Eyes Behind His Face
by Sandra Hall
My mama was the prettiest woman I’ve ever met. Her teeth were perfect, and her eyes were so bright you could see your own face smiling back at you. Her voice was kind of squeaky like a cartoon mouse, if you can imagine what I mean. She was petite and shapely too. The whole enchilada my daddy often called her. The only problem he said was that she and every other man in the world thought so too. Maybe that was true. At any rate, compared to Mama, Daddy was average which wasn’t bad. He just wasn’t so special. He rarely smiled. When he talked it was mostly to complain. Overall, his disposition was lousy. Still, he was my daddy. I figured he was cranky a lot because he was tired. He worked quite a bit of overtime to give Mama the fine things she was used to and send us kids to better schools than he’d had growing up. He’d say all that and look right at her until she met his eyes. Mama didn’t hold down a job outside of the home, but from her eyes sometimes I could tell she was tired in a different way. Tired of Daddy.
I was eight the first time I heard Daddy tell Mama he was going to kill her the next time she came home drunk from a party wearing no underwear. He said, he’d choke the life right out of her with his bare hands. Mama never came home drunk again. And I supposed, she kept her underwear on too. So when Daddy killed her, I knew her being a slattern was not the reason. The real reason I will never know, I suppose. Daddy wouldn’t talk about that afternoon with any of us. Us being my brother and me. Our baby sister Joann was a month old baby when Mama died. As far as she’s concerned Aunt Reba is her mother and the past has very little to do with her. Unfortunately, JT and I don’t have the luxury of choosing to ignore Daddy killed Mama. Or that Daddy had been in prison for every year of her fifteen years on this planet.
In January, he got out on parole. I didn’t know how to feel about it. Most likely, neither did JT. I mean, Mama is gone forever and he is the reason for it. But he got his life back. Didn’t even look forty nine if you ask me. Forty something but not almost fifty. Seems to me killing your high school sweetheart should have more effect on a person’s appearance.
When I went to see Daddy (which wasn’t often) we didn’t speak much at all. I thought he was sorry to us for what he did to Mama, but somehow I didn’t think he really regretted what he did, though. For years, he declared he’d do it, and I knew one day he would. Except for that time when I was eight, I don’t think Mama truly believed he’d ever harm her. I think that’s an affliction of the beautiful people. Beauty allows them to get away with transgressions for a much longer time than the rest of us. So much more that they become over confident and can’t recognize it when the complexion of the dynamics between themselves and their suckers change. Yeah, Daddy had been a sucker for Mama, and she played him every chance she got. She played with fire too long and burned Daddy so bad he had to kill her. Not that he had the right to hurt her. And he certainly didn’t have the right to not explain himself to JT and me. He was not sparing us anguish by not telling us what happened that Halloween. I don’t believe he cared enough to understand how much JT and I need to know why and how a man can kill the mother of his children with the children just right across the hall from his locked bedroom. He’s a selfish man, I know that much from hearing Mama saying it almost every time they argued. Maybe that is why she couldn’t love him. I suppose, she did love him once. Before they married they were real sweethearts according to my aunt Cheryl. By the time I was eight, it was hard to imagine the two of them even kissing. Oh, I recall hearing the bed squeaking on a regular basis, though.
Until Daddy killed Mama, the violence in our home was pretty much nonexistent unless you counted pushed around furniture and threats. So on the afternoon in question, no one was prepared for the events leading up to Mama lying on the floor, wrapped in her brand new peignoir`. Her short, shapely legs wore sheer red thigh high stockings. Her strawberry hair still swept up and tidy made her a beautiful corpse. Not a visible mark on her. She looked like a woman who lay on the floor to take a nap in the middle of the afternoon.
“Why did you do it?” I recall JT begging him over and over as the detectives yanked Daddy up from the kitchen table and led him out of our house and deposited him like a bag of garbage in the back of a police cruiser. Daddy left that night and we didn’t see him again until after he was convicted of manslaughter two years later. I think Grandma forced him to see us to tell us goodbye.
This time at the jail I asked him why he did it. He looked me and my brother right in the eye and said, “I told her I would.” Grandma burst into tears and sobbed clenching the hem of her skirt so tightly I thought she was trying to tear it apart. At some point, Grandpa finally came into the visiting room and grabbed his wife by her shoulders and lifted her little body from the chair and led her out of the room. JT and I sat there across from Daddy waiting for him to talk or beg for our forgiveness. He said, “You kids better go try to catch your Grandma and Grandpa.”
“Daddy-” JT took hold of my fingers giving them a hard squeeze. I looked at his face and saw tears he refused to let fall, then I swallowed back whatever I was about to say to Daddy.
“Boy, take your sister on out of here.” Daddy sounded as if he were weary of the few minutes we’d shared.
“You killed Mama,” JT said. “I hope you die too.”
“Boy, your daddy died a long time ago,” Daddy replied as if saying such a thing was supposed to make sense to an eleven-year-old girl and her thirteen-year-old brother. His words put a shiver up my spine.
“Yeah,” said my brother who sounded almost like a grown up then. “I know you ain’t our daddy. You’re just a creature who looks like him.” I’m not sure I saw it or if I’m just embellishing a memory, but I swear I saw something flicker from behind Daddy’s eyes then. Almost like there were another set. He and JT held gazes for several seconds before Daddy switched back to me then angled his body to face the wall. He was through talking about Mama.
We left him alone and found Grandpa and Grandma waiting for us just outside the door with a detective. Grandpa put an arm around JT and led him off while Grandma held my hand and listened to what the cop was telling her. All I was thinking about was Daddy. He was going to jail for years and years. I wanted him to hug and kiss me goodbye. Tell me he was sorry for doing the evil he did. But like Mama always said Daddy was a selfish man. That day I also knew something else. Daddy wasn’t nor had he been his regular self for a long time.
In late October of the same year he was released, a local news program did a piece on him which he declined an interview. I asked him, why not once and for all tell the story of what led him to kill Mama. He got up out of his rickety easy chair to cross the floor and switch off the television set. Rather than answer, he strolled into his kitchenette, went to his freezer and snatched out a bottle of vodka by the neck. He poured himself a water glass full and drank it down. I approached him warily, seeing he was mad. I didn’t care and crossed my arms waiting for him to look at me and act like I’d asked him a question. I was grown at twenty six. I wanted to know why he killed my mama.
“Who the hell you staring at?” he demanded and poured another glassful.
“You tell me,” I said. “Are you my daddy or something else?”
“What foolishness are you talking now, girl?” He glared at me and I glared back.
“Did you lose it in prison?”
“When you killed Mama there was something either compelling or aiding you. You weren’t man enough to do it yourself. I saw it at the police station. Either it’s hiding or it left you.” I wasn’t sure if I knew what I was talking about, yet Daddy’s lack of a reaction at my revelation told me he knew exactly what I was talking about. It occurred to me maybe this man who hardly aged in prison was not my Daddy. “Why won’t you tell her kids or her parents why you did it? We deserve to know.”
“You think so? You think you really want to know?” He slammed the glass down on the counter top.
“You don’t have the right to keep it to yourself.”
“Little girl, you need to mind your own business.” After knocking back his second drink, he wiped his mouth then walked back into the living room. “I don’t mind you coming over for Sunday visits if it helps you somehow,” he said. “But you better keep what you think you know to yourself because it ain’t at all what you think it is.”
“I should act like you ain’t the bastard who covered my mama’s mouth and nose to deny air to her lungs? You knew how to kill her and not get thrown back at.”
“How long have you known she was a witch?” he demanded.
“You just told me. Now, tell me the rest.” He clamped his mouth up tight and shuddered at being finessed. I hoped I’d see those other eyes again but nothing happened. “If it wasn’t you that killed her with JT and me just a few feet away-”
“I did it, girl!” He raved his hot alcohol laced breath right into my face. “I don’t need to put the blame anywhere else. The time was right and I took care of business. Too bad that business included your mama but I did what I had to do and I warned her over and over!”
“And you aren’t sorry!” JT had been right. Daddy didn’t give a damn. He hadn’t killed her in a moment of passion. He’d thought about it and chose that afternoon. “Just tell me why, Daddy. I really want and need to know. She was a witch and you are more than what you came into this world. It killed Mama, right?”
“That afternoon was between her and me,” he said. “It had nothing to do with you kids. I told her- I warned her for years. Now, look.” He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “I understand you miss your mama, but she’s gone. There’s nothing we can do about it. I killed a witch and I did my time. You need to forgive it or forget me. Excuse me.”
I watched him take the bottle to the sink and turn it up like he was drinking ice water. Then I went down the short hallway to the bedroom and locked the door. On the unmade bed, I sat and thought about it. I’d thought about it a lot over the years, and more so since he was released from prison. There had been no closure because Daddy refused to tell us anything as if it were a principle or something. So what good was he in my life? JT was right. Daddy should have died in prison. That would have been some sort of justice.
I felt all alone so I called JT.
“I asked him again,” I said without preamble after he said hello. “I begged him and he told me it wasn’t my business.”
“Aw, sis. Why put yourself through it? Bastard never cared about us. After fifteen years, he never said he was sorry. Sis, you come from over there and never go back. I don’t believe it’s healthy for you. Or safe,” he added. “That person ain’t our daddy.”
“Remember what you said in the police station? Did you mean it?”
“Yeah. I hope he dies slowly surrounded by his own blood.”
“Sorry, but I hate that demon. The daddy we knew when were kids is gone.”
“You don’t need to be sorry,” I said. “I think you are right. I don’t intend to see him again.”
“Did you see those eyes like before?”
“No. I think they are gone. That is if they ever existed.”
“If you say you saw them I believe you.”
“Oh, JT. What should I do?”
“Sis, you don’t have to do anything. Just walk out of there and never go back. You hear me?”
“Yeah,” I said and ended the call.
I went back into the front room then joined Daddy in the kitchenette. I reached for the bottle he hugged in his arms. “Daddy, I think you’ve had too much already.” He released it easily enough.“You really should have told me something.” I touched his face and felt nothing. No warmth from his skin. No emotion took hold of me. I raised the half empty bottle above my head and brought it down like a club across his face. He collapsed against the sink and held on to keep from hitting the floor. I struck him again and again until he got an arm up. He cried out cursing, swinging wildly to defend himself, but he was too drunk to prevail against my strength and speed.
“Girl, stop this. I did wrong but I’m still your daddy.” His big, frightened, doubled eyes didn’t stop me. I imagined Mama’s eyes were bigger and she couldn’t even scream. The strike to the back of his head broke the bottle and he fell on his knees. I put a cross face choke hold on him as I sat on his back still holding what remained of the vodka bottle.
“My daddy died a long time ago,” I told him forcing the jagged edges of the bottle to tear into his throat. “Now, it’s your turn, demon.”
Outside on the sidewalk, I turned around after hearing my name called in the wind. My brother was suddenly beside me. He put a protective arm around my waist then led me across the street. I looked up at the full waxing moon then took a deep breath of the crisp October air and slowly released it. “She was a witch,” I shared then looked up at his profile to find his gaze was on me. “Which explains a few things about us.”
“You know what I did?”
“Yeah, I saw it all.”
“I’m not,” he said and held me tighter against his side.
No, it wasn’t justice. And killing him didn’t bring our Mama back. But after I’d pulled on my coat, then stepped out of his apartment and closed the door behind me, I realized I felt better than I’d felt in years. I’m not sure if the bloody body I left on the floor in the kitchenette was indeed a demon, or simply our daddy. I guess, in the end it doesn’t matter. They’d both been there when Mama was killed and neither cared enough about the pain and confusion they caused JT and me. I’m good about ending his life either way.
I looked up at my brother’s profile and knew he was feeling the same. There was no reason to talk about it, so we never have since we walked down the sidewalk away from Daddy’s apartment building that windy Halloween night.
Road To Hell
by Antonio Hall
“Okay, it’s settled,” Dave said. “Joe, you and Bill ride along with me. Reggie, you ride along with Anthony and help him stay awake during the drive.”
Great, thought Anthony. This boor will put me to sleep with his inane droning about nothing.
After having decided the travel arrangements, the five friends loaded up the two four-wheel drive pickup trucks and headed out for the five hour trip to Seattle.
“Damn man, fifty-yard line seats to watch the Seahawks beat up on the Rams! Can’t believe we won the office pool,” Reggie rejoiced.
“Yeah, man. Good thing we took the whole seven-day block and agreed to share the prize,” Anthony enthused. “Without Bill shoring up Friday we would have missed out. I knew Janet would have the baby around Halloween.”
“Whoa, Anthony! Call Dave and tell them to slow down. We want to get there at the same time. Those guys are really tearing up the interstate!”
“Ah, don’t worry about it, Reggie. I know my way around Washington. Besides, we have the tickets. I’m pretty sure they’ll wait for us at the state line.”
“I’m sure you’re right. Still, can’t believe we gonna see Russel Wilson in action tomorrow. That guy is the shit.”
“Well, he’s no Kurt Warner but he’s all right.”
“There you go again about Kurt Warner. What’s it been, nearly twenty years since he won the Super Bowl? C’mon man, get with the now!”
“Hey, I just appreciate the history of the sport. Everybody talks up Bill Belicheck as being the greatest head coach. Well, let me tell you about the genius Bum Phillips was back in the day. Why he…”
Oh, brother,” thought Reggie. And they say I go on about nothing.
The two friends continued the good-natured banter for the next couple of hours as they left the densely populated cities and headed into several miles of countryside. An hour later, Anthony spotted Dave’s truck parked outside a half empty truck stop.
“Guess they stopped for a bite to eat. I can use a little nourishment myself.”
“Just coffee for me. This boring country scenery almost got me nodding off.” To prove it, Reggie covered his mouth to yawn.
The two entered the dining area looking for their comrades. Aside from the two truckers at the counter, there were three women of indiscernible age who appeared to be long time pros sitting in a booth near the side window.
“Must be in the restroom,” Reggie assumed then went to check. After a quick glance, it was apparent they weren’t there either.
Anthony approached a waitress who came from the kitchen area. She began cleaning a table with a dry rag while popping her gum. “Excuse me, did you notice three guys come in here earlier? Two white guys, one black. Around thirty years old, wearing jeans and sweatshirts?”
“Naw, sugar,” she replied. “Can’t say I have but if they came in to just use the restroom, I could’ve easily missed them.” Nodding toward the booth she said,” Maybe one of those- uh, young ladies may have noticed them.”
As he approached the booth, Anthony noticed one of the women move something from the table to the purse beside her. “Excuse me ladies, but did any of you happen to see three gentlemen around our age dressed in sweatshirts come in here?”
“Mmmm,” the woman with the purse spoke up. “If they looked anything like you two we would have definitely noticed and not be sitting here all alone on a Saturday night.”
“Why don’t you two join us for a few minutes,” said another of the trio at the table. She was a blond with a bad dye job. “Maybe they’ll come in from another part of the stop.”
Reggie glanced at his partner then said, “Well, we could use some coffee and why not have some pleasant company to go with it?”
“Yeah, I could use the pick me up after the straight drive. I’ll go get the coffee. Be right back.” As he walked to the counter he pulled out his phone and dialed Dave’s number. Where were those guys? He wondered if they were out walking around stretching their legs or something. He put the phone to his ear after speed dialing for Dave. Hearing Dave’s distinctive ring tone from behind him, he turned sharply toward the ringing and was surprised to find it was coming from near the women sitting with Reggie. What the- he thought, rushing back toward the booth.
Reggie, recognizing Dave’s ringtone as well looked around sharply and perceived the ringing was coming from across the table.“That’s Dave’s phone,” he exclaimed. “What the hell is it doing in your purse? You better talk quick, girl,” he strongly advised her.
“Hold on, Reggie. It’s possible they have the same ringtone, but seeing as how it’s in sync with my phone, I doubt it. Just to be sure why don’t you let us see your phone,” Anthony requested of the woman and noticed how calm see seemed after being busted cold. She’d lied about not seeing the guys and obviously had stolen his phone.
“Sure, no problem.” She reached into the purse and took out the ringing phone then pressed the off key. The ringing in Anthony’s phone stopped as well.
“Son of a bitch, it is his phone! Why do you have it and where is Dave and the others?” Anthony gritted demandingly of the women. The trio merely blinked and smiled up at him. The situation was getting tenser by the second. “Our friends truck is parked outside they came in here and you all saw them.You having his phone proves it. Ladies, I’m asking you one more time then I’m calling the cops.”
“You’re right,” she said. “It is his phone, but he gave it to me, I swear. Ask my friends here.” The other two nodded and said it was true. “Also,” she went on. “I have something else of his.” She reached into her purse and pulled out a gun pointing it at Reggie. “You just sit where you are and don’t move. You’ll be reunited with your friends soon enough.”
The blond produced a pair of plastic cuffs and secured Anthony’s hands behind his back.
“Dammit, who knew those guys had friends following behind them? This complicates things.” Pointing to the third woman in the booth she said, “Gina, take Sarah to the back room and check on the portal.” Gina silently obeyed and disappeared with the waitress to the back.
“What the hell is going on here? This has to be some sort of prank, right?” Anthony shook his head then said, “I bet Bill is behind this. Come on out, guys! This shit ain’t funny!”
“Anthony, I don’t think this is a joke at all. I’m getting too bad a feeling, man.”
“You don’t know how bad, buddy,” sneered the blond. “Rosco. Cletus. Come help us escort these gentlemen to the back.” The two truckers at the counter sauntered over and grabbed Reggie and Anthony, forcing them to the back.
As they entered they saw Gina and Sarah flanking either side of a large steel door on the far wall. “You wanted answers,” Blondie said. “You’re going to get them. First, let me ease your minds. Your friends are still alive and will remain so. However, what they’re going through- they probably wish they were dead. You see many years ago, a group of fallen angels in hell- devils they are called- discovered that this location was a direct link from there to here. Through means I never understood they were able to open a portal and step into our world. Over the years, a countless number of them and some demons crossed over and spread out over the earth. Which is why evil is so prevalent now more than it has been at any other time.”
“Hold on,” Anthony interjected. “You expect us to believe this bullshit? Devils? Portals? What’s next, Lucifer himself coming through and overthrowing the earth?”
“Ha! Even though your sarcasm belies your fear, you are more close to the truth than you realize. According to the myths and legends, Lucifer cannot penetrate the portal. However, the exodus of all the devils and demons has left the mystical barriers between the worlds weakened. If this continues they will totally crumble and then nothing can stop Lucifer and all of his followers from overrunning earth and ruling all. Having learned this our forefathers deduced the only way to prevent this was to round up the hellish creatures here on earth and deposit them back through the portal. As you probably guessed by now the portal manifests itself as this steel door although it is said it only looks like a door to us because it’s easier for our human minds to comprehend. Anyway, the demon and devil ‘round up’ didn’t work out so well since so many of them are able to escape our detection. It was then discovered that if an equal number of humans go back through the portal as the number of demons who came out- the walls would then strengthen and rebuild themselves.”
“You… you don’t mean…” Anthony was flabbergasted.
“Yes. The only way to stop the portal from collapsing and unleashing hell on earth is for humans to take those awful creatures places. No one here is willing to make that sacrifice, which is why we on occasion snatch unsuspecting travelers and visitors to keep the walls from crumbling. Don’t look at me like that. It’s the only way to protect the earth and they are not dead. Your pals were just unlucky enough to pass through when the walls were weakening again. Their ‘sacrifice’ shored up the wall for now and the danger has passed. Unfortunately, you two stumbled in and we have no choice but to put you through as well. I’m sorry,” she offered in a way that conveyed she was anything but sorry. "Sarah. Gina. Open it up.”
Silently obeying, the two women struggle to pull the door open revealing blinding white light and the sounds of tortured screams and wailing.
“Oh, God!” Reggie shouted grabbing at his thick hair. “I don’t wanna go in there! Please, please, please! Not that!”
“Reggie, get a grip, man. Falling apart won’t do either one of us any good.” Turning back to blondie he said. “All this was deduced from myths and legends, so that doesn’t mean this is a sure thing, right?”
“No one knows for sure but it’s a fact the portal is secure right now.”
“But if there was another way to stop demons from weakening the portal and saving our friends?”
“Anthony, man, what are you talking about? How can you stop hell from-”
“Just listen.” He leaned into Reggie’s ear and whispered for a few minutes.
Eyes bugging out, Reggie exclaimed, “Man, that’s nuts!”
“Do we have any other choice?”
Reluctantly, Reggie had to agree. “I guess we don’t. Let’s do it.”
“Okay,” Anthony paused to take a short intake of breath them let it out. “We have an idea I believe will work but if it doesn’t we’ll voluntarily go through the portal. But you have to trust us and let us go to do what we have to do.”
“Like a fool, I’m supposed to trust you to come back and not go to the outside authorities?”
“Look, I want to stop this as much as you do. Besides, who’s going to believe this bizarre story anyway? If anything they’ll loc k us up in the nearest hospital’s mental ward. However, I’ll make a deal with you. Let Reggie go out and execute my plan. And I- well, I’ll go into the portal right now to prove you can trust Reggie to come back at least. Then you must let him go.”
“Anthony, man! Ah, hell no! Gotta be another way! What if you’re wrong?”
“Then I say you fellas are fucked,” the blond smirked. “But sure, why not? Give it a try!”
“Anthony, I’m not leaving you alone up in here.”
“I won’t be alone, I’m going inside, man. Now, you go do what I told you.”
“Oh God! Please, wake me up from this nightmare!” Reggie cried out pulling at his hair again. “
“Reggie, just do it!” Breathing deeply, Anthony walked to the door then turned back to his frantic friend. “Trust me, ” he said and walked through the door, as it clang shut behind him he wondered if he didn’t just make the biggest mistake of his life.
End Part One
If you are enjoying the story so far and want to read part two, contact Antonio Hall via this website’s contact page and let him know! Or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For This World
by Sandra Hall
I don't have to do this, she told herself for the eleventh time since sun up. All I have to do is open that window, step through it, and climb down that big old tree. I can be down the road before anyone can say boo.
“You about ready yet?” It was her grandmother checking on her again. “Venita?”
“Give me a few minutes, all right?” She stared at herself in the full-length mirror as she had been doing all morning.
“Girl, I know you're ready...”
“Granny, please. Just give me a break so I can get myself centered.”
“Centered? What the hell is that? Look, you got five more minutes, then I'm getting Earl. You hear me? You know nobody ain't playing around here.”
“Yeah, I know being a human sacrifice ain't no game," she said bitterly and let her first angry tear of the day fall down her drawn face. “Happy Halloween to me,” she sniffed.
“Like I said, you got five minutes,” Granny yelled through the door, then trudged off, swearing to herself.
“Old bitch," Venita grumbled before turning back to her reflection in the tall oval mirror. “All right then, what's it going to be?” She had already packed a bag three weeks ago, just in case. But where could she run to that the family couldn't trace her? Other people had resisted and disappeared. Lancaster had promised to help, but she hadn't seen him in over a month. “I'm not marrying some extra-dimensional demon, that's for certain.” She went to the window and looked down at the lawn. No one was about, except for Purvis. Whether he would bark was anybody's guess, for he was as untrustworthy and ornery as his masters. If you could say such a dog had a master. “I know that hound will bark. Besides, I might fall and break my neck. Oh man, when did I become so cowardly? Why didn't I just boogie in the first place?”
“Because you were scared like any other seventeen-year-old girl who has nowhere else to go.”
“What... Who is in here?” Venita spun around scanning the room. She knew damn well she had locked the door and she should be alone. Hurriedly, she checked the bathroom. Finding the room empty, she checked the closets and looked under the bed. “I must be cracking up,” she said as she sat on the edge of the bed. "Sounded just like somebody was talking to me. It's bad enough having to deal with those creatures without hearing ghost sounds.”
“You aren't cracking up and I am no ghost.”
“Who- where-…” Venita's eyes followed the sound of the voice to the mirror. “Oh, hell no.” She rubbed her eyes, not believing her reflection was still standing in the mirror frowning back at her. She ran to the window and opened it then began to climb out, reaching for the nearest tree limb.
"Get back in here before you kill yourself." She kept reaching out to get a sturdy hold on the tree. “I'm not a ghost. I’m simply manipulating your image as I cannot project my own hologram to you at this time. Bless the spirits you have a mirror large enough to receive my transference.”
Holograms and transference? “What do you want? And how can you look like me and be-”
“There isn't time for questions. Get over here if you want our help. I'm only doing this for Lancaster. He seemed to think you are worth the risk."
Seemed to? Did that mean he was dead? Venita pulled herself from the window and approached the speaking image in her mirror. “Lancaster. Where is he? Why didn’t he come back?” He wouldn't turn her over to someone she didn't know she could trust. Yet, this person was no ordinary person. She said she’d transferred herself not transmitted. “Who are you and what are you?”
“Child, you know full well I am a witchy person. I am Lancaster’s mother. The only other person he trusted to contact you this evening.”
“Why didn’t he come himself? Where is he?”
“He's with the Jack Of Lanterns. He could be almost anywhere in space and time.”
“Was it his idea to go?”
“He saw his duty, Venita. Do you see yours?”
“What are you talking about? What duty? Who are the Jack Of Lanterns?”
“Your way out of this unholy of bargains- if you decide to do your part.”
She looked down at the wedding dress she wore. It once belonged to her mother and Granny before that. But they had chosen their own grooms and didn't have to honeymoon in hell. No, it wasn’t her duty to do anything. She was one of the victims of a long ago truce between demons and humans. She looked up at the reflection and asked, “What do I have to do to get out of this mess?”
“Marry the Naberion.”
“Marry a demon? That’s your solution?” Venita had seen what became of humans when they finished using their bodies. This couldn’t be the plan Lancaster had in mind all along. “I'm not giving birth to any half demons! Nor will I become any demon’s meal!” She backed up from the mirror. Was that person really Lancaster’s mother and from the Jack Of Lanterns or just a ploy to lure her into the farce willingly? Some humans actually believed offering a few girls each year in return for peace was worth it than taking chances with limited success warding off demonic interference during the cross over. No human was better off that she could see from making deals with demons. Her own family had lost its humanity many years ago, long before she lost her mother. “Do you think I am insane?” No, she wasn't here to help. Lancaster didn't send her such a person. How was she supposed to trust a witch who wasn’t showing her true form?
“If you married one of them they will have to take you across the veil. They can’t eat you or have dominion over you in this realm.”
“Then I don’t have to go!” Why wasn’t she ever told this before?
“You must. And you must do it tonight.”
“No. Lancaster will come back for me. He will have a plan and-”
“I’m telling you the plan, you fool. There is more to this night than saving you from a demon’s desires. Having human brides is only part of the evil of the Naberions for this world. You must cross into the veil to reveal the passageway into their realm. Following you and the others is the only access a human with magiks has in order to get to the other side. On the other side, one must be to work the proper spells to destroy them.”
“You expect me to believe it is possible to destroy a realm of beings in one night?”
“Once the passage between our worlds is closed the Naberions cannot feast on human flesh or use our girls to produce half demons who can dwell among us as easily as a human. So far, we have been successful in exterminating said vermin from among us. Or they are hiding in fear, living as a human. Unless the passage is shut done our efforts on this side won’t matter. In less than a century, they will overcome us and claim this world as their own, reducing us to cattle and slaves.”
“Okay, but what about me once I’m on the other side? What about Lancaster?”
“Is all you really wanted was to get out of this mess your own family bestowed upon you? And to see Lancaster again? You don't care about the future of mankind?”
“I do want to help, and I do care. But marrying one of them and going into another dimension isn’t going to help me. I shouldn’t care about my own body and mind?”
“You won’t be tortured as a wife of a Naberion. Not if you are obedient.”
“No. No way!" Venita shook her head. To willingly go into a demonic world with only a whisper of a chance that her sacrifice might help wasn’t enough. Yet, Lancaster was already out there somewhere doing his part. Or was he the one to follow her? That possibility suddenly made all the difference to Venita.
“What choice do you have really, child?” The witch asked interrupting her thoughts. “On All Hallows Eve, where can you escape to? Your husband has been chosen and he has seen your face. I don’t think even killing yourself will solve your dilemma. Who knows what a demon can accomplish with a corpse?”
“You’re just trying to scare me.”
“Am I succeeding? Because I really hope you are afraid. We are out of options. Humankind simply cannot and must not endure another night of disguised horror! Do you think they only cross over to take a few girls each year? Each year the veil is thinner and the number of abductions and disappearances increase exponentially. Do you really not care, Venita? Those of us that are knowledgeable have a duty-”
“Don't say that! How is it my duty to offer my life to appease demons? There was a time in this world when such a thing was not only unlawful it was abhorrent! I did not sell myself to any demon! I did not agree to be taken anywhere! You witches did this to us! Now, you see you can’t trust a demon or control them.”
“True,” the witch replied unabashedly from the sharp accusations. “You have no reason or obligation to help us rectify this horrible mistake. But know this, though we witchy people are mostly to blame,it is you normal humans without light power who are suffering the most.”
That was true, Venita acknowledged. She also knew the witch before her was afraid for her own kind. Was it fear of the darkness that was creeping into their world? Was demonic darkness dampening their light? Something told her this witch before her cared little for other beings. Unlike Lancaster who wanted to save the whole world.
“Lancaster simply wanted to rescue you, which to everyone’s dismay is probably not possible. I, on the other hand, thought he knew what a brave woman was. With such a person, I dared imagine anything was possible.”
He thought she was brave? And saw her as a woman? All at once her heart felt like it was glowing inside her chest. He wanted to rescue her and meet her in on the other side! I can do it, she thought. He is counting on me.
“Venita! Unlock this door, or I'm gonna break it down!” It was Uncle Earl banging on her door as promised. “You hear me?”
“I hear you, you old devil!” And who cared if he broke down the door?
“I better see you downstairs in two minutes," he threatened then stomped on down the hallway.
Venita faced the mirror again. “What do they really look like?”
“Somewhat humanoid, but from what I've learned you won't have to mate with it if things don’t go well. It's done through magik rituals.”
Was that supposed to ease her mind? “If I go, should I abandon all hope of returning?”
“Not all hope,” the reflection answered bluntly. “Though I would not count on running into Lancaster,” she added as if reading her mind.
She wasn't counting on anything. Just hoping like hell. “Did he really send you?”
“Yes, he did.”
“Is Lancaster like you?”
“My dear, you’ve known all along he was a special creature. And yes, he is a male witch,” the reflection said with pride. “Are you frightened of us too?”
Hell yes, she was frightened. Been frightened since Granny announced they were unloading her as their burden to gift to the Naberions. She’d been frightened since she was seven years of age, and her mother had been thrown into a bonfire to appease the spirits for a bit of good luck for the family. In her heart, she’d known she’d be the next human sacrifice.
“Venita, you are not so special,” The witch in her mirror informed her. “Yet my son would risk his own life to save you in the only way he knows how. We all fear it may not be enough to end this horror each year. If not killed, you both may be trapped in that demonic place.”
“Tell me the truth, witch. Is Lancaster the magiks person to follow me or is he already somewhere else?” Like somewhere making another girl fall in love and do anything to see him one last time? How many girls were he and his mother willing to use to prevail over the Naberions?
“I’ll tell you something true. He refused to leave this world while you were still in it. If you do not leave, neither will he.”
“Then he wants to do this with me?” For me, she wanted to say out loud in happiness.
“There will be many crossing tonight, but know once you cross the veil, he or someone else will follow your path at a discreet distance for demons are always wary of witches.”
Then it was just a crap shot she’d see him again on the other side. If she refused to cross over what were the chances? He’d stayed away from her due to his magikal nature, even his mother, appeared in the mirror to avoid the Naberions detecting a witchery presence around their brides. “Just tell me what to do. I'm ready,” she said rising and going to the door. If there was just the smallest chance, she had to take it. For in her heart, she knew he wanted to see her again too. He probably couldn’t save her or survive himself but he was thinking of her.
“Just go through with the wedding and leave with the Naberion. If successful, The Jack Of Lanterns will make every effort to rescue you and the other unfortunate girls before the veil is closed at the midnight hour. Do you understand?”
“Yes.” She knew he would come if he could. “Yes," she said again, unlocking her bedroom door. “Lancaster,” she whispered and boldly stepped out into the hallway. “I’m counting on you. For this world… and for me.”
Trickin' and Treatin'
by Antonio Hall
“Hurry up man. The party starts in an hour,” I said slightly agitated. “It’s Halloween. How do you not have already have a costume?”
“Hey, don’t rush me, dude,” Jimmy said. “You just told me about the invite this afternoon. I had other plans and besides the best costumes are gone.”
Looking around I saw he was right and calmed down somewhat. After spying a clear piece of cellophane, I grabbed it and handed it to Jimmy. “Here, hold this up to your face.”
Looking confused, Jimmy did so. “What’s this?” he asked.
“Your Halloween mask. If that doesn’t strike terror, nothing will.”
“Very funny. Guess I’ll go with the classic reaper costume. It won’t win any awards but it’s about the party anyway.”
Later we met up with Derek who was dressed as Bum Phillips, and Delores who looked stunning normally was absolutely spectacular in an extremely form fitting toga. “Wow,” I said. “That sheet leaves nothing to the imagination, does it?”
“Yeah,” Jimmy concurred. “That’s what I call a…”
“Please, don’t say it,” I begged.
“…fitted sheet,” Jimmy finished.
Despite that groan-inducing remark Delores beamed and said that was the reaction she was looking for. “I hear that witch Tasha is wearing a cat woman suit but I think I’ll be the cat’s meow tonight. Let’s go boys.”
Arriving fashionably late at Ricardo’s house, where the party was being held, I noticed the doorbell on the front door had an out of order sign on it. Nice touch, I thought as I pushed the button which produced an eerie groan. “Neat,” I commented and pressed the buzzer again. “Oohhhhh….!” This time a spooking sounding moan was heard. After a few minutes, no one came to the door so I pressed the speaker box.
“Hey guys,” Ricardo answered. We heard party sounds in the background. “Come in the side door. The doorbell’s busted and I have an electrician working on it now.”
“Electrician?” I asked. “Uh, maybe you better check on him.”
“No reason. We’re coming around now.”
Once inside I spotted my friend George who was dressed in regular clothes but for some reason was carrying his girlfriend Michelle around on his back. “What’s up, G? What are you supposed to be?”
“I’m a turtle,” he replied.
“But you have no costume and your girlfriend is on your back.”
“Right. That’s Michelle.” On that note, I excused myself and introduced myself to a cute, sexy Lady Gaga look-alike I met eyes with across the room. We hit it off and snuck into a side room where in our passion we accidently activated the room’s speaker system leading to a bizarre sequence during the séance session where our grunts and groans were mistaken for voices from the ‘other side’.
All in all, it was a good night for all and even the electrician joined in the fun after he recovered. I indulged in a bit too much punch and missed the costume contest in which Delores placed second.
“Who the hell could’ve beat you?” I asked later. “Don’t tell me, Tasha.”
“No. She didn’t even place, and at least I could deal with losing to her. But who do I lose to? A guy in a Lady Gaga costume!” Delores exclaimed. “Can you believe it?”
Sadly, I could. Gotta love Halloween.