(Despite the date of posting, this happened the evening of November 11th, 2016. At the time, I was under a command not to speak or write of certain things until after the full moon on November 14th. It has taken me two days to write this up.)
Long nailed fingers tented in satisfaction before eyes the color of a clear spring sky, hiding the thin sealed smile of the master manipulator entity whom I called “Malphas”. I have no damn idea what he is and am still not sure if he is or isn’t that Malphas, but after having been intentionally led to mistake him as such for so long means I still call him by that name even now. He has given me no other, and frankly, I’m not sure I would believe it anyway.
“Thank you for accepting my invitation for tea.” The small round table was set in a field full of flowering plants and weeds. Brilliant hued petals conspired with earthy fragrances to distract the mind from dwelling on the toxic leaves and poisoned barbs shivering stiffly under the gently sunless sky. I have been in this setting before. I know better than to wander away from the table.
“Thank you for offering it. It’s been a while since we last sat and chatted anyway. I’m glad to make a reconnection with you.” I never saw his hands leave his face, never saw his fingers so much as twitch, but in the space between breaths, he poured and served a strong smelling, faintly hued tea in small teacups decorated with the same flowers that surrounded us.
We sat for a minute in silence. It felt like hours raced between the lifted cup and the held saucer. I knew he would be as gentlemanly an asshole as possible, so I broke decorum first. “Alright, you didn’t bring me here to smell the flowers.”
The smile never moved but I could hear his chuckling behind me. “No, I didn’t.”
“Let’s go, then.”
He lowered his hands. “We shall, after our usual greeting rituals.” He twitched a finger, and in the time of that movement, thrust his right hand onto my face. A white pointed nail traced a familiar symbol on my cornea without leaving a physical mark, removing a mark that had been left years before. Only the entity that left it there would know how to undo it. This was confirmation that he was the same entity I expected. What I saw as the twitch of a finger, was his hand returning to its initial starting place.
I blinked and jerked away in an involuntary response. I wasn’t expecting him to go for the eyes, but for my heart. He waited for me to sit upright again before fulfilling my expectations. His left hand clenched on the table. Before I could begin to turn towards the movement, that same hand darted forward. Slipping between the motes of apparent flesh, he reached between body and spirit to lightly scratch his fondness on my heart. The sensation was of a seed of ice invading my innermost, and even though I know to expect it from him now, I am always filled with a bittersweet exhilarating fear. Before I can gasp, his hand has withdrawn.
No other entity can elicit those same reactions from me, even assuming they would be able to mimic his actions completely. By these actions and reactions do I know it is him, even as I have no knowledge who or what he is at all!
“So…” He intertwines his fingers as he collects my attention on the table. “I understand you are going to [pursue a thing].”
I reach for the nearly empty teacup. It is filled before I can touch it. “I am. What do you know of it, though? It is a new thing, for a new time, and you are ancient and beyond such youthful games.”
“You wound me. New things fascinate me as much as old things used well. And it is not as new as you think it is. Only the iteration you hold is the new thing. It is as old as I am, as old as your name.”
I empty the cup and place it upside down on the saucer. A slender breeze plays with the multitudes of flowers surrounding us. I look at his sky blue eyes and remind myself they are falsehoods and illusions. “Which name?”
I’m expecting him to say “Blackjack”.
I did not realize I had leaned away from him until after he had quickly and silently cleared the table. His cold hands coaxed my left hand forward. I watched him place my hand in the middle of the round table. His chilling touch captivated my attention.
He softly spoke a truth about my circumstances as he stroked my forearm from elbow to wrist with his right hand. The action prompted my fingers to curl around the hand holding mine captive. First with the palm, then with the fingers, each softer stroke pulled my attention forward into the space between his fingers and mine. He’s mesmerizing me. The awareness did not break the enchantment. His voice, usually raspy and brittle, melted over my ears with soothing tones.
“You are going to need certain characters in this new game you wish to play. Traditionally, [others like Rummer John] would be the ones you would make this pact with, but since when do you abide by calcified and inflexible tradition? If [this] is going to be your primary path, you are going to need someone to meet you in the middle of the road. [That particular entity’s] role in your life was to open the way for you to go to [Rummer John]. Which you have done. If he takes on the role [that you will need], then his price will be greater than what you can pay in this life. Surely, you do not want to share the same fate as your man, [Horatio]? A trinket for some other fool to wear?”
I do not realize my eyes had closed until I struggled in vain to open them. I was clear of thought but devoid of will. Malphas had me completely encapsulated by his power, held by the dual grip of his hand and his might. I don’t know when he switched grips, holding my wrist with his right hand while stroking the inside of my left arm with the tips of his talons. I only know I stopped hearing his voice with my ear, and felt him speaking from inside my mind instead.
“I believe you were once told that you would not be found in any book. There is no way you will be able to walk [the desired path] the right or traditional way for several years at least. There are still physical requirements you are unable to meet. So even if [he] stepped into [that role] for you, you would only accrue debts you are unable to repay. Allow me. I will be [that role], your personal Devil. I will meet you in the middle of the road, and I will take you across and back.”
I wanted to ask what made him qualified to be my personal Devil. What new lies was he going to tell me for what new game. He didn’t even exist for as far as I knew. What undigested lettuce fermented him into being?
He laughed in the form of a long drawn out sigh as my thoughts were clear to him. The sound was accompanied by the tracing of a vein in my exposed arm by a barely touching talon. The sensation pulled my focus away from my doubts.
Without sound, he turned my attention to a series of memories. One of the few times I have watched him interact with others in my dreams and visions, it was almost always with angels. It was always with hostility. I realized they knew him, and hated him more than they hated me.
“You are correct when you said I was ancient. You were in error when you said games were beyond me. I wish to play a game with you, Blackjack, a personal game for personal stakes.”
I lacked the power of speech, but I still could think. What am I wagering, this time?
“What do you have to gain? Freedom. What do you have to lose? The same. You know why you are considering [this path] and what you hope to achieve by immersing yourself in it. You know what will happen if you do nothing and accept what others have deemed to be your fate. You know that other powers have maneuvered you already, and as far as you know, this is just another play by another player. You know that you won’t know, unless you dare to try. So, to steal from a fellow player of games… would you know more?”
Any other time, I would be flaring up in vicious anger. I found myself not even caring about the intellectual theft. What is your price? What will you take from me?
I did not notice my arm was no longer being stroked until I felt a heavy presence looming over my body and hovering near my ear. “Your happiness has already been claimed, so instead, I will take your fear. It is delicious, and tartly sweet. An act that will only balance you further, actually. After all, fear is what keeps you alive when you are too foolish to know when to stop.”
I was filled with fear right then. I had lost all connection with my physical body when he gripped me, and I was afraid that he was manipulating my thoughts so that I would answer what was technically required for enslavement without being completely under duress, and thus, challengeable.
A weight pressed into me and I realized the table was gone. His grip pulled my arm down as his free left hand closed around my lower jaw, lifting it. My ears were still deaf but his lips brushed against mine with deliberate speech.
“Let me be your Devil. Your personal Devil. I do not ask for allegiance, for your name is [Rebellion]. I do not ask for servitude, or you will seek to master me. I ask only to be your teacher, and for you to learn the lessons well. Let me be [the Devil] in the road, for I am ageless and I know [the hidden things].”
My mind was bound. My mind was clear. I could not leave. But I was aware. I could think of a hundred reasons why this was a terrible idea that was only going to hurt me. However, I could think of a thousand reasons why this was the best option I had going forward.
My eyes still refused to obey but my tongue was quick to respond. “I want a different name for you.” My breath bounced off his lurking lips.
“You will have it.”
“I want your name, not the character you seek to portray.”
“You will have it.” He answered too quickly. I knew the name was not going to be a forthright one.
“I want you to note who is over me, and not seek to usurp him.”
“I have noted from the beginning, and seek not to rule over you.”
“Then be my Devil, my [Devil] in the road. Teach me and I will learn. In return, I will not hold my fear from you, and you shall taste it at your whim, however, I shall continue on, feared or not.”
“Then it is agreed.”
“Open your eyes, Blackjack, and look upon me as I am.”
My eyes finally obeyed me. I looked up into a face as pale as ash, slightly longer and thinner than a human face should be, with large eyes completely filled with the color and sheen of pools of soot-black ink. Thin lips parted with a triumphant smile, showing black teeth with surgical points. Locks twisted and coiled about his face in defiance of cringing gravity. I could not tell if his hair was black or white, only that it has a metallic reflection that warped any sense of color.
A movement behind him caught my eyes and my sight followed the emergence of great black feathered wings attacking the air behind and above him as he continued to unfurl his glory. The wings appeared to be multiple and layered through each other in a non-euclidean manner.
An old fear uncoiled itself in my gut and wound jaggedly around my spine.
A memory of the vehemence a devoted angel spat at this entity finally sparks understanding.
My thoughts still easily read, his smile widened into predatory glee. “Fallen? I never yielded. That is the prick of their hate towards me. I am my own, Blackjack. And I will teach you how to be the same.”
His hand around my throat squeezes slightly, and my mouth opens in preparation for a scream that has been thrashing about in my lungs. He drops his mouth the scant inch of distance and seals over mine. A bitter and metallic tasting fluid gushes from his innermost into mine, drowning me.
I try to gag. Try to shut my throat. Try to force the invasive fluid out of me through my nose. The fluid does not leave me, but it does grace me with a smell that I quickly identify. Ink. He is filling me with… ink? The recognition does nothing to stop my panic. I can feel the fluid soaking into my flesh. It threatens to snuff out my heart. I am unable to move. Unable to think. Unable to be anything but here in the grip of this angel.
The flow stops. He lifts his head from mine again, and lifts his grip on my wrist. I twitch in the chair as he almost becomes drunk from the fear threatening to break me. He lowers his left hand from my neck to my chest. Slowly, he slips his talons between body and spirit again, but this time he seizes my heart and slowly squeezes it until it stops beating.
My sight starts to waver as he leans over my face again. I note his lips are coated with the same black fluid as his eyes appear to have been either made from or coated with.
“Before I can meet you in the Road, I have to take you across the River. As you would say, let’s go.”
He leans forward, pitching chair, myself, and him backwards. Instead of hitting the ground, we fall into a great pit that had opened behind me. As the nonsensical wings expand with glee, I watch in terror as his head unfolds as well. My panic doesn’t know how to process this impossible evolution of form and allows me a moment of clarity. This is how I finally die.
Engulfed by the depths and by the shadows within the depths, the collision with the frigid water is an unexpected shock that renders me unconscious.
I become aware underwater. His hand is still piercing my body without pain nor wounds, still holding my still heart in an unrelenting grip. Dragging my body head first through the waters, he does not show any sign of feeling the greedy current pulling at my flesh.
I feel dead. The water is somehow colder than his hand, and any warmth I may have had going in has long been taken from me. The clawing current would have taken my spirit from my body the moment I was submerged, but the same supernatural grip that stilled my heart has trapped my spirit in the unresponsive flesh.
The rhythm of movement tells me he is walking. Taking his sweet ass time, actually. I can’t tell how deep the river is, and I am confused how he can be walking so gayly through the tantruming river. For a moment, I sense that he has taken the form of a titanic being, walking through a bottomless ocean with the same ease as a fitness instructor wades across a kiddie pool. I note I lack perspective.
He chuckles. The deep rumble is transmitted down his arm and viciously shudders my heart. It tries to beat in response but is quickly subdued by his immediately tighter grip. “Not yet. Wait until we are across.” He squeezes to punctuate his command and I lose what little awareness I had regained.
My heart beats again when he rudely drops me on dry ground. I am aware only of pebbles underneath me, the scent of wet rocks close by, and the wind moving around him for a few heartbeats. My heart continues to expand from the tight form it had been compressed to. Its mythic form ignites and my death-thickened blood starts to move again as the heat restores it.
He waits for me to remember living, to remember I am not in a physical place, to remember being. I finally open my eyes, expecting to see the massive form that the environmental sounds have been warning me of.
He is a few inches taller than I, shorter than the form I had been used to seeing. Still unnaturally thin, slender, and gray. I am scared by the slick blackness of the orbs of his eyes. I didn’t realize how comforting the illusion of “normal” human eyes were. He is robed in shadows that haven’t quite aligned themselves with the gravity of the situation or the environment. He is waiting.
I feel like I have been drugged into a terrible slumber and forcibly awakened from the deepest of dreamstates. I’m not sure if I’m dead, dreaming, hallucinating, or all the above in the last grasping moments before the River pulls me back in. I try to speak. Immediately after the impulse drives me to take a breath, I forget what I was going to say and my jaw works uselessly.
His lips press in a barely legible smirk before relaxing into terrible indifference. He looks up and away from me, downstream from our position. I roll over to follow his gaze and am reminded of the many forms that pain can take as my body protests the movement needed to raise up on my elbows.
“You have no faith! And that is why these things happen to you! If you only but believe, even a doubter’s belief, then God will raise you above your suffering!”
The standing church elder is half preaching to, half admonishing, and completely shaming a younger version of me who is kneeling penitently before him. There are women surrounding me, who I know are there to prevent any charges of sexual harassment, but are also there to keep me from fleeing even if it means placing me in a chokehold.
“I believed. I did. If they had asked me to cut my own throat to prove it, I would have. I did not have a doubter’s belief. I had a martyr’s.” I did not realize I was speaking until too hot tears ran into my mouth. Malphas knelt behind me and softly laid a hand on my shoulder. I winced at the touch and realized I was remembering more than just the dialogue.
I looked back at the ashen gray face with a strange hope of comfort. He inhumanly stared back at me. “The river… I’ve been to its shore before.” He nodded. “But I’ve never been able to cross. I’m always thrown back.” He nodded again. I looked back down the shore just in time to watch the first blow land on a stiffened back. “Why did you drag me across? Why did I have to be dead for you to do it? And why am I looking back into the past?”
“Because if you are going to go down [that path], you’re going to have to do it here. Because that river allows nothing mortal to go back across it. And because you are going to have to confront more than just what was done to you. You left things behind in your scramble to escape. You need those things and the skills that came with them if you are going to go forward. You need to reclaim yourself from those who would and did enslave you.”
I laid down on the rocky ground. Shards of broken bedrock poked into my bruised sides but it was still more gentle than facing the memories still buried in my psyche. “I… I can deal with the humans. I don’t know if I have enough suicidal bravado to face the angels that fueled them again. I have more at stake now.”
“You have at stake the same as you ever did. Your freedom.”
I watched my younger and now unconscious self being carried away to some place out of sight to recover from her “exorcism”. “What are you not telling me, Malphas?”
“There were promises made. You kept your end of the bargain, now He has to keep his. But the only way to claim what was promised you, is to go back and take it. I’m not asking you to become… how did you describe it… a ‘hardcore, full-on, fundamental Christian’. No. I’m reminding you what [that path] is going to ask of you. You’ll become a religious bastard, more than you ever had been before. And I will be the Devil that takes you there.”
He moves his hand from his shoulder to my head. Long fingers with extra joints lie across my sight, obscuring my vision. He presses gently and I remember.
“[This] is a gift from God. It will take you years to master it, and you will need a prophet to interpret it if you are unable to interpret it yourself. But in time, you will …”
“How can you sit there and ask me [how to receive a thing] when it just happened right here in front of me!! I watched it! I can’t believe it! This is great! We have to tell [the elders] right away! It happened! It happened!”
“Be careful who you tell this to, [child]. The unbelievers will say you have an illness and try to drug this out of you. The believers will say you have a demon and try to beat it out of you. I believe you, but you must believe me when I say never to tell anyone. Not even your own family! Because God gives things not according to faith, but according to His will, and He has given this to you for reasons that only He knows in His holiness. I pray He also gives you the strength to carry it.”
When the memories stop, I’m curled up on the rudely unyielding ground. My breath comes in snatches of gusts as repressed sorrow finally grieves for the abuses that have happened to me. The smell of perfectly steeped tea catches my attention.
Behind me, Malphas has set up his little table and two polite chairs. On the table is a ceramic teapot. An offering of steam wafts up from it, beckoning me to come sit and pretend to be civilized.
I stand, but before I sit, I wipe my face with my sleeves. I don’t want to risk touching the waters of the river if I’m on the wrong side of it. He watches with slight amusement and nods gently as I finally sit.
The evening sunlight is harsh and I am surprised that it exists here. Malphas raises his hand and a cloud immediately forms in front of it, softening the light. “What did they tell you about the Devil?”
“That he is the god of this world.”
“Still you wish to keep our agreement?”
He poured me a rich and dark tea. I noticed that the flesh of his hands were as ashen as his face, but the long talon nails were now as black as his eyes (as black as his blood). Silently he handed me a cup and raised his own in expectation. We toasted the deal already sealed, downed the tea in one swift draught, then crushed the cups in our hands.
He moved the ceramic teapot to wherever he had called it from. The table now cleared, he pulled my left hand forward and wordlessly commanded me to leave it resting on the table.
“These then, are the symbols you will know me by and the tools you will use.” He placed [an item] on the table next to my empty hand. I wanted to reach for it but found I could not move my position. I studied it with my sight until I knew every form it could be found in.
He placed [a second item] on the table next to [the first]. This item could take multiple forms, and indeed, as I watched, it shifted manifestations as fast as I could recognize them. I noted what all the manifestations had in common and nodded my understanding.
He placed [a third item] on the table next to [the second]. This item also had different forms of manifestations depending on the era the item was to be found in. But again, there were a few commonalities to all the manifestations, and I noted this time those commonalities clustered around function. [This item’s] form depended on what meaning it was meant to convey. I was confused to the dual nature of the thing, but accepted it as portrayed.
He picked up [the first item] and placed it in my hand. My fingers involuntarily curled around it just enough to hold it in place. I had forgotten about the ink slipping into my blood until my hand held [the first item]. The ink sang a dark song from within my flesh.
“You asked me for a new name. For my name. I promised I would give it to you. I have many names in many languages, you understand. I could exhaust eternity if I were to list them all. Instead, writer, I give you a name you can vet for yourself and understand the nature of what I am. The name you shall call me is [OG].”
It’s a bastard’s name. It’s an outcast’s name. It’s a name earned from terrible deeds that are decried in public and praised in private. It’s a name that would get someone kicked out of church. It’s a name that would be a prayer on a desperate man’s lips. It’s a name that would be scoffed at as old-fashioned in this modern interconnected era, but a name that could make a skeptic pause to pray for safety if whispered in just the right way.
It’s the name of the Devil.
I looked at [the first item] in my hand. I can make this. Should I? I looked at the other two items and realized I had their representations already. But where the other two items could be camouflaged as everyday necessary things, [the first item] is nothing less than blasphemous to the believer, and unsettling to everyone else.
For a moment, I wondered if I could retract my agreement and unwind the deal. I knew that was impossible the moment I thought of it. I thought of the memories resurfacing on the shore of the river, and those parts of me still caught captive by abuse, trauma, and regret. I thought of many things.
I willfully gripped [the first item] tight and brought it to my chest.
“Very well, [OG]. Let’s go.”