Uncle’s Command

“Break it,” Smithy said. His arms were crossed across his chest. Never a good sign. Art looked up at him with wide eyes. “Break it, I said.”

Art stared down at the circular disk of ceramic in his hands. Though only a few inches wide, it looked huge in the child’s hands. Dark blue streaks of metal swirled in complex symbols across its surface. At six years old, Art had no true idea what they actually meant. He just knew it was important. It felt important. And now his uncle was telling him to break it.

“Why?” Art asked. He froze in place and shook while he said it. Uncle Smithy didn’t like being questioned. But something about this made it feel important to ask.

“Because it’s dangerous,” Smithy replied, glowering. “And because I said so. Now break it. Snap it in half. Right this instant.”

“I don’t think I should…” Art said. “It feels important. Like it doesn’t want to be broken.”

“Ignore that,” Smithy said. “Ignore anything you’re feeling right now. Stop thinking. Just do it.” There was a tinge of desperation to his voice, an alien thing for him. Art wasn’t sure what to think about that. His uncle was always so certain, so sure. Even if he was bossy and used bad language sometimes, he never sounded like he was in doubt.

“But –” Art began. He cut off as Smithy turned his Imperious Glare on him. There was no stopping that. Art couldn’t even think to. He took the talisman and pulled with all his might on both sides. With a resounding, metallic chord it cracked in two. A bright flash soon followed. Art felt nauseated and sick. He dropped the pieces to the ground.

Suddenly, Uncle Smithy’s arms were wrapped around him and Art was pulled tight against the man’s chest. He couldn’t be sure, but it sounded almost like Smithy was… sobbing? That couldn’t be right.

“Never go searching in that field again,” Smithy said, his voice cracking. “Do you hear me? Never again!”

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Forgive & Forget

There is a time for forgiveness.

As time passes and the crimes against oneself lessen, it becomes easier to contemplate such a thing. The fear and anger in the immediate passes on. Memory cannot forever sustain the pain and the hurt. Eventually, the mind can begin to distance the emotion and consider the crimes from a rational view.

Then we can think to ourselves: is it worth it to sustain this anger? What am I losing for both myself and others to keep up the disdain I have? These are valid questions to ask at that time. Keeping it up can cause more harm than it saves. It is not always the right choice to give it up, of course, nor is it always the right choice to keep it. It something we each must weight for ourselves.

One thing to consider: to forgive is not to forget. One can move on while never wanting to see or interact with a person again. There are some crimes that deserve – nay, require – such action. Yet sometimes forgetting is the best way, as well, if the harm was done in a radical situation that has since been corrected and reconciled. Again, this I something we must just for ourselves as to what is right.

There is a time for forgiveness. There is a time for forgetting.

That time is not today.

A Demon’s Tale, Part 3

So all this rambling is really just a lead up to where I am now. It’s been over five hundred years since I was forced to live on Earth. Nations have risen and fallen. I’ve been a bystander to most of it. My instincts told me to be in the middle of it, of course, but nothing in my heart would let me. I spent most of those centuries paralyzed to act in any way, fearful of the damage I might cause.

Thus leading to my current state: lonely, horny as hell (ha!), and pretending to get drunk in an empty bar. Pining to the bartender, no less. I’d be a cliché if it weren’t the “reformed succubus” thing I’ve got going on. It’s not the first time I’ve vented my issues to a human. I’ve found if they think you’re drunk, they just smile and nod and ignore whatever you’re saying. It is, however, the first time I’ve been to a bar and given serious considering gaze to the bouncer.

I was female for the evening – my common preference, these days – and he definitely made eyes on me on the way in. Gentlemanly ones, though, and his words were nothing but polite. Hell, even his surface thoughts were quiet and kind. I’ve never overheard anyone using poetic language in their own head to describe me. Certainly not what I would expect from such a huge man, especially with his background. It goes to show, no matter how old you are, people can still surprise you.

As the bartender lost interest, clearly cleaning up and waiting for his last customer to leave so he could close early, I started pondering the bouncer – Tim – again. He was lonely and sweet. He was big enough that I was very unlikely to hurt him unless I grew truly careless. And it had been a very, very long time for me. Believe me when I say that being cast from my birthplace did nothing to reduce the desires imprinted onto my soul.

Didn’t I deserve to be happy at least once in a while? I pondered that question for much of the evening, staring at myself in the bar’s mirror. It wasn’t until the bartender vanished into the back to call me a taxi that I made up my mind.

Maybe I could make up for some of the pain I’d caused. At least tonight. And at least for one person.

A Demon’s Tale, Part 2

What is the worst thing you can do to a demon?

Torture is out. We put the BDSM community to shame without breaking a sweat. Fear? We fear our overlords every second of our existence. It’s the only thing that keeps us in line. And it isn’t like we have things or people we care about you can threaten. We exist only for ourselves, for our own pleasure and continuance.

That, then is the key, you see? What is the worst thing you can do? You make a demon care. Bit by bit, you let them realize that there is more to the universe than just themselves and their own perverse desires. That every one of those beings they’ve tormented and corrupted is a real person with their own mind, their own story, and their own feelings. You let them see the truth of what they are and what they’ve done.

I still don’t know why the angel came and did what it did. Whether it had sought me out specifically, was just testing a new weapon against our kind, or was cast into hell on some other reason and fought us the only way it truly could. It died long before I knew to ask.

Hell lost a general that day, though it was a long time before it knew it. Before I knew it. Empathy crept in at the edges of my perception. Every day I started to second-guess a little bit more, a foreign notion to me at the time. Hell had no place or reason for doubt. My underlings spotted the weakness as it infected me and it wasn’t long before I was cast down from my place of power.

Not long thereafter that I was cast out from hell entirely.

A Demon’s Tale

So many humans say they don’t want to die. That they’d like to live forever. Not one of them knows what that really means.

To live forever is to never find rest or peace. It is to accumulate eons of pain, guilt, and regret without ever putting it down. Nobody with a conscience was ever supposed to live forever. That privilege was bestowed on the mortals. I don’t know why. As far as I know, even the angels aren’t privy to the secrets of creation.

Demons and angels, both, are creatures of purpose. They do not fear, they do not regret. They neither become corrupt nor repent of their actions. That was my life from when I was “born” until the curse that brought me to where I am today. Or a blessing, as the source was an angel, but for my kind there could be no worse fate.

I was once what the men of older times called a succubus. A demon of sex and temptation, changing my shape to play on mortal’s whims and lead them to dark paths. I reveled in it, as I was made to. I knew nothing else. I also excelled at it, becoming a beacon, a leader to others of my kind. I once led an army, commanding demons and damned souls to the further and further corruption of mankind.

One day, we took down one of the greatest prey of all: a greater angel, of the highest echelons of heaven’s ranks. I had never even seen one with my own eyes before that day, but every instinct told me that it was my enemy. It took no urging to propel my subordinates to strike at it. We never thought to question why it had come to the abyssal realm where we lived.

It fought, but it lost. There in our place of power, there could be no other fate. I had the privilege of delivering the final blow. I stared into its glowing white eyes and felt nothing but pride and hatred. In return, its gaze was full of things that I did not understand. Could not understand, not then.

Only now do I realize that its look was a look of pity.

The Gift

“And remember: pain is a gift.”

“Pain is a gift.”

“What does it tell you?”

“It tells us that we’re alive.”

“And what will you do with that life?”

“We will fight to keep it.”

“Damn straight you will. Every drop of pain you feel now, every cut, every bruise, remember this always. You deserve it.”

“We deserve the pain.”

“That’s right. You deserve it, not because you are meant to suffer. No. Because you deserve the gift of life, of vitality, of the breath that gives you a means and a purpose on this Earth.”

“We deserve the gift.”

“And because it is a gift, you will not avoid it. No! You will embrace it. Seek it out as you move yourself forward on your sacred path!”

“We will embrace the gift.”

“But there are those… those who will walk cross-ways against your path. Those who do not see the way you see. See the righteous light that guides you. But you will not hate them.”

“We will not hate those who cross us.”

“No, when we are crossed, then we will do the only right thing. We will bring them the light.

“We will bring them the light.”

“And how will we do that, now?”

“We will share the gift.”

Running, Part 2

“Oh, dear,” Helai said, looking down at the body of Rile Andersen. “I guess he was right.” She hit her pager and started filling out the paperwork while waiting for Mr. Washburn to arrive.

“I guess Joe wins the pool,” Washburn said as he walked through the door. “I had been betting he’d get through at least another day. Ice team on its way?”

Helai nodded. Did he really have to ask? “Yeah, they’re a little short-handed today, though. Permission to lend a hand?”

“Of course,” Washburn replied. “What’s the clock at?” He looked up at the digital display, but everything had been shut down immediately upon rhythm cessation, as per protocol. Didn’t need any more interference.

“We still have ten minutes,” Helai said, checking her paper notes. “Jevol should be here in five.”

“Good,” Washburn said, walking back to the door. “I hate pushing it to the wire. Last time we did that, the man was never quite right. Keep me updated.”

The ice team came in just seconds after Washburn left, two men – who looked far too young for this work – toting their cryogenic equipment. Not much decay could happen in ten minutes, but it didn’t hurt to be sure. The better preserved Rile was when he was resurrected, the less rehab he’d have to go through. And they were on a schedule, after all.

Helai’s phone rang with the cheery, up-beat rendition of taps she reserved for Mr. Jevol. “Yes, sir?” she answered.

“Mind if I bring along an observer today?” Jevol said. His voice had its usual edge of creepy enthusiasm, as if he was trying slightly to hard to emote. “I have this up-and-comer I think would love to see the field side of our work.”

“Fine by me,” Helai said. “I’m sure Mr. Andersen won’t mind.”

Idle Chatter

“How long can you spend sitting and staring at a monitor before you go insane?” I asked to nobody in particular. Of course, there were only two other people in the room so it wasn’t that much of an audience.

“Well,” Andrew said. “If we knew that, they wouldn’t have to run this little experiment, would they?” He spun his fancy little fidget-spinner for the fiftieth time this hour. Yes, I’d been keeping count.

“Wait, experiment, what?” Pico said, prying her head up and looking around blearily. She had the most amazing ability to not only sleep upright at her desk, but awake instantly when a call came to take care of. Which, unfortunately, had happened precisely zero times today.

“The great service desk fishbowl experiment, of course,” Andrew said, sweeping his arm to encompass the cramped office. “Designed specifically to test the edge of human endurance in the face of utmost boredom.”

“Oh, right,” Pico said. Her voice had an edge to it that suggested she wasn’t happy being woken up for a trivial joke. She retaliated by putting her headphones back on, turning her back on us, and queuing up YouTube.

“Seriously,” I said. “Are the phone systems even working? I can’t remember a day that was this dead since I started here.”

“Yeah, I called in myself on my cell just to check and the autobot is all in working order.” Andrew tossed his spinner into the air, failed miserably at catching it, then scrambled underneath his desk to find out where it had landed. “And there certainly have been dead times. I remember one week three years ago when we had only one call. One.”

“And the boss still wouldn’t let you…” I started.

“Entertain ourselves? Hardly. That man judges only on how much time you spend looking like you’re on your computer. Hell, even call response times are secondary to the Almighty Look-Like-You’re-Busy.” Andrew shrugged. “You get used to it.”

“I hate to jinx it, but… if we’re so slow, why are there three of us?” I looked down at my call log for the week, knowing that the others couldn’t have many more.

“Oh, God,” Andrew said, throwing his hands in the air. “Now you’ve done it. You’re determined to summon another Hell Week, aren’t you?”

Running

“I’m pretty sure an hour of this is going to kill me,” Rile said. His face glowed bright red with blood and the sentence only came out between gasps.

“I don’t expect you’ll actually die,” Helai said. “You might wish you had, but we’ll be here to pick up your sad, collapsed body and get you back to working order soon enough.”

“No,” Rile responded, his arms and legs pumping steadily. “I’m quite certain I can feel my heart failing even now.”

Helai glanced at the overhead monitor. “Hate to disagree with you, sir, but that handy bit of electronics you’re strapped to says it’s pumping away quite merrily.”

“Screw the electronics,” Rile wheezed. “I think I know my own body. You keep me on like this and it’s straight to the morgue with me.” Sweat flooded down his forehead and back.

“That would be a disappointment,” Helai said. “What with all the trouble we’ve gone through so far. Now don’t forget your water over there.” She waved to the bright red bottle hanging at Rile’s side. “You seem to be losing quite a bit.”

“I wouldn’t… wouldn’t be if you… didn’t keep it so. Damn hot in here,” Rile replied.

“It’s a perfectly acceptable 23 Centigrade, Rile,” Mr. Washburn said as he walked in. “Perfectly decent environment for a work out.”

Rile snarled but didn’t retort, preferring to save his breath to maintain the torturous pace they had for him.

“How long has he been going?” Washburn asked.

“This will make five minutes, sir,” Helai replied.

“Oh, dear,” Washburn said, sipping his tea. “He will be in for a long week.”

Alone Again

It was then that I thought I’d lost her. The last echoes of her presence died away in the corners of my mind. It had always given me comfort. I often forgot they were there, but when I was lonely or lost, I could always reach in and see her. I could tell myself: “She is there. She loves you. She will always be there for you.”

Abruptly, she was not. I was walking down an alley in the depth of the night. A faint mist clogged the air, as it often did that time of year. I was thinking of… something inconsequential. Maybe what take-out I was going to order when I got back to the apartment.

The world shifted beneath me and I staggered, barely catching myself against a dumpster. I didn’t know what had changed, not at first. Hypoglycemia or just sleep deprivation, maybe. In my thoughts, though, I reached out to her reflexively for comfort. And I staggered again, finding her absent.

I had forgotten what it was like, being alone in my own mind. I admit that I panicked. Any onlooker surely would have thought me drunk or insane as I lashed about, wild-eyed, as if the whole world was drowning and I couldn’t keep afloat. In many ways, that is exactly how it was.

I’m sure I wasn’t on the ground for more than a few minutes, but I only reconstructed that after the fact. I lost any sense of time or meaning why I struggled to rebuild myself. If I’d been in the street, perhaps a stranger would have stopped to help, shake me, remind me that there was a reality beyond the barren hollow my mind had become. In the alley, I was just another crazed voice to be ignored and walked quickly by.

How had I grown so dependent on her? I hadn’t even wanted to know her. Not at first. For her to become so integral to me… Perhaps I should have been angry. A self from a decade ago might have been. I would have once have been furious to know one such as her had hooks into me so deep.

As I was then, though, I could not see past the mist, the dark, and the ever-sinking quiet.