, no I’m not home.”

“The Fire Department is on the way sir, do you need me to stay on the line with you?”

“No, I’m going home.” I jump out of the office, leaving it unlocked, and I get in the truck. At this point, I don’t give a single solitary fuck about speed limits. I’m flooring it. I’m not even paying attention to the speedometer until I look in my rear view and I see police lights. I pull over, shaking, not even sure what’s going on, what’s happening with my family. I keep thinking that they’re going to be safe, that I gave that holy water stuff to them and they have to be alive and well because of that. Chavez called it “God’s Blessing”

A tap against my window and I roll it down quickly.

The cop is a gruff looking heavy set black guy, “in a hurry?”

My voice cracks and I try to compose myself, “Officer, I got a message from my alarm company that there are smoke alarms going off at my house, I’ve got about twenty minutes to get there, I need a pass on this.”

The officer puts his hand out, “License, sir?”

I curse and hand him my license, and I hear him actually running to his car. I contemplate just speeding off right then and there, scenarios going through my head of him shooting out my ties or turning the entire thing into a police chase. My train of thought is broken when he runs back to my window, giving me my license.

“Follow me, try to keep up sir.”

“What?” I’m confused by this.

“I’m giving you an escort.”

I think I went pale at this point.

The cop puts his hand on my shoulder, “Sir, do you need me to give you a lift?”

I look to my shaking hands and just nod dumbly.

He opens my Truck door, takes out the keys, and undoes the seat belt.

Before I know what’s going on I’m in his squad car and we’re speeding down the streets with the sirens blaring. I hear the radio chatter come in and out but I can barely understand it.

He grabs his radio, “Car 314, I’ve got a resident of 335 Locust St, en route to the scene.”

‘The Scene’? I’m still in disbelief, shock, and can barely tell when we’re on my street and the car finally slows down after it was done running every red light and every stop sign.

The car comes to a stop and I scramble out of the car. I’m half blinded by the sea of emergency vehicles, ambulance, fire, other cop cars. I think, briefly, that at least the alarm system did something after ten years of a monthly subscription.

The heavyset officer is already out and parting the onlookers in front of me, stepping past the caution tape. He says something to the other officers as I wander onto my front lawn.

I stagger onto the lawn to see the smoldering remains of my home. Firefighters are working to put one of the fires out, I look around frantically, trying to spot Sandy and the boys. I eventually find them. Three body bags are on the lawn, sealed, two smaller forms inside and another that reminds me of my wife when she would hide under the sheets. I feel pain in my knees suddenly, apparently, I fell at seeing them. I feel a pair of hands on my shoulders, another roughly handling my arms and hefting me up. My legs barely function as I’m led to the back of an ambulance.

The heavyset officer helps me sit down in the back of the ambulance, through all the white noise I see a very bright light in my face, and a voice slowly, finally, comes through.

“Can you hear me? Sir?” a young black woman is in front of me with an ophthalmoscope.

I blink, finally, shaking my head. “Yeah…”

She moves the bright light back and forth and I start to come out of my funk.

I look to the pavement, “They didn’t make it out, did they?”

Her tone is empathetic, but practiced, “I’m sorry, no. We did everything we could but by the time the Fire Department was even able to reach them it was too late.”

I do my best not to just burst into tears but they come anyway. I suppress a sob and try to swallow it down. I blink a few tears out of my eyes and I hear the female EMT walk away. I hear a few male voices approaching.

“This him? Okay. I’ve got it from here you can fall back. Might get ugly, you know?”

I shake my head, knocking a few tears out, cops are going to be asking me questions and I need to be composed. I try to dry my eyes but it doesn’t work. I feel the ambulance shift slightly as someone sits next to me.

“Mr.Macaione?”

I nod, eyes still downcast.

“I’m Detective Benjamin Leibel. I’ve got a few questions to ask, mostly regarding your whereabouts prior to the fire. Smoke?” a pack of cigarettes is offered.

I take one, accept the light, and take a deep breath. I am about to say something when I think about how odd that name sounds.

I hear a wheezing snicker, and the voice changes to one I’m far too familiar with, “I’m kidding Freddy, I know where you were.”

My head snaps to my left and I see Belial, he’s sitting right next to me, black hair slicked back above his pale face, yellow eyes and too white teeth. His duster is still white, but in addition to the red tie, he has a police ID badge hanging around his neck. I clench my fist, grit my teeth, but before I can stand and deck him in his perfect teeth his hand is on my fist and his’s hushing me, pulling my hand down.

“Shush,” he starts, “I was just delivering on a promise, Red Fred.”

I try to push against his hand but it doesn’t budge, “Stop calling me that.”

“We all call you that, Red Fred, you should get used to it.” his grin fades, “But I have to give you some kudos, Freddy, that was a dirty trick.”

“What the Hell are you talking about?”

His grin seems to return somewhat. “When I couldn’t pull you towards me I assumed you had drunk some of the sanctified water from the Guardian Temple.”

“Guardian Temple?”

Belial snickers, almost hissing, “The place you were cleaning, Freddy.” He takes a deep breath, wheezing out his next words, ” as I said, you surprised me. Giving your only protection against me to your family. Smarter than I took you for.”

I glare daggers at him, even with tears in my eyes.

This seems to make him even happier, “You see Fred, normally what I would have done would have been to march up to your children’s bedroom, wake them up, and then take them to mommy. I’d then torture her relentlessly until she forsakes you and the children, and then promise her an end to her pain in exchange for her soul…”

A chill runs down my spine.

“The strong ones resist, right up until I threaten to put the children through the same pain I’m putting her through,” he’s grinning a sick grin from ear to ear, “Then I take her soul in exchange for the safety of her children. Once that’s mine I remove the love she holds for her family, for God, make her one of my whores, and then she usually would just kill the kids on her own,” he lights his own cigarette, “You know, for fun.”

I can feel the horror just wash over me.

“It’s almost without fail, worked for at least nine out of ten…”

I try to swallow the lump in my throat.

“But you, Fred.” his grin fades. “You robbed me of a good time… You see, normally if you drink a half bottle of that holy water you’re protected from possession and the like… but what you did Fred, giving them your protection selflessly? That bumped the potency up something fierce.” He shows me his left hand, the skin on his palm almost entirely black, his hand shriveled, and shaking. One of his rings even falls off his finger and shatters when it hits the ground. He curses in some unknown guttural language as this happens. “You see Fred, that happened when I reached out and grabbed your wife’s arm. Burned like a bitch. Still feel it burning, actually.” He now glares at me, the yellow in his eyes seems to be moving. “So, with me being unable to touch them, I had to take some more mundane methods of keeping my promise.” He pulls his hand away and slides a leather glove over it, “Broke the doorknobs, nailed a few windows down, made sure they didn’t get out as I burned the place down bottom to top.” He snickers, “you protected your family from me but the house was a different story.”

I’m gritting my teeth, staring daggers at Belial as he seems to be enjoying telling me all of this.

His tone changes, however, “I’ve never had to end someone like that. It was so mundane, so dull… and knowing that their souls were saved as I did it.” smoke spews from his nostrils as he huffs and wheezes again, “what nasty taste to leave in my mouth, Fred.” He stands, “But, you’ve been through enough today. I’ll let you live for now.” Belial turns to me, “Unless you want to make it easier on everyone and just… you know…” he slides a finger across his throat. “Might be nice to do something ironic, you know? there’s a tire swing in the backyard, could hang yourself from it.”

As he speaks I feel kind of woozy and confused.

“Maybe… at the motel… take the hairdryer and… take a shower with it?”

I shake my head, it feels like someone’s shoving cotton in my ears and I can only hear his voice over the background noises.

His breath is on my ear now, “When you think about it, what sort of man can’t even protect his family? The only honorable way out is to remove yourself from the equation.”

Suddenly he’s gone and I can think clearly again. The EMT is back and she starts taking my vitals. I’m gazing up at the night sky and I’ve got no idea what I’m going to do.

The next week goes by like I’m a passenger in my body. I work out details with funeral directors and lawyers and insurance companies. I get tired of hearing the words “Sorry for your loss”, I’m bouncing between absolute sorrow and blinding anger and I can’t control which family members I snap at or sob in front of. By the time the funeral day comes, it’s me and a few friends and family on my wife’s side. I’m in a church, the first time in years, and the organ is playing a sad old dirge while I sit at one of the front pews, alone. My family wants little to do with me, half of them think I burned the house down in a triple homicide. The news was leaked, somehow, about how the windows were nailed shut and the doorknobs were removed before being locked. So I’m pretty shocked when someone in a rather nice suit and some pretty powerful cologne sits next to me.

“We only just heard.” a pretty thick Latin accent chimes in, but a pretty familiar one.

I look up to see Chavez of all people sitting next to me. He’s wearing a pretty expensive tailored suit too. “Chavez?”

He points to a necklace of some kind around his neck, “temple charm, helps you understand me even when we’re outside of it.”

I sit up, looking him over, extremely confused. “Why are you here?” I narrow my eyes, “And where the fuck is Timothy?”

Chavez frowns, “He’s here… but I told him not to come to you yet. I know you blame him for this.”

“No shit Chavez.” I look around the church before Chavez puts his hand on my shoulder. “Where is he?”

Chavez shakes his head, “Now isn’t the time Fred.”

I now glare at Chavez, “So what? You’re his lackey now?” I stare ahead at the three caskets, all closed, before me. “What the Hell is he.”

“Not what we both thought.” is all Chavez said. We are both quiet for sometime before Chavez decides to piss me off, “I know how you feel.”

“Fuck you, Chavez.” I glare at him, I’m out of tears at this point, I’m just in an angry mood right now. “You ‘know how I feel’? Sandy and the boys didn’t deserve this. She was an amazing woman, the boys were good kids. They didn’t deserve this. And it’s because of me getting mixed up with Timothy’s bullshit ‘Temple’ or whatever it was. So don’t give me the ‘I know how you feel’ nonsense, you don’t have a fucking clue.”

Chavez is silent as he looks ahead at the caskets. “When I was in Honduras, I helped the cartels smuggle drugs past the border. I would build chairs, tables, and the like. They’d hide the coke in them, and I made the trap doors. But one day, my trap doors all started to get found out. One day the cartel comes to me, and they tell me that they’re going to try something new. They want me to make crucifixes and hide the drugs there. They tell me the drugs won’t be found as easy because people won’t check the crucifixes.” he makes a sign of the cross over his heart. “I refuse. I tell them I’m going to leave. I promise not to tell the police, but I tell them I’m done.” he turns to me, hands now clasped in his lap. “The next day I wake up with a bag on my head, I think they’re going to kill me, you know? I make my peace with God and accept my fate. They bring me to a river. Along with it, they have my mother, father, wife, my daughter, all lined up.” his normally happy face turns mournful. “They don’t even give me a choice, they execute my family in front of me, throw them into the river. They tell me, ‘you live for the cartel or you die for the cartel’.”

I just look away at this point.

Chavez leans back in the pew, now looking to me. “You get to bury your family Fred, be happy for that. I’ll never have that right. It was taken from me.”

I turn to him. His story is probably worse than my own, not that I’m weighing tragedies or anything. “Chavez,” I ask, “you never answered me, why are you even here right now?”

Chavez looks around as if searching for someone, “Fred, you always helped me out. You gave me a job, gave me a ride to my place when I needed it.” Chavez gives me a sympathetic smile, “I’m here because I’m your friend.”

As a man, I usually leave crying for the macho stuff, Grand Canyon and funerals. I guess this was an exception, though, of all the people who would show up when I needed it if you told me it would be Jorge Chavez, the illegal immigrant who’s the best guy I know with a sandblaster, I’d never believed you. Now I’m sobbing next to the guy and he’s doing his best to comfort me.

Chavez even volunteers to be a pole bearer at the end of the ceremony.

At the graveyard, he is the last one to stand with me. I turn to him, as I’m still swinging between deep depression and seething anger. “Chavez, how can you still believe in God? He took everything from you and yet you’re still faithful?”

Chavez starts to unbutton his jacket, as he talks, “When the cartel killed my family, they forced me to be their runner.” he undoes his jacket, and now is undoing some buttons on his shirt. “One day, during a drop, I see a hole in the border fence to America. I think to myself, ‘I can live in the cartel, or die free.’ I prayed to God and asked him to protect me during my escape. I ran.” he reveals his chest. There’s a hole, just below his ribcage, on the right, it looks like a bullet wound. “It missed my heart, lungs, and didn’t even hit bone. A one in a million shot. A Miracle, Fred. God’s protection. That’s why we should thank Him every day.” he said while tapping the scar.

“Thank Him? Chavez, where was he when Sandy and the boys needed help? Where was God? Why didn’t he help them then?”

Chavez looks me dead in the eyes as he buttons up his shirt, “Did you ask him to help, Fred?”

I’m silent, and just stare ahead of me, past the graves. It can’t possibly be that simple, I tell myself, that whole ‘ask and you shall receive’ nonsense.

After a while, Chavez leaves my side. A few minutes later I hear someone walking up behind me, I look, still facing ahead, and see Timothy in a black trenchcoat and suit with black tie behind me.

“You’ve got balls, man,” I say curtly.

“I never intended for this,” Timothy says plainly. He looks over the graves. “What you did to protect them was… well it was beyond what I thought you could do.” He had started to smile a bit, but now his smile fades. “If I had known you had a family, I’d have given you some other tools.”

I turn, and march right up to him, despite this he doesn’t flinch as I get in his face. “Yeah, your ‘tools’ were really fucking useful. I gave my wife and the boys that ‘sacred water’ and it just gave them a quicker death!”

“It saved their souls, Fred,” Timothy says simply. “Because of you, your wife’s soul isn’t in the possession of Belial, neither are your children.”

“Bullshit!” I shout, “That’s not how that shit works! You don’t lose your soul if a demon possesses you! Sometimes you die, but I know enough about that shit to know you’re just bullshitting me. I talked to the fucking priests.”

“You think Belial is a demon?”

I take a step back, “What else would he be?”

Timothy’s face doesn’t change expression in the least. “Belial was first a dark angel, long ago, he was tasked with punishing impure souls. That was before the war.” Timothy looks to the sky.

I look up with him, “What war?”

“The War of Cheribum and Seraphim. The Cheribum were high order angels, created by God to be his servants, but who aligned themselves with Lucifer.” Timothy looks to me. “The war began when Belial talked Lucifer into defying God in the first place.”

I am pretty dumbfounded at this point, and look to the graves of my family for a moment, “Why does such a bigshot from down below want to fuck with me then?”

“The amber you spoke of, it has enormous power. Power enough where, if Belial got his hands on it, he’d be able to pull himself into this world.” Timothy answers.

“Pull himself? Newsflash Timothy, he’s already here.”

Timothy shakes his head slowly, “Belial is only possessing a man now. That’s why the first day he didn’t just kill you and take the Amber. The man he had possessed was still resisting him, still fighting. At that stage of early possession, a spirit cannot make someone do something they do not wish to. It wasn’t until the next day his will faltered and Belial gained full control. Still, even in full control, only a wisp of his power can get through that vessel.” Timothy gives an odd smile to me, “Belial, with the Amber, would have brought himself into this world completely, and as a full powered Cheribum, laid waste to everything.” Now he beamed at me, “So Fred, you saved the world by keeping it from him.”

I looked away from Timothy, not knowing how to feel about that. “It only cost my family’s lives.”

“Their souls are safe.”

“And Belial’s still out there. He’s still going to fuck with me, isn’t he?”

“I imagine he’s none too pleased that you protected your family from him. He’ll likely continue to torment you.”

“Plan on doing anything about it?” I glare at the graves, “or am I going to get a spot next to Sandy here as my ‘Protection’?”

“Do you plan on asking?”

I turn and face him, “Please Timothy, fucking help me get rid of this… thing.”

“Don’t ask me.” Timothy turns away from me and starts walking away.

“Who the Hell do I ask then?” I shout.

Timothy ignores me and continues to walk away.

I turn to face the graves again, and I get the hint. I look around and clear my throat. “Hey, God? Mind giving me a hand here?”

Chavez’s hand is on my shoulder suddenly. “Do you know how to ask, Fred?”

I shake my head and Chavez just smiles.

“I’ll show you,” he gets on his knees, and starts, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

I slowly get to my knees and repeat.

Chavez whispers next to me, “Now ask, and end with, ‘Amen'” Chavez then gets up and leaves.

I’m still on my knees, feeling rather awkward but I just continue, “God, I know I’m kind of a stranger these days, but I need help. This Belial guy, he’s killed my family, and I need justice. Help me get rid of him.” I hope that’s enough, and finish, “Amen.”

Suddenly I hear a deep voice above me, “Fred Macaione?”

I look up, seeing only the silhouette of a male figure above me, “God?” I’m suddenly pulled up onto my feet, and I see several officers as well as the detective who said my name. The guy looks like an off-season weightlifter who’s been shoved into a detective’s uniform. The black officer’s head is bald, and his voice is deeper than I’m used to hearing.

“Never been called God before, but for you, I may as well be. You’re under arrest for suspected murder, arson, and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud.”

“Great.” I say out loud as they cuff me, “Hey watch it!” As I’m led away from the graves of my family I spot him. Clad in his usual white duster and red tie, wearing the police badge again.

The black detective yells at him, “Hey Ben, we got our collar. You were right, he did hang around here longer than everyone else!”

Belial smiles as he greets his fellow officer, “Good work then!” he speaks in his false human voice. “Didn’t think he’d be hard, he left a shitload of evidence behind.” He smiles at me, “We’re going to have fun with you.”

‘Thanks, God!’ I think to myself as I’m shoved into a squad car. I look out the window as I see the black detective walk away from Belial, and then Timothy comes out from behind a tree nearby.

Timothy stares Belial down, and Belial turns to face him. They contrast each other oddly, Timothy in his black trenchcoat and Belial in white, not the right matchup, I think. They say a few things to each other, though I can’t really hear too well.

“Leave.” is what I can make out from Timothy.

Belial seems to laugh, but I can’t hear what he’s saying, watching his lips it looks like he says “mother” at some point.

Timothy seems to narrow his eyes and get serious.

‘Kick his ass, Timothy!’ I think to myself as I watch with bated breath as the two square off in the graveyard.

Timothy seems calm and collected, Belial is grinning ear to ear.

I look back and forth between the two, and my heart skipped a beat with what happened next.

Belial makes a sudden step towards Timothy, in a rapid jerking motion, and then falls back to where he was.

Timothy flinches, causing Belial to laugh before turning away and walking back to an unmarked car with the other detective.

‘Oh, Great’, I think to myself, ‘My Guardian Angel is a pussy.’

Part 5

I get pulled out of the squad car in my Sunday best and lead into the police station. Fingerprinted? Great. Mugshot? Awesome. Pat down? Man, this day is going great. I start it off burying my family, only to get arrested for their murders in the evening. The pat down is a bit odd, the officer who’s doing it stops at my coat pocket, doesn’t pull anything out, and just waves me by after removing my wallet. I’m finally plopped into an interview room, there’s a little two-way mirror about a two-foot square, a table, and three chairs, counting mine. I notice they are bolted down, which makes sense as I’m sure they don’t want folks going full Jerry Springer when being interrogated.

I try to contemplate how I wound up here. Thinking about where everything has been going, and how. I think of a way I can maybe convince the detective who arrested me that his partner isn’t who he seems. Could that work? I think of scenarios where, if he was convinced, what would happen? I know Belial can move objects, I saw that first hand. Something tells me if I had not been handling highly sacred objects he’d be able to pull me too. If I blew his cover, would he just kill us and everyone in this place? Or worse would he kill his partner ala Darth Vader force choke and spin another frame job on me? Should I even count Belial as a ‘he’ or should I just be using ‘it’? Despite all this, I’m feeling oddly calm when I see both of them walk into the room.

The black detective sits down and clicks on a recording device which is embedded in the wall. “So, Mr. Macaione, I’m detective Aaron Brown. We just want to ask a few quick questions and then we can all go about our day.”

I look to Belial, who is letting his partner do the talking for now. “I’ll be happy to answer them, but I’ll say this much: I didn’t murder my family.”

Detective Brown just nods and smiles, “of course.” He looks down to a file folder, pulling out a piece of paper. “So the day of the events concerning your family’s tragic demise, where were you?”

Belial is smiling wickedly.

“I was visiting a worksite, and then my office. I was looking for some equipment I had left behind.” I say plainly. I’m not entirely lying, after all.

“Hmm… this worksite, how far away from your house was it?” Detective Brown continues.

“About an hour,” I say simply.

“And why, in the middle of the night, did you feel the need to check for this equipment? Why couldn’t it wait till morning?”

I did not have a decent answer for this, and I tried to think of something that wouldn’t immediately put both Belial and Detective Brown at immediate odds with me. I wanted to try and survive this interview without being in jail, which seemed unlikely at this point. ‘Well you demon possessed partner over there sent me off to get an unholy object or else he was going to slaughter my entire family’, while truthful, probably would make him think I’m fucking around with them. Despite that being the truth, I decided to try to stick to my lie. “I was afraid it might get stolen, it was pretty expensive.”

“Well, that makes sense… what piece of equipment was it? If you don’t mind me asking.”

Of all the cops in all the world, I get the one competent bastard that can smell bullshit from a mile away, don’t I? Remember folks, get your lie straight before you’re in the hot seat. “It was a sandblaster, fairly large one.”

“At least a couple grand right for that right? Wouldn’t look too good on the ol’ expense report if it went missing?”, the very accurate detective asks.

I nod, and I have a good idea where he’s going with this line of questioning but I’m hoping we don’t get there.

“This job was on Monday and Tuesday, about two weeks ago, right?”

I nod.

“That’s very interesting.”

Belial now interjects, “Why’s that interesting Aaron?”

Detective Brown looks to me now, “Feel free to explain why I find that interesting, Mr.Macaione?”

“Because my schedule at the office don’t say I had a job that day,” I admit, hoping some honesty can be appreciated.

The detective bangs his pen on the table three times, “We have a winner!” He leans over to me, getting uncomfortably close over the table, “Your usual crew also doesn’t say you had a job.”

I say what I’m about to say knowing I’m going to start treading some deep water, “there was a job, but the client preferred to be nonpublic.”

“Nonpublic.” Detective Brown’s playful smile fades quickly. “You know every time I get a prick like you, one of these ‘I can’t be culpable if I don’t know what happened’ assholes, you always have another word for it. ‘Confidential’, ‘On the Down Low’, ‘Under the Table’, ‘Discrete’, ‘Exclusive’, but ‘Nonpublic’? Well that’s a nice way of putting ‘My client is probably dealing with some criminal shit I don’t want to know about.’” The detective leans back in his chair. “What do you say Mr.Macaione, am I in the ballpark?”

I’m quiet now, waiting, I glance to Belial and catch his shit eating grin. I’m starting to sweat and there’s nothing I can do to stop myself.

“We had some forensic accounting done on your business Mr.Macione, pretty preliminary stuff, you know?” he leans over toward Belial. “It should have gone under about a year ago. Or, at the very least, you should have fired someone.”

Belial now interjects, “Now dealing a few jobs under the table here and there isn’t a big deal but…”

“$100,000 bucks? That’s a shit load extra stuffed into your accounts.” Detective Brown says slyly.

I look to Belial, that’s not how much I have in my business, at least not in the bank. Timothy’s case was the biggest score I had in months, and this year the under the table stuff didn’t come close to making up the difference. Not between all the expenses, equipment, and so on I had to pay. Did Belial do something? “I literally have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“So, you don’t know where payment of over thirty grand came from in the past month? Say the cash we found in an envelope with a ‘Thank you’ letter that wasn’t on your books but was defiantly a payment? Such a nice letter too must have done him a Hell of a favor.”

Admittedly, he had me there. With everything going the way it was I never had time to properly ‘handle’ the cash I got from Timothy’s job. Normally I’d make sure to pay out a bonus or two, buy some equipment, pay off some bills, and always do it with the under the table cash. I suddenly had an epiphany, because maybe Belial didn’t do anything but crunching the numbers of what I had done that year. I did have two cleanups, but they weren’t as high profile, but they did overpay. I’m sweating more as I think about whether or not I am a good person after all? Here I am thinking about how my money laundering didn’t go over so well and I think the average kid dealing weed on the street corner could do a better job.

“That accounts for this year alone, and our guys are sifting through your books as we speak, and we keep on finding gaps and payments and bills paid that never should be paid.” Detective Brown cracks his knuckles, “And somehow I do not think your ‘nonpublic’ clients would appreciate us digging through their dirty laundry. Might get ugly for you, especially if you’re on the outside.”

That’s the stick, now this guy’s going to give me a carrot.

“Of course, we could just skip all that, if you can tell me, honestly, what happened to your wife and kids. Why the doorknobs were found removed, and why the windows were nailed shut.”

I’m quiet while I think of a way out, but then I hear Belial’s human voice.

“Aaron, why don’t you step out, have a coffee, I’ll turn that thing off and I’ll have a word or two with him.”

Detective Brown looks to Belial, “Ben…” he clicks off the recorder, “I can’t have another charge against you for roughing someone up during interrogation.”

Belial just nods, “It’s okay Aaron, just step out for a second. It’ll be fine.”

Detective Brown stands up and leaves the room.

I am pretty sure about half of all of that was normal ‘Good Cop, Bad Cop’ set-up. But with Belial alone with me in the room I am pretty sure I got the ‘Good Cop, Satanic Cop’ game played on me.

Belial wheezes in his normal voice, “That was dull… and boring, wasn’t it?” He leans back in his chair, “Do they still do the chair here? Or just lethal injection?”

I narrow my eyes on him.“Lethal injection is fun. A lot to go wrong.” Belial’s eyes are on me as he leans back, grinning, “you can feel your heart and your lungs start to shut down sometimes.”

I adjust myself nervously in my seat, and suddenly feel something in my jacket pocket. My hand discretely checks it while Belial leans back in his seat, looking to the ceiling lights. It’s round, cold, and I feel a cap. I try to hide my excitement. It’s the same type of bottle that Sandy and the kids drank. I wondered what it would do if I doused him in it. I also wonder how it even got into my pocket, but I’m much more concerned with what to do now that it’s here.

“You know… beheadings were technically more painless.” He looks me in the eyes now, “I miss beheadings.” He moves his now healed left hand up to his temple, resting his head on his hand. I notice he’s only sporting three of his black rings, and I remember how one crumbled away from touching my wife. “Hangings too. Nothing beats when the rope doesn’t snap the neck and you’re just left being strangled by the rope, all while you piss and shit yourself in front of a crowd.”

Now or never, I think, as I thumb the cap off the bottle in my pocket. “Shut up.”

Belial’s gaze shifts slightly, “What if I don’t, Red Fred?”

I remember what my mother used to say whenever she felt she was dealing with things possessed in the house. Normally it was a drier on the fritz or a bird that somehow managed to get into the house but the phrase rang pretty clearly in my head for some reason the second the bottle was opened in my pocket.

I hoped I wasn’t going to look like a complete moron if this didn’t work. I splashed the contents of the bottle on his hand first, then his face. I made sure to get every one of those rings covered in the water too. While I did this, I shouted, “In the name of Jesus Christ, get thee behind me!”

Steam erupted from his rings and he gasped suddenly in intense pain, he chokes as he inhales the rising steam from his hand. He stands up quickly and pressed himself against the wall, and he back to flail as if he couldn’t breathe. I kept splashing him and got a bit on myself in the process, I was a bit frantic at this point.

I remember every time I saw an exorcism flick, and start chanting: “In the name of the father, the son, and the holy spirit, leave this man!” interjected with a few “The power of Christ compels you!” If not for the apparently seizing man across from me I likely looked ridiculous.

Belial is wheezing, hacking, and coughing, his rings have broken and crumbled to the ground. I feel like I’m missing something serious in all this because he’s still in front of me, his yellow eyes swirling and glaring at me. I can almost hear his voice in my head as if it’s saying “When this wear’s off I’m going to murder you.” I’m pretty sure I’m just pissing him off right now, but he’s definitely weakened.

I look to the bottle, and I notice something is written on it, is it a parable? I splash Belial one more time and read the bottle, then I give my own shit-eating grin to Belial, and read the writing out loud:

“Most glorious Prince of Presence, Saint Enoch the Knower of Secrets, Heavenly Scribe, The Governor of the World! Expel from this cursed flesh the fallen before me!”

After the words leave my lips I feel dizzy. I’m not sure if that’s because I just might have successfully cast out an all-powerful demon prince or because I’m being tackled by Detective Brown. Either way, when I hit the floor I’m completely winded, and not sure if I can keep chanting.

“What the fuck did you just do to my partner?” Detective Brown shouts. From his point of view, things have gone far too south far too quick. Maybe he did just get a coffee and came back to see his partner being dosed in what looked like acid from the outside.

Both of us are distracted, however, as the screams coming from Belial change pitch. Suddenly they go higher, shrieking, and I watch his mouth open unnaturally wide as his head points upwards, his back arching unnaturally, arms stiffening to his sides as he begins to shake. The form of a man crawls out of is opened mouth, naked from the waist up. His eyes are yellow and black swirls of smoke, his form translucent, his brow is furrowed as long black hair seems to float over him as if he’s underwater. His face, his body, his arms, hands, every part of him looks physically perfect as if some male fitness model just appeared out of this guy’s mouth. His form grows, it fills the room, moving over the ceiling as I notice a pair of black wings appear to be on either side of him, they look like black flames. The flames rising from each wing seem to make the room hotter, and ash falls from the bottom of each. the wings are so large they fill the entire room and block off the exit. I’m suddenly hit with a strong scent of sulfur and the shrieking from the physical body of Benjamin grows louder. Belials left hand reaches out toward me, his teeth gritted. “Fred.” His voice hisses louder than I had heard it before, no longer a wheeze, a vile breath reaching me and the detective makes me retch. “Not by you… you pathetic… sinful… mortal!” He yells, his voice bellowing and shaking the room, “I will not be cast out by the likes of you!” The room shakes even more, and his hand almost touches me, his finger appears to turn to smoke and his hands grab his chest, his wings wrapped around himself. Above him, there’s a more terrifying sight.

A spear pierces through him, from above, again translucent, a massive hand holds the spear. The hand is black, clawed, and seems to be scaled, like a lizard. A giant lizard head pushes down from the ceiling, white glowing eyes drowning out the light of the fluorescent bulbs in the room, and more contrasting black scales along its muzzle. I can make out a pair of horns near the back of its head, but the disappear into the ceiling. I hear an unearthly roar as the spear is pulled back, and then thrust through Belial again, hitting him in the chest, right into where I assume a heart would be if the bastard had one.

Belial screams once more; his voice shakes me to my core. “No! No! Do not send me back!” at his last words suddenly nothing but a black ball hovers over the mouth of Belial’s previous host. I see the black lizard’s face open its maw and a white light douses the little ball over Belial’s former body. Suddenly all the air seems to be sucked out of the room and I feel a massive pressure smash into me and knock me and the detective into the far wall as the black ball seemed to explode in bright white light.

I hear nothing but ringing in my ears right after I hear glass shattering and the sounds of alarms blaring. Someone grabs me, hauling me out of the room. As I’m being shuffled out, dust and chaos all around me, I see Belial’s body lying motionless on the floor, his partner shouting something or other to other officers, the officer who has me keeps pulling me and roughly handling me. I feel weak, and I shield my eyes as I’m suddenly outside, then thrown into the back of a car. My ears barely stop ringing, and I think I have myself composed enough until the car starts up, speeding off, sirens blaring.

I hear a Latin accent again, from the front seat, “That was amazing Fred! Good job!”

I look up and see Chavez, wearing a police cap and uniform giving me thumbs up. Right before I pass out, I realize that the cop who gave me the pat down must have been Chavez. He put the water into my pocket. I chuckle as I lose consciousness.

I’m woken up by a knocking on the rear window, I groggily look up to see Chavez’s smiling face on the other side, now without the policemen’s cap on.

“Fred! Wake up, man! Let’s go!”

The door opens, and I’m dragged out.

Chavez gets me to my feet, but I feel weak, and can barely walk.

“You did great Fred, you did. Hang on a little bit longer.”

I can’t go on and fall to my knees, everything is still spinning.“

Saint Timothy!” Chavez shouts, “Quickly!”

Before I know what’s going on I see Timothy rushing towards me.

“You have to heal his spirit!” Chavez says, “The exorcism took a toll on him.”

“…Jorge, I-I don’t know how.” I hear Timothy admit.

Chavez grabs Timothy’s hand and places it on my forehead. “Ask your grandmother!”

Timothy then takes a breath and suddenly I feel, well, better.

I blink my eyes clear and start to get up off my knees. By the time I’m standing, I look to Timothy in front of me, still wearing his trench coat, looking at his hand curiously.

Chavez is thrilled, “I told you! Belial’s interference wasn’t enough to weaken the gift passed on.”

Timothy nods, seemingly in shock, and then looks to me. “You did well Fred.”

I lean up against the car, and look Timothy in the eyes, “So you’re not an angel?”

Timothy shakes his head, but Chavez protests.

“He is!”, Chavez smiles to me, “But he’s young still, he doesn’t know his own strength, Fred.”

I look to Chavez, oddly, “How do you know?”

“Because I read, Fred, I read the Bible.” He points to Timothy. “He’s the grandson of Saint Dinah, daughter of Enoch.”

Timothy just nods, “We can talk later, Chavez, I think Fred needs to know where he is.”

Chavez smiles and points to a two-story house. “That’s your new home.”

I look around, there seem to be a few homes sprinkled here and there, but it looks like I’m in the middle mid-western bum-fuck nowhere.

Timothy and Chavez make their way down the walkway toward the two-story home, and I follow. When Timothy gets to the door he knocks three times.

“Fred’s here,” Timothy says as he knocks.

The door opens, and I see Sandy’s smiling face.

I run past Chavez and Timothy and I hug and kiss her for what feels like too short a time. Right up until I get a firm punch to the shoulder.

Timothy and Chavez both wince.

“Never take a job like this again!” she says. “We were scared half to death!” She takes a deep breath, “Also we’re going to start going to church, like, a lot!”

“I thought you were dead… you and the boys…” I said softly.

Suddenly Sandy is glaring at Timothy, “Oh? You did you?” She charges at Timothy and proceeds to hammer his shoulder a few times, punctuating each hit with a word. “Timothy! How dare you do that to him!”

Timothy, gasps in pain, “I’m sorry Sandy!”

She turns around sharply and walks back inside, “The boys are playing video games right now, and they won’t shut up about how the Internet sucks. Now get in here while I try and figure out dinner.” I hear a litany of other complaints from her, from the stove to the refrigerator and the like, which is typical of her.

I walk inside, relieved to find my wife safe and still slightly crazy, and greet my two boys. For the first time in weeks, I feel happy and free. After dinner, where my boys challenged Chavez to a round of some first-person shooter, I see Timothy in the backyard looking out over more than an acre of property, apparently mine. The sun setting in the distance.

I walk toward him, looking him over. “So how old are you?”

“Twenty-five,” Timothy says.

“Jesus, I have fifteen years on you,” I say plainly.

Timothy nods.“How, exactly, are you an angel?”

Timothy shakes his head, “I’m hardly an Angel. Certainly, not a saint like Jorge keeps calling me.”

“So, what are you then?”

“At best, half angel, half…” he looks far away into the sky, “monster.”

“Care to elaborate? I’m done being in the dark.”

“So, we’re breaking the ‘no questions asked’ policy?” He smiles as he turns to me.

I nod, “Yes. Because I won’t be doing that anymore.” I shudder, “I was worried enough about the cops finding out what I did but,” I take a deep breath, “I guess I didn’t realize what else was just as interested.”

Timothy just chuckles. “To answer your question, I’m the grandson of Dinah or Enoch, who is the daughter to Enoch, of course, known as the Metatron. The voice of God.”

“Enoch, that’s the guy I shouted about in front of Belial.”

Timothy nods, “Most exorcisms don’t go that well. Part one is getting the name of the spirit infesting the body. Part two is ensuring you have the correct angel to get the job done. Most possessions, you can invoke Michael the Arc Angel and they’ll go screaming because Michael’s the commander of God’s army. Half the time Michael will actually delegate the task to a lesser angel, but that depends on the individuals’ faith and resolve. That can drive out most lesser demons. For Belial we needed bigger guns… but a stronger resolve. That’s why we needed you, seeking justice, and retribution. Otherwise, you may have died.” Timothy frowned to me, “It’s why I had to make you believe Belial had killed your family. It was hard, as I can’t lie.”

I try to let that not sink in, “so… You can’t lie, at all?”

“As a descendant of Enoch, it’s kind of in my blood. I mean, someone who speaks for God has to lack the ability to lie, of course.”

I try to think of a time when Timothy lied to me, but while he withheld information, he never did lie. My Families souls were safe, that was true, and he didn’t even lie about the blood or how long it was there. Also explains why he was shit at haggling. “That means you talk to God? The Metatron speaks for God, right?”

Timothy sighs and shakes his head. “My mother was stolen from Dinah when she was a child, stolen by none other than Belial. He corrupted her, filled her with hatred and despair. She had me with a… let’s just say a mass murderer. A fallen profit. One of the people who destroyed the temple we had to restore, actually.”

“So that’s the monster half?” I ask.

“Yes.” Timothy places his hands in his pockets, “My mother left me alone with my father, so I never learned what she knew. I’ve never even met her.” He takes a deep breath, “One day I ran away from him, and found the entrance to the Guardian Temple. The only thing that comes naturally is my ability to do this.” he said with an outstretched hand as a pair of doors appeared in the yard out of nowhere.

I look and inside, now well lit, is the room I was so used to working in but had no desire to visit again.

“I used its gates to come to this world, joined the military, rose up the ranks, and gained influence. Because I’m going to fight my father.” He looks to me, “I’m going to stop him and his sister from destroying another world. To do that, I needed a base. I did my best alone, but I needed help to fix the temple up.”

“So, you called me.”

Timothy nods again. “I didn’t lie about how I heard of you. Everything else is… settled.”

“How did you save my family? I thought they were dead, I saw bodies.”

Timothy laughs, “I got your message. When I did I realized the mistake I made, that I didn’t know where you were or that you had a family. But you should thank Chavez, he knew where your address was. From there, I was able to will the gates to open. I had just opened them in the basement and found your family there. Sandy’s quite the smart woman, by the way. She had soaked towels and sheets and shoved them under the doors, windows, and was doing her best to hide under a soaked blanket. She was shocked to see a pair of doors appear out of nowhere, but she ran in regardless, taking the kids.” He sighed, “from there I was able to substitute some corpses, and Chavez and I figured out a way for you to defeat Belial.”

I raise an eyebrow, “Why couldn’t you defeat him?”

Timothy’s smile weakened as he looked at my new house, “I was afraid.” he kicks the dirt slightly, frustrated, “Belial manipulated my mother, stole her away from my grandmother, and nearly gotten his hands on something that could have handed him the world, all because of my miscalculations. He’s older and more powerful than anything I’m likely to ever face or be. So it’s like you thought in the car. Your Guardian Angel is kind of a,” he grins a bit at me, “pussy.”

“Like I thought?” I said, bewildered.“

Mind reading is a simple trick, if you’re part Angel, apparently.”

“Why me?”

“Honestly?” Timothy said, some amusement in his voice, “Belial, at his core, is a follower of Lucifer. Like his master, he’s most vulnerable when he thinks he’s won the day.”

“So, me thinking he killed my family, and him tormenting me was him… what, boasting?”

Timothy nods, “Pride comes before the fall, always.”

I shake my head, “So, I get why I helped but… you couldn’t call in reinforcements? For a thing like Belial?”

Timothy’s smile falls, “Fred… I am the reinforcements.”

I felt my stomach fall a bit. “What do you mean?”

Timothy looks to the temple entrance in front of us. “Angels existed on this plane because God needs them to perform his miracles. God, while Omnipresent, is also Omniabsent. The angels serve his desires, and he directs them from time to time.” He looks to me, “Think of it as if everytime God blinks, a few hundred years pass. He can only invoke his will directly from time to time when directly called upon by someone of extremely strong faith.”

I look to the temple doors again, “So that temple…”

“The Guardian Temple, where God’s Angels amassed to co-ordinate his will, chose profits, create miracles, lead by the Metatron.”

I recall the blood I had to clean up, “So wait… you mean…?”

“They’re gone. Murdered by, what is in essence, my aunt and father. I’m all that’s left, and I’m trying to rebuild. So for now, we need to lean on the resolve and faith of mortals, like you.” He smiled at me, “But now I don’t feel so helpless. I feel like there’s a chance, however small.” Timothy looks at the opened gates with a faraway gaze, “We’re losing, however. I’m not sure how long it’s going to take me to recover and get the upper hand.”

“How long do you need?” I ask like I could do anything.

“Fifteen… maybe twenty years? Which, reminds me, I need to get back to work.” Timothy gives out a sudden whistle. “Chavez and I should go, we’ve caused you enough trouble.”

“Chavez? Still?” I laugh, “What do you need him for?”

Timothy looks to my house again with a look of serenity, as I see Chavez running out towards us with a plate with a slice of cake on it. “To show me what I can hopefully become.”

“Saint Timothy, I’m coming! Also, Mrs. Macione made you a cake!” Chavez shouts.

Timothy narrows his eyes, “I swear Chavez if it’s-“

“Angel food cake.” Chanez just smiles broadly at the pun.

I groan as Chavez hands over the cake to Timothy, who is also rolling his eyes, and they walk towards the doors.

Timothy stops before closing the doors, “If you need me again, you have my number.”

The doors close and vanish into thin air. “I hope I never see you again,” I say out loud as I head into my new house.

Epilogue

Ten years later, and I work in restoration. On the weekends, my new crew and I check out churches in need of repair, and free of charge, work on restoring their stonework. We do it as charity, nothing but the raw materials are paid for. Usually, the priest takes up a collection via the old school plates or we get it done by a crowdfunding website.

My new guy Devon is on the second floor of this church overlooking the center aisle, checking out a stone pillar in bad shape. “Fred, this thing can’t be secured… we’re going to have to get some temporary supports for the roof and literally rebuild it from the ground up. Knock out the old, bring in a new one, whole nine yards.”

“The Padre’s not going to be happy.”

Devon shouts down, “He can pray for it to be fixed, but unless God sends mason angels, it ain’t happening!”

“Ask and yee shall receive.” The priest of the church apparently overhead us, and he walks toward me. “Dare I ask? I’m sure that’s expensive.”

I nod, “I’ll get a quote together for you and see what we can do, father.”

He nods, “And I’ll call my insurance company after I pray to God to help me through the customer support robots.”

Priests all have terrible jokes, by the way. Something you learn when working in multiple churches.

My tinnitus kicks in, which I’ve had for the past ten years. I wish it was the normal sort, where you hear a high pitch ringing. It’s not, it’s a high pitched scream. The sort I heard when Belial was cast out. I pull out some ear drops which I keep in the same bottle Chavez gave me. The screaming stops pretty quickly.

The priest looks at the bottle for a moment, “Saint Enoch? Obscure!”

I laugh, “It was a gift from a friend of mine, Timothy.”

The priest nods, “Ah, that makes sense that he’s named Timothy.”

I look to the priest oddly, “Why does it make sense?”

The priest smiles at me, “Well my boy, Timothy means ‘Follower of God’!”

I smile and nod, “Yeah… that’s him.”

One of the nuns runs up to us, “Father, something is happening on the news in Jerusalem!”

The priest turns and follows her, I follow out of my newfound curiosity.

We all head into a back room with a television in it, two other nuns are inside glued to the TV. It looks like an overhead shot of destroyed streets the headline reads: “Terror in the Holy Land.” I see a little “i24” logo in the corner, never heard of the channel before, personally.

“I’m sure it’s just hyperbole sisters.” The priest starts.

The camera pans down to a group of five people. Three of the group look like they are wearing a uniform of sorts. Two are women both blond, the man is bald. They’re wearing white long sleeves with black vests and matching black pants. Another man is seen next to them, and it’s hard to make out what he’s wearing. It’s red and brown and black, and I swear he could be wearing a cape or something, short white hair on his head. The largest figure of the five looks like a massive man with long white hair braided down their left side, while the right side of their head seems to be shaved completely. The larger man wears what looks like white full plate armor and a white cape with a blue accent inside of it.

Suddenly the bald guy cracks his fingers and fire spews forth from his hands like he has a flamethrower under each palm.

One of the sisters watching screams and the priest tries to comfort her.

The anchorman on the TV feed chimes in, “It looks like they have some kind of advanced weapons systems, and it seems attack helicopters and being called in- oh my God!”

The camera shakily changes as the white figure is suddenly in the air, and a pair of white wings have unfolded from behind. In an instant suddenly, something springs from the angel’s back, lands in its hand, and smashes into the helicopter, destroying it in an explosion of fire before the figure flaps their wings again, blasting the debris away and diving at the next helicopter, jabbing the object that was pulled out into the helicopter closer to the camera. I lunge for the remote and hit the pause on the TV.

Frozen on the screen it’s clearer to see it’s not a man but an absolute monster of a woman. In her hands is a massive sword, huge and bulky, and yet she seems to wield it without much effort. It looks like there is a blue omega symbol on one of the shoulders of her white armor. I recall what happened to the helicopter as she swung at it, destroyed in a single blow. I remember the blood stains of the temple as my hellish tinnitus kicks in again. I remember the gash in the floor as I spot the sword on the screen. Mike’s voice echoing in my mind:

“This looks like one clean cut.”

The voice of the woman who Timothy was talking to in the temple behind the barricade, and I remember what she said over the sound of machinery, “It was her, wasn’t it? The daughter of Lucifer.”

One of the nuns asks, “is… is that an Angel?”

My face goes pale as I realize who this is, what she can do, what she has done. She’s here now, the people Timothy is trying to stop. I try to fathom if Timothy has had enough time to get ready. If we have any hope at all.

The priest suddenly starts to speak behind us all, “ And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts, and I looked, and behold,” he points at the screen ominously, his hand shaking, “a pale horse and his name that sat on him was death, and hell followed with him.”


Credit: Jordan Eilbert (Personal FacebookAuthor FacebookRedditPatreon)

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