Interlude: And the Blind Will See

A man’s hopes for salvation fade as he reviews his life.

The old man tossed his keys on the table and rubbed the back of his neck. “God, but I feel like shit.” He pulled out a chair and sat roughly down. “Probably doesn’t help that I’m over seventy.”

He laughed, then began to cough. He doubled over from the effort. He sat back, breathing heavily. “Hoo, boy. I uh…” Then the moment he had always feared finally came.

It felt as if someone reached through his chest and grabbed hold of his heart. His left arm first burned, then went numb as the hand squeezed hard. “God, no! God, I…” He slumped off the chair.

He crawled towards the phone on the wall. He collapsed halfway to his goal, the hand squeezing harder and harder. The old man passed away on his kitchen floor.

He opened his eyes again after an indeterminate period of time. He was standing. He looked around in a blind panic. Where in the hell was he?

He was at a lake. A beautiful lake, on a gorgeous summer day. He squinted at the big, blue sky. Not a cloud to be seen. “Hey, Dennis! Well you’re looking mighty fine, ain’t ya?”

The old man stared in disbelief. “Bobby Jackson?” He looked down at himself. He was much slimmer, his hands much younger. “Well, I’ll be damned.”

Dennis looked back up at Bobby. “Is it really you, Bobby? You…”

“Died?” Bobby laughed. “Yep. I sure did. One of those V.C. bastards cut me down while I was taking a nap. At least I woke up here, huh?” He grinned, looking out over the lake.

Dennis nodded numbly. “Ayuh. I remember.” He followed Bobby’s gaze. “Wait a minute…” He turned to Bobby. “I’m dead, too!” He clutched his chest.

“Yeah, I imagine. Turned out alright, though. Didn’t it? You ended up at Elmore Lake instead of Hell Avenue.” He chuckled.

Dennis blanched. He laughed nervously. “Yeah! Sure…”

He turned back towards the lake. The gentle ripples suddenly went out of focus. He felt as if the world was spinning underneath him. His vision blurred and darkened. He tightly closed his eyes.

Dennis clutched his stomach as the spinning slowed. He waited a few beats before trying to open his eyes. When he did, he found himself standing a short distance from a big, red barn.

“Come to help me finish up plantin’ for the season?” A middle-aged gentleman smiled gently at Dennis. “Then again, looks like you might’ve started without me.” He pointed at Dennis’ clothes.

Dennis looked down. Sure enough, he looked somewhat sod bound. He looked worriedly at his outstretched hands. They looked less youthful than they had a moment earlier.

He looked back up at the farmer. “You’re Jack Demple! It’s been what, thirty years…”

“I reckon about so. Time passes funny here. So what tore you down, huh?”

“Oh! A heart attack, I think.” Dennis absently rubbed at his chest.

“Quick and easy, I guess. I gotta say, though… I wondered if you’d end up here the way you were heading…”

A sullen look passed over Dennis’ face. “Oh. Yeah, well…” He gazed off towards the barn. The clouds above it were slowly gathering.

Jack stared up at them. “Well, whatever’s the case, here ya are. I better get to droppin’ seed, though.” He winked at Jack. “Might be rain soon, looks like.”

“Sure, sure…” Dennis watched Jack walk off towards the barn. Both man and building became fuzzy. “Oh, shit…”

He squeezed his eyes shut as the world spun again. He stumbled about a moment later, trying to find his footing. Something was surrounding him, pressing in on his legs.

Dennis opened his eyes to find himself in a field of yellowed grass. The sky above him was gray. There was another person standing in the distance. It was his ex-wife. He grimaced. This was feeling less and less like heaven.

“YOU! You worthless piece of shit!” She pushed her way through the tall grass towards him, finger leading the way. “You look like it, too. How in the hell did you manage to live so long?”

Dennis looked down at himself again. His stomach had filled back in, straining against the waist of his soiled jeans. He brushed at his filthy tee shirt with liver-spotted hands.

He lifted his shaking head to meet his ex’s gaze. “I was young…”

She snorted. “Yeah, then you got old… and mean. You don’t belong here! You hurt me, Dennis! You’d get drunk, yell at me, hit me…”

Dennis snarled. “You made me do it! I worked my ass off, only to come home and there would be no dinner…”

I wasn’t your slave!” Tears spilled from her eyes. Thunder rippled in the distance. “I was so glad someone wizened me up, got me out of there. At least I got a few years of joy before God took me.”

She glared. “You’re a bad man, Dennis.” She jabbed her finger at him. “You’ll get yours. You’ll see. You got a stench on you, and it ain’t coming off!”

Lightning crashed close by. The bright-white light blinded him. His scream was lost in the resounding boom. He squeezed his eyes shut as his ears burned.

He blinked, rubbing his eyes. His vision slowly cleared. He was standing on a highway beside a wide-open field, now.

A short distance away from him was a car parked at a funny angle on the side of the road. Rain started to fall. He gasped as realization flooded his face. “Oh… Oh, GOD.”

He numbly walked towards the front of the car. He already knew what he’d find once he got up there. He wanted to turn and run in the opposite direction. Something pushed him against his will.

Lying on the ground before the car was a bloodied young woman. An ice-cold wind blew across the road, making him shiver. The steadily-falling rain soaked into the woman’s tattered clothing.

The body twitched. Dennis jumped, taking a step back. The woman suddenly sat up, screaming. A deep gash in her cheek made her gaping mouth unnaturally wide.

Dennis screamed in return, stumbling backwards. Lightning streaked through the air in the distance. “Stay… Stay away! I didn’t mean to…”

The dead woman stumbled after him. Her broken leg twisted at an odd angle with each step. “But you did! Drunk driver… Ran me down!” Her voice was a hellish screech.

He turned to run. The woman appeared right in front of him. He screamed. She screamed back. “Drunk! Wife-beater… Wino! Took my whole life away…”

Dennis walked backwards. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry! I’ll do anything…”

“You’ll do nothing!” The woman’s eyes turned jet-black. She began to laugh, blood pouring from her mouth. “You’ll just pay!” She shuffled towards him.

He fell backwards onto the slick road. He blinked at the specter through the driving rain. “No, please! God…”

The sick smile faded from the woman’s face. She slowly shook her head. “God turned his back on you a long time ago.” A pair of black forms loomed behind the woman.

“No… No! I repent! I have sinned! God, forgive me…”

Red, glaring eyes opened in the shadows behind the woman. “Too late, Dennis.”

The wraiths lifted up and over the woman. They descended on the old man. The shadowy figures took hold of each of his arms, holding him fast. The road beneath him began to shift and buckle.

The rain hissed off the rapidly heating tarmac. Dennis began to scream as it burned his flesh. The ground violently tore open. Orange light poured out of the fissure.

Dennis hung suspended above the entrance to an immense chamber. Eternal flames burned far below. The heat blistered his skin. Dennis continued to scream.

The wraiths let go. He slapped fruitlessly at the immaterial specters before slipping through the crack. He stared wild-eyed at the woman above before being lost to the fires below.

Interlude: Dark Work

Divine retribution comes for a man that has gone too far.

I don’t normally do this, but this story is extremely dark in places. Consider this a trigger warning for victims of domestic violence.

No moon shone on this cloudless night. Heavy clouds had laid siege to it and claimed the sky for themselves. Cold winds carried the sounds of fighting from the house into the front yard.

A woman cried out. “No, please! The baby!” Two gunshots fractured the night. The woman screamed. The baby began to cry loudly.

The front door of the house slammed open, the baby’s wails set loose on the cold wind. A man with a handgun burst through the opening. His eyes burned with anger, mixed with fear. He quickly looked around.

Anger stole across his face, extinguishing any concern. “Stupid bitch deserved it,” he told the darkness. He cried out, flinging the handgun as hard as he could across the lawn.

He pounded to the sports car in the driveway. He backed out of the drive and onto the roadway. The engine roared, rear tires searching for purchase as the car slowly gained forward momentum into the night.

Silence returned once again. The baby’s wails had fallen off to plaintive cries mixed with her mother’s tears. The cold wind blew through the dying leaves of the oak tree standing guard nearby.

With it came a dark figure. It moved silently, reverently across the grass to the open door. Its steps made no sound, its body no shadow. It crept inside the house.

The figure found itself in the dining room of the abode. The woman had pushed herself into one corner. A trail of congealing blood led to where she sat curled on the floor. A smartphone lay at the other end of the room, the person on the other end now speaking up into the still air.

A television quietly displaying a forgotten show murmured in the other room. The robed figure stretched an arm in that direction. A withered, skeletal hand pointed a bony finger in its direction. The television fell silent, its light extinguished.

The baby began to cry once more in her mother’s arms. The mother spoke with hitching words, trying to soothe the child even as her life ran out of her. The baby became more insistent.

The dark figure crouched down. It pulled back the hood covering its head to reveal the face of Death. The wraith tilted his head. The taut, dried skin of his face put forth an image of sorrow as he gazed upon the child.

Death put a single bony finger to his lips. The baby’s cries hitched in her throat, then stopped altogether. The bony face turned to the mother and became expressionless once more.

The wraith replaced the hood on his head. The mother’s bloodshot eyes gazed through the specter to the world outside. He stretched a bony finger towards her forehead.

A black mist emanated from the tip of the finger, trailing to the mother. She looked down at her child as she gasped her last desperate breaths. The baby gazed back up at her silently.

The kitchen filled with an ethereal light as the woman closed her eyes for the last time. Another woman dressed in white stepped into existence. She glanced at Death, not unkindly, and stood before the fallen mother.

She reached out and took the mother’s hand in hers. The angelic woman slowly stood, pulling the mother’s soul up with her. The mother gazed at the other woman. Tears rolled down her cheeks as the realization of her condition set in.

The angel turned, smiling and nodding her head towards the door. The mother shook her head. “My baby!”

“You can visit her always.” The angel gently squeezed the mother’s hand. She spared her child a final look before returning her gaze to the angel. The woman smiled faintly, nodding her head.

They walked towards the door, hand in hand. They faded from sight as they reached the threshold. The light went with them. The baby began to cry again.

Death glided silently back out into the dark night. The sound of sirens stirred the air in the distance. The wraith turned in the direction the man had traveled in his sports car. Righteous anger flashed across his face.

Rain pounded against the man’s charging vehicle as he drove blindly down the twisting country road. The wind billowed behind him, bringing with it a black figure of vengeance. Death soared over the sports car before sailing past it.

“SHIT!” A hulking black figure appeared in the car’s headlights. The man cut the wheel sharply, sending the vehicle skidding across the rain-soaked blacktop. The front end of the car found a tree as the vehicle left the road.

It spun around violently, bouncing into the air on the uneven ground. The sports car flipped twice before landing on its side. It creaked perilously before falling over onto its roof at the edge of a steep hill.

Death waited in the shadows, watching. The car’s engine clunked, sputtered, and finally gave out with a hiss. The man shifted on the ceiling of the car, groaning.

He dragged himself through the shattered window, glass crunching and grinding against his bleeding hands. He bellowed into the falling rain. He collapsed, the sodden grass squelching beneath him.

He raised his head, eyes slitted against the driving sheets of wet. He howled in pain as he pulled himself free of the car. He pushed himself to his hands and knees and crawled a short distance from the wreck.

He used a shallow ridge to push himself to his feet. He wobbled unsteadily as he turned to face the remains of his prized sports car. His face screwed up in rage. “Stupid… bitch.” His breathing became ragged.

A frigid wind whipped around him, causing him to stumble closer to the nearby hill. His foot found a shallow hole, twisting his ankle. He cried out in pain. He flailed wildly in an attempt to keep his footing.

Death manifested directly in front of the man. The wraith’s face was contorted in rage, his ragged mouth contorted, a rattling hiss issuing forth through gnarled teeth. The man screamed in terror, losing the fight with inertia and tumbling backwards down the steep embankment.

The man’s body whipped and cartwheeled violently as he sped toward the ground below. He slammed hard into the unforgiving ground. A loud crack issued from his buckling leg. He screamed into the black sky above him.

Death glided silently down the side of the hill. His empty sockets fixed on the man below him. The man’s eyes grew wild. He shook his head violently. “No!” He turned, clawing at the ground. He screamed as his badly broken leg shifted.

He lay on his back. His breathing came in ragged gasps. Death leaned over him. He glared down at the man, a widening grin forming on his leathery face. A shallow, rattling laugh issued forth as Death retreated.

Low growling issued from the nearby shadows. The man whipped his head toward the sound, his breaths quickening. A wolf emerged from the gloom, creeping steadily towards the man. Two more wolves followed closely behind it.

The man whipped his head back towards Death. “No. Please! NO!” The lead wolf leaped, snarling, and bit down on the man’s neck.

The man’s scream turned into a bloody gargle as the wolf bore down. The other two wolves joined in on the fray, tearing at the man’s clothes and body with their razor-like teeth. The lead wolf chewed and tore at the exposed viscera of the man’s throat.

Lightning flashed nearby, rattling the ground with a vicious thunderclap. The wolves cried out, running for the cover of the nearby forest. The man’s lifeless eyes filled with rainwater.

The blackened soul of the man rolled away from his body. He fought his way to his feet and stared disbelieving at his own corpse. He whipped his head around. Death stood beside the body, scythe at the ready. A single bony finger pointed at the man.

The man again shook his head, stumbling backwards. Something black and glistening shot out of the earth below him and held his leg fast. Another mass erupted, grabbing the other leg. The man pulled and tugged, bellowing.

Black, twisted hands began to claw and tear at the soul’s legs. A sulfurous miasma curled up around him as more twisted arms thrust up from the glowing ground. The man began to scream as his ethereal flesh was rent asunder.

The ground around him burst open. The air rippled with the heat pouring from the fires that raged below. The now-fully exposed demons clawed and stretched up the soul’s body. They gnashed their needle-like teeth, grinning, laughing, as they pulled him down into their realm.

Death solemnly thrust the bottom of his scythe into the ground as the bleeding, screaming soul passed into Hell. The hole closed over him, sealing his fate. The thinning drops of rain hissed as they fell on the cooling earth.

The wraith raised his somber face to the lightening sky. He nodded once, stepping forward. His body faded to ebony smoke that flowed into the frosty wind. His work was finished for the night.