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Part 2 can be found here:
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Part 8 can be found here:
HIS BRAIN IS SQUIRMING like a toad.
Special Agent Harold Wilkins favorite musical group is the Doors, even though he was far too young ever to have heard them live; he was born years after Jim Morrison injected himself with bad smack and was laid to rest in the same Parisian graveyard where Victor Hugo was buried.
But still, in the part of his brain that is still his, that is the lyric he recalls from one of the old Doors songs, and it is particularly appropriate, for if a doctor was to take a CAT scan of Wilkins/Taffy’s brain at that moment, the doctor would have scratched his own head and called for one of the technicians, for he would have thought that the equipment was on the fritz. It would have shown an image as fuzzy as a long-exposure photograph of a speeding car.
For their common brain is in fact moving, twitching away inside the skull, a living thing, pushing against the bone and the sinuses, as if it was trying to escape. Normally, of course, the brain is a fairly inert organ. It doesn’t beat like the heart or expand and contract like the lungs. It just sits there in the head doing its thing by the firing of nerves, a totally chemical-electric organ. When it does move about inside the skull, say for instance in the event of a violent blow to the head or the rapid deceleration of an automobile accident, the results are generally fairly traumatic. In reality there could have been no worse trauma for Agent Wilkins to suffer more than he was suffering now. There was no rest for him as he did battle with the interloper.
A couple of hours ago he had managed to save an old bum.
Taffy had been out walking in the night, looking, looking for the place where he could relearn his magick and had been startled by an old wino who’d shambled out of the shadows with his hand outstretched. Taffy’s normal response to being surprised was instant attack; he knew nothing of the flight response. A quick slam to the chest, a brief resistance as the old fellow’s ribcage failed, and then out with the still-beating heart. He had done just that, only his right fist had stopped an inch short of the wino’s chest as if he had been swinging into a plate of armored glass. The bum did a stutter-step backwards, yowling with fright, and then took to his heels, leaving Taffy standing there like a fool, staring at his fist. How had that happened? He wondered. He was all set to punch the derelict’s ticket and for some reason his arm hadn’t answered.
Are you there, Wilkins? Taffy said to himself.
Wilkins was there, but he wasn’t bothering to answer.
I thought I had killed you, Wilkins. Why don’t you just relax and enjoy the ride?
A thought drifted into Taffy’s consciousness from the back of his mind, back where the soul of Wilkins still haunted him. The thought was Fuck you.
Taffy roared into the night sky and slammed his fist into a brick wall. All he managed to do was to break his hand. It hurt in a small, insignificant way, the way a blister on one’s foot hurts when one wears a tight pair of shoes. Taffy examined the hand and saw the way the fingers were now crooked, how a few thin splinters of bone punched up through his flesh. In the old days he would have been able to fix that with no more than a thought. Not now, no, not with that stupid federal employee inhabiting his head. He was getting seriously turned around here.
Nice try, Wilkins, he thought. Not bad at all. Good work saving the bum. Too bad you couldn’t do the same with your FUCKING FAMILY!
He had to get out of this shit, Taffy told himself. Perhaps that bookshop the vampire had told him about. Maybe that would be just the ticket. What was the name of it? He couldn’t remember, hard as he tried. The skell had told him the name, but for some reason it had slipped his mind. Or maybe Wilkins had stolen the thought, to try to keep Taffy weak. He wouldn’t put anything past a federal employee.
He stood there out in the street, thinking, thinking. Then he started to shut down all his thoughts and allowed himself to just feel, nothing more. His hand hung down by his hip, drip-dripping blood on the pavement, and he felt, for the longest time. He didn’t know what day it was anymore. He didn’t even know what country he was in, only vaguely that he was somewhere on Earth, and he had a problem with the entire fucking planet, too. No, that wasn’t right, he told himself. Don’t think, just feel.
His mind drifted free out of his stolen body. It wondered about on the air currents of the warm night, a superorganism of pure evil. Shut down the way it was, it turned into a wonderful receiver; if there was other evil about, he would feel it, he would be able to track it.
Then he picked it up. It wasn’t that far away, either, a small but concentrated puddle of wickedness. His mind tracked it, getting closer, closer. Then he was hovering above a brick building in a industrial part of town and he could feel the wickedness very well indeed, and looking down, he saw the sign on the front of the building. ALL NATIONS BOOKS, it said. The evil was strong, but it was fighting something too, and it was losing. What it was fighting, what it was losing to, Taffy had no idea.
And Taffy smiled.
His mind came back into his stolen body and he started to walk towards his resurrection. He would rescue the wickedness and make it his own. He would recover his skills, he knew it, and then would destroy this worthless planet, along with all mankind, just to make himself feel a little better. He would have the power to do it, he felt it in his bones. He would have the power, and fuck mankind. He had only kept it around for the last few millennia to play with, the way a sick boy keeps flies alive in a jar so he can yank their wings off.
Taffy could hear Harold Wilkins weeping inside his head. Wilkins spent an inordinate amount of time crying, Taffy thought, ever since he had murdered his wife and children.
Cry now, jagoff, Taffy said. When I’m done, I’m going to take you with me straight to hell, fucker! There was a quietness in his head, and Taffy suspected Wilkins believed him.
JIMMY PEDRO AMOVAR WAS out on the street too that hot and muggy night, waiting for the devil to appear.
He was short, a little bit under five foot five, and wore the colors of the Westside Jagoffs, those being a denim jacket with the sleeves cut off, and a embroidered picture on the back of the cartoon character Tweety Pie with a flick-knife through his hydroenceph’s head. He was just shy of his twenty-second birthday, and he was very afraid that night that he wouldn’t live to see it.
He muttered the Hail Mary under his breath and fingered the crucifix that hung around his neck.
The skell named Skoda had enlisted this poetry-reading gangbanger, asking for his help to protect the bookstore and the nice lady inside from the devil himself. He had described the devil, what he was wearing, what he looked like, and stationed Jimmy outside and a little up the street to keep an eye out for him. Jimmy was wearing the crucifix, something he normally didn’t do, since his normal nighttime activities made it seem like something of a sacrilege. The crucifix, he hoped, would protect him from the devil, and if that didn’t do the trick, he had a Beretta 09 automatic pistol shoved down the back of his pants, fully loaded with Federal Black Talon nine millimeter cartridges. One or the other would do the trick, he thought.
A chilly wind came from nowhere and blew down the street, making Jimmy shiver. He turned to face the wind and saw the devil, striding towards him like one of those suburban assholes speed walking.
Jimmy stood there, staring, feeling his mouth go dry and his bowels turn to water.
Skoda hadn’t needed to be so precise about his description of the devil, for this apparition come towards Jimmy had three eyes and two mouths, one mouth where it was supposed to be, right under the nose, the other leering across the forehead. The third eye was staring obliquely out of the left cheek. The figure was making a low series of sucking sounds, out of which mouth Jimmy wasn’t sure; as he watched the devil passed below a streetlight and the mercury vapor illumination glinted off the gold scales that covered the devil’s bare arms.
Jimmy muttered something, but that was all he was able to do. He was literally paralyzed with fright. All the bravado he had conjurered up before about busting a cap in the devil’s ass came to nothing.
The devil was striding right at him. Jimmy wasn’t even able to move out of the way. As the horrid apparition came closer the third eye winked out on the left cheek and suddenly blinked open on the right.
Then the devil passed through him, like the cutting breeze of the dead midwinter, as if all the atoms in Jimmy Amovar’s body got out of the way and allowed the atoms of the devil right-of-way. For the briefest of instants, Jimmy was able to look inside the devil’s head.
What he saw there was unspeakable. It was the joy in a child’s starvation in Cambodia, the glee at the madness of a serial killer on the road in Montana, the mirth in the despondency of a woman slitting her wrists in Johannesburg. Everything that was evil and terrible in the world, in the entire universe, was jammed into the dark clay of the devil’s brain. And also, far back in the deceased tissue of the worst mind in all of creation, the shrieking face of the man whose body the devil had taken over, covered with bloody cobwebs, impacted in the mucus of gray matter.
Then the devil was past him, still muttering and sucking to himself, but Jimmy felt so cold, so cold, as if it was the middle of winter, and he’d never be warm again. He turned and saw the devil’s back as he strode towards the front of All Nations Books. The devil paused, then did a little dance, a jig, stopped, then exploded with laughter.
I can kill him now, Jimmy thinks. I can pull my piece and unload it into his back.
But of course he cannot. He is still transfixed with fright. He turns and looks at his reflection in a display window of the building opposite him.
His hair has gone completely white.
“DO YOU ENJOY HEMINGWAY?” asked Skoda.
“Hemingway. The writer.”
“I know who Hemingway is,” said Miranda, sitting behind the counter. She and Skoda were the only two people in the store, and she sniffed the air again, because there was still that faint aroma of smoke lingering in the store.
“Do you like him?”
She sighed. “Yes, I like Hemingway.”
“I met him once.”
She perked up. “Really?”
“Yes. In Paris, during his Lost Generation days.”
“What was he like?”
“A bit of an asshole, I’m afraid. A macho idiot, a drunk even then. He was like many large men, he couldn’t handle his liquor.”
“Who else have you met?” she asked. She was looking at the big clock on the wall. It was nearly midnight, the time of night when the store was normally filled with customers. Where were they? What was keeping them away? A premonition made her shudder.
The doorway flew open, and in came Taffy.
“Daddy’s home!” he screams at the top of his lungs.
For a moment Miranda thinks that it is just another nighttime lunatic; Skoda recognizes him instantly, but he, like Amovar outside, is frozen in his tracks.
“Can I help you, sir?” asks Miranda.
“I need a book!” shouts Taffy.
There is something wrong with this picture, Miranda thinks inanely, for it is the mouth in Taffy’s forehead which speaks. She giggles, and then feels her spine dissolve in terror as Taffy turns and marches up to the counter.
“Get me the book, bitch!” he roars.
Skoda, finding a reserve of courage he didn’t know he had, charges at Taffy’s back and wraps an arm around the devil’s throat. Taffy roars and starts trying to shake Skoda off.
“Run!” Skoda shouts.
Taffy shrieks again and Miranda watches with a horrified fascination as his entire face breaks out in a myriad of tiny, bloodshot eyes. She recoils, bounces back against the wall, then spins and takes off towards the back of the store.
Taffy roars and it is like the whole world is quaking; he throws off Skoda with a violent shake of his body. Skoda hits the floor hard, cracking his head.
Taffy is on him in a moment, landing on him like a sack of concrete, knocking the wind out of him.
“I know you, whoremaster!” shouts Taffy. He pulls his arm back for the fatal thrust into the skell’s chest, then stops.
“Don’t hurt me!” screams Skoda, a little late, in Taffy’s opinion.
Taffy decides to have a little fun. Instead of plunging his fist into Skoda’s chest and yanking out his heart, he grabs hold of the vampire’s face, first using his right hand, which he had broken on the wall a little earlier that night; the hand is too mangled to find purchase, so he leans down on Skoda, his right arm across his throat to hold him down, then uses his left hand, digging his fingers into the left side of Skoda’s face. The devil’s fingers sprout claws. There is a popping sound as they enter the skin.
Miranda has almost made it to the back door of the store when she is brought up short, transfixed, by Skoda’s horrid shriek. It fills her head and seems to make the plates of her skull expand against her scalp.
To hell with him, she thinks. He’s just a vampire, nothing more. Not even human, really.
He had saved her life. He was trying to protect her just now.
The shrieks grow worse, if that were possible. She stands there, next to the iron back door, listening, not wanting to, really she wanted to hit the panic bar on the back door and rush out into the night. The night still terrifies her, but nothing she can encounter out there could be any worse than what’s inside the bookstore this very instant.
She presses her hand against the panic bar, ready to apply pressure to sound the alarm and spring the lock.
She hears a revolting ripping sound. Skoda’s shrieks become muffled, as if somebody is holding a pillow over his face.
Go back and kill him.
The voice in her head is much more than her sense of morality, of right and wrong. She knows if she rushes out into the night, she will surely be damned forever. Nothing the devil can do to her body is equal to what he will do to her soul in the hereafter.
She turns and starts back into the store.
JIMMY AMOVAR IS STILL standing out in the street, looking at his reflection in the window. How had his hair gotten so white?
He hears the shriek of the vampire from inside the store, through the closed door, all the way across the street. He stands there.
Go inside and kill him.
Jimmy Amovar crosses himself again, muttering another half-forgotten prayer the Jesuits taught him long ago; they taught him One day you many hear the voice of God, and you must obey it.
He cannot move. His soul isn’t strong enough for it.
SKODA HAD KNOWN PAIN. When he had first Become as a young man, when he crossed the line from humanity to vampirism, that had been terribly painful. Later, as a skell, he had suffered wounds that would have killed a normal man, and he had felt pain then, too, sometimes pain so bad he thought it might drive him mad.
None of that was anything compared to having his face slowly ripped off.
He is laying in a puddle of his own blood, the clear, viscous vampire blood that smells of rotten beets. The devil is on top of him, holding him down, and Skoda’s face is half off.
“Ain’t this da bomb, homie?” asks Taffy, who evidently thinks this is very funny indeed, for he cannot stop laughing.
The pain has entered Skoda’s soul, or what is left of his soul after nearly a century of evil he himself has dealt out to others. The pain is so heavy, like melted iron in a vat that he is sinking into.
He sends a knee into Taffy’s groin.
“Oh, that really hurt, bubba!” shouts Taffy. It only serves to increase his laughter.
With a sound like velcro being pulled apart, the rest of Skoda’s face tears free. The vampire lies there, the front of his skull exposed, glistening. Taffy struggles to his feet, then throws the horrid mask away. “Good enough for you, motherfucker!” He starts to turn towards the counter, and that is when the first bullet hits him.
Miranda is behind the counter, holding the Heckler .40 caliber pistol in both hands, sighting down the barrel. She aims for the middle of the devil’s back. The first shot went a little wide, tearing a chunk out of Taffy’s left arm, knocking him off balance. He staggers, tripping over the prone body of Skoda. He loses his footing and has to reach out to grab a bookshelf with his right hand.
She shoots him again, this time striking center mass, dead center in Taffy’s back. The bullet burrows through his intestines and pops out his abdomen.
Taffy gets himself righted, turns, and glares at her.
“Who the hell do you think you are, shooting my ass?”
He starts towards her.
She stares at him, not knowing what to do. Her wrists are numbed from the recoil of the big gun. He should be on the floor now, she thinks, he shouldn’t still be standing.
She fires again, hitting him in the chest, ripping one of his lungs in two.
He merely grins, blood trickling out of his nose.
“Dummy," he says.
The next shot is a misfire. The hammer drops, the firing pin hits the base of the cartridge in the chamber, but the round doesn’t go off.
“Now you’re fucked,” Taffy says. He walks right up to her, draws back his fist—
And he is unable to hit her. Wilkins has stopped him again.
No big deal, Taffy thinks. Killing the woman is nothing to him. Soon he will find the ultimate source of the evil coming from this damned bookstore, and then he will have his old power back. Killing the woman would have simply been an enjoyable bit of icing on the bargain. He turns away from her and stumbles towards the shelves. He homes in on the power of the evil he senses.
He smells smoke. He thinks at first it is the stench of the gunshots that have maimed this body he inhabits. No problem, he thinks. He is like a man walking into a shoe store just as the pair of shoes he has on finally give up the ghost and fall apart as he crosses the threshold. I’ll take this pair, my good man, he thinks, dissolving with laughter even as his blood paints the floor red. No need to wrap them up, I’ll wear them out. He has certainly worn out this body, and that thought makes him laugh again.
His sight narrows like an old-fashioned movie camera from the silent era focusing down to a point, showing the center of interest that can’t be mistaken by even the most dense theater-goer. He sees the leather cover of the book up on the shelf, the object of his intention.
Then the beacon, the source of his quest, blinks out and is gone.
Taffy shrieks like the damned.
“SHOOT HIM AGAIN,” SAID Skoda.
His voice was odd, not surprising, as his lips were gone. Miranda stood there, ready to die as the devil came up to her, but at the last moment the devil seemed to change his mind and shambled off to the religious section.
“The gun’s jammed,” she said, her own voice sounding strange to her.
“Pull back on the slide,” said Skoda.
Feeling like a character on a movie screen, Miranda looked down at the gun. She reached up with her left hand and grabbed the back of the pistol and pulled it back, not knowing if she is doing exactly what Skoda ordered. The Heckler’s slide did indeed move backwards, and the misfired cartridge sprang from the ejection port to clatter to the floor.
“Let the slide go,” said Skoda.
The slide jumped forward.
The devil was screaming, standing in front of the religious section, screaming with all his might, a terrific shrieking, one which would have made Miranda jump from her skin in normal circumstances, but now she was so numbed she hardly reacted at all. She brought up the pistol and sighted along the square barrel, aiming at Taffy’s back.
“Kill him,” mumbled Skoda. His voice was getting weaker and weaker as he slowly died.
She pulled the trigger and the gun jumped, and so did Taffy, slammed forward into the bookcase. He had to grab the bookcase to prevent himself from falling. He turned, baring his teeth. His face, in his titanic rage, was a swimming was of bloodshot eyes of various sizes.
“Again,” said Skoda.
Miranda fired again. This shot hit him in the side of the head, a glancing shot that tore off one of his ears.
Taffy started for the door, striding as quickly as he could without actually running, as if running would be admitting defeat.
“Stop him,” said Skoda. “Shoot him in the leg!”
Miranda aimed the Heckler and pulled the trigger again, but the upward pressure of her jerking on the trigger brought the pistol up slightly and the bullet struck the devil in the left hip, shattering bone like leaded crystal, destroying his left hip joint, dropping him in his tracks.
Taffy snarled, more upset than in pain, for this body he had invaded was nothing more to him than a hot vehicle was to a car thief.
The front door opened and Jimmy Amovar entered the store, his Beretta in his hand.
“Finish him!” shouted Skoda.
Amovar and Miranda aimed their pistols and began to fire, hitting Taffy from two directions at once, the bullets tearing him to pieces.
Taffy snarled again but a bullet, from Miranda or Amovar he had no idea, struck him dead on in the forehead and shattered his skull. He felt anger, wrath, and all the pain in the world, and then stopped moving and felt nothing at all.
And he was in the spiritual realm once more, floating away on the winds. The world that he could suddenly see was populated with other spirits, all of which shied away from him, for good reason too, all except one, that being the soul of Agent Harold Wilkins, streaking past him with a goofy grin on its face, streaking up into the sky, towards heaven.
THE POLICE CAME AND took away the bodies, two of them, one a skell who had been horribly maimed and the other a rogue ATF agent who had lost his mind and gone on a killing binge, starting with his own family. Miranda had answered a bunch of their questions, and then had been taken downtown to the police precinct and answer a whole bunch more. The cops kept at her for several hours, especially wanting to know the name of the other person who had come to her aim shooting the rogue agent to death, but she didn’t know the young man’s name, only that he had come into the store from time to time, and the she had presumed he was a gangster because of the clothes he had worn. He had run away after the agent was dead, she told the cops, and she didn’t know where they could find him. Finally, since her story hadn’t changed and she had done them all a favor in punching Agent Wilkins ticket for them, they let her go.
She went back to All Nations and showered and fell into bed up in Hubert’s old apartment and slept for nearly an entire day.
She woke the next afternoon, the sun streaming through the window. She went downstairs after eating a hearty breakfast and tackled the revolting job of cleaning up after the horror from a day and a night before.
Night was falling soon enough. She was finished, and the store looked as clean and shipshape as a second-hand bookstore could look. She finished by straightening some of the shelves. All during this time she was unsure of what to do now that Hubert was gone. Certainly he had left her the store and the apartment above it, and the only job she knew to do was as a bookseller. It was all she really wanted to do in her life.
She was alone in the empty, locked store, pondering her future, when she turned to straighten the religious section and found the very old book Hubert had given her, the one with the leather cover, the day he had become so very sick. The cover and the spine were fine, but all the pages had somehow caught fire and had burned away, leaving a pile of ash on the shelf when she pulled the book away. Very strange, she thought, because the books on either side of it, a cheap faux-leather Bible from Zondervan Publishers and a dog-eared paperback of Koran from Penguin were untouched completely from the flames that had consumed it.
She stood there, looking at the destroyed book, and felt a shiver pass through her. She turned and saw a few of the night people had gathered outside on the sidewalk, staring in at her. They looked at her imploringly, and she made up her mind. She crossed the store and unlocked the door.
Federal Way, Washington
For Christmas, 1999
© 2012, John Steven Anderson