This is the last part of a three-part story. You can read the first part here and the second part here.
And that was—I look at the date on a paper at the news stand—twelve days ago.
I'm out of money, of course. I've been eating food out of the trash, and sleeping under bridges during the day. And I'm starting to form some pretty wild theories.
Do you have any idea who my father is?
I'm starting to form some pretty wild theories.
The other night, Frankie and Ruben stopped bothering with a car. I don't know why they used one before, or why they stopped needing it.
I was crouched behind a dumpster, eating a bag of expired hot dogs, and there was suddenly a burst of flame. It wasn't like a fire, or even an explosion. It was a burst of multi-colored flame, it only lasted about a second, and then they were standing there. The alley was suddenly filled with a smell so bad that I almost puked up my old hotdogs.
Instead, I crept through the shadows until I made my way to the end of the alley, and then I ran.
Appearing suddenly in a fiery burst is weird enough, right? But when they first appeared, the way they looked…
They weren't human. It wasn't a magic trick. It wasn't an illusion. There was the fire, and then they were there—two demons. Two demons who were looking for me.
Do you have any idea who my father is?
Yeah, baby, I got a pretty good idea.
There's always an escape, right? In life? No matter how bad it gets, there's always that bottle of pills or that single bullet or that crudely-worked noose in the attic. Whatever. There's always that final choice, if you decide that life's too hard, if you decide that you're too weak to make it to the finish line.
There's always an escape.
Unless, of course, you're dealing with your immortal soul, and the guy who wants to steal it. Unless you're dealing with Jersey'd-out demons and black magic. I'm not really a religious guy, so I'd never really considered suicide as a sin. It always seemed more like realizing you aren't going to win at Monopoly, so you get pissed off and throw the board across the room, fucking up everyone else who still wanted to play.
But when the devil is after you, it just doesn't seem like a good idea to kill yourself, you know?
So what do you do?
Me, I went home. There was a guy sitting in my living room, playing my Xbox. He pulled a gun on me when I stepped through the door.
"Relax," I told him. "I'm just going to take a shower, and then whatever is supposed to happen, it can happen."
"I'm supposed to turn you in right away."
"Yeah, but you're nearly to the end of that level. If I was going to run, I wouldn't have come back here in the first place, right?"
The guy's reflexes were something to envy. He had managed to hit the pause button before pulling his gun on me.
I headed off down the hall. "The best way to beat that guy is to let him fire three times and then run around behind him and punch him in the balls."
"You do know who I'm with, right?"
"Yeah." I didn't have to look for clean clothes—my room had been thoroughly searched, so they were spread out all over the floor. I picked up a pair of boxers and a t-shirt. "And I know that I can't get away. Can't run forever. So…I figure, you give me time to take a shower, maybe a quick nap. Everyone wins."
"Well, you're right about the short nap."
I turned around, and saw his fist.
I open my eyes to see a large man sitting at a desk. He looks like your stereotypical mob boss.
"Ah, so nice to see you've joined us." He even has the voice. Like a mix from the Godfather and Fat Tony from The Simpsons.
My face hurts. From being punched out, I deduce. I smell awful. From living on the streets for almost two weeks, I deduce. And this is Trish's father. Also a deduction, because I'm practically Sherlock Holmes.
"You must be Trish's father."
"And you must be Barry."
"Nice to meet you," I told him.
He smiles a smile that isn't nice at all. "So cavalier. You think you're brave? You think you're funny?"
"Under the right circumstances, I can be brave, I guess. And yeah, I usually consider myself pretty funny. Right now, though, I'm exhausted and terrified and confused. That's all. I'm burned out. So I apologize if I sound disrespectful—it's just that my receptors are burned out."
He chuckles. "Well, we'll see if we can't get those all fixed up for you." His eyes blaze. Not figuratively. I see flames burning in his skull, and it's like looking down a tunnel full of explosion.
"Are you the devil?" I ask.
He shrugs. "I don't really like labels."
"You gonna kill me?"
I relax a little, and he laughs.
"Oh, you're going to die. But I'm busy--I just don't have the time to sit around and torture you death."
I smell something, then. Something besides brimstone and sulfur and my funky ass. Perfume. I recognize that perfume. And then I recognize the voice that whispers into my ear. It is a voice that has whispered all kinds of things into my ear: filthy promises, lustful begging, sometimes even a cheerful good morning.
"I told you, Barry--I decide when something is over. And you and I? We're a long way from over."
I try to think up something clever to say, but that's when she grabs my finger and jerks it back. I hear the bones break, and then I hear the flesh tear, and then I only hear my screams.