To read chapter one, go here
Later, I found myself standing in front of a mirror, hat in hand and eyes looking everywhere but the glass. I told myself I still looked nearly the same; that the demonic horns I now sported weren’t so bad and that I could handle going places without my favorite hat. After all, demons didn’t need hats. I also told myself being dead wasn’t so bad. Hell, I still kinda felt human, which was odd because I had always imagined giving up your humanity meant, well, becoming a different creature altogether. I had imagined that I would be nothing more than a snarling beast, one that would enjoy serving my master while my soul was forever tortured without the guidance of God’s great angels.
But no. None of that. I was still the same Robert Hermann I’d been before I had died. So much for rumors. Too bad that the tail–which I was luckily able to conceal–and horns couldn’t be apart of the rumors too. The grip on my hat tightened before relaxing.
Well hat, you and I had some runs together… I tossed the useless thing onto the dresser.
“Don’t look so gloomy.”
Great. I gripped onto the desk, tensing up and found myself looking into the glass. Russell stood right there in the reflection.
“It’s depressing when my employees don’t smile.” He glanced over to the hat with amusement practically glimmering in his eyes while the corners of his mouth curled into a grin. “Oh, is that your problem? Not to worry.”
With a snap of his fingers, the horns were gone.
“You should’ve come to me earlier. I could’ve fixed that up for you before you took off.”
With a frown, I grabbed my previously abandoned hat. I didn’t say anything for a moment, but it looked like Russell wasn’t going anywhere fast. Gathering up the courage to do so, I asked, “So what did you do to it? My body, that is.”
Giving a frown of his own, he replied, “Your body’s been taken care of.”
“Taken care of? Did you throw it in a ditch or an ocean somewhere?” I put on my hat, struggling with it more than I should’ve for some reason while avoiding the demon’s gaze. “Oh, no wait! I’ve got it: you burned it and then buried the remains!”
“It’s been taken care of, Bobby,” he repeated and made himself comfortable in one of the chairs. “But, if you must know, we put it right in the alleyway between Birches and Johnson. The bulls will find your corpse, believe it to be a hit and run murder, and rule it a hit and run murder. The chief will make sure it’s not looked into any further than that.”
“And what about my partner?”
He glanced up at me as though I’d asked the stupidest question in the world. “What about him?”
“I think the guy had a wife and kid; she’s probably worried sick about him, and her son probably wants his dad,” I said. Poor fellow, but with the job came risks that you had to take, and I’m sure Ben knew that from the day he signed up to become a whispie. He was just unlucky on his maiden voyage.
“Oh, you think? Well she should’ve thought better when she married a bull,” the demon replied. “That being said, you do realize what being dead means, don’t you?”
“I know what it means. I gotta act like I’m dead.” Those words left a bitter taste in my mouth. It would be difficult not to take a walk down to Bennys and chat with the men that flocked down there without the realization that my body had been buried six-feet deep. Another reason to loathe the demon in front of me.
“Please, call me Herbert.”
Like hell I would.
“. . .And yes; it is vital that you remain hidden from the rest of the world as they may, or may not have known you. By law, you are not supposed to be living in this country. It became illegal for freshly made demons to do so. Therefore, you have to get an ‘appearance makeover’ whenever we go out.”
“A possession, you idiot.”
I opened my mouth to speak, to retort with something vulgar, but before I could, Russell reached into his pocket and pulled out a silver pocket-watch. He opened it, and seeing the time, furrowed his brows. He rose from his seat.
“Come on, we’re late.”
“Late for what?”
“Bobby, learn not to ask so many questions ’cause it’ll get you nowhere but trouble.” With that, the taller demon exited the room, expecting me to follow. I did, but hesitant at first.
We went down the staircase, the light from the sun hitting the wood in a way where I could see my reflection. Everywhere we looked, there were paintings of famous battles on the wall—except for one placed just above the doorway we were headed to. That one was of demons, clawing at some poor nude lady’s feet while she held her infant child protectively in her hands. What was worse was her anguished eyes seemed to follow you no matter where you were in the home. I couldn’t believe that I had agreed to follow Russell all the way to his home.
“Why don’t you live in the city like everyone else?” I asked as I averted my gaze from the lady in the picture.
“Why should I? While the city is beautiful, it is also very crowded—and very noisy. I prefer to be somewhere where it’s peaceful every once in a while.” We stood outside. He took out a cig, holding it up to my face. “Would you like one?”
“….I’m good, thanks…” I said with a raise of my hand which blocked the object from my sight. In truth, I wanted a smoke, except I didn’t want to take one from that demon. Who knew what it’d do to me.
We stood there for a good five minutes, looking out into the countryside. Nothing but blue sky and green for miles.
“What are we—”
“Questions, Bobby…too many.” He checked his watch again. “We’ve lucked out. Our ride isn’t even here yet.”
But, in the distance, a trail of dust rode behind a breezer. It ran smoothly without the usual splutter I’d seen others do of the same make. Furthermore, its red coat was flawless. At the driver’s seat was a young woman. As she got closer, I recognized her face. She was one of the two flappers Ben and I saw before going into Russell’s juice joint. She pulled up right next to us, the rock underneath the tires crunching it to a satisfying halt.
“Hello, boys!” The lady cried out as she waved.
“Lena, you’re late!” Though, those words were said almost affectionately as he leaned in to kiss her cheek. A big smile plastered her chubby face. She got out of the automobile and, adjusting her cheaters, got a better look at me.
“So, is this the new worker? He certainly is handsome, I’ll give you that. You never pick the ugly ones I tell ya! I think you have a thing for brunettes…oh, sorry!” She grabbed my hand and began shaking it. “The name’s Lena Garrison. I work for Mr. Russell too.”
“Lena here is going to be our driver. She’s a little cheery, but she’s certainly no Dumb Dora. When things are out of reach, she’s our ticket there.”
“Hurry up fellows,” she said while climbing back into the seat. “I’m sure that man’s already waiting for you to arrive.”
“He wouldn’t be waiting at all if you hadn’t been late, Lena,” replied Russell as the two of us got into the car. He turned his head towards me. “Please hang on to something.”
Not having to tell me twice, I grabbed onto the car door with one hand, which was unsteady.
We took off, at a slow and steady place, but then, we began to go faster…and faster….faster. Faster than any other car I’d ever seen in my life go. The trees were becoming nothing but blurs of green, fields became nothing but strings of gold. My knuckles reddened, the wind slapped me in every direction. My other hand was placed securely on my hat. I thought I saw a city or two go by in the brief of a second. The whistle of a train blew past my ears.
And then, we stopped.
Where we were, well, it wasn’t too pleasant. Instead of the lush green fields that had surrounded Mr. Russell’s estate, we were greeted by dead grass, and a great amount of dust. It was all around us. Had I still been human, I would’ve been coughing.
“Oklahoma,” the demon interrupted and lifted the small trunk that had been attached to the back of the car. Inside, a box had been wrapped up nice and secure. I could only imagine what was in it. He took out the box and shut the lid. Handing it to me, he turned to face the lady and ordered, “Mind the car would you, Lena?”
“Whatever you say, boss,” she said with enthusiasm. With that, she kicked back in her seat and took out a newspaper from the Times.
We walked side by side. Suddenly, Russell said, “Oh, and by the way don’t pay attention to the dust; it’s actually not that bad. You’re just seeing what’s to come eventually.”
Before I had time to answer, or rather, question what he meant by ‘what’s to come’, the demon whistled to a man who I hadn’t noticed before until now. The farmer stopped tending to his crops. He wiped his hands on his dirt-stained pants. They were still covered in soil regardless. It was almost like the dirt had become a part of him in a way.
“Didn’t think the place would send a negro to do that Mister Russell’s job,” he croaked. There was even dirt in his throat and nose when he talked.
“I’m Mr. Russell; pleased to meet you,” Russell responded as he shook the reluctant farmer’s hand. Oh, he was smiling, but it looked as though the demon wanted to tear the farmer’s head off.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me. You’re just wan’na his men. Hell, that guy over there looks more like a Mister Russell than you.” The farmer gave a nod towards me.
“I can assure you that I am Mr. Russell, and it would do you good to address me as such. I am out here to see your wife because one of my men said that you had something of value that I would like. Now, I can take back the gift I promised you, but of course, I still get my end of the deal regardless. With, or without your consent.”
He stared at Russell for a good minute. I guess he thought the demon was fooling him with that fancy suit and perfect posture. Give off the impression that you’re someone important, and you suddenly become important. But, rather than running another lie-detector test on Russell, the man grumbled something incoherently and ran a hand through his gray, crusted hair. Finally he mumbled, “She’s this way.”
We were led into the shabby home, only to discover it had one room. One huge, but completely filthy, room. Newspapers dated as far back as 1876 were strewn across the floor, yellowing with age. A few strips of wood patched up the holes in the roof, but you could tell that rain water had leaked through, stinking up the place with this awful musty smell. It had punched me in the nose the minute I walked in, and I found myself covering my nose with my tie. In the far left, a woman was all cooped up in bed. Nearly every part of her was wrinkled, lines permanently etched on her skin. Her hair was all wild, and thin; her clothes just as filthy as the air outside. Cataracts blanketed her what would be blue eyes.
“She hasn’t been feeling well at all. We tried that health tonic the doc gave us, but we don’t have enough money for more to cure her,” the male admitted. “I was thinking…”
“You know I can’t make a deal with her to restore her health. That was made illegal long ago,” explained Russell, as if he knew where the conversation was headed. “I can, however, provide her with comfort for the rest of her days.” He took the package from my hands, giving it to the farmer. “This, is what she needs. Give her half a glass everyday, and don’t exceed the dose. Now for your end of the deal if you would.”
The farmer stared at him for a good second before reaching behind the dresser and pulling out a small parcel. “If this is what you want, here. Just don’t come ’round here again.”
Russell observed the box, satisfied. “It’s perfect, excellent. Thank you very much for your time, Daniel.”
We left, but not before I took one last look at that woman. Her eyes were staring at me. Right at me. And, I didn’t know it at the time, but tears were streaking down her old face. I nearly stopped right then and there to talk to the old man on why he traded a package for a box. Russell’s strides were much quicker than mine however, and I had to keep up with him on our way back to the car.
“What was in that box?” I asked him.
“What do you think, Bobby?”
Click. Half a glass. “You gave her your liquor. Why is it that you keep saying things are against the law when you break them anyway?”
“Some things are easier to get away with than other things, Bobby. If I get caught, I’d rather pay a hefty fine to keep things quiet than be booted straight back to Hell at the drop of a hat.”
“But why’d you do it? I know for a fact that stuff isn’t gonna help her one bit. Probably make her even worse.”
“Actually, it’s ideal. ‘That stuff’ will put her at ease, so when her husband has the strength, he can put her out of her misery. She won’t even see it coming.”
“So that’s what you’re doing now? Giving people the go-ahead to bump off their wives?” My voice had risen significantly. Although, to be honest, he was a creature from Hell, and I should’ve kept my expectations low.
“Hey Rob, are you always this way?” Lena’s voice came from the front seat. We were finally in earshot for her. “I know you’re new an’ all, but you’ll know your onions in time. Just saying; learn to trust your boss.”
He’s not my boss.
“Hey, get a look at that fella over there,” Lena whispered.
My attention was put on another man not too far from the automobile. This one was much younger than the man and woman in the house. His face was cursed with freckles, his blond hair tousled at the top, but not a particle of dirt in it. He wasn’t as filthy as the other man, though I was certain with a few more years out in this place, he would end up that way. He glimpsed up every few seconds to see if we weren’t looking, and when he saw we were, he just went back to tending his crops; faster than before. That was, until he heard in the distance:
“Finny, get in here and help me with this!”
The man dropped the shovel, stealing one last glance before taking off in the direction of the shack.
“Don’t pay attention to that one,” Russell said as he fixed the strands of hair that had become untidy with the wind, “he’s bad business. It’s better not to get to know him. Lena, I think we’re done here. Take us home. I’ve gotta put Bobby in a body he can work in.”
“Righto, boss,” She said and started the car.